Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Android Used On Digital Mirrorless Cameras

We've all got used to carrying around pretty good cameras day and night.  Most of us have a decent camera in our smart phone and plenty of us have access to one in our tablet computers.  Despite this convenient flexibility, many of us also cart a compact digital camera around. 

It makes sense, really.  For one, the cameras on phones, while much better than those available just a year or more ago, pale into insignificance against some of the compacts that can be picked up for a trivial amount these days.  Plus they offer a lot more flexibility, hard coded into the camera and many have physical zoom lenses (as opposed to digital zooms which rarely stand up to close scrutiny).

Also they mean that we don't have to choke up our phone's memory storage too quickly, leaving it available for ad hoc opportunistic photos when we're not carrying our compact camera.

However some of us want a bit more flexibility when we take photos - I'm one who likes to have the capability to control depth of field and to choose the best aperture for a photograph.  I also like to select the best focal length for the shot.  Not all the time, but there are some photos that a compact camera or a smartphone just won't do justice to.

My current go-to real camera rig is an Olympus Digital Single Lens Reflex (SLR) that I've had for about four years.  Which means it's officially archaic, given the rate of change in technology these days.

For those who haven't been exposed to SLR cameras, let me digress.  These cameras are designed with a prism mounted above and just behind the lens.  The light enters the lens, gets focussed and then hits a mirror leaning at a 45 degree angle, directing the light into the prism.  90 degrees later the image is presented to the photographer's eye.  Because of this arrangement the photographer can see exactly what the electronic sensor will see when the shutter button is pushed.  Out of focus - turn the focus ring on the lens and watch the image snap sharp, too far away - push the lens to bring the image closer and larger.  Thanks to the magic of technology all of the technical information regarding shutter speed and aperture size are pushed to the same viewfinder the photographer is looking  through.

And the key flexibility of all of this is that the lens is interchangeable - that is, you can fit longer or shorter focal length lenses to give yourself maximum flexibility with the image.  Wide angle through to telephoto, no problem.  When the shutter release button is pushed the mirror lifts, obliterating the view momentarily and the shutter opens to expose the image to the sensor.  Then everything returns to normal, with the whole process taking a fraction of a second.

In the last couple of years camera companies have started to move away from the mirror/prism model, relying on a semi-transparent glass plate that both allows light to travel to the sensor once the shutter is opened and to the viewfinder, although this is far from ideal, because you're splitting the available light.  The upside is that you get rid of the moving mirror, one less mechanical thing to synchronise and go wrong.

But the ultimate way forward, right now at least, is the mirrorless system, where the sensor is continually exposed to the light through the lens and feeds that image to an electronic eyepiece.  Technically they could have done this years ago, but the electronic screens used in video cameras, for example, were pretty crude and us photographers like a bit of quality.  Today, those viewfinders are of a high enough quality so the mirror is lost and so is the prism, a weight saving.  Job done?

Not according to Samsung, which is about to launch a mirrorless camera with android built in.  It's not clear yet if the camera takes a mobile phone sim card, but even if it's just WiFi then it will be a boon.  First, you can download any amount of photo editing apps direct to the phone, so you're not just tied to the Samsung firmware.  But perhaps more importantly you can upload photos on the hoof - to your cloud storage for safety or to the local paper if it's a newsworthy snap.  Reuters may be on your email contact list with this camera.

It's a role reversal, having email on your camera instead of a camera on your smart phone, but one photographers are going to like.


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