#1275. New industry developments to look forward to

By pascaljappy | News

Apr 01

It’s that time of life again. My camera needs a long rest and I need to find a replacement. Multiple brands have been at the center of my obsessional attention in recent weeks, which has allowed me to acquire much information about things to come in all areas of the industry. Here are the main stories.

 

The most interesting news may be the new hybrid project at Hasselblad. When I contacted the HQ in Gothenburg, the explanations made the whole project clear :

“The rise of EV vehicles is making lithium, cobalt and graphite exceedingly rare and expensive. If this continues for another two years, the price of our batteries could rise to almost 40% of the cost of our flagship bodies. So we took a leaf out of the automotive industry that is causing our woes and reached out to Mazda, who developed a brilliant hybrid system around a small, vibration-free Wankel engine. We are working jointly with them on a miniaturized version of that engine. Early prototypes suggest that 20ml of petrol will be enough to recharge the equivalent of 12 current batteries inside the camera.

The new batteries themselves will only be 20% of the current size, the rest of the space being occuppied by the miniaturized engine and its 20ml tank. The new design should only add 84 grams to the body. The increase in price will be compensated by the lower price of smaller batteries, no need for spares or an external charger. The exhaust will be on the right side of the camera, since 88% of our customers are right-eye dominant.

All prototypes are working according to specifications, but fuel vapours are a potential threat to the coating of lenses and to the sensor in the camera. So we are working both on more efficient sealing of the tank and on inserting a shutter inside the X3D for refueling sessions, which will also help adapt legacy lenses with no banding in tricky LED lighting or rolling shutter effect.

Given the abundance of oil in the Scandinavian countries, and increasing scarcity of rare-earth metals in Europe, this future-proofing of our product range is a very exciting project.”

Current Soneria emulation tests
 

Equally exciting is Sony’s coming foray into film photography! While the company has no heritage or experience in the field, the current craze for analog has apparently convinced the head honchos to once-again don their League of Extraordinary Innovator suits.

The PR department is playing its cards close to its chest, but some information did “leak” out, and it is super fascinating.

Sony being Sony, this project isn’t being tackled in a amateur’s basement photo lab ๐Ÿ˜‰ In fact, the project didn’t even start with any chemical engineering!! Apparently, AI genius Satoshi Meikofoto was involved in dynamic film emulations before actual analog development took place. When the most pleasing renderings were obtained, the AI developed by Mr Meikofoto generated the formulas for the film substrate, coatings and developing process. Of the very few emulation pictures I was allowed to share, the Soneria above and below looked the most pleasing to me. To me, it is reminiscent of Portra with a more modern vibe to it.

Another Soneria sample
 

Sony was adamant from the get go that this wasn’t going to be a messy, grainy process. Instead of basing the film on the tiny salt clusters that create the signature grain structure of classical film, Sony instead proceeded to etch grid-like striations of the film base that define tiny squares. Apparently, ASML was brought in to assist with this extraordinarily technical task, and special cleanrooms had to be design to meet the air purity criteria for successful results, any trace of extraneous particles being able to warp the square into an unacceptably wonky shape.

When light passes through the film, photons “melt” the coating developed by Mr Meikofoto’s AI, which takes the colour of the corresponding photon based on its energy level (blue photons melt the coating faster, and red slower, and the speed of the reaction with the substrate determines the colour of the square in which the coating melted). Quantum Efficiency is reported to reach 30% throughout the spectrum, which is less than BSI sensors, but better than any film previously created.

It’s incredibly enginous and typical of the innovative approach of the company who took the photo industry by storm with its mirrorless bodies and sensor prowess. Sony are calling the square elments chixels (chemical pixels) and the first production films have reached a resolution of 16 megachixels in 35mm and an astounding 75 megachixels in 6×7 format. The plan is to double linear resolution by Spring 2024 when the new films are released and to introduce whopping 4×5 sheet films, with corresponding resolutions of 64Mch, 300Mch and … wait for it … 996Mch. The first commercia Gigapixel sensor might in fact be a 1 Gigachixel sheet of film.

Purple halations on the first batches of Soneria.
 

Finally, there’s exciting news in lens design as well.

A new startup that calls itself Blowie exhibits another example of fantastic first-principles thinking, that certainy blew my mind. The company’s CEO, 23 year old Kay O’Dach, explains on her kickstarter page: “The main issue in modern lens design is the growing number of air-glass surfaces. It’s essential for greater performance to multiply the number of glass elements in the design.

We can’t continue to build on the legendary designs of the past, such as the Double Gauss and the Planar, if we want to break new ground. Today, computer simulations allow us to break free of those shackles and create new designs of our own.

The benefit of multiplying glass elements in the design is that each gives us so many parameters to play with: the curvature and asphercism of each surface, as well as the refractive index of each glass. But multiplying elements comes at the cost of surface reflections, as well as the cumulative image degradation created by minute defects on each surface. Creating an almost-perfect lens that way is possible, but extraordinarily expensive because each surface needs to be super-polished by hand (only 6 experts on the planet know how to) and coated with 300-layer dielectric formulas.

Doubtful results from the first prototype.
 

So, we have created a lens with a single element.

This element, thicker than usual, is not cast or polished, but blown traditionally. By varying the heat in its various sections and applying pressure to the outside during the cooling phases, we shape transitions in density and refractivity that can be assimilated to separate lens elements, but without the image-degrading surfaces, or the limitations imposed by a very restricted set of available glass types today.”

In a quick phone call, O’Dach told me: “The theory is really simple, you know. It’s making it work that proved trickier than we imagined. Our first working prototype never really reached focus. Instead of a focusing ramp, we actually create a global deformation of the single element by squeezing it into a shorter or longer focal length lens. Obviously the focus breathing this creates makes our product unusable for film making and we have designed it with photographers in mind only.

The Blowmie Squeezmie 45mm f/1.8
 

More problematic was the fact that when we squeezed too hard to reach close focus, the glass shattered. So we reached out to Dale Chihuly who, to our delight, welcomed the opportunity of applying his extraordinary expertise to a new field. In just 3 weeks, he had taught us how to inject the proper salts and metals, and other natural chemicals we wish to keep a secret, at strategic places during the layering of the single element and all our troubles vanished. We cannot express how grateful we are, as this allowed our theoretical vision become a wonderful reality.

An intriguing side-effect came from the changes in bokeh that arose when we experimented with the various placements of the squeeze ring. We now use three in our design : a main one that controls focus, and two secondary ones at either end of the lens that allow for an extraordinary range of drawing styles and bokeh aesthetics. We couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”

The kickstarted having tripled its financing goals of 33 lenses, the project is now well on its way, with a first 45mm f/1.8 launching what promises to be a big range. Unlike typical lens designs, blown single element long focal length lenses are actually smaller and lighter than normal lenses. Expect many more in the years to come.

Wolf in wolf clothing
 

A purely creative being with little headspace for boring business considerations, O’Dach had no plans for the distribution of the lens when we talked, past the initial signed edition of 99 going to the lucky Kickstarter funders. Given the international stature of DearSusan, and my celebrated business smarts, I immediately volunteered to handle the sales of the next 900. O’ Dach wishes to limit each lens to a run of 999 to maintain exclusivity.

The Blowie Squeezie 45/1.8 sells for a gentle $797. If you are interested, you can send me a cheque, cash, or BTC for this amount, and I will handle delivery, starting tomorrow, April 2nd.

Exciting times, right?

Have a great one, and let me know what other fun news you found on the interwebs today ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

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  • Steve Mallett says:

    Ha ha! Why not a clockwork battery charger with zero emissions?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Oh dear, Pascal. You need counselling!

    And DON’T EVER play poker!

    You wouldn’t have read our news before you posted that.

    And you have chosen to put to one side what happened last time you did it.

    Well FYI Australia has pipped Hassy at the post. We’ve developed a Vegemite ion battery, which costs a tenth the price of lithium ion ones, has 4 times the capacity so a single charge would get you from London to Budapest, and you can charge it to 80% over petit dejeuner!

    Now they’re working on smaller versions, for other applications – like cellphones & cameras. Watch this space!

    There’s always a problem, of course. And they’re facing a huge outcry all over the country, for trying to corner such a basic breakfast food, found in houses all over the country.

    But at least the changeover will cut down on car transport vessels bursting into flames and sinking when lithium ion batteries catch fire

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I got my credit card out and was just about to pre-order from Hasselblad when of course I realised what a shocking investment it would be as all fossil fuels will be banned worldwide by 2025. You really should keep up with the latest world news you know ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Cheers

    Ian

  • I there I was, driving through a snowstorm, to go to my bank and send you a wire transfer.

  • pholberphoto says:

    Ha, Pascal, very interesting, forward thinking post. The problem, of course, is that being at the forefront of innovation means oneโ€™s paper only has a very short life before even newer developments take it over. Some posts are only valid for periods as short as a single day! But you have left out so many interesting sensor developments: the curved sensor, designed to capture curved subjects, the organic sensor, designed to capture organic sensors, and of course the AI sensor, designed to shoot subjects that donโ€™t even exist. Time to prepare spending our life savings, methinks!

  • PaulB says:

    So that is where Dale Chihully disappeared too. His absence was noted in the local papers.

    The other item I found of interest was the temporary posting by NikonUK announcing the development of the Z-M medium format camera body.

    It was on the internet, so it must be true.

    PaulB

    • pascaljappy says:

      Oh, well, thank you for letting me know, Paul! I’ll cancel my X2D order immediately!

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        Pascal,
        it seems you haven’t heard of the newly developed curved zoom-sensor (with variable pixel density)?
        It eliminates the need for the mechanical complexity of a zoom lens; instead it uses a fixed wide angle lens (with a curved focal plane) optimized for high resolution in the center even wide open; the resolution diminishes fairly fast with the distance from the optical axis as does the pixel density of the sensor. This, of course, allows for a fairly simple lens design with few reflective surfaces – also for wide angle photos smaller apertures are used.

        The fast development of this technology was possible because the developers were able to buy a previous generation AI system for a moderate price. This was used both for the development of the pixel structure and for designing the software that extracts the photos, large or small, from the raw data by successively binning more pixels towards the center of the photo, so that the final resolution is the same for all sizes and practically constant over the photo. As a byproduct the possibility for moirรฉ is eliminated and overlarge prints will start showing pixelation in a nice random pattern. The new methods using AI for sharpening have also been improved.

        The proof of concept prototype is the size of a cigarette packet and gives true 8 Mpx photos with a zoom factor of 1:5; the aim for the next model – once financing is clear – will be a bit thinner than todays advanced zoom compacts and make true 15 Mpx photos with a zoom range of 1:8! This means, of course, a sensor with pixels linearly 8 times smaller in the center!

        ( I havenโ€™t been able to find any names, sensible with todays advanced internet industrial spying!)

        Cheers!

        P.S.
        I really enjoyed reading your research on new camera technologies!

        When solar cells producing fuels directly by synthetic photosynthesis become common Iโ€™ll buy one of those wankel cameras!

  • Andreas Aae says:

    Ha! you almost had me there. What gave away your fib was the reference to Mazda.
    The swedes would never do that, they would obviously have used the old SAAB Wankel design…

  • Jon Maxim says:

    Hi Pascal,

    I know I am a bit late since you must have sold all 999 Blowies on April 2. On the off chance, do you have any left? It will go perfectly with my Instamatic.

    I only have one concern – do you think using BTC is safe?

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