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The importance of optics

Optics is a field I read on occasionally, mostly through more mainstream articles. I find it fascinating and the technology gains from new discoveries have a large payoff in terms societal and world benefits. I follow particularly the advancements in cameras, but any one invention can lead to many other uses in areas such as health and physical sciences. If you could imagine how long lenses have been around, and how hard it might be to make a lens yourself, then you can probably appreciate the sophistication of the field in the same way I do. It’s an active field with a lot of potential. Mostly because we have a long way to go before we get to the level of reproducing the qualities of the human eye, and eyes of other animals.

I wanted to round up a few of the articles that have caught my eye over the past two years or so. Certain inventions stay dormant for a long time, others come out as soon as commercially possible.

Light field photography eliminates blurry photos.

Stanford University research yielded in 2005 the creation of lightfield photography. Using a microlens array, mimicking features of the human eye, an image captured could be refocused after it was captured using special software. I don’t know what kind of file format would be required to hold the data of an image like this, or whether it would be any larger than a JPEG, PNG, or RAW file, but I’m really interested. Unfortunately no new comments or links have appeared on the project website for quite some time, but that rarely means anything. It will emerge somewhere somehow whether it’s in a smaller specialized product or the reason for another advancement in optics.

Kodak’s new low light filter technology

My little point-and-shoot camera impresses me with its size and video features. I recently discovered how well it took macro focus photos. But my camera, and many like it which are purchsed by millions of people every year suffer in low light. Their compact size means the lenses are small glass. This means less light overall gets into the lens than a large lens can bring in. The result is grainy exposure, object motion blurs, and underexposure. We want our cameras to do as well as our eyes in low light. Using the little flash can also destroy the photo, and though many probably don’t think about it much since they use it so often, but a camera flash is very distracting. Especially the rapid fire redeye reduction flash! What if you never needed camera flashes to get an acceptable or great image.

This is coming soon thanks to Kodak. Read the article and you’ll see how Kodak is working to implement this filter technology into the next generation digitcal cameras and phones. This could mean a lot of huge advancements that we don’t even think about. SLRs might be able to be created smaller because the large lens and glass won’t be needed. A camera without a flash doesn’t requires less electronics and computing and could be made smaller, or more room made for a better sensor or larger longer lasting batteries.

Liquid Lenses

The liquid lens is a few years old. They are now able to control the lenses zoom capability electrically, not requiring moving mechanical parts. That was one of the original benefits that I read about it a couple years ago. Read up about the liquid lens at New Scientist. From the liquid lens, a significant improvement was realized in the way computer chips are made. Also another type of liquid lens decreases the cost for making large telescopes. Turns out, spinning a liquid especially a shiny one like mercury creates the ideal concave shape needed for observatory telescopics. More telescopes means more researchers able to discover and advance more things.

The Red Camera (digital video)

Seven years ago, I was really happy with my Sony Digital 8 camera. I thought I was getting good picture video quality. Turns out the image quality is actually pretty bad. In fact, I was using it for a project this past winter and the quality was unacceptable to integrate into the rest of the project. Luckily I was able to fall back on a digital photo instead of the footage. Looking at a lot of cameras out now, there really aren’t much that are impressing me. Despite seeing more HD cameras, none are really raising the bar of imaging, anticipating the next 10 years. Until I saw The Red Camera, from the makers of Oakley glasses, I didn’t think I’d find a camera that would be good for a startup freelance video production company.

The benefits of the red camera go beyond optics, but I’ll take a little freedom here to recommend it anyway. Oakley created a sub-group to work on the camera and a revolutionary image sensor. Video frames over 4000 pixels wide can be captured. This is more than double the size of full HD. This is more than any available TV can display. This is video that’s going to look great on a theater screen. This is video that rivals the 70mm IMAX film. This camera is a big deal and costs far less than a film movie camera.

Interested in optics yet? Comment here if you have any big ones I’ve missed.

June 14, 2007 at 12:19 pm | gadgets, graphics, photography | No comment

The few, the proud, the Nintendo Wii owners

I got silly, I’ll admit. I sat out front of the Target Store on the opening day of the Nintendo Wii sales. I got my Wii the first day it came out. I fell victim to all the internet buzz. I haven’t owned a game system since I was about nine years old. (Atari 2600) I’ve fancied a few PC games, so don’t think I have felt I was too mature for games. But owning a game console was something I just didn’t think I would do this time in my life.

So what’s up with the Wii? For me, I liked the idea of internet surfing in the living room and being able to get my old favorite games on it. I though the motion sensitive controller was the perfect direction where game technology should be headed.

When I bought the Wii that morning, I behaved unlike how I usually do. I spared no expense. I got all the accessories and games I wanted to get. I didn’t fret over the money whatsoever. This was my game system, a fresh new source of fun, a way to live in the future and the past at the same time. Why hold back? Sometimes you just buy the movie popcorn so you can enjoy it. You know what I mean?

Since then I’ve gotten more games and even introduced myself to a few great Nintendo Game Cube played. The Wii plays those Gamecube games. I didn’t realize how good the quality of graphics the Game Cube games have. In fact, I didn’t realize some of the titles that were available for it. Resident Evil 4 and a recent Tomb Raider title to name a couple.

The Wii has a motion control system with the infrared controller and sensor bar. Wii tennis works for example by you actually swinging the controller like a racket. And though I’m more of a gory scary game fan, Wii sports is the perfect party game. At least until the novelty runs out for most people.

I’ve been working on a big freelance project lately, so no nintendo time, but I’ve got a stack of games just waiting to be played once I’m finished. It’s great to be a kid, to get all the games I wanted for a long time and never had the money for. And I can appreciate it more too I think because I know the kind of programming and graphic effort that goes into these games.

By the way, Zelda was mindblowing. I never played that style game before, it was always boring to me. But the Wii Zelda is adventure through and through.

March 1, 2007 at 4:57 am | gadgets, games, graphics, nostalgia | No comment


Recently in the news there has been chatter over this device the Origami which is a Microsoft handheld mini tablet computer, “carrypad” “palmtop” or “umpc.” Whatever it’s called. As I write this, I wonder if it will be funny to read in 25 years. Not because I’m so humorous, but because talk about silly gadgets. In 25 years we will manifest everything instantly, so “buying things” won’t be needed. Right?

Some are saying that it’s too complicated and won’t be a hot seller. Seems to be to be the kind of device I would want to have. Of course if Apple announced it, it could do only 2 things, people would be begging for one. More Apple Rants I guess.

Sure it’s Microsoft, but it’s a good idea. This new gadget is really more of an evolution of where things are going. But it’s just not quite right. I think the goal is to have something with a 12 hour battery, lightweight and durable. A mainstream company can help fuel new development of games and small screen capabilities. Culture and invention is interesting. You can be too late of course inventing something, but you can also be too early.

Perhaps we need to hate enough things about our current technology before something new can be embraced. An invention that provides a solution before there’s actually a problem can be forward-looking but just not at the right place at the right time.

Personally, I can envision the lifestyle. Take out the handheld notepad device, draw while hanging out at a coffee shop, or my dad’s farm, or at a friend’s house. Something you can easily pass back and forth to friends playing boardgame style games. Likely this handheld could hold 500 games, including a ton of the classics.

March 10, 2006 at 12:12 pm | gadgets | No comment

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