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Thinking Outside the dSLR

Discussion in 'Other Cool Gear, Camera Bags, Camera Straps' started by annedi, Dec 31, 2005.

  1. I just completed reading the "Gitzos - Can I Really Go Wrong" thread started by Harrison/Afs. There was a LOT of really good detailed information and opinions there about solutions to our "stability/vibration" problems in photography that arise from shooting at slow speeds or with heavy telephoto lenses or in windy conditions, etc. [[Thanks in particular to Bjørn/Nfoto and John/PJohnP for their enlightening and reasoned explanations and contributions. Very interesting. U guyz B cool.]]

    But it all got me to thinking.....well, not too deeply or for any length of time since it's New Year's Eve and I must be off soon for the obligatory glass of Taittinger with some friends....but anyway.....
    it all got me to wondering WHY aren't there other solutions to some of these problems?

    For example: why don't these big dSLRs of ours have some kind of internal vibration dampening material that prevents that shutter clack from rattling the D2X?? I once damped down my D2X with a giant rubberband stretched around lens, camera and my hands. Worked great except for the stress on the lens mount and the cutting off of circulation in my fingers.

    For that matter, do we really need a shutter/mirror set in an electronic camera? Couldn't there be some way to just "pulse" electricity through a CCD device and make it actively "record" light for X number of seconds and then stop?? The shutter curtain paradigm presumes that the CCD device or other recording mechanism (like "film" -- whatever that was) is "always on". But couldn't the recording paradigm be "always off" instead? Has anyone heard anything about any radical new camera designs?

    For example: can lenses be made out of anything other than heavy glass? Is there some new age lightweight NanoWunderPlastic that can focus light rays in a camera lens? I'm not trying to be silly here -- just think about contact lenses for example. What if a 600mm telephoto lens only weighed 2 pounds? It would be very neat, that. Do any of you all think that we will get a 2 pound 600mm f/1.4 ED IF AFS anytime in the reasonably near future??? Sigh.

    For example: Isn't there any kind of light amplification (i.e. laser) technique that could artifically induce a 600mm focal length out of a actual 300mm focal length?? I can't remember enough optics at the moment to even think whether I'm phrasing this correctly!

    Just thinking........probably a dangerous practice :D izzy:

  2. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Andrea :

    I can't comment much about the electronic antishake capability, although it's in the range of possibility. Konica-Minolta has a couple of cameras with this feature, although I don't know that any pro-DSLR has it yet.

    As for glass... Sigh.

    Glass has so many great refractive qualities for lenses - there are few materials that are lighter with the same performance. Oh, yes, there have been plastic lenses over the decades, but the glasses we find in cameras are used for very very good reasons. Note that I'm going to use the term "glass" generically here - the glass in a window, the glass in crystal flutes for champagne, and the glass in a camera lens are not materially identical. In fact, mineral crystals - definitely not a glass material - can be used to great effect in optical systems. Telescope systems have used mineral materials such as calcium fluoride or fluoro-phosphate crystal to produce apochromat refractors (bring all as many wavelengths of light to concurrent focus as possible), but for a good variety of physical reasons related to those materials, they're not used much in camera lenses (mineral-derived or chemically created coatings are a different, but related matter, again, a bit more complex than this discussion warrants - another note on this is below).

    There are some other issues about the density of the glass and refractive index while holding down chromatic abberation that can be simplified to saying that there is something of a minimum density necessary.

    The other factor on heavy lenses comes from wanting "fast glass". Bjørn's done some fine discussion on definitions of f/stop elsewhere (well worth reading, IMO), but I'll try to keep this simple for our discussion by saying that larger diameter lenses are pretty much required for wider apertures (lower f/stops) for a given camera mount type. Bigger diameter lenses usually correspond to more weight (and often more elements in the overall lens body system, but that's another more complex matter).

    Look at the Nikon 24-120mm AFS/VR lens and compare it with the "Beast", the Nikon 28-70mm AFS lens. The Beast is larger and heavier, but doesn't get the same "reach". Why so much bigger ? Well, it's an f/2.8 lens compared with the slower variable maximum aperture 24-120mm. On top of that, unless you use the Fresnell lens approach (those things you find on some overhead projector platens - wholly inappropriate for this type of DSLR application), there's a corresponding minimum thickness of lens necessary for a given diameter to get good focal characteristics.

    Optical engineers, along with materials engineers specialising in ceramics and glass, labour mightly to overcome all of these factors, and they've had remarkable success in improving this if you look over the last century, but there are some intrinsic physical limitations if we set certain basic performance criteria that make it hard to greatly reduce weight of the glass. Certain vintage lenses have incredible optical qualities, if they lack some of the "modern" coatings and AF capabilities. Again, Bjørn's addressed this a number of times on the various fora, as well as in his website. I'd commend his website to your reading for a more expert set of opinions on this than mine.

    Now, just to be pedantic, I'm going to make an exclusion for discussions here on lens coatings and their effects here, because they can't alter the basic physics of the glass weight (much), instead altering issues like flare, UV/IR transmission, some CA, etc.

    Contact lenses are not used in the exact same way as a camera lens, but make a correction of the eye's lens capability, and as such, are different in how they function. Note that some severe corrections mean that contacts are not possible, and think about the alternative, glasses.

    Another long-winded discussion, and I'll hope that I've not oversimplified beyond the fundamental principles too much... :rolleyes: 

    John P.
  3. nfoto

    nfoto Guest

    As for the shutter of the D2X and similar models, it is light-weight and well damped, so little vibration is incurred by its opening and closing. In fact the shutters of today's camera are highly improved compared to cameras of the past. The "clack" sound is from the mirror flipping out of the way, or more precisely, from the mirror returning to its viewing position. D2X has an efficient counterweight attached to the mirror and this prevents largely the detrimental effects of mirror-induced vibration when the shutter is open. After the exposure is finished, the mirror returns and dissipates the stored energy, resulting in sound and vibration of the camera (just put your hand on top of the finder to notice this). However, since the vibration occurs after the picture actually is taken, it cannot directly degrade the image (however, if you rapidly fire a sequence with the camera and don't absorb energy by hand-holding or supporting the camera, a train of internal waves can set up and this eventually does impact image sharpness).

    The shutter serves to prevent the light-sensitive microwells of the imager from being illuminated continuously, thus giving a better noise performance. At least with current digital recording technology, the shutter is mandatory.

    As to your 600 mm f/1.4 lens, it will by definition need to be at least 40 cm thick and probably at least as long, so its sheer bulk effectively prevents it from being a light-weight, whatever material it is made of.

    If customers were willing to pay truly astronomical prices for their lenses, far better designs than we have today could be envisaged. But most people won't pay outrageous prices, they want cheap and light-weight lenses, and the manufacturers are only too happy to fulfil their wishes.
  4. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Bjørn :

    The physics on this make it tough to get tremendously lighter weight lenses than we currently see, although some small changes are certainly physically possible. Optical improvement in the glass itself is possible, although I'd note that many "old" lenses have optically superb glass in them. I won't quarrel that the potential exists for the quality of image to be improved with a large money infusion (and I'll come back to that below). There's still an amazing amount that can be done with coatings, as well.

    I spend a lot of time around the polymer industries (among others), including specialty polymers for very esoteric purposes. Believe me when I tell you, that industry would purely love to have polymers at the levels of optical quality that we're discussing. Not happened yet, as much as I'd like to report (and be a part of) that kind of discovery :Mysteriou

    Glass in general is a wonderfully fascinating class of material, and as much as the materials engineers and scientists have delved the depths of "how" it works, there's still a goodly bit of thinking that's yet to come. :Smart: :QuestionM :Smart: I'd like to hope we're nowhere at the end of the ingenuity of the optical and materials engineers (and hope to be working at or around such a facility when neat things happen). :biggrin:

    But, Bjørn, you have deeply piqued my curiosity about where the designs could improved, outside of the glass in the lens itself. What kinds of things do you see or think could be accomplished ?

    John P.

    P.S. Excellent points on the interval waves/vibrations with mirror movement, BTW. I do notice this a bit more with the D200, but I've not been shooting full speed rock'n'roll with the camera this last bit. Good technique seems to be in order (as usual).
  5. nfoto

    nfoto Guest

    John: I was thinking along several lines.

    Firstly, more liberal use of aspherical elements could improve correction of the higher-order aberrations. We have seen a move towards increased use of aspherics lately, but I feel these have been used to reduce the number of elements in the optical design to cut down on size, weight, and ultimately, cost of the lens (1 aspherical element can replace at least 2 spherical ones). If cost wasn't a prime design factor we might see designs with lavish use of more exotic glass including wildly aspherics.

    Secondly, colour correction of our current lenses still leaves quite a lot to be desired and we need to see substantial improvements in this sector. Alternatively, manufacturers should provide lens data and correction parameters as open source so as to allow correction to take place during the raw conversion.

    Thirdly, despite all coating technology too many lenses are troubled with flare and ghosting and these issues can seriously degrade lens applicability and image quality. Lowering of contrast due to numerous elements can occur for complex designs and zooms, enhanced coatings might alleviate this issue to a considerable extent. Nikon recently revealed their Nano coating technology applied to the new 300 VR and from what I could observe, this new technology gives a significant boost to image contrast and clarity.

    Finally, and this may be the biggest obstacle of all, lenses need to feature better mechanical construction, have better casings to hold the optics collimated and be more able to withstand "normal" abuse without getting out of alignment. Mounts must have better and more robust material so as to withstand warping. The lenses must also be less prone to be misaligned on the optical axis, very important given the current trend towards telecentric designs. (DX lenses are highly susceptible to this issue). Unfortunately, this also means considerable increases in size and cost. Quality control is not something you should "see" other than reflected in the asking price for the lens.
  6. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Bjørn :

    All excellent points.

    And as well on the QC/QA issue, there shouldn't be such a dramatic difference between two brand new lenses of the same type from Nikon. We all hear about getting a "bad lens", while another person with same model number gets one that is excellent. It may be manufacturing QC, a failure in the after-manufacture quality assessments, or it may be that just shipping it causes misalignment (a different QA/QC issue), but this is a poor thing. I've had one Nikon lens that, in retrospect and with some thought, was actually defective (I kept thinking that my technique and use was poor, tried again and again, and only realised when I changed to another lens in the FL range that something else was at work :mad:  ), so I'm probably better off than many people.

    However, a high level of QA/QC is something that one expects from a first-tier camera and lens maker, not something addressed through many returns. For reasons that I do not know, Nikon is particularly reticent to admit to quality problems, and stonewalls many times on the issue until it becomes overwhelming (e.g., D2H meter failure, D70 BGLOD). Other Japanese major manufacturers are more upfront with their issues, and attempt to "get in front" of problems more proactively.

    I'm certainly not part of the "Nikon-basher" club, but I do have some serious questions about the QC/QA for Nikon, along with corporate customer service for quality related problems. At these price points, minor-to-major quality issues should be down in the three sigma (minor) to five sigma (major) range (six sigma's a great process, but few reach it in reality across a product range). Maybe we should resurrect Dr. Demming to visit them ?

    John P.

    P.S. Or maybe we could volunteer to oversee their new body and lens programs... :eek:  :rolleyes:  :biggrin:
  7. fks


    Apr 30, 2005
    sf bay area
    hi john-

    it's not nikon, it's japanese corporate culture as a whole. having worked for a japanese-owned company in the past, most quality issues were denied or swept under the rug until we got caught. then there was a lot of apologizing and pretend scrambling (since we already knew about the problem and the solution) to fix the problem.

    i don't think any of the other japanese camera manufacturers are any more open about their quality issues. the focusing issue with the 20D is a prime example, where many users had to send in their camera and lenses for calibration at their cost.

    there's been a recent rash of openness (D2H & EN-EL3 issues, canon 24-something lens quality issues, sony CCD issues, etc.). definitely a good sign.


  8. Well, maybe to RE-visit them. Deming first became "famous" in Japan, right? Japanese manufacturers were the first to take his message to heart and improve their manufacturing process and increase the reliability of their manufactured goods. Perhaps they have slipped in recent years.

    Do you think that these occasional reliability problems in Nikon goods arise from problems on the manufacturing line or from problems inherent in the design which might have been caught thru better testing and re-design after learning from the prototype? All to often in my experience the prototype, held together by rubber bands and Elmer's glue, figuratively speaking, became the final product when we were held back from re-designing because of the pressure to get product to market.

    Do you think the differences are due to variations in the chunks of glass or because of variation in construction???
  9. Hmm, it's old tech, but...how about using a pellicle mirror? That way we can seal in the sensor, have zero mirro blackout time, faster shutter response, and no slap? I could live with the 2/3 stop light loss.

  10. Yes, but my question was WHY are the photo diodes are constantly "on" and thus in need of the shutter's protection until released. Couldn't the photo diodes be initially "off" and then turned "on" to record the light packets till full and then be turned off again, and thus no shutter is needed??
  11. Chris101


    Feb 2, 2005
    Hi Andreas,

    John and Bjørn have been discussing lens and camera technologies that currently exist. One area that fascinates me is holographic lenses. By creating a thin plastic sheet, a lens can be made using today's technology (similar to fresnel lenses, but with interference created rings on film.) It is, however nowhere near as efficient and controllable as is formed glass at refracting light.

    I expect, that eventually this technology will mature and become available for making image creating lenses for whatever kind of sensor is available then. Your sensors, 'always on' sensors are used in most digital cameras - digicams where you can see a live image on the display on the back of the camera. These cameras have an electronic shutter just like you described. Currently these kind of sensor/shutters do not perform as well as the hybrid opto-mechanical system of the modern dslr.

    Technology is an evolutionary process. The best preformance will always come from an evolved instrument, rather than the cutting edge. As those edges become refined, they are mixed in with technologies that have proven themselves over time and been subject to constant performance enhancement.

    So yeah, I do think the credit card (including thickness), high quality camera will be available. Just not soon.
  12. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Andrea :

    Hard to say on this one. Ricky feels this isn't so unusual... :frown: My experiences with Japanese design work don't match his, however. The emphasis was on getting it right before construction in those, but they weren't consumer products, but bulk industrial materials with relatively tight specification requirements, perhaps easier to test as a result. :confused: 

    That's more common than most companies want to admit. I'd say the initial D2X focus problems probably fall into this case. Still, stonewalling/outright denying a problem reported by many is a silly way to do business in an era where so many people can compare their experiences through the internet.

    More the latter than the former. In many cases, the failures to give good focus are alignment or other mechanical issues. "Bad glass" or coating problems can occur but aren't as frequent, IMO. See also Bjørn's comments above on this.

    With respect to things like the D2H focus/meter failures, this was a failure that became apparent well after release. The small circuit board was supposedly press mounted initially, which could work loose. The fix was to solder it in place. Field use with the usual vibration was the testing ground. Could it have been anticipated ? Maybe. But the failure mode would have been obvious on return of a number of the cameras, and it could have been addressed more simply and effectively instead of the alleged denials (I didn't own a D2H, so I can't personally speak from experience).

    As for your question on the photo diodes/sites on the sensor staying "on" or "off", that one's way outside my expertise. :Bohoo:

    John P.
  13. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Chris :

    I really wouldn't hold my breath on this one in terms of prosumer level cameras. What I expect to see with this one is the equivalent of an insect's compound lens eye with many of these deployed over an area like a train station, and computer enhancement of multiple images to yield a view, picked as desired by an operator.

    IMO, it's the direction of the CCTV systems in the UK taken to a new level. With deployment of numerous small holographic lens cameras, surveillance would become ubiquitous. Current plans in the UK call for enhancements of their already extensive system to record license plates and provide the capability of tracking throughout the UK. The technology we're discussing would provide "the next step" beyond the current plan.

    All that's missing at the moment is mass production crossed with sufficient computer capability and transmission of all the images. None of that's more than maybe ten years out of current manufacturing capabilities.

    Scary, eh ? Almost Orwellian (although we're now two decades past the infamous date that titled his dystropic vision novel)... :Smart: :Whistle: :D izzy:

    John P.
  14. We may be writing more in this thread, but I want to get in now a thank you to John and Bjørn for their lengthy, interesting, enlightening dialogue. And thanks to Rick, Ming and Chris for their comments. This has been
    like one of the Hallway Discussions we used to have 20 years ago at Bell Labs -- tech info exchanged, comments on how to make something good even better, "forward looking" ideas as well as some techno-gripes and a few disses thrown at the Suits. GREAT FUN !! GREAT DIALOGUE !! You are all Gentlemen and Scholars, as the old saying goes.
  15. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Andrea :

    Pretty scary stuff to be compared with the old Bell Labs environment...

    As for me being a gentleman, any of the folks here in the Cafe who've met me in the real world can quickly step forward to refute that allegation. :rolleyes: 

    John P.
  16. Well, never underestimate the Power of the Hackers (both White and Black Hat) to thwart the Orwellian Establishment !!

    Speaking of Insect Eye -- did you catch the announcement of that new little Kodak dual-lens, dual-CCD point-n-shoot?? Now we're gonna have a new onslaught of consumer stuff while all the manufacturers climb on that bandwagon. (I was gonna say "consumer junk" but some of this stuff is quite clever even though perhaps not quite necessary to my continued existence !!)

    BTW, I think that Bjørn is onto something with his plan do some rangefinder shooting in '06. Getting back to some roots or return to simplicity or just to give the creativity a little shock, whatever the motivation, sounds interesting!!
  17. PJohnP


    Feb 5, 2005
    Andrea :

    I've been waiting for the component prices to drop enough to create one of the old stereo cameras in a digital mode. When I saw the announcement for the new Kodak, I was initially quite excited, but then disappointed.

    I really really liked the old stereo cameras.

    John P.

    P.S. I still need to figure out how to build the viewer for the digital stereo camera at an affordable price... :confused: 
  18. The Old, Old Labs was the real deal. I only got in on the very tail end of the R part of Labs R & D for about 4 years before it all started changing. But glad I had the experience, before I had to switch over to the D part !!
  19. Chris101


    Feb 2, 2005
    Focused light photography has been around for about 180 years, and curved glass lenses for 400 years or so, and I think they will predominate for quite some time to come. But just as spectroscopy is being transformed by interferometry, I think photography will be as well. But in much more than a decade. More like half a century or so.

    Hopefully "we" will have solved that problem of Man's inhumanity to Man by then... :rolleyes: 
  20. Chris101


    Feb 2, 2005
    One of those video game headsets?
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