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Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Where Are Digital SLRs Going?

A conversation with Canon’s Chuck Westfall offers a glimpse of the future

Westfall: They're relatively solid state. There are no moving parts. There are a lot of interesting ideas of how liquid lenses can be made relatively less expensively, but also be more robust than a conventional lens. There are many possibilities with this technology.

PCPhoto: Researchers at the University of Colorado have invented a technology called Wavefront Coding, which holds the promise of dramatically changing the way we take pictures. What's your understanding of it?

Westfall: It's a technology that allows you to choose the focus point after the fact, after you've already taken the picture. They produced a working prototype that drastically affects the depth of field. It offers the potential to deliver much greater depth of field without the need to stop down the lens. This could improve the overall clarity of many images. The resulting files are of very low resolution, but the idea will extend in the future to larger formats and higher resolution.

PCPhoto: One of the biggest concerns for photographers has been battery life. What improvements do you foresee on this front?

Westfall: Canon has already demonstrated our next generation of technology, the hydrogen fuel cell. We think that these are going to be valuable for a variety of portable devices, whether it's digital cameras, video cameras or other things. We're looking at performance levels as much as 30% higher than current lithium-ion batteries of the same size.

PCPhoto: How are changes in the design of the image sensors themselves expected to impact battery life?

Westfall: As we go forward, one of the things that's going to make a difference in respect to both power consumption and image quality is the difference in the pitch of the wiring on the chips. These are going to be reduced. That's true for semiconductors across the board. As the pitch of the wiring becomes smaller; you get more capacity within the same amount of space. The other thing that happens is that it requires less power to run and so it becomes more efficient. For example, when we introduced our DIGIC II technology, we offered a processor that was four times more powerful, but used 35% less electricity than the original DIGIC technology.


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