I learned about Canon’s hot “Wonder Camera” concept several months ago when I viewed a link to a video shot in the Canon area in the Japanese Pavilion at the Shanghai World Expo. The camera appeared to “ice” photography as we know it. The narrator of the video suggested, “Photography’s higher form over the past 150 years…maybe will become an irrelevant artistic endeavor whose time of relevance has come and gone.” I encourage you to listen to his fact filled indisputable evidence and contagious Australian-accent.
It was with the Shanghai report in mind that I entered the Canon Expo in New York during the first week of September. I had been in touch with Canon USA representatives about this piece of “revolutionary technology from the world’s largest camera manufacturer” pre-Expo, but no one seemed to know anything about it. “You know concept cameras, like concept vehicles, they don’t always end up seeing the light of day…” was the response of one Canon affiliate.
We are seeing technology develop not on a steady linear trajectory, but on an exponential scale. The more this technology develops, the faster it develops. As such, perhaps “never seeing the light of day” was a phraseology existing before the inverse-square-law for light falloff was wrapped in on itself and reversed to explain how dramatic the change in our careers as a result of this technology has been, and will undoubtedly continue to be. “Change; that is one crazy-ass word,” said Terminator 3 Director of Photography and Canon evangelist, Shane Hurlbut on stage at the Expo. He continued… “and if I have anything to do with it, we’ll see these cameras used all the time.”
Canon’s 4K Camera: Apparently, High Definition is Now Outdated
Why is Canon suggesting to the consumer crowd that they will be professional photographers in the future? How will ‘wonder cameras’ impact the professional in the future? Canon’s 5D Mark II advocate, Vincent Laforet made the following observation during his presentation, “The Professionals’ life is more difficult now because we have more people to compete with.” The show rumor was that Canon has sold over 40 Million EOS DSLR cameras. There is no doubt that the wonder camera is gear for the consumer market.
Canon’s Ultra-High-Definition cameras and monitors are already being used in broadcast television in Japan. Most notable of these at the show, was not the “Wonder Camera” , but rather a commercial version of the same; Canon’s 4K Camera housed with an all-in-one 7-140mm lens (or 24mm-480mm by 35mm familiarity standards).
Tech specs? The 4K is four times High-Definition (HD) 1080p resolution. It houses an 8 mega-pixel video sensor, at 60 frames/sec. 28GB per minute is the data flow in RAW format from these devices. This is uncompressed RAW for which Canon’s representative said would be easily minimized via lossless RAW compression mechanisms within the camera.
What recording mechanism do we have to capture such a large flow of data? Canon said that the 4K device is only currently operating in “live feed” mode. There is no recording capability. Oops, wait. Canon showed a video and stills presentation from this technology which was recorded with an unknown (or undisclosed) proprietary device. Canon’s high-definition projectors easily showcased sharpness from front to back in the image, and still image prints were mounted alongside for the viewers. All were sharp, beyond belief, with absolutely no pixilation, not even in the severely cropped image stills.
We currently have technology to record such ultra-high-definition, and Canon pointed to the SD XC cards with capacities up to 2TB that are now compatible with their PowerShot consumer camera line.
This May Point Us to Where our Future is Headed
Many of us are currently shooting with a Canon 5D Mark II camera with a 2megapixel video sensor chip capable of 21megapixel stills. The Canon 4K technology is 4 times sharper. An 8K UHDTV next-generation system for television is in the works and will garner 16x more spatial detail than HDTV. I cannot imagine that, in our current evolutionary state, we would ever need more than that. Shane Hurlbut pointed out that the movie Avatar was quite fantastic for it’s graphics in current “old technology” high-def 1080p.
Canon is just one company amongst the many that are pushing us to consider that our most recent past is possibly unrelated to our anticipated future. Our journalist friend from Shanghai might be correct in saying that while “much of this we’ve seen before…Canon’s Wonder Camera concept is entirely new.”
Canon’s 120mp CMOS Sensor
There have been posts on the photo-educated Twitter, Facebook, and blogosphere accounts for several weeks about the new Canon 120megapixel sensor mentioned in a press release dropped from Tokyo prior to the show. This exciting technology was available for attendees to see at the Expo in New York. The unusually high security presence in the Imaging For Tomorrow section of the event seemed to imply that the concepts on display were not anything like the Detroit Auto Show. These “visions of the future” actually work now.
Canon’s 120mp CMOS sensor display was presented as an Ultra High-Resolution “Panorama” Camera, which “sees detail beyond the capability of the human eye.” This next sentence will require that you read it twice. In one still capture from this camera, forty individual 1080p HD video frames are possible. There are no pixels seen and no out-of-focus areas. Video is embedded into the still image, not the other way around.
Canon’s Ultra-High-Sensitivity Sensor
Canon’s Ultra-High-Sensitivity Sensor is a 300mm wafer size CMOS sensor resembling an 8×10 piece of film, though square. Talk about a dust magnet! A piece of silver halide on film is on average 30-40 micrometers in diameter. A typical digital sensor, such as the one in the Canon 5D Mark II, has a micrometer of 6. This new Canon ultra-high-sensitivity sensor has a pixel micrometer diameter of 160. The larger the micrometer diameter, the more sensitive to light the sensor is. What’s the trade off? It is only a 1.6megapixel sensor vs. the 21megapixels in the back of a 5D Mark II. The dynamic range is vastly different. This sensor can see “clear human facial expressions under 1 lux illuminance – a level at which the naked eye barely sees the movement of objects.”
Semantic Search and Interactive Mixed Reality
Canon presented the abilities for semantic image search via a “3 directional access to imagery” on screen. Search was based on the “meaning” contained in the information, not the information itself; essentially an intelligent metadata. We have seen this hinted at before, most recently at PACA’s 2009 conference in Miami attended by Google Images. Canon showcased Interactive Mixed Reality with a goggles-type device that allowed users’ own photos and videos to be seen in front of them. It was easy to observe that these two technologies were vastly undeveloped when compared to the disruption that I’m about to present on the image editing side.
Canon and The Future of Image Post-Production and Editing
Canon’s Image Palette was an editing display arrangement of tools that we might expect to see from any variety of software manufacturers in the near future. Highlighted was cropping technology allowing for use of infinite resolution. On screen, with no visible pixels via inexpensive ultra high-definition capture, shooting an event in motion or stills perfectly is no longer a necessity when one can crop and edit to their heart’s content in post-production.
There was a Refocusing option with point-and-touch on screen capabilities to change the focus emphasis dramatically from foreground to background. The camera technology highlighting high ISO capability and high-def resolution allows for unlimited focus options in post-production due to an all-in-one infinitely sharp initial capture. This is a creative game changer, leaving the only unachievable true creative capture control to be a choice of an angle of view. But this doesn’t even hold true: Canon displayed the ability to use many of these cameras at once, from a variety of angles. Later, the angles can be cut and pasted automatically to achieve the desired results in short order. Objects, including people, can be moved within the frame. Infinite resolution at a consumer level price point allows for all of this to be made a reality.
Canon’s Panning control allowed an emphasis of movement without the need to change shutter speeds or quickly rack focus. The camera operator simply needs to point-and-shoot. The creative controls for motion blur are available inexpensively and intuitively by the consumer in post-production. Lastly, Canon’s Time Shift gave personal compositions of “time and space.” It was essentially an isolation of still images from the motion capture, frame by frame, in a resolution fit for 2K ultra-high-definition monitor
A Significant Disruption Ahead
It was noted that non-professionals would be able to “capture just like a professional cameraman.” I believe this was misguided. They will clearly be able to capture BETTER than current professionals everywhere. When combined with the advancements in image stabilization shown at the Expo, large aperture prime lenses, and high sensitivity ISO, it is difficult to see clearly where this leaves a professional’s tool kit vs. that of an amateur consumer. In the future, will there be a way to distinguish between the two?
As we are already witnessing, there will be a metamorphosis of what constitutes “a photographer” into an entirely new concept and terminology. I’ve coined a term to define that concept, calling the new photographers “digitagraphers.” Digitagraphy will vastly revolutionize business models for the entire industry. In my next report, I’ll discuss further what a “digitagrapher” is and how to plan to become one to a successful end.
Welcome to Your Future.
About the author
Shannon Fagan’s ten-year start-up entrepreneurial experience in New York is flanked by extensive operations in Vancouver, BC and Beijing/Shanghai, China. He began his career by combining an interest in personal work merged with commercial endeavors in stock imagery for Getty Images, Corbis, Blend, Image Source and multiple others. In turn, this combined effort was used to fuel an assignment portfolio to garner the attention of BMW, The New York Times, Fortune, The United Way, and Intel. Photo District News has recognized his work in PDN’s 30 and he has been published in the Communication Arts, Print’s Regional Design, and American Photography Annuals. Shannon is a former President of the Stock Artists Alliance and is on the Advisory Board for the Young Photographers Alliance. He is an excellent source of advice for stock photography production considerations, how to approach agencies, submitting for competitions and group show opportunities, and planning for future revenue growth. He has exhibited his work internationally and is the recipient of numerous awards; including Silver Eye Center for Photography, Houston Center for Photography, The Photo Review, Photographer’s Forum, the Golden Light Awards, and the Society for Contemporary Photography. His operational experience as a business is a source of solace in challenging economic conditions. He is a member of the Founder Institute, an incubator for entrepreneurial start-ups in New York City. Shannon speaks to where the industry is headed and your future placement in it based on towering strengths of your skill set and interests.