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TOPIC: The way of the future- a personal view.

The way of the future- a personal view. 2 years 8 months ago #535

  • Les Peters
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There are very rapid developments taking place in video that I expect will inevitably impact on still photography, and our expectations of what we should see in both our photographs and in video. I suspect the change, when it comes, will be as major as the jump between black and white and colour was in times gone by.

To begin with, most of us currently observe our images using computer monitors, where the trend has been a steady increase in resolution. However, in the past both these, their CRT predecessors, and indeed the images you see printed on paper, had a latitude of 7 stops i.e. that is the number of “steps” going from white to black. Originally this limitation made it difficult to get a realistic looking graduation of light to dark, one that mimics what we see in the real world. Over many years film manufacturers took this into account when developing their film stock. In broadcasting, a colour space called REC 709 was introduced for the same reason. This colour space has been the standard when recording, so that that programs look natural as possible when played back in people’s homes.

However, as digital imagery has developed, the recording side of things has changed. A modern digital camera generally captures 16 bits, an enormous latitude which is then dropped to 14 bits, before being stored as a RAW file. All those bits allow you to make quite drastic changes to an image in Lightroom etc. if you have a need to. However, if you’re shooting using the old fashioned JPGs standard, the image is immediately recorded in 8 bits, and there’s not much you can do to change an image without getting nasty banding and other unpleasant artifacts like blocking. If you use JPGs, you are allowing the camera designers to choose how your image looks. This is fine, but the results are no more realistic than images which have had their brightness and colour manipulated by someone using post processing. And is reasonable to say “pure” RAW images don’t exist. Camera images are the result of the qualities of the lens glass, the focal length, the automatic noise reduction, and the colour preferences/bias of the designers of sensor. These are all matters of taste which change from brand to brand, and camera to camera.

As an aside, one of the best examples of shooting in RAW I have seen is Tom Oliver’s picture of a Red-backed Wren, which you will find in our Birdlife gallery. In the RAW original, the bird was a very small black object, seemingly lost and unexposed in comparison with the immense bright background. In the unprocessed image, there seems to be next to no detail in the bird’s feathers, but after cropping and adjusting the blacks to lighten them to what the eye would have seen; you have a very engaging image, worthy of its place in the Premier Gallery.

Going back to our original subject, most folk currently see the images on their computer screens with no more than 7 stops of latitude, and showing 8 stops of colour. This low standard has made it easy for the first digital revolution to occur, which was the success of the cameras found in phones, since they produce pictures which suit these restrictions. When combined with their convenience, this has resulted in the steady decline in the market for compact cameras over the last ten years, which can be expected to continue. Aside from the ‘super zooms’, the average person likes the results they get with their phone camera; and for the most part people look at these images on their phone, so they can be carefully matched to produce a pleasing result.

Video is different. If you go into a store that sell televisions today, you’ll see that true high definition sets are now the minority of what’s on offer. Currently 80% of T.V.s being sold in the U.K. are 4000 pixel sets, even though the program content for them is severely limited and, for the most part, is only available through the internet. The old 1080 Blue ray standard is unpopular when buying new sets. The availability of ultra high definition sets has driven documentary makers to record their shows in at least the new pixel standard, while some films are being shot at double this rate for editing purposes. Is this new standard just a gimmick, you might wonder? The new screens certainly look sharper, but I suspect this won’t be the game changer.

Three new broadcasting standards have been developed for recording in order to replace the old REC 709 colour space. Dolby Vision HDR is said to be the front runner. I won’t go into the full details here, but whatever standard eventually predominates, soon you will be looking at screens with 11 stops of latitude and much more actuate colour. The sets will span from pretty much a perfect black to wincingly bright when seen in the average home. This change is much more noticeable in sets than than higher resolution is, and while these T.V.s are currently expensive, they can be expected to cost the same as any other set quite soon. So where am I going with this?

Today, even when viewing with just 8 bit technology, many images you see of birds and animals on web sites have problems with both their colour and contrast. They consequently don’t serve as a useful examples of local representation of their species, and possibly in some cases don’t a good general impression of the species as a whole. The more profession the site, the less this is in evidence.

With only a small colour space to utilize, it's been in the interest of the camera manufacturers to make their products produce images that are as attractive as possible, often at the expense of their fidelity/accuracy. I sometimes feel that we seem to be in a photographic era where colour saturation is like the sugar and salt in junk food. It's insidiously there. Perhaps the average person doesn't take as much interest in images that are as natural as possible as the ones where the colour and contrast has been cranked up. I suspect that a big part of the problem is due to the monitors that most people use. Inexpensive screens often have an effective resolution of 6 bits, the vast majority have eight. There are very few that have 14 bit colour, but these are too expensive for the average person to use.

A scientific paper was produced here in S.A. at the end of last year identifying the relationship between Brown and Inland Thornbills. Mostly it identified the differences using photographs of various dead specimens in a row. It would have been interesting to see accurate images of living birds as examples instead, but it seems these were too difficult to come by. The variations due to the photographer's preferences and the camera settings were far greater than the naturally occurring variations in colour. That’s quite a problem if you want to set up a gallery with accepted accurate images. With the advent of high definition monitors which have the latitude and increased colour range the new standards will deliver, I suspect that only the images that have been safely stored in a RAW format will have a future. It’s probable that the JPG images which currently occupy our galleries may look old, tired, and quite clunky in as little as five years.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Malcolm Cousland

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Last edit: by Les Peters.
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