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We recently purchased a Cyton CXP CoaXPress frame grabber from BitFlow for a multi-sensor camera development project. This was to be used in a Linux-based computer and, based on the product literature from BitFlow, felt reasonably confident that it would work well in the Linux environment. Sad to say, we have been quite disappointed.

  • The Hardware and Software documentation for this frame grabber is sketchy at best and frequently doesn’t correspond to the actual hardware.
  • There is little or no software support for Linux applications – it seems that all their efforts are focussed on Windows support.
  • In recent weeks it seems that BitFlow’s tech support for this product has disappeared. Several attempts at sending e-mails and posting forum questions on their website have gone un-answered.

If this is indicative of the industry support for CoaXPress, it’s time to go back to CameraLink.

Looking at a variety of economic indicators, it’s been a rough 6 months for manufacturers of consumer image capture products.

GoPro, once the darling of investors, has seen it’s stock  valuation drop by close to 90%, largely due to poor sales of it’s latest generation Hero4 camera line.

Sales of Apple’s iPhone6, a device that’s more camera than smartphone, have tapered off, causing a ripple effect in Sony’s production of CMOS image sensors.

While drones are looking like the next ‘cool’ tech toy, concerns about privacy, safety and government regulation are limiting their market acceptance.

These trends may be an indicator that a majority of consumers are either happy with their current image capture devices and don’t see the need to upgrade, or that the additional features in new cameras (Wide Dynamic Range, low-light capability, etc.) don’t justify their price tag. Or maybe the thrill of being able to share pictures of crazy stunts, stupid pet tricks, or the meal you’re about to have is beginning to wear thin.

Whatever the reason, cameras are no longer the techie add-on feature that helps sell smartphones, but instead have become a commodity that is taken for granted – like memory chips.

So what can 21st century camera manufacturers do to bring the excitement back?  Here are some suggestions:

  • Diversify. (I’m talking to you,  GoPro.) It’s not enough to to make a small camera with a fixed focus lens that sells for $400. While the Hero cameras are a good start, they still address a relatively small niche of the photographic universe. Where are the upscale Heros with auto-focus / telephoto / large format lenses?  And why can’t iPhone cameras be detachable?

 

  • Innovate. It’s somewhat ironic that GoPro relies on rolling shutter image sensors from Sony / Aptina-On for sports action cameras. It’s well known that global shutter image sensors are much better at capturing fast motion. Why can’t GoPro take a play from the RED Digital Cinema playbook and make their own proprietary global shutter image sensor? Why can’t Apple do the same? There’s a good reason that Canon is a leader in camera technology. They have owned their own image sensor design for almost 20 years.

 

  • Communicate. Now that we have entered the era of computational photography and the Internet of Things, it’s time for cameras to talk to each other, and not just for gen-locking. Imagine the possibilities if every iPhone/ Hero at a public event shared images to the cloud to create a massive VR image of the event from multiple points of view?

I, for one, see the current market situation for cameras as a relatively minor bump in the road on the way to a very exciting future for imaging and photography. I’d love to hear from others who may agree or not.

 

Applied Color Science is pleased to announce the development of VisceRal –  a camera electronics/software platform designed specifically for Virtual Reality (VR) applications. Drawing on it’s expertise in 3D and HD video camera design, ACSi  has developed a system that supports simultaneous operation of  up to 9 image sensors with absolute gen-locking from a common clock generator. Additional details are available here: Visceral_camera_onesheet.

For more information, please contact Matt Whalen: mwhalen@appliedcolorscience.com

 

Yole Development has published a comparative analysis of the camera technology in the iPhone 6s

and come to the following conclusion:

“The bottom line is that Apple is offering more resolution (MP) but minimal image quality improvement. The company has finally moved on from its previous “big pixel/lower resolution” approach– a move that’s not as radical as it sounds, since Apple still has a 1.22um pixel when everyone else favors 1.12um. This is only a +20% light exposed surface difference (the 1.5um pixel was a +80% difference). The reason for not being able to further their previous approach is lack of space. The iPhone’s thickness (7.1mm) is a major barrier to increasing resolution via the “previous Apple approach” (please refer to this articles first illustration), so Apple must now do what everyone else has been doing for some time: shrink the pixel.”

With a new round of innovation happening now in image sensors, here are some possible directions for next generation Apple cameras:

1.) Hi speed capture (1000 frames/sec or better).

2.) Extended dynamic range with non-Bayer filter sensors and 3D-LUTs(?)

3.) Multi-sensor cameras (a la ‘Light’)

4.) Immersive video via multi-iPhone image sharing.

5.) Apple rolls their own proprietary sensor technology.

 

Now that Sony has announced it will be spinning off it’s image sensor division to a separate subsidiary, it’s useful to see where Sony sits relative to the rest of the image sensor companies. Here’s a chart from Yole that shows market share for the major image sensor companies as of 2014:

yolecis2014rank440

Now that cameras have become software-based image capture devices, they share a characteristic with many products in the digital age – the ability to be hacked. In fact, a regular cottage industry has arisen around reverse engineering commercially released cameras and figuring out how to enable additional features or disable unwanted features. Some notable examples of this are CHDK and Magic Lantern for Canon Point-ans-Shoot and DSRs, respectively, and MewPro for GoPro Hero3 cameras.

The plus side of this is the ability to un-lock additional features. I have used CHDK extensively on a $99 Canon Powershot camera and have gotten some very nice time-lapse and long exposure sequences that otherwise wouldn’t be possible. Here’s an example: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5MhWEEXVH4

The down side is that you probably void the camera’s warranty in using these hacks and open up the possibility of putting the camera in a mode that either fries the electronics or damages the optics.

I’ll be investigating these and other camera hacks in upcoming posts, so (as they say) “Stay Tuned…”