Rush of Innovation in Photographic Technology Shows No Sign of Slowing Down


Photographic technologies are moving at a pace beyond anything we could have imagined a few decades ago. The possibilities of capturing images at increasingly high resolutions are staggering. What we are now seeing in advances in digital photography is a perfect example of Moore’s Law in action. In the 1960s, Gordon Moore, director of research and development at Fairchild Semiconductors, predicted that the number of transistors on a computer chip will double every 24 months. We can apply Moore’s law to all matter of electronic manufacturing to get a glimpse of the future.

Does Digital Photography Have Any Limits?

Computational photography is changing not only the way we make pictures, but also the way we see. Recently, for example, two camera manufacturers introduced cameras that can capture images at a resolution rate of about 60 megapixels.

Phase One’s P65+, with a sensor resolution of 60.5 megapixels, promises to make 180 MB, 8 bit RGB image files.
At the same time, Hasselblad’s new H3DII-50 will be integrating Kodak’s KAF-50100 image sensor, which produces 150 MB TIFF image files at a rate of 33 images per minute.

Beyond resolution, camera manufacturers are also looking for speed. Vision Research now makes a high-speed digital HD camera capable of recording images with a resolution of 2048 x 1080 at 1,000 frames-per-second. Although the price of these cameras is as much as $40,000, technological innovation eventually finds its way into the consumer market.

Melissa Perenson, in a recent PC World article, suggests, “Everyone agrees that the advent of digital has changed the landscape of photography and how individuals regard their cameras.” It is almost impossible to predict where all the advances in technologies will lead.

There are now technologies that can do just about everything to an image in fractions of a second. We can make people look slimmer and remove blemishes from a person’s face immediately after capture. We can stitch photographs together to extend the information in the frame. We can attach remote digital cameras to a pet’s collar for an unusual perspective. We can even use eco-friendly disposable digital cameras to protect Mother Earth.

Surge in Technology Brings Surge in Experts

There appear to be no limits to just how far people will go in adapting digital photography to meet desires and demands. But the camera is just a tool.

Along with the rush of innovation in digital photography, there has also been an exponential increase in people and companies willing to offer advice on how to make better pictures. Every week new Web sites pop up enticing people to learn to how to use their camera more effectively. Perhaps there is a correlation between the number of new photography products and the number of photo advice Web sites and articles on photography.

Fueling the growth and interest in photography may be the increasing development of pro-sumer camera models, which come within a few f/stops of the more expensive professional models. In fact, while the sale of all digital cameras increased by 15 percent in 2006, the shipments of higher-end digital SLR cameras jumped by 39 percent.

This suggests a move away from slower, lower quality point-and-shoot cameras for the average consumer. People want to make better pictures. At the same time, while manufacturers continue to sell millions of cameras each year, worldwide market growth is expected to peak in 2010. IDC reports 37.7 million digital cameras purchased by U.S. consumers in 2007.

Digital photography has taken hold on our culture in unprecedented and unexpected ways. One commonly held perception about the trend toward faster, cheaper and better cameras is that anyone with a digital camera has a chance of making images like a professional.

Despite the trepidation and angst this may cause professional photographers, the advances in digital photography can only serve to encourage and empower people to become more creative and satisfied with making pictures. We are indeed a visual culture that increasingly relies on pictures to tell the stories of our lives and the world around us.

[tags]digital photography[/tags]


4 Responses to “Rush of Innovation in Photographic Technology Shows No Sign of Slowing Down”

  1. And yet, more and more I find myself shooting in black and white, on an old 120, for anything I want to attach value or permanence to. The digitals in the bag have become visual notebooks while the film cameras are like paintboxes, and the question has to be how much innovation can you pay for? The old gear paid for itself quickly, and then started turning a profit on jobs, but you have to run a lot more jobs in the red if you are constantly upgrading the gear as fast as the technology is "improving". And I seldom need more than 7-8 mega pixels, if I'm honest-- after that it's just wasted.

  2. This is an excellent post, Dennis. Thanks for the links!

  3. I think there will be a upswing with board manufacturing soon.. What do you think?

  4. Ian makes a good point. Parallel to this technological upswing (which has the same story in hundreds of professions these days) is a certain collective nostalgia that has many photographers shooting on garage sale relics. It's a mad, beautiful process.

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