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Coming soon: Cameras that never stop taking pictures

The future of photography, videography, webcams and camera phones is constant capture

October 27, 2012 06:05 AM ET

Computerworld - In the old days -- say, 150 years ago -- a photograph was a rare and expensive thing.

Photos back then took a long time to prepare for, and a long time afterwards to process. Only professionals could create them. Once you had a photograph in your possession, you cared for it and treated it like a precious object.

Over the ensuing decades, improved technology made photos increasingly common, cheap and disposable. And, in fact, the pace of that trend has never stopped accelerating. Soon, we will reach a kind of singularity where pictures are as easy and cheap to take as they are not to take, and they will be infinitely disposable.

When that happens, the default mode for most cameras will be to never stop taking pictures.

To paraphrase cyberpunk author William Gibson, the future of constantly capturing cameras is already here; it's just not widely distributed yet.

What's so great about a camera that never stops taking photos? Constant picture taking has one advantage, and one disadvantage.

The advantage is that by taking many more pictures, you're more likely to capture unexpected or better images. Professional photographers take a lot more pictures than amateurs, because they know that taking 500 pictures of something instead of just five increases the chance of getting at least one great picture.

This "pro tip" is even more advantageous for bad photographers like me. That's why my last camera purchase was a Canon EOS 7D, which takes 8 frames per second, and can take 130 pictures in a row at the highest jpeg setting at that speed.

It's amazing how much better a photographer I am when the photo I show you was the best of 100 pictures, rather than the best of three. (The reason security cameras in, say, retail stores, never stop taking pictures is that they want to capture unexpected moments.)

In both cases, constant picture taking prevents you from missing the very best image.

The one disadvantage is that all those pictures have to be managed and dealt with. And being able to manage massively high numbers of photos is where technology is lagging.

But smart people are working on it, and they're making progress. Here are some camera products and projects that constantly capture images.

Autographer

A company called Oxford Metrics Group (OMG!) plans to ship a $650 camera next month called Autographer.

The camera is designed to be worn around the neck, and make its own decisions about when to snap photos. It uses acceleration, direction, temperature, proximity and light sensors to make those decisions. So, for example, when you're just sitting there, and the scenery isn't changing, it stops taking pictures. If you get up and walk around, it starts again.



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