The concept of a digital camera of the future
by John Henshall
"Imagination is more important than knowledge" - Albert Einstein
The "Camera One" concept

The idea for "Camera One", an integrated still and moving image camera, came in a 1970s Henshall daydream. The stylish model was made by a student, to John Henshall's design. The viewfinder was a helmet-type head-up display, to which the camera head could be attached, for use in the midst of sporting events. Many of the "Camera One" ideas were later incorporated into "HandiCam".

If you wanted to travel from Boston to New York City, would you go via Maine? If you want to travel from Manchester to London, would you go via the English Lake District?

You might if you were a tourist, intent on seeing the countryside, but not if you're on serious business and want to get there quickly, ahead of the competition. The first thing you do is get a map, or ask directions, to find the best route.

Digital imaging is like such a journey. If you spend time shuffling aimlessly from Manchester to the Lake District, or from Boston to Maine, there is no doubt that you will have a wonderful time. You will take in some tasty food and drink, enjoy some beautiful scenery, buy a few souvenirs to gather dust on your shelves back home. You will listen to ­p; and be taken in by ­p; anecdotes, folklore and fables. Just like the day you played hooky from school, your conscience will tell you that what you are doing is not quite right. Far be it from me, or even Jiminy Cricket, to spoil your fun but wouldn't you be better off applying yourself to the job in hand? That way you will be able to enjoy well-earned holidays in both Maine and The Lakes without troubling your conscience at all.

So where do you get this piece of digital cartography, the map to help you find the best route for the journey of digital imaging?

First you look for the clear indications.

Signposts are useful, though they have, on occasion, been turned the wrong way to confuse - as in Britain during the second World War, to confuse the Nazis in the event of an invasion.

Signs of a well-used path are other indicators, though these may be trodden by sheep, merely following one another.

Without any doubt, the most reliable is a full and detailed survey. From it we draw our map.

Over the years I have sifted all the information I have encountered and have charted what I feel are pointers to the future direction of photography. I have drawn it up into a specification: my personal view of what might happen in the future.

How realistic is this specification? How might you evaluate it? How seriously should you regard it?

Imagine just how revolutionary the concept of electronic photography would have seemed in Edwardian Britain.

This was the mechanical age. Fathers took home Edison cylinder phonographs, to the great excitement of their incredulous families. The automobile was a rare sight on our roads. Cinema was in its silent infancy. Louis Blériot made his historic flight over the English Channel, bringing manned flight to England for the first time in 1909.

Yet a purely electronic system of photography had been proposed a year earlier, in the very year Henry Ford introduced his Model T.

Pie in the sky? Science fiction?

There were many complex practical aspects which prevented the process from becoming an immediate reality. But, after a quarter of a century, the outline idea became fact, as the world's first method of electronic photography was born. Not only could the system produce pictures without any mechanical assistance but it could also transmit those pictures by invisible waves travelling through the ether. Much refined since its inception in London just over fifty five years ago, the basic method remains the same as that proposed by A A Campbell Swinton FRS in 1908. Many of us have used the process almost daily since the 1950s.

Campbell Swinton's system came to be called television. We now take it so much for granted that it is easy to forget that this was the first workable system of purely electronic photography.

Despite those who scoffed at his ideas, Campbell Swinton's lateral thought and imagination paid off. Looking back, his ideas seem rather "obvious" but, in Edwardian Britain, many considered them bizarre. Compared with his ideas, those in this specification are much less futuristic.

Keep this specification beside you. Add to it from your own requirements and imagination. Do not dismiss it because it is not yet reality. It is not intended to be a blueprint: it is a list of likely features, based on the way developments are pointing. Tick off each feature as it becomes available. For, if we can imagine something today, it will become a reality tomorrow.

The "HandiCam" concept

"HandiCam" was a development of the original "Camera One" idea. It was made for a Royal Television Society lecture. The name "HandiCam" pre-dates Sony's use of the remarkably similar name "HandyCam as a search of the Trade Marks Register prior to its publication in 1984 revealed. Note the viewfinder, which is very much like the hinged screens later adopted for portable computers. Will a future camera look like HandiCam? Probably not, though it may incorporate many of its features.



1.1 One type of camera only. Both Still and Moving images will be produced by the same camera.
1.2 Moving image photography, both film and television, integrated into a single electronic system offering extremely high definition, without the scanning lines used in present television systems.
1.3 Still photography catered for by the same camera.

A moving image camera is a stills camera capable of taking pictures in very rapid succession. A stills camera with a very fast motordrive may be regarded as a moving image camera. A Nikon F3 with motordrive was used to photograph special effects shots in the motion picture INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM. The photographer of the future will be able use his camera as a moving image camera but choose a single frame from the many produced.

The "HandiCam" concept diagrams


2.1 Digital electronic.
2.2 Both Colour and Black & White outputs.
2.3 No film used in the camera.

Photo-sensitive emulsions and "wet" processing will be things of the past. Toxicity considerations will rule out our present system of photography, long before resistance to change dies out.


3.1 Electronic zoom of fixed focal length.
3.2 No moving parts, including lens elements.
3.3 Focusing accomplished by varying the refractive index of the lens.
3.4 Zooming accomplished by varying the sensor's scanned area, not by the physical movement of lens elements.
3.5 Widest lens angle of 180° horizontal angle of view produced by scanning the whole of the sensor.
3.6 Narrowest lens angle of 1° horizontal angle of view produced by scanning a small area of the sensor.
3.7 Angle of view the only parameter of a lens which needs to be referred to.

The angle of view is the only important measurement for the photographer. It is independent of format. Reference to lenses by their focal length, as an indicator of "narrow", "standard" or "wide" angle, will become meaningless.

3.8 Electronic Iris diaphragm, with no moving parts.

Its operation will be similar to liquid crystal, darkening the edges of an internal element. Its only importance will be to control depth of field.


No longer required.

Protection from flare will be by liquid crystal darkening of the outer part of the front lens element, restricting the light entering the lens to only that which is actually used in the formation of the image. This masking will automatically follow the zoom demand and format selection, adapting its shape and size to suit. Image contrast will thus be increased, flares eliminated.


No longer required.

Filters, including colour correction filters and effects filters such as Star and Diffusion, will all be electronic. Even Dior silk stockings, much used in film and television photography, will be electronic - "seamless"ly!


6.1 Any aspect ratio may be set, to match an existing format or to suit user-preference.
6.2 Shape and size infinitely variable.


7.1 "Photon dimension" resolution, from a new type of sensor replacing both film and the CCDs (charge coupled devices) used in present electronic cameras.
7.2 The "grain" or "pixel" size of the new sensor will be related to one photon.
7.3 The limiting resolution factor will be that of the lens.

One of the main problems with present day video, based on scanning lines, is that the line structure imposes intrinsically poor resolution, resulting in the inability to enlarge sections of the picture without severe loss of quality. Even the CCDs used in digital still cameras have resolutions which are only just adequate for their intended purpose.


8.1 Inherent relative sensitivity extremely high, in the order of ISO 10 to the power of 6. (ISO 1,000,000)
8.2 Inherent sensitivity reducible by electronic attenuation to permit more workable lens apertures and for the control of depth of field.
8.3 Sensitivity may be changed on a scene-by-scene or frame-by-frame basis. No longer do photographers have to expose the whole roll of film at the same speed rating.


9.1 Built-in 200 frames per second silent electronic "motor drive".
9.2 Much higher speeds available for special scientific applications.
9.3 Single frame exposure capability, for both still images and time-lapse moving image applications.

Being a combined motion picture and stills camera, the camera will offer still photographers a built-in silent electronic "motor drive".


10.1 Spectral sensitivity both within and beyond the visible spectrum.
10.2 Infra Red, Ultra Violet and X-Ray sensitivity selected by the user.
10.3 Settings may be invoked or modified on a scene-by-scene or shot-by-shot basis.


11.1 Any colour temperature may be selected.
11.2 Any ambient light (including mixed light) may be balanced to. Colour balance not restricted to "Daylight" (approximately 5500K) or "Studio" (approximately 3200K).
11.3 Non black-body radiators (such as fluorescent and discharge lighting) can be balanced.
11.4 Settings may be stored and modified on a scene-by-scene or shot-by-shot basis.


12.1 Stereoscopic.
12.2 Anti-phase sensors at the lens nodal point give a stereoscopic separation equal to the diameter of the front element of the lens.
12.3 Spatial separation electronically increases this to give separation equal to the human eye.
12.4 Greater separation available for scientific purposes and special effects.


13.1 Full view camera movements a standard facility.

These will be carried out either in the camera or in post production - in "D4" (Desktop Digital Daylight Darkroom) - see section 19

13.2 Other effects (for example, line curvature) provided electronically.


14.1 Special circuitry to cancel out unsteadiness caused by camera shake or vibration.
14.2 May be switched off when an unsteady effect is especially called for by the script.

Like a built-in SteadiCam or gyroscope, this will be especially useful for news cameramen working under critical conditions.


15.1 Flat screen, viewable in ambient light using both eyes.

No more squinting into a darkened hole with one eye. Ambient light falling onto the viewfinder will be reflected back to the photographer, whilst being electronically attenuated where the areas of the picture are lower than peak level. Thus, viewfinder brightness will be directly proportional to ambient light falling upon it. This effectively eliminates the problems encountered with conventional cathode-ray tube based viewfinders, which suffer because the more stray light which falls onto the screen, the more difficult it is to view the picture.

15.2 Ability to be used on or off the camera, without cable connection.
15.3 Stereoscopic or two-dimensional display, selected as required by the photographer.
15.4 Internal illumination option, for use in low ambient light situations.
15.5 Alternative Head-Up Display or Virtual Reality-type helmet, to enable the camera to be used quite separately.


16.1 Integral electron-dimension storage device.
16.2 Advanced real-time compression techniques record only the changes in successive frames.


17.1 Small size
17.2 Light weight


18.1 Equal ease of use for both left- and right-handed photographers.
18.2 Easy to hold in the hand with stability.
18.3 Most operational controls easily accessible and operable by thumb and forefinger.


19.1 Desktop Digital Daylight Darkroom - D4 - enables full post-production control and editing of the recorded images, with non-linear editing of moving images allowing instant access to any part of a lengthy recording.
19.2 Direct output, without the need for complex processing via computers, to give instant viewing on television-type displays.
19.3 Direct (filmless) link to plate making.
19.4 Special applications, such as multi-camera control for large television outside broadcasts, continue to use additional application specific processing add-ons.
19.5 Special "looks", such as those of old (1990s) film stocks, will be able to be imparted to images.


20.1 Cerebral interface?


21.1 By far the most important requirement is that we accept that change is inevitable and imminent. Those who do not will be overtaken by a new kind of photographer and photographic supplier.

21.2 Without man's capacity to convert lateral thought into reality, Edison would not have recorded sound, Bell would not have invented the telephone, the Wright Brothers would not have flown and Neil Armstrong would not have walked on the moon.

21.3 A A Campbell Swinton's specification for our present system of television was outlined in Edwardian Britain, as long ago as 1909. By comparison, this present camera specification is much less futuristic.

This article appeared in Digital Imaging Plus, March 1994.
It is based on an article published in International Broadcast Engineer, April 1984.
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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