The future of photography is code

The future of photography is computational, not optical. This is a massive shift in paradigm and one that every company that makes or uses cameras is currently grappling with. There will be repercussions in traditional cameras like SLRs (rapidly giving way to mirrorless systems), in phones, in embedded devices and everywhere that light is captured and turned into images.

Sometimes this means that the cameras we hear about will be much the same as last year’s, as far as megapixel counts, ISO ranges, f-numbers and so on. That’s okay. With some exceptions these have gotten as good as we can reasonably expect them to be: Glass isn’t getting any clearer, and our vision isn’t getting any more acute. The way light moves through our devices and eyeballs isn’t likely to change much.

What those devices do with that light, however, is changing at an incredible rate. This will produce features that sound ridiculous, or pseudoscience babble on stage, or drained batteries. That’s okay, too. Just as we have experimented with other parts of the camera for the last century and brought them to varying levels of perfection, we have moved onto a new, non-physical “part” which nonetheless has a very important effect on the quality and even possibility of the images we take.

The present of photography is already computational, it’s always been, since the advent of the digital camera: from the very moment an imaging sensor’s output signal is digitized, billions of operations are performed to turn a stream of electrical levels into a colorless bitmap, then reconstructing colors by means of interpolation, correcting gamma, white balance, lens aberrations, reducing noise, compressing the image by discarding information not visible by the human eye, etc., just to name a few basic operations performed by a typical image processing pipeline. There is no such thing as #nofilter.

What we are seeing now is an unprecedented rate of innovation in image processing enabled by huge advancements in computing power and integration, bound to marginalize the traditional photographic industry.

November 19, 2018

You may also find interesting:

View all Bits