Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Cameras That Make Us Better

Imagine a camera that only takes good pictures. If you combine a decent digital camera and a persistent person, it’s already reality.

Compared to the fast-receding days of traditional photography, where you had to wait until your film was developed to find that Aunt Betsy had her eyes closed in the family shot, digital cameras let you immediately see the image you just snapped. Bad image? Just erase and take it again. At the end of the day, you’ve got a memory card full of good pictures.

While this does not make you a master photographer, it increases the quality of your pictures in the same way that having multiple tries on every golf shot would lower your score.

But with photography, unlike golf, some shots don’t afford multiple tries. Your baby takes her first steps, cackling with delight at her conquest—oh, you snapped the picture just before the smile and got the grimace instead. That opportunity won’t come back again.

But wait. Recently hitting the market is the Casio Exilim EX-F1, a camera that can shoot up to 60 full-resolution images in a second. (This is not HDTV, where most of the images are compressed in a way that relies on the presence of adjacent images. Each image on the Casio is its own standalone high-resolution image.)

You can spread the camera’s maximum burst of 60 images across time—for example, 15 images per second for four seconds. You can also have it shoot continuously, only keeping the most recent 60 images. So, per our example of baby’s first steps, you could capture baby in 15-images-per-second continuous mode. When you see the smile, you can save the last four seconds and later choose the perfect image of beaming baby.

Folks, that is cool. It’s the next step in the world of cameras that only take good pictures—or more precisely, only keep good pictures.

Alas, the Casio Exilim EX-F1 is both expensive ($1,000) and, per David Pogue’s review in the New York Times, laden with tradeoffs. However, its special functionality will get less expensive, and the tradeoffs will be smoothed out. At some point, continuous, high-resolution shooting will be part of all digital cameras.

As a regular photographer of, as Pogue describes it, “wildlife (including children),” I look forward to that day.

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