I recently wrote a post describing a new camera I (along with 3 other photographers) have been testing. Naturally, I've had a lot of questions about the camera. So with that in mind, I'd like to write this follow up post.
First off, the camera doesn't exist.
I made it up.
Sorry. Don't hate me.
Here's how it went down:
I decided I wanted to do a photography-related April Fools joke. However, I've never been a fan of ridiculous 'jokey' pranks like this or the way-over-the-top stuff like this. No; I wanted it to be semi-believable. Something that would make the reader say, "That's cool and I can absolutely see it happening, but it does seem a bit out there". And no one was going to believe me if I said that I'd been testing a new version of Kodachrome or a digital back for 35mm cameras, or whatnot.
I began to think about what people might really want in a digital camera; especially those who shoot film. What, if anything, would make them consider abandoning film? Do people who shoot film do so strictly for the 'look', or is there something else? If there were a digital camera that perfectly emulated the look and feel of film (including the dynamic range), would people be tempted to switch?
The answer, it seems, is: it depends.
While a few people immediately caught on to the joke, some people seemed genuinely interested in the camera. Frankly, I would be too. One of the major 'features' of my imaginary camera was its ability to compress a wide dynamic range into a small range of tones on the sensor, which would then be expanded into a final image in a computer. This is more-or-less how negative film is able to capture such a huge scenic dynamic range, and the linear response of current digital sensors is one of the key reasons that they still cannot match the DR of modern negative films.
Then there was the issue of making the output look like film. That's when I came up with the idea of a digital camera that mimics film through the (very real) process of convolution. I knew about convolution through my experiences in the pro audio world (where it is already routinely used to emulate halls and rooms in reverberation algorithms), and through my day job, where we use the inverse process (deconvolution) to improve the resolution and acuity of images from fluorescence microscopy. Deconvolution is also used in photography (Photoshop's 'Smart Sharpen' is based on deconvolution, for example).
Frankly, I think this is a pretty damn good idea. Shoot some film under a set of known conditions. The response of that film is a known quantity that could, in theory, be mathematically modelled. Then, apply that to the output of a camera sensor with a known output, and voila. Frankly, I'm amazed that no camera company has ever thought of this. Or maybe they have, and it's a ridiculously impractical idea. Who knows?
Anyway, once I had those two ideas, the post basically wrote itself. It was absolutely critical that I not make the camera too over-the-top flawless. Hence the caveats about the requirement for a powerful computer, the limited availability of film stocks, and the 'just ok' high ISO performance. Again, believable, but kinda crazy. That was the goal.
In retrospect, two things almost killed the prank before it got off the ground: first, saying that 3 other photographers were testing the camera naturally raised the question of where their previews were. I have to admit that I totally overlooked this. On the plus side, Johnny Patience, who was one of the first people to immediately recognize this as a joke, volunteered to go along with the plan, and confirmed the accuracy of my review. This was a huge step for the joke, because Johnny has a much larger following than I do, and thus lent the whole story far more legitimacy.
The second thing that almost killed the prank was my statement that I would consider buying this camera and giving up film. I wouldn't do that. Ever. To his credit, Tom Welland picked up on this (since Tom has actually met me and knows my affinity for the process of shooting film, rather than just the end result).
Anyway, I am sorry to disappoint you all. I hope you had fun with this and you won't hate me. It was interesting to read your questions and comments, and hopefully it got everybody thinking a bit about why they choose to shoot film (or not), and what they truly value in a camera and in photography.