On March 9, 2011 in Palo Alto at Pillsbury Winthrop, the SDForum Emerging Technology SIG hosted Nokia research scientists Timo Ahonen and Marius Tico’s presentation “Photography 2.0 – Mobile computational photography for consumers.” They demonstrated their work with Stanford overcoming the current limitations of mobile device cameras. The breakthroughs were the new open source camera control API called Frankencamera, high dynamic range (HDR) and panoramic photography.
The limitations of traditional photography like optics, lighting, framing, and resolution are effectively dealt with on a standalone digital camera. Add a bigger lens, increase memory or get a faster processor chip. You can fix the image when you get back to your computer. Squeezing those solutions into a mobile device with other applications forces developers to compensate with new imaging software strategies. People want to take, process and distribute their images immediately.
One solution is high dynamic range (HDR), to take more than one picture at the same time. The photographer clicks the button and at least two different images are taken. One image gathers the bright data parts, another the dark. These sets of data are analyzed for noise and motion. The images are overlapped and synchronized to allow for shaky hands and blurring. The software then finds a happy medium and presents a final picture.
I have been skeptical of mobile cameras like the ones in the Apple iPad2. A mobile device manufacturer invariably brags that they have a camera and then show me an image worthy of a 1950’s Interpol pinhole camera. Nokia’s team may have a goal of matching standalone, dedicated cameras but what I saw seemed quite acceptable for web use.
What are the larger implications? The best camera is the one you have in your hand. In the future, it will likely be your phone. People can now quickly take and send accurate images and send them around the world. Mobile photography is now driving a political revolution as well as a technological one. The big picture may consist of a lot of smaller ones.
Copyright 2011 DJ Cline All rights reserved.