The digital camera as we know it today is a truly incredible device since it is so different from its ancestors. Conventional film cameras depended entirely on mechanical and chemical processes -- there was no electrical power needed for them to operate. Every digital cameras includes a computer built-in (or should we say they digital cameras are computers than can take pictures), and they all electronically record images.
Digital cameras have found their way into many devices which range from PDA's and smart phones (formerly called camera phones) even into vehicles.
Many telescopes, including The Hubble Space Telescope along with other astronomical equipment are essentially dedicated digital cameras.
The digital camera (sometimes called digicam) is also a camera that can shoot both video and still photographs by digitally by recording images using an electronic imaging sensor.
Compact digital cameras
Compact cameras are made to be small and portable while being particularly suitable for
snapshot and casual uses. As such, they are often called pocket cameras or point & shoot cameras. The smallest, typically under 20 mm in thickness, are labeled subcompacts or as "ultra-compacts" with some being only credit card size.
A digital still photo camera (DSLR) employs the single lens reflex mechanical engineering. Almost all professional cameras have typically been the
single lens reflex cameras (SLR), although not digital, but analog. A DSLR is therefore a digital camera which uses the SLR developed pentaprism and mechanical mirror system for directing light coming from the lens into an optical viewfinder located on the back side of the camera.
Mirrorless Interchangeable lens Camera
Interchangeable Lens Cameras
The MILC Mirrorless interchangeable lens camera with electronic viewfinder. The
MILC Interchangeable Lens system is an up and coming type of digital cameras, they fit in between between Compact Digital Camera and DSLR cameras.
They characteristically employ large sensors similar in size to starter level DSLRs. As the name implies they have no mirror, feature interchangeable lenses, and offer DSLR picture quality in a substantially smaller camera size. Originally they were called "SLD" for single lens digital.
Rangefinder Digital rangefinder
A rangefinder is a user-operated optical mechanism to measure subject distance once widely used on film cameras. Most digital cameras measure subject distance automatically using acoustic or electronic techniques, but it is not customary to say that they have a rangefinder. The term rangefinder alone is sometimes used to mean a rangefinder camera, that is, a film camera equipped with a rangefinder, as distinct from an SLR or a simple camera with no way to measure distance.
Line-scan camera systems
A line-scan camera is a camera device containing a line-scan image sensor chip, and a focusing mechanism. These cameras are almost solely used in industrial settings to capture an image of a constant stream of moving material. Unlike video cameras, line-scan cameras use a single array of pixel sensors, instead of a matrix of them. Data coming from the line-scan camera has a frequency, where the camera scans a line, waits, and repeats. The data coming from the line-scan camera is commonly processed by a computer, to collect the one-dimensional line data and to create a two-dimensional image. The collected two-dimensional image data is then processed by image-processing methods for industrial purposes.
Line-scan technology is capable of capturing data extremely fast, and at very high image resolutions. Usually under these conditions, resulting collected image data can quickly exceed 100 MB in a fraction of a second. Line-scan-camera–based integrated systems, therefore are usually designed to streamline the camera's output in order to meet the system's objective, using computer technology which is also affordable.
Line-scan cameras intended for the parcel handling industry can integrate adaptive focusing mechanisms to scan six sides of any rectangular parcel in focus, regardless of angle, and size. The resulting 2-D captured images could contain, but are not limited to 1D and 2D barcodes, address information, and any pattern that can be processed via image processing methods. Since the images are 2-D, they are also human-readable and can be viewable on a computer screen. Advanced integrated systems include video coding and optical character recognition (OCR).
Mobile phones started to incorporate digital cameras from 2001 when first introduced in Japan by J-Phone. The most rapidly spread technology of all time, these
camera phones reached a billion devices sold in only five years. By 2007 more than half of the installed base of all mobile phones was of the camera phone type. In 2003 more camera phones were sold than all stand-alone digital cameras and in 2006 more camera phones sold than all film-based cameras and digital cameras combined.
Camera phones tend to be at the very lowest end of the scale of digital cameras in technical specifications, such as low resolution cameras, poor quality optics, and limited abilities to use accessories. With the rapid development of digital technologies, however, the gap between mainstream digital cameras and camera phones is closing and high-end camera phones are competitive with low end stand-alone digital cameras of the same generation.
Take a look at the new iPhone4s which
uses an A5 dual core processor, plus the addition of an 8 mp camera with the
capacity to record 1080p movies at 30 fps,
Conversion of film cameras to digital
Digital single-lens reflex camera. When digital cameras became common, a question many photographers asked was whether their
film cameras could be converted to digital. The answer was yes and no. For the majority of 35 mm film cameras the answer is no, the reworking and cost would be too great, especially as lenses have been evolving as well as cameras. For the most part a conversion to digital, to give enough space for the electronics and allow a liquid crystal display to preview, would require removing the back of the camera and replacing it with a custom built digital unit.
Many early professional SLR cameras, such as the NC2000 and the Kodak DCS series, were developed from 35 mm film cameras. The technology of the time, however, meant that rather than being a digital "back" the body was mounted on a large and blocky digital unit, often bigger than the camera portion itself. These were factory built cameras, however, not aftermarket conversions.
A notable exception was a device called the EFS-1, which was developed by Silicon Film from c. 1998–2001. It was intended to insert into a film camera in the place of film, giving the camera a 1.3 MP resolution and a capacity of 24 shots. Units were demonstrated, and in 2002 the company was developing the EFS-10, a 10 MP device that was more a true digital back.
A few 35 mm cameras have had digital backs made by their manufacturer,
Leica being a notable example.
Medium format and
large format cameras (those using film stock greater than 35 mm), have a low unit production, and typical digital backs for them cost over $10,000. These cameras also tend to be highly modular, with handgrips, film backs, winders, and lenses available separately to fit various needs.
The very large sensor these backs use leads to enormous image sizes. The largest in early 2006 is the Phase One's P45 39 MP imageback, creating a single TIFF image of size up to 224.6 MB. Medium format digitals are geared more towards studio and portrait photography than their smaller DSLR counterparts, the ISO speed in particular tends to have a maximum of 400, versus 6400 for some DSLR cameras.
The concept of digitizing images on scanners, and the concept of digitizing video signals, predate the concept of making still pictures by digitizing signals from an array of discrete sensor elements. Eugene F. Lally of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory published the first description of how to produce still photos in a digital domain using a mosaic photo sensor. The purpose was to provide onboard navigation information to astronauts during missions to planets. The mosaic array periodically recorded still photos of star and planet locations during transit and when approaching a planet provided additional stadiametric information for orbiting and landing guidance. The concept included camera design elements foreshadowing the first digital camera.
Texas Instruments engineer Willis Adcock designed a filmless camera and applied for a patent in 1972, but it is not known whether it was ever built. The first recorded attempt at building a digital camera was in 1975 by Steven Sasson, an engineer at
Eastman Kodak. It used the then-new solid-state CCD image sensor chips developed by Fairchild Semiconductor in 1973. The camera weighed 8 pounds (3.6 kg), recorded black and white images to a cassette tape, had a resolution of 0.01 megapixels (10,000 pixels), and took 23 seconds to capture its first image in December 1975. The prototype camera was a technical exercise, not intended for production.
Analog electronic cameras
Handheld electronic cameras, in the sense of a device meant to be carried and used like a handheld film camera, appeared in 1981 with the demonstration of the Sony Mavica (Magnetic Video Camera). This is not to be confused with the later cameras by Sony that also bore the Mavica name. This was an analog camera, in that it recorded pixel signals continuously, as videotape machines did, without converting them to discrete levels; it recorded television-like signals to a 2 × 2 inch "video floppy". In essence it was a video movie camera that recorded single frames, 50 per disk in field mode and 25 per disk in frame mode. The image quality was considered equal to that of then-current televisions.
Analog electronic cameras do not appear to have reached the market until 1986 with the Canon RC-701. Canon demonstrated a prototype of this model at the 1984 Summer Olympics, printing the images in the Yomiuri Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper. In the United States, the first publication to use these cameras for real reportage was USA Today, in its coverage of World Series baseball. Several factors held back the widespread adoption of analog cameras; the cost (upwards of $20,000), poor image quality compared to film, and the lack of quality affordable printers. Capturing and printing an image originally required access to equipment such as a frame grabber, which was beyond the reach of the average consumer. The "video floppy" disks later had several reader devices available for viewing on a screen, but were never standardized as a computer drive.
The early adopters tended to be in the news media, where the cost was negated by the utility and the ability to transmit images by telephone lines. The poor image quality was offset by the low resolution of newspaper graphics. This capability to transmit images without a satellite link was useful during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and the first Gulf War in 1991.
US government agencies also took a strong interest in the still video concept, notably the US Navy for use as a real time air-to-sea surveillance system.
The first analog camera marketed to consumers may have been the Canon RC-250 Xapshot in 1988. A notable analog camera produced the same year was the Nikon QV-1000C, designed as a press camera and not offered for sale to general users, which sold only a few hundred units. It recorded images in greyscale, and the quality in newspaper print was equal to film cameras. In appearance it closely resembled a modern digital single-lens reflex camera. Images were stored on video floppy disks.
The arrival of true digital cameras
Nikon D1 digital camera of 1999.
The first true digital camera that recorded images as a computerized file was likely the Fuji DS-1P of 1988, which recorded to a 16 MB internal memory card that used a battery to keep the data in memory. This camera was never marketed in the United States, and has not been confirmed to have shipped even in Japan.
The first commercially available digital camera was the 1990 Dycam Model 1; it also sold as the Logitech Fotoman. It used a
CCDimage sensor, stored pictures digitally, and connected directly to a computer
In 1991, Kodak brought to market the Kodak DCS-100, the beginning of a long line of professional SLR cameras by Kodak that were based in part on film bodies, often Nikons. It used a 1.3 megapixel sensor and was priced at $13,000.
The move to digital formats was helped by the formation of the first
JPEG and MPEG standards in 1988, which allowed image and video files to be compressed for storage. The first consumer camera with a liquid crystal display on the back was the Casio QV-10 in 1995, and the first camera to use
CompactFlash was the Kodak DC-25 in 1996.
The marketplace for consumer digital cameras was originally low resolution (either analog or digital) cameras built for utility. In 1997 the first megapixel cameras for consumers were marketed. The first camera that offered the ability to record video clips may have been the Ricoh RDC-1 in 1995.
1999 saw the introduction of the Nikon D1, a 2.74 megapixel camera that was the first
digital SLR developed entirely by a major manufacturer, and at a cost of under $6,000 at introduction was affordable by professional
photographers and high end consumers. This camera also used
Nikon F-mount lenses, which meant film photographers could use many of the same lenses they already owned.
Also in 1999, Minolta introduced the RD-3000 D-SLR at 2.7 megapixels. This camera found many professional
supporters. Limitations to the system included the need to use Vectis lenses which were designed for APS size film. The camera was sold with 5 lenses at various focal lengths and ranges (zoom). Minolta did not produce another D-SLR until September 2004 when they introduced the Alpha 7D (Alpha in Japan, Maxxum in North America, Dynax in the rest of the world) but using the Minolta A-mount system from its 35 mm line of cameras.
2003 Canon introduced the EOS 300D, also known as the Digital Rebel, a 6 megapixel camera and the first DSLR priced under $1,000, and marketed to consumers.
The resolution of a digital camera is often limited by the camera sensor (typically a
CCD or CMOS sensor chip) that turns light into discrete signals, replacing the job of film in traditional photography. The sensor is made up of millions of "buckets" that essentially count the number of photons that strike the sensor. This means that the brighter the image at a given point on the sensor, the larger the value that is ready for that pixel. Depending on the physical structure of the sensor, a color filter array may be used which requires a
demosaicing/interpolation algorithm. The number of resulting pixels in the image determines its "pixel count". For example, a 640x480 image would have 307,200 pixels, or approximately 307 kilopixels; a 3872x2592 image would have 10,036,224 pixels, or approximately 10 megapixels.
The pixel count alone is commonly presumed to indicate the resolution of a camera, but this is a misconception. There are several other factors that impact a sensor's resolution. Some of these factors include sensor size, lens quality, and the organization of the pixels (for example, a monochrome camera without a
Bayer filter mosaic has a higher resolution than a typical color camera). Many digital compact cameras are criticized for having excessive pixels. Sensors can be so small that their 'buckets' can easily overfill; again, resolution of a sensor can become greater than the camera lens could possibly deliver.
Recommended retail price of Kodak digital cameras. As the technology has improved, costs have decreased dramatically. Counting the "pixels per dollar" as a basic measure of value for a digital camera, there has been a continuous and steady increase in the number of pixels each dollar buys in a new camera, in accord with the principles of Moore's Law. This predictability of camera prices was first presented in 1998 at the Australian PMA DIMA conference by Barry Hendy and since referred to as "Hendy's Law".
Since only a few aspect ratios are commonly used (especially 4:3 and 3:2), the number of sensor sizes that are useful is limited. Furthermore, sensor manufacturers do not produce every possible sensor size, but take incremental steps in sizes. For example, in 2007 the three largest sensors (in terms of pixel count) used by
Canon were the 21.1, 16.6, and 12.8 megapixel
CMOS sensors. The following is a table of sensors commercially used in digital cameras.
At the heart of a digital camera is a CCD image sensor.
This digital camera is partly disassembled. The lens assembly (bottom right) is partially removed, but the sensor (top right) still captures a usable image, as seen on the LCD screen (bottom left).
Since the first digital backs were introduced, there have been three main methods of capturing the image, each based on the hardware configuration of the sensor and color filters.
The first method is often called single-shot, in reference to the number of times the camera's sensor is exposed to the light passing through the camera lens. Single-shot capture systems use either one
CCD with a Bayer filter mosaic, or three separate
image sensors (one each for the primary additive colors red, green, and blue) which are exposed to the same image via a beam splitter.
The second method is referred to as multi-shot because the sensor is exposed to the image in a sequence of three or more openings of the lens aperture. There are several methods of application of the multi-shot technique. The most common originally was to use a single image sensor with three filters (once again red, green and blue) passed in front of the sensor in sequence to obtain the additive color information. Another multiple shot method utilized a single CCD with a Bayer filter but actually moved the physical location of the sensor chip on the focus plane of the lens to "stitch" together a higher resolution image than the CCD would allow otherwise. A third version combined the two methods without a Bayer filter on the chip.
The third method is called scanning because the sensor moves across the focal plane much like the sensor of a desktop scanner. Their linear or tri-linear sensors utilize only a single line of photosensors, or three lines for the three colors. In some cases, scanning is accomplished by rotating the whole camera; a digital rotating line camera offers images of very high total resolution.
The choice of method for a given capture is determined largely by the subject matter. It is usually inappropriate to attempt to capture a subject that moves with anything but a single-shot system. However, the higher color fidelity and larger file sizes and resolutions available with multi-shot and scanning backs make them attractive for commercial photographers working with stationary subjects and large-format photographs.
Recently, dramatic improvements in single-shot cameras and RAW image file processing have made single shot, CCD-based cameras almost completely predominant in commercial photography, not to mention
digital photography as a whole.
CMOS-based single shot cameras are also somewhat common.
Filter mosaics, interpolation, and aliasing
In most current consumer digital cameras, a
Bayer filter mosaic is used, in combination with an optical
anti-aliasing filter to reduce the aliasing due to the reduced sampling of the different primary-color images. A demosaicing algorithm is
used to interpolate color information to create a full array of RGB image data.
Cameras that use a beam-splitter single-shot 3CCD approach, three-filter multi-shot approach, or
Foveon X3 sensor do not use anti-aliasing filters, nor demosaicing.
Firmware in the camera, or a software in a raw converter program such as Adobe Camera Raw, interprets the raw data from the sensor to obtain a full color image, because the RGB color model requires three intensity values for each pixel: one each for the red, green, and blue (other color models, when used, also require three or more values per pixel). A single sensor element cannot simultaneously record these three intensities, and so a
color filter array (CFA) must be used to selectively filter a particular color for each pixel.
The Bayer filter pattern is a repeating 2×2 mosaic pattern of light filters, with green ones at opposite corners and red and blue in the other two positions. The high proportion of green takes advantage of properties of the human visual system, which determines brightness mostly from green and is far more sensitive to brightness than to hue or saturation. Sometimes a 4-color filter pattern is used, often involving two different hues of green. This provides potentially more accurate color, but requires a slightly more complicated interpolation process.
The color intensity values not captured for each pixel can be interpolated (or guessed) from the values of adjacent pixels which represent the color being calculated.
Many digital cameras can connect directly to a computer to transfer data:
Early cameras used the PC serial port. USB is now the most widely used method (most cameras are viewable as
USB mass storage), though some have a FireWire port. Some cameras use USB PTP mode for connection instead of USB MSC; some offer both modes.
Other cameras use wireless connections, via Bluetooth or IEEE 802.11 WiFi, such as the Kodak EasyShare One.
Cameraphones and some high-end stand-alone digital cameras also use cellular networks to connect for sharing images. The most common standard on cellular networks is the MMS MultiMedia Service, commonly called "picture messaging" which is used by 1.3 billion people. The second method on cellular networks is to send a picture as an email attachment. Only a small percentage of all cameraphones support email so this is not nearly as common.
A common alternative is the use of a card reader which may be capable of reading several types of storage media, as well as high speed transfer of data to the computer. Use of a card reader also avoids draining the camera battery during the download process, as the device takes power from the
USB port. An external card reader allows convenient direct access to the images on a collection of storage media. But if only one storage card is in use, moving it back and forth between the camera and the reader can be inconvenient.
Many modern cameras support the PictBridge standard, which allows them to send data directly to a PictBridge-capable computer printer without the need for a computer.
Wireless connectivity can also provide for printing photos without a cable connection.
Polaroid has introduced a printer integrated into its digital camera which creates a small, printed copy of a photo. This is reminiscent of the original
instant camera, popularized by Polaroid thirty-four years ago.
Many digital cameras include a video output port. Usually sVideo, it sends a standard-definition video signal to a television, allowing the user to show one picture at a time. Buttons or menus on the camera allow the user to select the photo, advance from one to another, or automatically send a "slide show" to the TV.
HDMI has been adopted by many high-end digital camera makers, to show photos in their high-resolution quality on an HDTV.
In January 2008, Silicon Image announced a new technology for sending video from mobile devices to a television in digital form. MHL sends pictures as a video stream, up to 1080p resolution, and is compatible with HDMI.
Some DVD recorders and television sets can read memory cards used in cameras; alternatively several types of flash card readers have TV output capability.
Many digital cameras have preset modes for different applications. Within the constraints of correct exposure various parameters can be changed, including exposure, aperture, focusing, light metering, white balance, and equivalent sensitivity. For example a portrait might use a wider aperture to render the background out of focus, and would seek out and focus on a human face rather than other image content.
Many devices include digital cameras built into or integrated into them. For example,
mobile phones often include digital cameras; those that do are sometimes known as
camera phones. Other small electronic devices (especially those used for communication) such as PDAs, laptops and BlackBerry devices often contain an integral digital camera. Additionally, some digital camcorders contain a digital camera built into them.
Due to the limited storage capacity and general emphasis on convenience rather than image quality in such integrated or converged devices, the vast majority of these devices store images in the lossy but compact JPEG file format.
Image data storage
A CompactFlash (CF) card, one of many media types used to store digital photographsMost digital cameras utilize some form of removable storage to store image data. While the vast majority of the media types are some form of memory card using flash memory (CompactFlash, SD, etc.) there are storage methods that use other technologies such as Microdrives (very small hard disk drives), CD single (185 MB), and 3.5" floppy disks.
xD-Picture Card (xD)
3.5" floppy disks
Mini CD (left)
Other formats include:
Onboard flash memory — Cheap cameras and cameras secondary to the device's main use (such as a camera phone)
PC Card hard drives — early professional cameras (discontinued)
Thermal printer — known only in one model of camera that printed images immediatel y rather than storing
Most manufacturers of digital cameras do not provide drivers and software to allow their cameras to work with Linux or other free software. Still, many cameras use the standard USB storage protocol, and are As a result easily usable. Other cameras are supported by the gPhoto project.
Main article: Image file formats
The Joint Photography Experts Group standard (JPEG) is the most common file format for storing image data. Other file types include Tagged Image File Format (TIFF) and Raw data formats.
Many cameras, especially professional or DSLR cameras, support a Raw format. A raw image is the unprocessed set of pixel data directly from the camera's sensor. They are often saved in formats proprietary to each manufacturer, such as NEF for Nikon, CRW or CR2 for Canon, and MRW for Minolta. Adobe Systems has released the DNG format, a royalty free raw image format which has been adopted by a few camera manufacturers.
Raw files initially had to be processed in specialized image editing programs, but over time many mainstream editing programs, such as Google's Picasa, have added support for raw images. Editing raw format images allows more flexibility in settings such as white balance, exposure compensation, color temperature, and so on. In essence raw format allows the photographer to make major adjustments without losing image quality that would otherwise require retaking the picture.
Formats for movies are AVI, DV, MPEG, MOV (often containing motion
JPEG), WMV, and ASF (basically the same as WMV). Recent formats include MP4, which is based on the QuickTime format and uses newer compression algorithms to allow longer recording times in the same space.
Other formats that are used in cameras but not for pictures are the Design Rule for Camera Format (DCF), an ISO specification for the camera's internal file structure and naming, and Digital Print Order Format (DPOF), which dictates what order images are to be printed in and how many copies.
Most cameras include Exif data that provides metadata about the picture.
Exif data include aperture, exposure time, focal length, date & time taken, and for some cameras location.
Digital cameras have high power requirements, and over time have become increasingly smaller in size, which has resulted in an ongoing need to develop a
battery small enough to fit in the camera and yet able to power it for a reasonable length of time.
Essentially two broad divisions exist in the types of batteries digital cameras use.
The first is batteries that are an established off-the-shelf form factor, most commonly AA, CR2, or CR-V3 batteries, with AAA batteries in a handful of cameras. The CR2 and CR-V3 batteries are
lithium based, and intended for single use. They are also commonly seen in camcorders. The AA batteries are far more common; however, the non-rechargeable alkaline batteries are capable of providing enough power for only a very short time in most cameras. Most consumers use AA Nickel metal hydride batteries (NiMH) (see also
chargers and batteries) instead, which provide an adequate amount of power and are rechargeable. NIMH batteries do not provide as much power as lithium ion batteries, and they also tend to discharge when not used. They are available in various ampere-hour (Ah) or milli-ampere-hour (mAh) ratings, which affects how long they last in use. Typically mid-range consumer models and some low end cameras use off-the-shelf batteries; only a very few DSLR cameras accept them (for example, Sigma SD10). Rechargeable RCR-V3 lithium-ion batteries are also available as an alternative to non-rechargeable CR-V3 batteries.
The second division is proprietary battery formats. These are built to a manufacturer's custom specifications, and can be either aftermarket replacement parts or OEM. Almost all proprietary batteries are lithium ion. While they only accept a certain number of recharges before the battery life begins degrading (typically up to 500 cycles), they provide considerable performance for their size. A result is that at the two ends of the spectrum both high end professional cameras and low end consumer models tend to use
lithium ion batteries.