The Ultimate Camera

Some years ago, before I grew tired of the pointless, talentless buffoonery of web sites like photo.net, I posted a thread on dpreview.com about what I thought was a radical and brilliant idea: the human eye was the ultimate camera. Of course I was immediately set upon by the countless nay-sayers who populate web forums, who came up with reason after reason why it wouldn’t work. People love to tell you how something won’t work, and seldom suggest things that will work other than telling you what you should buy. It’s always about money, and seldom about concepts on web forums.

Curved film? A flat film plane is a decidedly 19th-century necessity. In the 21st century, there must be something better.
Curved film? A flat film plane is a decidedly 19th-century necessity. In the 21st century, there must be something better.

One of the most significant elements in this discussion is the problem associated with projecting light onto a flat field. The field had to be flat through most of the history of photography because of the mechanics and limitations of photographic film. In its first iteration, photosensitive emulsions coated glass plates, which were perfectly flat. As time and technology advanced, plastics took the place of glass, but due to the engineers and their sometimes powerful paradigms, film still remained flat.

This flatness was not inconsequential. In order to project an image onto this flat surface, a lens needed to accomplish many things. I am not an optician, but early in my understanding of lenses and optics was this problem of using a round lens to project an image onto a flat object.

My notion about the ultimate camera was this: what if you could build an imaging sensor that was the shape of the retina of the human eye? Or even farther, what if you could make it the mathematically perfect shape for the lens you were using? What if you could create an imaging sensor that could change shape to optimize image quality for a certain lens, or for certain focal length settings for zoom lenses? Could these kinds of designs eliminate the problems that plague even the best lenses, such as chromatic aberrations, spherical aberrations, distortion, spherochromatism, and so on, many of which are the result of trying to project a curved or three-dimentional image onto a flat plane?

Instead of cramming more and more unnecessary pixels into our cameras, maybe this could be the next step in the evolution of photography. I think this is an intriguing idea.

The modern CCD is still married to the idea of being flat the way film was, but making it curved is a very interesting idea.
The modern CCD is still married to the idea of being flat the way film was, but making it curved is a very interesting idea.
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2 Comments

  1. While I agree with you that it’s a worthwhile (and probably achievable) goal, I don’t have any confidence that effort will be spent in that direction — except possibly by some university research team who’ll publish a paper about it.

    The (very strong) trend of making sensors smaller and cheaper so they’ll fit in thinner and lighter phones really seems to be driving the market here.

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