How an open source camera will change photography

Summary:It seems amazing that no camera company has yet sought to build an ecosystem based on software, but this is an area where open source really can innovate, since every application will be a new one.

What Stanford calls the Frankencamera does not look like much.

It's big and clumsy and you don't get much better performance as a result of that.

(This is a close-up from our Crave blog. The hands are those of graduate student Andrew Adams. No word on whether he's related to Ansel.)

But because the new camera is based on a Nokia N95 smartphone, whose software is licensed by the open source Symbian Foundation, it can become a lot more.

Professor Marc Levoy plans to release a complete implementation for the camera in a year, a platform on which apps can be built.

Already he has created software for the camera that does things no commercial camera can do, like extend its "dynamic range" so all distances are optimally lit, and enhance the resolution of videos with still images.

The applications are endless, going well beyond hobbies.

Cameras that take pictures of speeders could have programs that enhance and re-take those images on cars that try to gray-out their license tags to avoid detection. Any attempt to evade photo detection might be automatically countered with the right combination of hardware and software.

It seems amazing that no camera company has yet sought to build an ecosystem based on software, but this is an area where open source really can innovate, since every application will be a new one.

Open source smart phone groups like Android, LiMo and Moblin should all be anxious to replicate what Levoy is doing in their phones.

One point Levoy did not make is that the Frankencamera software could be integrated with existing open source imaging software, like The Gimp, so developers of those programs can jump-start the ecosystem.

Levoy's idea is also so obvious it's impossible to believe a proprietary company can't adapt it quickly enough.

How soon before we see camera apps at the Apple app store?

Topics: Open Source, Hardware, Software

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

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