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Old May 5, 2008, 2:43 AM   #1
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Digicam and Camcorder fusion : let us call them the new bridges !

Let us take a few minutes sketching the near future.

I think the future is a bridge camera like the Fuji S100fs orPanasonic FZ50 or Panasonic TZ5,but equipped with a 2/3inch 16:9 8Mpix tri-CMOS system (like in high-end camcorders), hence each CMOS sensor outputting3840x2160pixels at 8fps. This is quad-HD at the sensor level. So when combining the output of the red, green, blue sensors, you get 8Mpix of "real" pixels at 8fps for JPEG stills and JPEG continuous shooting. You are no more guessing and subsampling the colour using thelow pass filter and theBayer pattern.Using a 2/3 inch 16:9 8Mpix tri-CMOs system,you get8Mpix images that you can upscale to 12Mpix, getting still images having bettersharpness than asingle RGB-Bayer 12MpixCCD, but with a significant advantage in sensitivity, because of the3 sensors.

So, a still camera deliveringexcellent12Mpix JPEGs (say, 5 MByteeach) at max 8 fps so a sustained rate of 40 Mbyte/s. Need a buffer about 128Mbyte, that is all. Flusing the buffer to the SD card in about 8secondswhen using a 20Mbyte/s card. Butnot blocking the machine (multitasking is a reality nowadays),so you can start shooting againas soon as the buffer has room left for a new 5 Mbyte JPEG.

Now, let us design the video department.Mode"1080p30fps"would read the sensor at 30 fps, butin a special readout mode binning 2x2pixels together. Having no RGB-Bayer filter, you can do that. So you trade resolution in favour of sensitivity, as each captured pixel has now 4 times more surface.You get full HD 1920x1080 images. Non-interlaced. At 30 fps. So thelong awaited 1080p format. And you have 3 sensors. So youcan expect the quality to be real HD and the sensitivityto be in the order of 1 lux. Mode "720p60fps" would read the sensor using a 3x3 binning scheme (getting 1280x720 pixels : do the maths yourself from the 3840x2160 pixels), but this time at60Hz. So a native 720p format at 60fps for action and sports, with an even better sensitivity as each captured pixel surface is now 9 instead of 4.

Knowing this, I feel we are wastingboth time and money using all the currently marketed gadgets.All what is currently available is ill-designed stuff, compared to what just got described here.

The real answer to photography is a 2/3inch 16:9 8Mpix tri-CMOS system outputting3840x2160pixels ! And this is also the real answer to HD video, using a 2X2 binning and 3x3binning in the readout !

All the rest isfutile.

What is not going to be futile, for DSLR makers, is when machines built like this, considered as "video bridges", will provide a DSLR mode : back to the pleasure of using aTTL viewfinder ! It would be disabled for video, of course, but it would appear asan (expensive) option for still capture.

As a conclusion, we may say that past 10 years of digital consumer Imaging Technique (1998-2008) only has revealedthe emerged part of theiceberg.The next ten years will see a concentration, withall quality devices sharing thesame acquisition modules (2/3inch 16:9 8Mpix tri-CMOS system outputting3840x2160pixels) and being NATIVELY used both for stills and video.The current single-sensor RGB-Bayer systems will be considered as low-cost toys, because of "faking" pixels, and they will be dumped by all serious brands.Progresses in automated manufacturing associated to very high volume production will enable tri-CMOS devices at a decent cost.Consumer-grade Imaging Technique is going to surprise us ... a lot !

Need a company specializing into tri-CMOS integration

Concentration AND specialization. We may have Sony, Panasonic,Fuji and Sharp producing the individual CMOS sensors, plusA NEWcompany specializing in testing, mating, assemblingand adjusting the tri-CMOS combinationsdelivered as ready to use subsystems to camcorders producers, this including some high-end systems fitted with cryogenic cooling. Outputting video data using HDMI. Controlusing a Philips I2C bus. So simple !

Will Apple reinvent video capture like they reinvented the walkman (iPod) ?

If Apple is subsiding a subcontractor, specializing into tri-CMOS subsystems, representing a significant purchase power regardingvideo CMOS sensors,theywill getthe potentialto blast the entire digicam - camcorder market.Look, for Apple, thiswill feed the video iPods sales and this also will feed the videoediting tools and ultimately this will also feed the webdesign tools sales. Not forgetting the powerful iMacs that are neeed to support HD Video. All Apple branded. It is Apple'sspecialty to enter markets encumbered with ill-designed stuff, then setting new rules (like telling you what is a pixel and what is a "faked" pixel) then using that Troyan Horse to feed their existing markets. Hence Apple stock at 500 usd within a couple of years ... Be warned !

Need to divorcefrom TV standards - promoting 30fps and 60fps non interlaced

Divorcing from the 25fps "cinema" format. Divorcing from the "interlaced" formats. One worldwide standard concentrating on 30Hz and 60Hz framerates and 24-bit RGB data. Paving the way fora 120Hz framerate capture for slow motion and/or high-resolution sport and action. With all plasma and all LCDs screen providing a 60Hzframerate.With top-notch plasmas and LCDs offering a 120Hz framerate for best sport and action rendering. Paving the way, too, for a 32-bit RGB data format forsmooth gradations using a fourth channel (three bytesfor the normalized color coordinates plus one byte forglobal intensity). Call the fourth byte "pixel luminance" if you want.

Need to advertizethe "real" pixels and not the "faked" pixels anymore

What can be expected too, is that someconsumer league will force the equipment manufacturers to quote the real pixel counts in their product announcements and specifications.An example : in aFull HD LCD screen outputting 1920x1080 "true" pixels,each pixel is consisting on a RGB triplet, so it is valid to say that the image has a resolution of2 Megapixels in colour. But in adigital camera using a1920x1080 pixel CCD sensorcovered bya lowpass filter and a mosaic RGB-Bayer filter, is it honest to advertize it as "2 Megapixel" ?Not at all ! If one is calling the digital camera a "2 Megapixel" device, then one should call the Full HD screen a "6 Megapixel" device !Or,preferably, if one is calling the Full HD screen a "2 Megapixel" device, the RGB-Bayerdigicam using a single 2 Megapixel sensorsould be called a 675K pixels device !

1/6 inch HD tri-CMOS systems : 299 dollars

This approach is necessary forboosting tri-CMOS sales. Abudget camera using software antishake (instead of optical antishake) would use atiny 1/6inch 16:9 2Mpix tri-CMOS system outputting1920x1080pixels. The output format would be1980x1080 pixelswith anti-shake being off,and 1280x720pixelswith anti-shake being on. The advantage of the 1920x1080 pixels setting would allow the standard 43mm focalin the 1920x1080pixels setting.Thiswould beadvertizedas "6 Megapixel interpolated". And this would reuse the vast army of low-cost big zooms one can find in current entry-level camcorders, as they are all equipped with tiny 1/6 inch sensors today. And yes, such entry-level camcorderswould deliver decent upscaled JPEG stills of 6 Megapixels, with burstshooting up to 8fps. With 1080p30pfs and 720p60fps video. All this for 299 dollars !That is the evolutionwe are going to see between 2010 and 2020. Will people really need more ?

1/2.33 inch HD tri-CMOS systems : 399 dollars

Of course, a cleanerimage canbe achieved using 1/2.33 inch sensors instead of 1/6 inch sensors. Using the same resolution of 1980x1080 pixels.So more sensitive.And more sharpness because of heavier lenses.Reusing the mass-produced stabilized zooms like the ones from thePanasonic TZ5,enabling awide angle 28mm focal in the 1980x1080 format. All this for 399 dollars, only 100 dollars more than the entry-level system (25 dollars more for optical stabilization,25 dollars more for heavier optics, and 50 dollars more for the bigger sensors).

1/2.33 inch HD tri-CMOS advanced systems : 499 dollars

Of course, a far better still image could be achieved using more elaborate 8Mpix 1/2.33 inch sensors instead of 2Mpix 1/2.33inch sensors. Each sensor would thus output3840x2160pixels. And this remainsoptimumforHD video, using a 2X2 binning (1920x1080) and 3x3binning (1280x720) in the readout, so no loss of sensitivity compared to the previous system.
So the novelty is to have 3x 8Mpix at disposition for stills, so delivering razor sharp stills using a8MpixJPEG format, and decent stills using interpolated 12Mpix JPEGs.Reusing the mass-produced stabilized zooms like the ones from thePanasonic TZ5,enabling awide angle 28mm focal in the 1980x1080 format. All this for 499 dollars, only 100 dollars more than the previousrange.

2/3 inch HD tri-CMOS systems : semipro stuff at 599 dollars

Having tiny sensors of1/6inch (.17 inch), having also sensors of1/2.33 inch (.43 inch), there isindeed a future for 2/3 inch (.67 inch) sensors, the surface being 2.4 times bigger than a 1/2.33 inch sensor.This enables asemipro range, withheavier and improved optics, more sensitivity, and the3840x2160"true"8Mpix.Optimum video using 2x2 binning for 1080p video, and 3x3 binning for 720p video. The 100 dollars asked supplement is justified by50 dollarsfor heavier optics, plus 50 dollarsfor the bigger sensors.Such a machine would deliversuperior video thanthe semipro full HD cameras that we currently have, sold at 2000+ dollars, not counting the fact that they would also deliver quality 16Mpix and 12Mpix JPEG stills (using interpolation), and for the purist, razor-sharp 8Mpix stills (no faked pixels).This is better than a Bridge Fuji S100fs (because of three 2/3 inch sensors instead of one) but less good than a DSLR Canon EOS 450d (mainly because the 2/3 inch format is using smaller optics having less resolvingpower than thebigger ones used with a 22x15mm DSLR sensor).

1/2.33 inch mono-CMOS systems :stuff between 129 and199 dollars

Thismarket is wherecompacity is paramount, at the expense of quality.There we will see mono-CMOS systems using alowpass filter and aRGB Bayer filter.We can expect atypical 149 dollars 1/2.33 inch mono-CMOS digicam to bea 8 Mpix 5xnon-stabilized zoom digicam outputting3840x2160pixels, with 1080pvideo HD recording capabilities at 30fps. Maybe720p video HD recording capability at 60fps also, ifusing a special RGB Bayer Pattern compatible with both subsampling processes. This isnot to be confused with binning. Thelow-light sensitivity will be considerably degraded.Such camera is basically a still camera, with heavy compromizes regarding the video. It would however output decent 8Mpix stills, like today8 Mpix pocketable digicams that are also faking half of the pixels (RGB-Bayer filter),currently availableat199 dollars.Iffitted with a lowcost 32Mbyte SRAM buffer, such digicamwould be able toshot aboutsix consecutive8Mpix JPEGsat 8 fps. Not too bad for a 149 dollar price tag, if you realize that you also get 1080p video HD at 30fps, and possibly, maybe,also720p video HD at 60fps. Willpeople really need more ?

LASENS : Light-Amplificated SENSors : the next frontier

Then, horizon 2020,we'll get the first 2MegapixelParametric Maser sensors, each individual pixel relying onMaser-amplification and Parametric-amplification (nano machining, transverse electric field, bias excitation, non-linear coatings,quantic pumps, embeddedper pixel Peltier element),hence shutter speeds always faster than 1/250th of a second even at 1 lux ! One million ASA equivalent, as standard for video.With such a high sensitivity, no need to have three sensors. One can use only one sensor,sequentially detuningthe wavelenght sensitivity peak, so for each aquired pixel, there may be sequentially a lot more sampling points than just red, green, and blue.
Such sensors are genuine light traps,appearing as darker than totalblack, so no diffraction nor optical aberrations.

Future looks bright ! Ihope Apple will enter this market,clearing the current mess we are facing.

Customers feedback

Last week I returned a Canon MD235 camcorder advertized as 16:9 (interlaced1/6 inch 700K pixels)when realizing thatusing Microsoft Movie Maker you end up importing a720x480 pixels format instead of the expected 848x480 format.And you can only saveyour work using a 2Mbit/sWMV profile.Paid about 300 eur for that !The resulting quality was worsethan the video coming straight out of a Casio Exilim V7 digicam, sold for about half the price. Using the Casio Exilim V7, you get a 6Mbit/s 640x480 H264 videoat 30fps. Clean, smooth and ready to use. Call it a disguised next generation iPod if you like ! Thisis the upcomingentry-level video camcorder market !

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Old May 5, 2008, 5:08 AM   #2
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This is an exciting future, and I look forward to it. Casio seem to be making tentative steps in that direction of function combination, but not much in technology, with their recent efforts, but the specimens of eventhis tiny step seem to be very hard to find, to judge from these forums.

steph_tsf wrote:
...DSLR...back to the pleasure of using aTTL viewfinder ! It would be disabled for video, of course, but it would appear asan (expensive) option for still capture.
I already have the pleasure ofa WYSIWYG TTL viewfinder on both my very cheap non-SLR still camera (Kodak Z712is) and DVC camcorder (Samsung D371W) in their excellent electronic viewfinders. As they have a full display of all essential settings, with a reasonable 'live preview', fully adjustable without taking the camera from my eye in the case of the Kodak, I don't see why the option should be expensive.

The only advantage I can seein the mirror and pentaprism optical viewfinder in a dSLR is accurate judgement of manual focus. Rather than WYSIWG, it's 'what you see is what you'd like to get' which may be rather different, as I know from about 45 years of film SLR photography. So I don't miss the optical viewfinder now that I've sold my 35mm SLR kit. It was the eye-level viewfinder that I was waiting for, once adequate image quality for most of my needs had arrived, and it was essential to get away from the tyranny of the LCD screen. The 'zoom telescope' optical viewfinder on all my previous digicams was essential, but the EVF is better and renders it unnecessary.The LCD is a toy for showing snapshots to your friends.

The cheap Samsung camcorder's viewfinderis a step backwards from the EVF on my analogue camcorders, but only because the menus and associated buttons aren't accessible without the LCD screen. Fixing that is a minor design matter.

I do hope these developments actually happen, at reasonable ultimate cost. Over in the Kodak forum there's been a discussion about a technical downgrading towards mass market cameras. Far sighted manufacturers will try to do both.

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Old May 5, 2008, 7:55 AM   #3
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Hello Allan,

Much appreciated, your reaction. I have amended my initial post with some expected prices.

If we base on the 649 dollar tri-CMOS 2/3 inch semipro machine, without any viewfinder (only a LCD at the back, of course) what would be the tolerable supplements for

1)a DSLR-like pentaprism plus mirror allowing the comfort of matte focusing, smooth fast pannings, and no dispaly delay? 200 dollars ?

2)a 1280x720eye-level EVF ?100 dollars ?

3) a side-level viewfinder (only to be used in fixed lenses with lower than 7xzoom factor) ? 50 dollars ? 100 dollars if very bright like the one of a DSLR ?

If one is considering a moderate zoom, say x7, and no concerns about focusing help, all that is requested is not getting dizzy while fast panning, and not being trapped by EVF delays. Sothere isno actual need for a pentaprism and mirror, therefore theside eye-level viewfinder is still in the race.

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