When Shutterstock reached 100 million images we asked ourselves: What will the next billion look like? Our curiosity was sparked and we began exploring the trends that are shaping The Future Of Imagery. As part of our investigation we’ll be speaking to leading experts in the field, learning how changes in technology, community, and aesthetics are pioneering a new visual era.
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The future of cameras will be in image sensors that take ISO levels to new heights.
From film to digital, and from digital to mobile — there is a huge shift in the camera industry. Whether it be photography or video, technological advancements have continued to push the boundaries of capturing images. Perhaps most apparent is the ability to shoot at incredibly high ISO levels that still capture absolutely stunning images.
For a brief history on ISO levels, you have to go back to the standardization of film. The International Organization of Standardization publishes the ISO standards. For the standards related to film, the ISO is a measurement of the film’s sensitivity to light. For example, ISO 400 film is four times as sensitive to light compared to ISO 100.
Film stock at ISO 800 or above was considered high. During the development of digital cameras, ISO 12232:2006 set out to rate digital image exposure compared to film. The point was to standardize ISO levels between film and digital images. Essentially, a digital camera set to ISO 100 would get an image equal to an image shot on film at ISO 100.
Today’s High ISO Levels
Today, digital image sensors can capture images at staggeringly high ISO levels, some up to the likes of ISO 409,600.
“It’s important to realize that changing the camera’s ISO setting doesn’t actually change the sensitivity of the image sensor. It just changes the processing of the resulting image data.
Changing the ISO changes the gain (either analog, which electronically amplifies the signal, or digital, which just multiplies the digital values after the signal is converted from analog to digital form), and, in auto-exposure modes, the metered exposure. But increasing a digital camera’s ISO is more akin to push-processing a slower film to a higher rating than actually changing to a film with a higher ISO speed,” according to Digital Photo Pro
As to why you’d want to use a higher ISO, once again Digital Photo Pro perfectly explains:
“In general, using higher ISO settings allows you to use faster shutter speeds to minimize the effects of handheld camera shake and subject motion, and/or smaller apertures to provide more depth of field. You can shoot in dimmer light with the same shutter speeds and apertures a slower ISO would require in brighter light. That’s why available-light and action photographers especially like higher ISO settings.”
Sony’s Powerful Sensors
Speaking of photographers, in examining the most popular cameras photographers use to upload content to Flickr, camera phones far outweigh the DSLR and mirrorless market.
Of all of these cameras listed, there is a frequent commonality. The iPhone, some models of Samsung’s Note 4 and S6, Motorola’s Moto line, and even the Nikon D7000 — all Sony camera sensors.
“higher resolution without compromise to tradeoff. Photographers are no longer forced to choose between resolution and sensitivity,” says Mark Weir, Sony Electronics Senior Manager of Technology
In a 2015 study, it was determined that Sony had a 40.2% share of the image sensor market. When it comes to Apple, the iPhone 6 used Sony sensors for the front and rear cameras — earning Sony approximately $20 for every iPhone sold. From Sony’s own report on sales from 2013-2014, the company saw a 40% increase in image sensor sales.
In Tim Moynihan’s 2015 Wired piece “Sony’s New Sensors Are More Exciting Than Its New Cameras,” he correctly predicted:
“a trickle-down effect that will touch anything with a camera in it. With that in mind, expect full-frame DSLRs everywhere to combine higher resolution with greater sensitivity, and expect the slow-motion movie and 4K capabilities of pocketable devices to improve — quickly and dramatically.
As we head into 2017, it’s apparent that nearly every device with a camera is getting faster and better sensor technology. Even if camera bodies aren’t changing too much.
“Digital imaging technology has matured, and that’s led to a ton of very good digital cameras. But maturity brings with it a sort of developmental stagnation, which is exacerbated by the fact that there are only really two companies making camera sensors nowadays: Sony and Canon. Nikon and Fujifilm both use Sony sensors, and both rely on advancements from Sony’s engineers to drive their cameras’ performance forward,” according to The Verge
In April of 2016, Sony officially moved their image sensor technologies into a new company — Sony Semiconductor Solutions. The company on a whole is turning around new products faster than ever.
They released the very popular Sony a6000 in February of 2014. Two years later in February of 2016 the company released the a6300, it was followed up by the a6500 in October of the same year. That’s not to mention the very successful full-frame mirrorless a7 series, which is used by photographers and video producers alike — such as the camera crew behind the Discovery series Deadliest Catch. You also can’t forget to mention the release of Apple’s iPhone 7 with its new dual camera system.
As far as the competition goes, Canon has been very protective of their sensor technology historically — but given the astounding success Sony has had, even Canon is looking into selling their CMOS sensors to competitors.
The Future of Sensors
So what does this mean for the future? Well don’t expect Sony to go away anytime soon. They are supplying the sensor behind the iPhone 7 and the critically acclaimed Google Pixel smartphone camera. Canon has continued to innovate low-light cameras, yet their products haven’t quite found an audience. Was the $30,000 ME20F-SH with a 4 million + ISO designed for filmmakers or as security cameras?
We aren’t far away from shooting in pitch black conditions that produce quality images. The camera-phone market will continue to demand features that allow them to take photos in everyday situations — whether it be the blazing sun at the beach or the dark atmosphere of a night club. The camera phone has practically killed the point-and-shoot market as it is, as it became the best point-and-shoot option available. What other camera will you put in your pocket and have on you at all times?
As for professional cameras, you’ll likely see a split. There will be smaller cameras, much like those Sony and Fujifilm are producing now. Then there will be much larger cameras that can do unbelievably extraordinary things. Look at the Lytro Cinema Camera, which uses light-field technology to analyze pixels for color, value, distance, and lighting directions. The data the camera captures gives you total control over an image in post — including options like focus. Right now that camera is the size of a pickup truck, but one day you’ll have one over your shoulder.
Creatives will no longer be limited by light, but will be able to manipulate light like never before. That’s the future of image capture.