Highlights from the HDR Symposium

Stanford's HDR Symposium turned out to be very interesting event. The collective brainpower of a small nation, crammed into a single room - you bet the air was sizzling from ideas and strong opinions.

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Here's a quick recap of some selected points of interest:

  • Marc Levoy explained how the Camera 2.0 project will enable a community-driven approach to push computational photography forward. Key element is the departure from "black box" firmware, in favor of a fully scriptable open-source platform.
    Levoy further recommends Animal Eyes as reference book for everyone building capturing devices.

  • Helge Seetzen from Dolby Labs shared some interesting insights on the difficulties of driving Local Dimming hardware. He called color LEDs "little buggers" for being notoriously inconsistent in color. But exploiting their flaws rather than fighting them leads ultimately to an even better display. For example, spectral leakage turns into an advantage when driving 6 instead of 3 primary colors, resulting in a much wider gamut.

  • Jack Tumblin lets us rethink what we consider a "great image", and explains how current tonemapping methods might be missing the point. He honored Renaissance artists like Rembrandt as excellent tonemappers, using artistic liberty to cheat the lighting to create more evolving images.
    Tumblin recognizes the "evocative HDR Look" for inducing an emotional response, but the result is often achieved by muddling through. In this regard he proposes a tonemapping approach, that looks beyond the pixels on the screen, and rather makes a distinction between surface colors, reflection, and lighting. This would allow more controlled look-finding. For example, you could tweak just the lighting in a photo, without worrying about side effects like "dirty" or "super-glossy".

  • James Ferwerda is hitting the same vein by proposing an extension of the La*b* color space with variables describing the glossiness of a material: c* for contrast gloss and d* for distinctness-of-image.
    In a perfect execution of the scientific method he did a field study where participants rated the gloss impression of a rendered ball, which resulted in a psychovisual gloss model. Although originally geared towards CG imaging, this model could be interesting when applied to photography in general. Also, Ferwerda dropped a new wording that I find very appropriate: High-Fidelity Imaging. Yay.

There was a lot more going on, and I will most certainly get into detail in later posts. HDRI is a pretty wide field, and this HDR Symposioum surely succeeded in bringing the top guns from adjacent fields together. Kudos to Joyce Farrell for flawlessly organizing this remarkable event.

Just one question remains unanswered:
Who owns tonemapping? The camera, the photo software, or the display device?

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Stanford's Frankencamera

In preparation of the upcoming HDR Symposium here's one of the hottest topics:

I hope this project takes off, because we're all sick of the big camera makers ignoring HDR photograper's needs. How can it be, that the new Canon 7D is still crippled to 3-frame-AEB? Seriously, an open system without API restrictions is our last hope to push things forward.

Read the article on Stanford News, then dive into the project page.

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Picturenaut 3.0 released

I'm just reading a book on webdesign, and that told me I should get to the point:

Picturenaut 3 rocks!

Our very own HDR program is up for a major revision:
  • New interface (that I helped design)
  • Local Tonemapper
  • RAW support
  • Plugin-SDK
  • And more
Full feature list and download here.

NOTE: Picturenaut is still donationware.

You decide how much it's worth to you. Marc Mehl, the lone programmer, has put a lot of passion into making Picturenaut so awesome. Please show some balls and buy Marc a beer ($5), a movie ticket ($10) or a dinner ($20). It's easy to be grateful.

Other things worth mentioning

There's a brand new sIBL-of-the-month, just shot it a month ago on my home vacation. I snuck into the ruins of an old factory, a very Piranesi-esque environment of decay and nature reclaiming the place. Check out the High-Res Panoview here.

Also, the battle for front seats in the Hot-on-Flickr gallery is on again. Wonder if we'll see some Picturenaut submissions this month...

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All sorts of things that happened lately

I'm back from vacation, a terrible cold, and working on several other great things (to be announced soon). How much newsworthy stuff can possibly come together in three weeks?
Apparently, a lot!

Spheron strikes back with an HDR Video Camera

Spheron reclaims the pole position in HDR high-tech equipment by premiering a full blown HDR video camera at Siggraph.

Here are the main specs:

- HDR video capture
- 20 f-stops of dynamic range
- full HD resolution 1920 x1080
- 24 and 30 fps, possibly up to 60 fps
- saves to fiber coupled storage server
- records 5 hours of EXR frame sequences

Well, they almost premiered it - read the full story at fxguide! It's still a work-in-progress, according an eyewitness it still has the size and weight of a small refrigerator. Nevertheless a huge leap forward, redirecting the industry into a most appreciated direction.

If my recent post about the Civetta sounded slightly disapproving of Spheron, that was unintentional. After all, that's like comparing BMW and Mercedes... In all fairness, it shouldn't go unmentioned that Spheron has also updated their core product:

The infamous SpheroCam HDR.

Hardware-wise the SpheroCam HDR comes now tethered to a Panasonic Toughbook with touchscreen interface, mounted right on the tripod. But the most R&D went into the software that runs the system: It now comes in an Easy and a Pro variant. Easy is the One-Touch solution for all those police investigators out there, Pro for everyone who know what their doing. And that Pro version really does sound awesome:
  • EXR-capable panorama viewer, hardware accelerated
  • Marker-based set measurements from two EXR panos
  • Export of 3d marker data as locators for AutoDesk Maya
Read all about Spheron's new software here.

Try the 360 Precision Adjuste MKII panorama head for free

360 Precision launched a demo program, that's as unique as ingenious.
You just put your name on a waiting list, and after a while you get their latest top-of-the-line Adjuste MKII panohead in the mail. Keep it for 10 days, shoot panos until your shutter rings, and then you send it off to the next guy on the list. That is, if their Adjuste head is just half as good as all the reviews report (here and here), you will most certainly want to keep it...

If you're ready to get spoiled by a $1000 panorama head, sign up here.

New cameras: Ricoh GR Digital III and Canon PowerShot G11

I find it interesting how Dynamic Range has become an important feature for camera makers, even in the compact class. Dare to say I told you so. They're finally focussing on making snapshots better, not just bigger!

Ricoh keeps throwing in the DR Double Shot mode, first seen in the Ricoh CX1 (blogged about it in March). According to specs it extends the range to 12 EVs, which is what you could previously only expect from a RAW shot on a DSLR. There's a good review of the new Ricoh GR Digital III on the Photography Blog, and some great test shots on dpreview.com. Couldn't find any review mentioning if the DR Double Shot mode is still limited to JPEG output... so they might also do it in RAW by now??

Canon even went a further in their dedication to Dynamic Range. Updating the hugely successful PowerShot G10 to G11, they even sacrificed 4 MP of resolution in favor of a 2 stop DR increase. No reviewer could confirm this yet, for now we only have Canon's announcement talking about putting image quality first. Sure sounds great to me...

New HDR software: HDR Darkroom

We also have a new player entering the game: HDR Darkroom. It claims have a superior tonemapper: faster, better, more user friendly. You know, the usual claims. How much of that is true you can find out yourself. Get the first public Beta version.

Sorry for the long post, thanks to everyone sending me emails or posting hints in the forum. I'll try to react faster next time and chop news up in more bite-sized pieces.

Until then,
Happy Shooting!
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HDR Symposium coming closer

Siggraph is coming up, but I won't go this time. Still, I'll try to catch some news from what appears on the web. If you're going to New Orleans, make sure to get a first glimpse at the Civetta in Hall G, Booth No. 3331!

Instead, me and Kirt Witte got approved to do an "HDRI for Artists" class at Siggraph Asia. Domo arigato, Yokohama, we're coming!

Also, I will definitely be at the HDR Symposium at Stanford next month. And so will fellow HDR photo-blogger Uwe Steinmüller from www.OutbackPhoto.com and numerous decision makers in the emerging HDR industry. The conference program just got published, and it looks incredibly interesting. I really think this will be a historic event! If you haven't signed up yet - you have two weeks left before late fees apply. So hurry up!

... and then there's the

Monthly Site Update

Right on time I prepared a new sIBL-of-the-month for you, and restarted the Hot-on-Flickr gallery.

Happy August,

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Civetta challenges the Spheron Camera

The infamous SpheroCam HDR used to be the ultimate High-End HDR panocam. Not anymore.

Civetta is the name of this new toy by Dr. Marcus Weiss, who coincidentally also was a co-founder of Spheron. Now he's doing his own thing, and his new camera system seems to be a real winner.

What's different?

The SpherCamHDR uses a single-line CDD in a constant revolution, scanning the full environment as it turns. Especially in low-light situations, that can take a long time, and it's even slower when you max out capture resolution (because it has to turn slower).
The Civetta is built on Canon technology, and snaps fullframe pictures with a 15mm fisheye. That makes it more of a traditional panobot, with all the speed and resolution advantages. If you had the patience and real skills in lathing and milling, you could build such a panobot yourself. Except, it wouldn't look as slick, and it wouldn't be as easy to use.


That's where the similarities to the SpheroCamHDR come in. They are both monkey-proof; operation is stripped down to a single push-button. Apparently, that's what it takes to be applicable for crime scene investigation. Police officers don't like to be bothered with settings and stuff. One button, preferably a blinking one.
Both camera systems come with their own software suite that allows measuring distances in the final image, provided you took two HDRI's with a known distance. Although I must admit that the Civetta software suite doesn't look as sophisticated as the Spheron pendant (yet), and the final HDR pano will always be in TIFF32 format (that's 1.2 GB for 14144 x 7072 pixel capture).

Bottom line:

Civetta is faster, cheaper, higher resolution.
Whereas cheaper is relative, it's still 28.600 Euro. But hey - we're talking High-End here...

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