A CAMERA FOR THE 21st CENTURY
The concept of a digital camera of the future
by John Henshall
"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein
The idea for "Camera One", an integrated still
and moving image camera, came in a 1970s Henshall daydream. The stylish model was
made by a student, to John Henshall's design. The viewfinder was a helmet-type head-up display, to which the camera head could be attached, for use in the midst of sporting events. Many of the "Camera One" ideas were later incorporated
If you wanted
to travel from Boston to New York City, would you go via Maine? If you want
to travel from Manchester to London, would you go via the English Lake District?
You might if you were a tourist, intent on seeing the countryside, but not
if you're on serious business and want to get there quickly, ahead of the
competition. The first thing you do is get a map, or ask directions, to
find the best route.
Digital imaging is like such a journey. If you spend time shuffling aimlessly
from Manchester to the Lake District, or from Boston to Maine, there is
no doubt that you will have a wonderful time. You will take in some tasty
food and drink, enjoy some beautiful scenery, buy a few souvenirs to gather
dust on your shelves back home. You will listen to ­p; and be taken in
by ­p; anecdotes, folklore and fables. Just like the day you played hooky
from school, your conscience will tell you that what you are doing is not
quite right. Far be it from me, or even Jiminy Cricket, to spoil your fun
but wouldn't you be better off applying yourself to the job in hand? That
way you will be able to enjoy well-earned holidays in both Maine and The
Lakes without troubling your conscience at all.
So where do you get this piece of digital cartography, the map to help you
find the best route for the journey of digital imaging?
First you look for the clear indications.
Signposts are useful, though they have, on occasion, been turned the wrong
way to confuse - as in Britain during the second World War, to confuse
the Nazis in the event of an invasion.
Signs of a well-used path are other indicators, though these may be trodden
by sheep, merely following one another.
Without any doubt, the most reliable is a full and detailed survey. From
it we draw our map.
Over the years I have sifted all the information I have encountered and
have charted what I feel are pointers to the future direction of photography.
I have drawn it up into a specification: my personal view of what might
happen in the future.
How realistic is this specification? How might you evaluate it? How seriously
should you regard it?
Imagine just how revolutionary the concept of electronic photography would
have seemed in Edwardian Britain.
This was the mechanical age. Fathers took home Edison cylinder phonographs,
to the great excitement of their incredulous families. The automobile was
a rare sight on our roads. Cinema was in its silent infancy. Louis Blériot
made his historic flight over the English Channel, bringing manned flight
to England for the first time in 1909.
Yet a purely electronic system of photography had been proposed a year earlier,
in the very year Henry Ford introduced his Model T.
Pie in the sky? Science fiction?
There were many complex practical aspects which prevented the process from
becoming an immediate reality. But, after a quarter of a century, the outline
idea became fact, as the world's first method of electronic photography
was born. Not only could the system produce pictures without any mechanical
assistance but it could also transmit those pictures by invisible waves
travelling through the ether. Much refined since its inception in London
just over fifty five years ago, the basic method remains the same as that
proposed by A A Campbell Swinton FRS in 1908. Many of us have
used the process almost daily since the 1950s.
Campbell Swinton's system came to be called television. We now take it so
much for granted that it is easy to forget that this was the first workable
system of purely electronic photography.
Despite those who scoffed at his ideas, Campbell Swinton's lateral thought
and imagination paid off. Looking back, his ideas seem rather "obvious"
but, in Edwardian Britain, many considered them bizarre. Compared with his
ideas, those in this specification are much less futuristic.
Keep this specification beside you. Add to it from your own requirements
and imagination. Do not dismiss it because it is not yet reality. It is
not intended to be a blueprint: it is a list of likely features, based on
the way developments are pointing. Tick off each feature as it becomes available.
For, if we can imagine something today, it will become a reality tomorrow.
"HandiCam" was a development of the original "Camera
One" idea. It was made for a Royal Television Society lecture. The
name "HandiCam" pre-dates Sony's use of the remarkably similar
name "HandyCam as a search of the Trade Marks Register prior to its
publication in 1984 revealed. Note the viewfinder, which is very much like
the hinged screens later adopted for portable computers. Will a future camera
look like HandiCam? Probably not, though it may incorporate many of its
- 1.1 One type of camera only. Both Still and Moving images will be produced
by the same camera.
- 1.2 Moving image photography, both film and television, integrated into
a single electronic system offering extremely high definition, without the
scanning lines used in present television systems.
- 1.3 Still photography catered for by the same camera.
- A moving image camera is a stills camera capable of taking pictures
in very rapid succession. A stills camera with a very fast motordrive may
be regarded as a moving image camera. A Nikon F3 with motordrive was used
to photograph special effects shots in the motion picture INDIANA JONES
AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. The photographer of the future will be able use
his camera as a moving image camera but choose a single frame from the many
- 2.1 Digital electronic.
- 2.2 Both Colour and Black & White outputs.
- 2.3 No film used in the camera.
- Photo-sensitive emulsions and "wet" processing will be things
of the past. Toxicity considerations will rule out our present system of
photography, long before resistance to change dies out.
- 3.1 Electronic zoom of fixed focal length.
- 3.2 No moving parts, including lens elements.
- 3.3 Focusing accomplished by varying the refractive index of the lens.
- 3.4 Zooming accomplished by varying the sensor's scanned area, not by
the physical movement of lens elements.
- 3.5 Widest lens angle of 180° horizontal angle of view produced
by scanning the whole of the sensor.
- 3.6 Narrowest lens angle of 1° horizontal angle of view produced
by scanning a small area of the sensor.
- 3.7 Angle of view the only parameter of a lens which needs to be referred
- The angle of view is the only important measurement for the photographer.
It is independent of format. Reference to lenses by their focal length,
as an indicator of "narrow", "standard" or "wide"
angle, will become meaningless.
- 3.8 Electronic Iris diaphragm, with no moving parts.
- Its operation will be similar to liquid crystal, darkening the edges
of an internal element. Its only importance will be to control depth of
4 LENS HOODS
- No longer required.
- Protection from flare will be by liquid crystal darkening of the outer
part of the front lens element, restricting the light entering the lens
to only that which is actually used in the formation of the image. This
masking will automatically follow the zoom demand and format selection,
adapting its shape and size to suit. Image contrast will thus be increased,
5 MATTE BOXES
- No longer required.
- Filters, including colour correction filters and effects filters such
as Star and Diffusion, will all be electronic. Even Dior silk stockings,
much used in film and television photography, will be electronic - "seamless"ly!
- 6.1 Any aspect ratio may be set, to match an existing format or to suit
- 6.2 Shape and size infinitely variable.
7 IMAGE SENSOR
- 7.1 "Photon dimension" resolution, from a new type of sensor
replacing both film and the CCDs (charge coupled devices) used in present
- 7.2 The "grain" or "pixel" size of the new sensor
will be related to one photon.
- 7.3 The limiting resolution factor will be that of the lens.
- One of the main problems with present day video, based on scanning lines,
is that the line structure imposes intrinsically poor resolution, resulting
in the inability to enlarge sections of the picture without severe loss
of quality. Even the CCDs used in digital still cameras have resolutions
which are only just adequate for their intended purpose.
- 8.1 Inherent relative sensitivity extremely high, in the order of ISO
10 to the power of 6. (ISO 1,000,000)
- 8.2 Inherent sensitivity reducible by electronic attenuation to permit
more workable lens apertures and for the control of depth of field.
- 8.3 Sensitivity may be changed on a scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame
basis. No longer do photographers have to expose the whole roll of film
at the same speed rating.
9 MOTOR DRIVE
- 9.1 Built-in 200 frames per second silent electronic "motor drive".
- 9.2 Much higher speeds available for special scientific applications.
- 9.3 Single frame exposure capability, for both still images and time-lapse
moving image applications.
- Being a combined motion picture and stills camera, the camera will offer
still photographers a built-in silent electronic "motor drive".
10 SPECTRAL RESPONSE
- 10.1 Spectral sensitivity both within and beyond the visible spectrum.
- 10.2 Infra Red, Ultra Violet and X-Ray sensitivity selected by the user.
- 10.3 Settings may be invoked or modified on a scene-by-scene or shot-by-shot
11 COLOUR BALANCE
- 11.1 Any colour temperature may be selected.
- 11.2 Any ambient light (including mixed light) may be balanced to. Colour
balance not restricted to "Daylight" (approximately 5500K) or
"Studio" (approximately 3200K).
- 11.3 Non black-body radiators (such as fluorescent and discharge lighting)
can be balanced.
- 11.4 Settings may be stored and modified on a scene-by-scene or shot-by-shot
- 12.1 Stereoscopic.
- 12.2 Anti-phase sensors at the lens nodal point give a stereoscopic
separation equal to the diameter of the front element of the lens.
- 12.3 Spatial separation electronically increases this to give separation
equal to the human eye.
- 12.4 Greater separation available for scientific purposes and special
- 13.1 Full view camera movements a standard facility.
- These will be carried out either in the camera or in post production
- in "D4" (Desktop Digital Daylight Darkroom) - see
- 13.2 Other effects (for example, line curvature) provided electronically.
14 AUTOMATIC PICTURE LEVELLING
- 14.1 Special circuitry to cancel out unsteadiness caused by camera shake
- 14.2 May be switched off when an unsteady effect is especially called
for by the script.
- Like a built-in SteadiCam or gyroscope, this will be especially useful
for news cameramen working under critical conditions.
- 15.1 Flat screen, viewable in ambient light using both eyes.
- No more squinting into a darkened hole with one eye. Ambient light falling
onto the viewfinder will be reflected back to the photographer, whilst being
electronically attenuated where the areas of the picture are lower than
peak level. Thus, viewfinder brightness will be directly proportional to
ambient light falling upon it. This effectively eliminates the problems
encountered with conventional cathode-ray tube based viewfinders, which
suffer because the more stray light which falls onto the screen, the more
difficult it is to view the picture.
- 15.2 Ability to be used on or off the camera, without cable connection.
- 15.3 Stereoscopic or two-dimensional display, selected as required by
- 15.4 Internal illumination option, for use in low ambient light situations.
- 15.5 Alternative Head-Up Display or Virtual Reality-type helmet, to
enable the camera to be used quite separately.
16 STORAGE DEVICE/RECORDER
- 16.1 Integral electron-dimension storage device.
- 16.2 Advanced real-time compression techniques record only the changes
in successive frames.
17 SIZE and WEIGHT
- 17.1 Small size
- 17.2 Light weight
- 18.1 Equal ease of use for both left- and right-handed photographers.
- 18.2 Easy to hold in the hand with stability.
- 18.3 Most operational controls easily accessible and operable by thumb
- 19.1 Desktop Digital Daylight Darkroom - D4 - enables full
post-production control and editing of the recorded images, with non-linear
editing of moving images allowing instant access to any part of a lengthy
- 19.2 Direct output, without the need for complex processing via computers,
to give instant viewing on television-type displays.
- 19.3 Direct (filmless) link to plate making.
- 19.4 Special applications, such as multi-camera control for large television
outside broadcasts, continue to use additional application specific processing
- 19.5 Special "looks", such as those of old (1990s) film stocks,
will be able to be imparted to images.
20 TOWARDS THE TWENTY SECOND CENTURY
- 20.1 Cerebral interface?
- 21.1 By far the most important requirement is that we accept that change
is inevitable and imminent. Those who do not will be overtaken by a new
kind of photographer and photographic supplier.
- 21.2 Without man's capacity to convert lateral thought into reality,
Edison would not have recorded sound, Bell would not have invented the telephone,
the Wright Brothers would not have flown and Neil Armstrong would not have
walked on the moon.
- 21.3 A A Campbell Swinton's specification for our present system of
television was outlined in Edwardian Britain, as long ago as 1909. By comparison,
this present camera specification is much less futuristic.
This article appeared in Digital Imaging Plus,
It is based on an article published in International Broadcast
Engineer, April 1984.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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