Magazine Article


PMA and the Age of Magic

image with distortion on the left
The above screenshot, from DXO’s Optics Pro v4.2 shows the original image with distortion on the left; perspective is corrected in the image on the right.
photo was taken with a fisheye lens
The photo was taken with a fisheye lens, and shows the perspective distortion.
Photo using Image Trends' Fisheye-Hemi software.
The photo shows the correction using Image Trends' Fisheye-Hemi software.

But we climb mountains one rock at a time. Le temps passe (DxO Labs is based in France), and by now, just by keeping at it, the company has modules in a few hundred combinations. They mate to most of the Canon and Nikon DSLRs and a number of their lenses, plus the Sony Alpha. Quite a few fixed-zoom models from Fuji, Kodak, Olympus, Panasonic, and Samsung also have a DxO mate.

The logical strategy for marketing camera-specific products is to cater to the biggest-selling cameras in the first place. We wish DxO great stamina in continuing their march. There are great DSLRs from Olympus and Pentax, too, and both lines are very strong on very wide-angle lenses.

In-Camera or Ex Post Facto?

Distortion correction has existed in software before, though in a one-size-fits-all configuration. It has been discussed as an in-camera feature as well. It was among the suggestions for "smart" lenses to be used in the Four Thirds system. If the lens is known to make pincushion distortion at this focal length and barrel distortion at that, and if it can tell the camera which focal length it's using at a given moment, and if the camera has the suitable algorithms to respond, the distortions can be out of the picture before it gets written to the memory card.

DxO acknowledges the attractiveness of in-camera solutions, and indeed provides software for cameraphone makers that automatically sharpens pictures from cheap lenses. The likeness you see on your cameraphone may never have been optical, may be physically almost an avatar, a process of computer graphics, but it will look like what the picture's of.

This much can be done, evidently, with modest technical resources. But the massive distortion correction and some of the other procedures of DxO Optics Pro are very processor-intensive, and require a full computer. As much as two gigs of computer RAM is recommended by the company for its highest-end package (there are three), Optics Pro Elite.

The other two levels can use a little less of a computer, but still take more processing power than cameras today can afford. Cameras' prime directive is to get the pix written quickly to the card, so the camera can keep shooting bursts.

So is there an aftermarket in photographic software? Well, for starters, we could possibly hope to sell a new software module each time we sell a new lens. It's like filters used to be.

Further Prestidigitization

Maybe it should be called "prestidigitization." Some old friends came back to the PMA show this year, the core crew of Image Trends being the same who founded Applied Science Fiction back in the 1990s. The firm got bought, then was dismantled, by Kodak. A lot of their old work continues to be in use, but the team has reconvened with new software plug-ins, including one specifically designed to straighten the curvature of fisheye and extreme-wide-angle lenses.

Their three Fisheye-Hemi modules cover lenses from about 8mm – 21mm. Their compatibility list includes just about every DSLR body—Canon (APS and full-frame models), Kodak (the late, lamented SLR/n and SLR/c), Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, Sigma, and Sony are all on their list.

The company's initial offerings also include dust-reduction software for both camera-made and scanned pictures, an interesting cycle since this is the field the company pioneered in the early Applied Science Fiction days.

Plenty more software offerings were unveiled at the PMA show this year, including the latest version of Photoshop—or should we say versions. We'll follow up with them soon. For now, one thing is clear: there are new possibilities extant, through combinations of advanced thinking, and an infrastructure of faster, better hardware. Maybe that's what two millennia of being rational will bring you—the invention of magic.