Fly’s Eyes and Virtual Reality: Rethinking Photography
Over…done…finished. Time to say ta ta and wave the hankie.
Ciao to the single lens reflex camera – film or digital – which has not changed shape since 1949, along with its supporting cast of lenses, gew-gahs and the Duck Dynasty vests needed to carry them. Ciao to the hulking video camera (I once carried a 7 pounder plus an equally heavy VCR and a suitcase full of tapes and batteries through the jungles of Borneo).
My aching back and tired shoulders have schlepped this stuff to some 60 countries since the 1980s. Good riddance, I say.
I have been rethinking the process of photography for the past few years.
First I ditched my Nikons in favor of mirrorless cameras, currently a Panasonic GH4. Cheaper, a fraction of the weight and better video.
Last summer, for the first time, I left that kit behind in favor of two items, a Samsung Galaxy Note 5 smart phone and a gizmo called the Fly, a handheld gyro stabilizer similar to that found on a drone. This was all I needed to shoot stunning video and stills:
Enough megapixies for anyone other than so-called pixel-peepers, who examine their images the way Victorian doctors examined stool samples.
A fast F1.8 wide angle lens.
Camera RAW, which allows me to fix most of my exposure blunders after the fact.
Manual settings, which allow for such features as selective focus.
- 4K video that is almost as good as that from a Panasonic, Canon or Nikon.
- Light enough to use with an Ican Fly X-3, a $350 gimbal stabilizer that is easier to set up and a fraction of the cost of Steadicams (I threw my old one in the trash) or those iron maiden camera cages designed for DSLRs.
Here is a video I shot with this rig:
Ken Kobre, documentary-maker, photojournalism professor and one-time Canon evangelist, is now shooting his projects exclusively with his iPhone and an app he invented for it that adds professional- style controls. Kobre, who lives part time in Europe has been shooting an hour-long documentary for French television.
“The results are so good,” says Kobre,” that no one has asked me how I shot the video. I can carry all I need to shoot in a shoulder bag along with a small tripod.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
So, what is going on here? DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras (for which sales are down) are old fashioned bodies nipped and tucked for the digital age. Traditional camera brands didn’t think they could sell anything that didn’t look like dad’s old Nikon.
Now, companies such Olympus are bringing out steampunk versions of their digital cameras and at the Consumer Electronics Show last week, Kodak reintroduced Super 8 in a film camera with digital appendages. Yes, I know, many famous filmmakers are shouting Bravo!,nostalgic for their childhood Super 8 experience (I did stop motion animations of my toys), but why shoot fuzzy film when you can fake such effects using editing software? Unless, of course, you want to brand yourself as a modern-day Andy Warhol.
Why, when today’s ideas begin and end with digital? The current mobile phone generation, including most cool dads, could care less.
So, here comes the rethink.
Stitching panoramics works great on a smartphone and in software such as Photoshop. So why not, instead of shooting a bunch of pictures one-after-another and stitching them together, shoot’ em all at once using a bunch of eyes, like a dragonfly, at different focal lengths and exposures and make the technical and creative decisions after the fact. Not one camera but many shooting many different options.
That’s the way the L16 camera, made by a start-up named Light, will work when it goes on the market this year.
It looks like a mobile phone but has 16 lenses and sensors, some of which aim at different points of a scene with a different focus and a different exposure, so you can adjust all of that later in your digital darkroom. Because the camera has so many eyes, it works in very low light and produces a whopping 52-megapixel image.
The L16 uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820 processor, which will also be in the next generation of mobile phones. Not by coincidence, Light is licensing its technology to smartphone companies. Presales start at $1699, but wait until this goes mainstream.
HumanEyes, a longtime player in the computer graphics industry, has created another bug eye camera called Vuze, with eight lenses that the company says will produce 4K, 360 degree, spherical (which means you can look up or down) 3D virtual reality. A kit will include a camera, the software to process the video and a VR cradle for a mobile phone. It will be controllable using a smartphone app. There are a number of VR cameras on the market, including security cameras, but good ones cost as much as $60 thousand. This one will go for less than $1,000. Check out Vuse Demos for some short samples shot in the company’s home country, Israel. I would love to see a stationary camera set up in a market square in old, walled Jerusalem so viewers could explore on their own, taking in the sights and sounds that I experienced when I parked myself on a bench and took in the scene in person. I can see travel destinations and marketers chomping at the bit over this.
Nikon is also coming out with a 360 degree 4K action cam called the KeyMission – no price yet – and a VR GoPro is reportedly on the way.
The problem with all of these devices is that, presently, pictures are very fuzzy, especially in 3D and especially when viewed using Google Cardboard or some other mobile phone attachment. But I can see the beginning of real, almost Holodeck experiences on higher resolution smartphones or in your own home theater.
In the meantime, I will keep my my DSLRs oiled and ready for action for when I need some precision. But you won’t find me wandering the streets with one anymore. And I can’t wait to try out one of the new fly-eyed monsters.