A Digital Camera from the Future

A Casio unit unveiled at this year’s CES suggests that the future has already arrived.
Posted January 30, 2008

Mike Elgan

Mike Elgan

Wouldn't it be interesting if somebody shipped a gadget from the future -- say, a typical PC or a cell phone from the year 2015?

The PC might have a 72-inch multi-touch display, 64 terabytes of holographic memory, infinite solid-state storage and a 45Gbps connection to the Internet. The cell phone could be the size and shape of a credit card, with a fold-out 14-inch hi-def screen and might also be used as a Taser.

Products like these would blow everyone's minds. Interestingly, a digital camera from the future has been announced, and nobody has yet acknowledged it as such. The camera is the $1,000 Casio EX-F1, and it ships in March.

When Casio demonstrated the camera at CES, the gadget press "oooh'ed" and "aaah'ed" about the camera's high-speed image capture, but nobody seemed to realize that the EX-F1 isn't just some prosumer camera with a parlor trick, but technology that represents the future of all cameras.

What's So Futuristic About the EX-F1?

If you're taking a picture of, say, someone jumping into a swimming pool, the EX-F1 will take 30 pictures in the half-second after you press the button. But magically, it will also take 30 pictures the half-second BEFORE you pressed the button. A scroll wheel on the back lets you quickly scroll through these 60 pictures to find the best one. Once you've found it, you press a button, and that shot is saved to the camera's storage -- the rest are left to die in the cache.

You can spread this record-shattering burst mode beyond one second all the way up to a minute. But the longer the capture period, the less frequent the snaps. So if you set the camera to take pictures for constantly 12 seconds, it will do so at 5 pictures per second.

This feature will almost guarantee that you'll capture the action at exactly the right moment, enabling amateurs to capture pictures like these.

You can shoot fast in darkness, too. The flash can keep up with 7 images per second until you reach 20 pictures. At rates of between 10 to 60 frames per second, you can opt for a secondary and internal high-speed LED flash.

While most "prosumer" cameras capture video, this one does HD. You can set the camera to capture high-def video at 1,920 pixels by 1,080 pixels at 60 fps! (Video files are stores as H.264 QuickTime files.) It uses a high-end HDMI cable to plug directly into your high-def TV.

All these features dramatically improve the quality of pictures and video. Most commentators, however, have commented on the gimmicky application of high-speed image capture. You can record super slow-motion video, recording at between 300 and an unbelievable 1,200 frames per second (fps). When you play these back at 30 fps, the action ranges from the kind of slow-mo you see in sports, to the kind you used to see only from science labs.

The EX-F1 is the only sub-$1,000 camera I'm aware of that has ANY of the features that all future cameras will have -- and the EX-F1 has them all:

• Ultra-rapid picture taking, then you choose your desired frame

• Electronic shutter (no moving parts)

• Super slow-mo video

• High-def video

• HDMI support

• Picture-taking in Digital Negative (DNG) file format

• Super high-speed flash

• Emphasis on speed over megapixels

The EX-F1 has a huge number of great features I haven't mentioned here. The most important development, however, is that the EX-F1 begins the inevitable process of eliminating the historic wall between "still" images and "video."

Since the beginning of "moving pictures," there has been a stark difference between nearly all aspects of still photography and movie-making. Technology will erase that difference. Eventually all consumer cameras will simply take high-resolution pictures at just about any capture rate. You'll grab your stills from a huge series instead of trying (and usually failing) to snap the picture manually at exactly the perfect moment. Your video will be a series of high-quality still photos; your still photos will be single frames from video.

Don't let anyone convince you that the Casio EX-F1 is just a regular camera with a speed gimmick. It's a sudden and unexpected view into the future of photography.

Tags: video, consumer, Gadgets, Quicktime, Storage

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