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Re-imagining Imaging!!!

Importance of understanding that imaging technologies are much more than the 'megapixels'
by Praneeth Baratam
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'Instantaneous Panoramic Image and Video Capture' is a very interesting technology that can boast a grand marriage with our beloved smartphone in the near future. A 360 degree interactive video that lets you, the viewer, choose the perspective you want instead of restricting yourself to the perspective of the person who captured it is definitely appealing to a large audience. Such videos also lend well to interesting post processing and editing effects for even more tantalizing mixes!

Currently, third-party accessory + app combos that enable this functionality are available for the iPhone but these are just clever hacks and are only the beginning in my opinion!

The real action starts when manufacturers integrate this functionality into their devices with optimized hardware and software to enhance the fidelity of the captured panoramic images and videos. However, such integration has to be done without sacrificing the aesthetics / ergonomics of the device and can be a difficult challenge for the OEMs.

Having multiple cameras (similar to the front facing camera) on all the faces, capturing synchronously and then algorithmically stitching those captures in real time is one approach. A more aesthetically pleasing approach would be to have a push-to-release and push-to-hide panoramic-mirror + camera assembly with image transformation algorithms to correct the skew!
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PREVIEW
GoPano Micro - Panoramic Video
 
 
 
 
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With reference to my previous post in this topic, I should merit at least one manufacturer for attempting to challenge the ordinary. HTC (High Tech Computers, Taiwan) has recently launched a flagship phone by name HTC One with a number of highlights. Among those, the one that is relevant here is its 'Ultrapixel' camera. Apart from the marketing gimmicks of naming it 'ultrapixel...', the camera sensor has less than usual megapixels (4MP or 5MP as some sources say) keeping the sensor size larger than normal for cell phone cameras (1/3" vs 1/3.2" in iPhone 5). This boils down to, as HTC claims, 3 times larger pixel size than usual cell phone cameras, resulting in what will be best noticed as improved low-light performance.

Skeptics and megapixel aficionados may claim reduced detail due to the 'lower' pixel count. This matters only if you plan to make large print sizes, which cell phone pictures rarely end up as. Most are used for web sharing where the pixel count hardly matters.
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PREVIEW
Schematic showing the larger size of the Ultrapixel
 
 
3 Comments
 
Praveen Baratam, Maven - 5 years ago Edit
As long as the pictures are meant to be consumed/viewed over a digital display ~2 MegaPixels (for 1080p displays) or ~8 MegaPixels (for upcoming 4k displays) are enough. I don't understand why manufacturers are wasting their resources on building higher resolution cameras for smartphones when they should instead be focusing on improving the image quality like HTC. HTC surely started a trend that will soon be picked up by others.
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 5 years ago Edit
How much does HTC really succeed in its attempt is yet to be seen. The final image quality also depends on the quality of the sensor/optics and the image processing engines. But this certainly is a trend and if it catches up, the consumer will definitely benefit.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 4 years ago Edit
Looks like Apple is also going this way with a larger sensor (~15% increase in pixel size) and higher exposure lens array (f/2.2) with iPhone 5S. A ~33% increase in light collected by the sensor! Obviously no company can ignore this trend!
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I believe the next move for camera and smartphone manufacturers will be to include instantaneous HDR image and video capture into their devices.

Now that 'Law of Diminishing Returns' has kicked in and they cannot boast any more practical improvement in performance by packing more pixels into their cameras, they will start to differentiate in other dimensions of imaging for their products.

We have already discussed the move by HTC for better low light performance.

Currently HDR capabilities of these devices is limited to algorithmic combination of sequential captures but this approach has many limitations (Eg. Blurring of moving objects).

But other approaches such as multi-frame capture from the same sensor and parallel capture on two or more sensors from the same optical path do exist. These technologies are both mature and have plenty of room for improvement setting the stage for another spec. race and I am already excited!

Pretty soon our pictures will look even more amazing!
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PREVIEW
HDR Image from 3 Different Exposures
 
 
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Jason Fonceca, Evangelist - 5 years ago Edit
I have tons of ideas, but it's not my focus to execute them. For example, with cars you can buy luxury cars that are toned down and understated, or luxury cars that are flashy and loud. When I carry around a camera, I'd love the same options. Some photographers would have like custom airbrushing on their cameras and camera bags. Some would paint them camoflage for hunting animal shots. Etc. Add Some Personality. Huge market opportunity there.
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 5 years ago Edit
@Jason - Great point. It would be great if manufacturers not only chase the bulk of the market but also focus on the long-tail/niche segments. Internet/Tech companies have learnt to harness it and others will soon follow. Besides that, it is not just about who will execute these ideas but about laying the seeds and getting the word out. Our expression will open up new channels of thought for those who are actively seeking new directions. Share your ideas with the WORLD :-)
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Praveen Baratam, Maven - 5 years ago Edit
@Praneeth - I dont think having a prism would be an obstacle for harnessing these technologies on the smartphone. The prism after all is just as big as the focal length of the lens used and that space is already kept empty for the optical path. Even if prisms pose problems for smartphone sized sensor assemblies, there is multi-frame capture technology that utilizes a single sensor. If one can make a 40 megapixel sensor they can also make 4x10 megapixel multi-frame capture sensor.
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Jason Fonceca, Evangelist - 5 years ago Edit
Oh definitely, I adore sharing ideas :) And I don't even consider it a niche market. The deep need for MEANING and IDENTITY is in every human and applies to EVERYthing. If manufacturers choose to ignore it thats fine, and if market research says "no demand" for personalized cameras -- They Are Wrong. No customer sat around saying "CDs suck, we need an ultra portable, online music player system -- but Steve Jobs knew that the needs for Ease, Simplicity, Portability, apply to EVERYTH
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Its unfortunate that current popular opinion about the strength of camera quality revolves around the abundance of megapixels. Well, its not the consumer's fault. That was how it was marketed. It was an easy number for comparison, and something that could be bested.

Contrary to common opinion, number of megapixels hardly matter unless one wants to make large prints off their digital pictures. The greater problem is when a manufacturer tries to squeeze in more pixels in same real estate. What I mean is that, the sensor size hardly changes among cameras of the same class. By increasing the pixel count, the pixel size goes down reducing the amount of light captured by each. Imagine pixels as buckets that should be filled with water (light). When the size goes down, they can hold less water (light) reducing the quality of the final image.

There are other ways to ensure more water in these buckets, though. Here comes exposure modification - like increasing the aperture and exposure time.
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PREVIEW
Print sizes and the needed megapixel count
 
 
2 Comments
 
Praveen Baratam, Maven - 5 years ago Edit
Interesting! While display screens are competing over higher and higher pixel densities (Retina, HD, etc.), camera sensors are competing over lower and lower pixel densities :-)
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Praneeth Baratam, Evangelist - 5 years ago Edit
@Praveen, there is hardly any competition for achieving lower pixel density in camera sensors. So far, increasing pixel densities were gaining attention. While increasing pixel densities in the displays presented real advantage to 'quality' to an extent (4K has no real advantage over Full HD), that advantage was long realized when the camera sensors crossed 5MP limit. HTC is probably the only 'competitor' in this game so far.
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