by John Henshall

At the Police 1996 Digital Imaging Seminar, sponsored by Agfa Gevaert (UK) Ltd and held at West Yorkshire Police Training School, Wakefield, UK, on 19 October 1996. Obsidian Imaging Incorporated's VP Software Eran Steinberg (centre) with organiser Gerry Hancock (left, holding the Obsidian IC/100 camera) and author John Henshall (right).
(Photograph by Barnaby Cox.)

Business use of digital images continues to increase, though the development of products is often haphazard. Major companies spend millions of dollars developing digital products only to lob them into the marketplace, hoping to obtain sales and get feedback from the uses they see them being put to. Someone uses the camera to photograph houses for sale, so the manufacturer writes down 'real estate' as an application. Someone else uses the camera to photograph damage to a car, so the manufacturer writes down 'insurance loss adjustment'. With a bit of luck, some of the applications might be profitable.

Obsidian Imaging do not leave it to chance. They put a small computer inside the digital camera, making it work to assist them. This ensures that the camera becomes the servant of the application, instead of the other way round.


There is great scepticism about the integrity of digital imaging because of scares about digital manipulation. It is often impossible to prove that images have not been manipulated and this is a major concern for police and lawyers. Insurance companies suffer from a lot of internal fraud - it would be easy for a crooked loss adjuster to have a friend who has image manipulation skills exaggerate the damage, then cook up a deal with the repairers.

Obsidian Imaging's answer to image tampering is authentication by the creation of an image signature within the camera at the time of taking the picture. This removes any possibility of subsequent tampering, for the authentication travels with the image and Obsidian's software is able to compare any subsequent copy of the image with the original and detect alteration. A cross-hatch grid shows where an image has been altered. Incredibly, no other manufacturer does this.

The system also allows for encryption and for a watermark to be embedded in the image, to control unauthorised use. These can be removed by the use of a password.


Another Obsidian special is workflow. Most users want to take pictures and incorporate them into documents and forms easily, without having to know about such technicalities as SCSI addresses, Photoshop plug-ins or file formats. They would like to get images into a database, perhaps to track automobile accident repairs for an insurance company, or a case for the police force. Such information as date, time and location of incident, who was involved, needs to be attached to the image. Obsidian software also allows the addition of graphical annotations - for example to draw the police chief's attention to a particular part of the crime scene. This information does not become part of the image - it is an overlay 'floating' above it, thus preserving the integrity of the image - but it does integrate all the information into one document.

Cameras with computers built-in could be programmed to react in many other useful ways. For example a surveillance camera could be programmed to send images back to a remote location automatically when something in the scene changes.

Obsidian's new facilities push digital imaging forward way beyond whizzy technical innovation, to the point where it becomes a valuable practical tool offering distinct advantages over traditional film-based methods.

This is the real future of imaging. Tomorrow's imaging - today.

Visit the Obsidian Imaging website.

This article first appeared as "John Henshall's Chip Shop" in "The Photographer" magazine
December 1996-January 1997 (combined issue).
This document is Copyright © 1996 John Henshall. All rights reserved.
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