Continuous Exposure

created: 1216039737|%e %B %Y, %H:%M
TAGS: gadgets shouldexist

It struck me that the whole concept of digital camera, in imitating the old film cameras, has a fundamental inefficiency. There is, perhaps, a better way.

I've been taking photos. Nikon D40X with 18-135mm lens, a fast and efficient tool that produces the quality I was used to in the old days of B&W film SLRs.

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But is the "shutter" the best way to take a picture?

Let me introduce the concept of "Continuous Exposure" or CE. A CE camera has no shutter, though it does have a button for taking pictures. CE needs decent but not perfect optics, it needs no optical zoom, can achieve film speeds of several million ISO, can achieve resolutions of many orders of magnitude better than the actual sensor. The one thing CE is not good at is capturing fast motion.

CE works as follows. The sensor is always active and captures an image continuously, sending it to an image buffer for processing. The image buffer has a very high resolution, as much as 250 megapixels. The sensor data is added, in real time, to the image buffer, using algorithms to detect movement and shake. The image buffer is constantly re-centred around the sensor data. As the image buffer aquires sensor data, it refines the detail of areas where there is more data, so that even in an image with very light and dark areas, both will aquire fine detail. As the sensor provides more and more data for an image, the image buffer gets more and more detail, achieving its full resolution after a fraction of a second or in some cases, a second or two. When the image buffer has fully resolved the image, a small 'Ready' indicator shows on the camera, and the user can take the image. A picture taken before the sensor is ready will show less detail in some areas, especially those moving more rapidly.

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Why use CE? Mainly, it replaces expensive components with software and processing power. A much cheaper sensor, combined with a large image buffer and efficient processor can produce better photos than the best professional equipment. Optical zooming becomes less important, as sufficient detail can be aquired to make very smooth digital zooms. Low light hand-held photography becomes much easier. CE can be combined with video recording; lower-resolution video, and high quality selected images.

CE does not, of course, exist. The way to make it would be to prove the software algorithms capable of producing high quality images from video streams (which can act as a kind of CE sensor simulation). The algorithms, once designed, would need to be turned into silicon, since general purpose computers are not feasible in low power cameras.

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