Photography has made countless technological leaps since George Eastman drew up the patent for his innovative roll film technology, and even since the first digital cameras hit the market. But in large part, photogs have been tethered to the innovations and technologies made and doled out by a handful of companies. But Stanford computer science professor Marc Levoy and graduate student Andrew Adams are looking to change that by creating an open-source digital camera, dubbed "Frankencamera."
The pair hopes to release the camera's operating software to the public within year, at which point any programmer will be able to write apps controlling any element of the camera's performance: focus, exposure, flash, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, you name it, all freely downloadable and installable by users of the device. Programmers will also be able to create their own algorithms for processing images in new and unprecedented ways. The exploration is already underway in the lab, but a crowd-sourced effort could create limitless possibilities in the emerging field of computational photography by taking the research out of the lab and into the studio and the stadium, the countryside and the streets.
For several years, open-source developers have made available a free alternative firmware for Canon cameras, permitting users of off-the-shelf cameras to add brand-new features like live histograms, ISO tweaking, and even games. But the Frankencamera project is aiming higher.
The ultimate goal is to create a Frankencamera from widely available hardware at a cost that is accessible to those who wish to explore the platform, ideally under $1,000, a price most serious photographers will agree is pretty fair for serious photo optics. The prototype, assembled at Stanford, uses a TI processor running Linux, an imaging chip from a Nokia N95 phone, and Canon lenses. From there, users just need to start assembling the monster's many parts. For instance, one idea that has been extensively explored in the lab, but is still stuck there, is dynamic range expansion: taking multiple pictures of the same scene at varying exposures, and then compositing them into a single image in which each pixel is optimally lit. Computers in the lab can extend dynamic range. So can Frankencamera. But no commercially available camera can.
More programmers toying with more ideas will hopefully lead to a better understanding of what digital photography is capable of and drive innovations to market. Several other ideas have been kicked around for Frankencamera, including using high-res still shots to enhance low-res video and creating an online network allowing cameras to communicate with each other, swapping information about settings and enabling cameras to make smart recommendations to users.
But the idea, of course, is for the open-source platform to allow for developments Levoy and Adams haven't even thought of yet, reanimating the kind of outside-the-viewfinder thinking that prompted George Eastman to spool film onto a roll, the kind of uncontrolled thinking that escapes from the lab and takes the world by storm.
love the idea!!! Hope that isn't the camera he's holding. I'd hate to lug that thing around while on a hike.
It's fitting that an open-source camera would be Linux based. It will be interesting to see where this project goes.
This is quite interesting for a venture. Crowdsourcing is the new black. When a working system, model or full format of this comes out that shows results, I think it will be great.
Sounds like a nice idea, but they're playing with a small sensor. There's not much you can get out of a small sensor, especially with regards to HDR and dynamic range.
It would be nice if someone out there managed to finally hack a low end Nikon (say the D40/D40x/D60) to do things like bracket exposures, time-lapse, mirror lockup, electronic shutter (i.e. via mirror lockup), increase the flash sync (may be possible if mirror is locked up). If they can pull of what CHDK did for Canon point & shoot cameras (1/10,000th flash sync)...that would be cool...
A few other thing would be to improve the noise reducing algorithms...the ability to select compressed/uncompressed RAW data...and perhaps even the ability to meter old lenses from the 60's (yes, someone hacked a D40 to meter by adding a chip, but could it be done via software and stop-down metering like Canon DSLRs?)...making other buttons customizable, increasing/changing the WB tolerance...the list can go on.
Again, not a bad idea, but there's not much you can eke out from a small sensor.
great idea buuuut.....when those companies get a wiff of this theyll start putting software blocks so the camera is rendered inoperable if something is downloaded....my printer is like that
I love the idea of this, I work in I.T and like the ethos behind open source software and projects. As others have commented the established camera manufacturers may make it difficult to implement an entirely open source solution but if you ask me they are behind the times, they should embrace it and understand that ultimately open source will do them more good in the long run than any amount of short term damage.
I agree! This is a great idea, but....what is the real potential for market? Yes there is always a small number of camera buffs who will look to anything different, but on the world platform is this a worthy financial investment? I expect not.