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Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography
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Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 06:03:04 MDT Print View

pls read the title. If you carry camera mostly to preserve memories and are happy w/ your p&s, this is not the thread for you.

I think with Sigma DP1/DP2 and Pana G1/GH1 we are getting closer but they still leave lots to be desired.

I propose this exercise in the hope that it will result in some new design feedback that we can forward to Oly/Pana as suggestions for their next generation cameras. Or may be we can talk to some firm into production with this project.

My thoughts on camera redesign is based on micro four thirds format. Four third size Live MOS sensor and lighter/smaller interchangeable lenses are great points but G1 is nowhere compact.

Now I have this radical idea that I would like to propose: a camera with iphone interface.

Hear me out. iPhone GPs has great touch interface, 600mhz processor, 256 mb RAM, 32 GB storage, GPS and weights 4.8oz.

I figure important things needed on board are lens mount, Live MOS sensor, ultrasonic autofocus motor, gyrosensor for image stabilizing and hardware to send the digital signal to iphone via USB/Dock connector port. The camera doesnt need to have CPU, buttons, interface, lcd, memory... It can be controlled completely by iphone interface. AF can be based on contrast measurement like in G1. Required flange distance in 20mm but lens mount protrusion can be designed so that the actual body can be made much thinner.

GPS can be used to geotag photos. Instead of Xenon flash, powerful LED flashlight which can be replaced headlamp. There can be provision for Hygrochron Temperature/Humidity Logger so that the data can be read while in the outback.

I was hesitating posting this one due to the recent smart phone thread and the due to the fact that not all photographers are iphone users. But wouldnt you carry one if a such camera including iphone is more compact, lighter and faster then G1? Plus it will be far more multipurpose.

>Micro four third camera
>GPS/altimeter/Maps/Digital Compass
>Hygrochron Temperature & Humidity Logger/reader
>Journal/voice recorder
>Alarm clock/ebook reader/Music/Games

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 08:03:44 MDT Print View

There have been people who have experimented with separating the "camera" from the human facing electronics. For example, people prototyping with "personal servers" which were about the size of an iphone classic with either bluetouch, wifi, or a custom near field radio for data connections. This was combined with a "camera" than automatically transmitted pictures taken a bit the way the eyefi cards. I think this sort of separation makes sense... but then the question remains what's the idea UI for the physical camera part of the system.

I won't want to have to fumble with two devices at the same time... so the act of taking the picture needs to be fully controlled from the "camera". A few years ago I would have said that the perfect backpacking camera would have been a Leica CL with a digital back. Theses days though, Today though, I won't want to give up real time histograms. SO that means I won't want a "camera" that just had the sensor... I want a display on it. Related to that is the size and shape of the camera. I need something that I can hold steady which requires a sufficient size to get both hands around it.... even if that means it's a bit heavier than idea.

I wonder in the up coming Olympus E-P1 might be pretty close. Interchangeable lens with micro 3/4 mount about the size of the LX3. This is missing the auto geotagging and integrated compass to know what direction the picture is being taken. That would be nice, but it's also power hungry. Reasonable for done in a day sorts of trips, but I would be unwilling to bring enough power for GPS tagging all my pictures on a multi-day trek.

I actually think the there are two things that might be game changing. One is a technique using multiple pin-holes. A big win is infinite depth of field. The challenge is the sensor sensitivity and compute power to combine data. The other development is in lens. There has been some very promising work using materials which can dynamically change shape. This might make it possible to make lens which are radically smaller than todays systems. If this is the case, it might be possible to have nearly flat lens that have good performance.

Now if all I did was landscape picture this might be quite different. The sensor part of the camera would be on a tripod which means size for holding isn't an issue, and having two objects isn't a bit issue because I would hold the control while the tripod is holding the other path.... but that would be too limiting for me.

Edited by verber on 06/13/2009 08:16:54 MDT.

Walter Carrington
(Snowleopard) - M

Locale: Mass.
RE: Brainstorming the ideal camera. on 06/13/2009 08:42:12 MDT Print View

Interesting topic.
In the past the ideal backpacking cameras were:
That I have had:

Olympus Pen D. Half frame 35mm. Good fixed lens. Ideal learner camera.

Various OLD folding roll film cameras, 120 or 620. Without rangefinder they were light, with rangefinder they were expensive. BIG negative 2.25"x3.25".

Older leica range finder with collapsible lens. Stolen before I owned it long.

That I didn't have:
Olympus Pen FT SLR, half-frame, good lenses, small and light for SLR.
Fuji rangefinders.
8x10 view camera. HUGE negative, heavy, bulky. Ansel Adams, Edward Weston.

Now I'll have to think about what electronics and computation gains us.

I'm hoping that the upcoming Olympus micro 4/3 might be a good compromise of size/weight/image quality.

Is it possible to obtain 8x10 view camera quality in a camera the size of my Oly Pen D without violating the laws of physics? Maybe.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: RE: Brainstorming the ideal camera. on 06/13/2009 10:24:53 MDT Print View

I actually had something like this in mind. Imagine the camera on the backside.


Edited by huzefa on 06/13/2009 11:47:47 MDT.

Mark Verber
(verber) - MLife

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Re: Re: RE: Brainstorming the ideal camera. on 06/13/2009 10:38:00 MDT Print View

I have three issues with an iphone with a lens on the back:

1) I don't believe you could get a lens mount and reasonable sensor in something the thickness of a iphone/itouch. More room is needed.

2) I don't like the ergonomics of taking pictures with my iphone. It's a bit ackward.

3) I really like a more physical interface to my controls. Touchscreens are great for some things, but I find them ackward for traditional photography controls. Then again, maybe it's time to radically change how we control image taking and move away from aperture,shutter speed and focus.


Mike Barney
(eaglemb) - F

Locale: AZ, the Great Southwest!
Re: Re: RE: Brainstorming the ideal camera :) on 06/13/2009 11:02:59 MDT Print View

Good start Huzefa. I would put submit the ideal camera is:

Always on
thought controlled
540 degree view (360 azimuth, +90, -90 elevation)
infinite zoom
resolution greater than your eye can see
runs forever on a hearing aid battery (or no battery at all)
thermal, ir, visible, uv and hyperspectral sensing
water, sand, environment, rough handling proof
infinite memory
automatic cameraman compensator
intel-i-shot - always gets the shot you want, not the one you took
real-time transfer to any computer, user or audience from any location to any location
no measurable weight
price - cheap, really cheap


Edited by eaglemb on 06/13/2009 11:03:37 MDT.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Re: Re: RE: Brainstorming the ideal camera. on 06/13/2009 11:21:56 MDT Print View


1) Some room is needed ofcourse. What I was proposing was to keep the body as slim as possible while designing a protruding lens mount to get the 20mm flange distance.

2)Not sure what you mean.

3)I hope so. I am very excited about the camera interface as it exists in the new iPhone 3GSs. Unlike most phones which have IR focus, this one has AF based on contrast measurement. You click at any part of the live view on the screen and it focuses on that part. Not sure if thats a first but very cool. I read somewhere that they will release camera API for third party camera application development.

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 13:12:08 MDT Print View

Mark, you posted some interesting ideas. multiple pin hole? basically means dual sensor/lens right? I imagine it would work like our eyes. I couldnt find any info by googling. May be we will see something in the future.

I found the company which owns the patent and makes liquid lens.

WOW. AF lens in SUL package without needing a motor.

One would loose optical image stabilization but sensor shifting can be used instead.

Suddenly Foveon sensor looks more interesting. I imagine it will be harder convincing pana/oly then working with Foveon sensor. Sigma owns foveon but it is possible to buy Foveon F13 sensor (used in DP1) from They deal with low volume sales (<10,000 units/year).

Foveon sensor + varioptic lens = that will be light!

Huzefa Siamwala
(huzefa) - M
Re: Re: Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 20:35:15 MDT Print View

IMRE, Singapore has developed a zoom liquid lens which uses pressure instead of electrowetting to change shape.

Another limitation, particularly with electrowetting lenses, is that to ensure that the two liquids do not mix, they must be immiscible with matched densities and responses to thermal changes. "This is what makes them so robust," says Hendriks. "It's practically impossible to mix the liquids," he says. However, such matching restricts the number of liquids available and so limits the range of their optical properties.

According to Dharmatilleke this restriction is less of a problem for the pressure lens approach. Using a single liquid means there is a much broader range of liquids to choose from. As a result, IMRE has been able to create a lens with an optical transmittance as good as Carl Zeiss glass lenses. "Electrowetting approaches are not far behind," says Barber. "Their transmittance is still very good," he says, "as high as 95%", and Barber is confident that it won't take long before this can be increased to 98% to match the quality of glass.


With conventional lenses, one way to increase the amount of available light is to increase the size of the lens; with liquid lenses, however, this could become a problem. Provided the lenses are small enough it is possible to achieve a curvature and smoothness of the meniscus that rivals polished glass — with aberrations occurring almost at the molecular level. However, as Benno Hendriks from Philips points out, as liquid lenses become larger gravity starts to have an effect, deforming this perfect curvature.

Varioptic - The Liquid Lens Company-electrowetting/double liquid
Philips Fluid Focus -electrowetting/double liquid
Variable Focus Zoom Lenses-pressure/single liquid/zoom
Holochip USA-pressure/single liquid/zoom
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute -sound/single liquid

The last two seem to have the most potential for larger lens. By using teflon, silicone or some other super hydrophobic coated membrane for containing the liquid, the droplets would simply re-form if they were disrupted.

Edited by huzefa on 06/14/2009 00:33:41 MDT.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Re: Re: Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 22:00:40 MDT Print View

I believe liquid lenses are now in use in some phone cameras and pin-hole surveillance units, but whether they will ever get beyond that is questionable for good reasons of fundamental physics. At the sort of imaging performance you get out of a typical phone camera the liquid lens is fine. However, I am not interested in the bottom end of the market.

One other problem: so far no-one has figured out how to make liquid aspherics. The better quality cameras these days ALL use aspherics - one or more, to get the chromatic quality which the market demands.

Sorry to be a total wet blanket, but any idea one might have of persuading one of the major manufacturers to make a custom camera to walker designs is a bit of a joke. It ignores the many millions of dollars it takes to bring a decent camera and lens to the market. The walker market is but a fly-speck; we simply don't register on the overall scale.


Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/13/2009 22:23:07 MDT Print View

The camera makers are well aware that people would like a wonder-camera that is as small as an iphone but with the quality of a dSLR. It's just not going to happen any time soon because of the technical difficulties involved. The closest you will get is the new Oly which Mark mentioned above. The Sigma Dp1/Dp2 makers didn't leave out a zoom because they lack imagination... they left it out because it is difficult to make a tiny zoom which gives sufficient quality over the area of an aps-c sensor. Iphones and the like use a crappy, tiny, tiny sensor.

Like Mark, I'm not a fan of the ergonomics of using a phone-like camera (holding it at arms length). Looking through some sort of viewfinder is much preferable for stability and use in direct sunlight.

Also agree with Roger. The hiking market essentially does not exist and will never be big enough to interest camera makers. They are more interested in producing small 'street cameras' as second cameras for dSLR users when they don't want to carry their bigger rigs. The extent to which we get quality walking cameras will be directly proportional to the extent to which we overlap with this segment.

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 08:04:44 MDT Print View

I think Roger is too pessimistic!. The outdoor market isn't that small if you include day hikers, climbers, canoeists, skiers as well as backpackers. In Europe this is a big market. Camera makers here often advertise cameras for outdoor use and in Britain the magazine Outdoor Photography is very popular. I've been sent a few cameras over the years to test for TGO magazine and camera reviews appear in other outdoor magazines.

I think the problems are both technical and to do with marketing - keeping a separation between DSLRs and compacts. The technical problems are partly overcome by the Sigma DP1 and DP2 compacts (cropped DSLR image quality but no zoom lenses) and could be just about ended by micro four thirds cameras with interchangeable lenses. I am really looking forward to Olympus's cameras in this field. If Sigma and the micro four thirds players are successful this may force big players like Canon and Nikon to reconsider their DSLR/compacts gap and maybe get smaller companies like Ricoh with a reputation for quality compacts to realise that larger sensors are needed.

My ideal camera would have a maximum size like that of the Sigma DP1 or Ricoh GR-D with the image quality of the former and the ergonomics of the latter plus a zoom lens. I'd like a viewfinder too (I use the optional ones with the DP1 and GR-D) for composition, visibility and stability. I can't see a camera in a phone ever being like this.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 15:46:11 MDT Print View

Hi Chris

You might be right about the marketing barrier. Could be a long time coming though ...

How about a Canon G10 with a Foveon sensor? Can't see the glass size working though.


Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 16:20:29 MDT Print View

Hi Roger,

Given that Sigma owns Foveon I can't see a G10 with a Foveon sensor as likely. A DP1 with a zoom lens might be possible. I'm sure Sigma must be looking at this.

I reckon a small micro four-thirds is most likely. And maybe soon. Have you seen this?

Doug Johnson
(djohnson) - MLife

Locale: Washington State
Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 16:26:09 MDT Print View

Ideal for me is lightweight, good quality pics, image stabilization, and HD video.

I love my new Canon SD 780 IS. About 4.5 oz and all of the above features.

I keep it in a plastic bag because it's not waterproof. It uses rechargeable batteries so no easy changes in the field but the battery lasts a long time and I can get a second if I need it.

Sorry guys- I got on the practical side. I don't really care about GPS and mind reading. :-)

Chris Townsend
(Christownsend) - MLife

Locale: Cairngorms National Park
Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 16:55:45 MDT Print View

Doug, if a compact like that took good enough images for my print publishers I'd use one too! But no compact does except the Sigma DP series, which have limitations of their own, so I use a DSLR. What I want is a compact with a zoom lens and DSLR image quality.

Miguel Arboleda
(butuki) - MLife

Locale: Kanto Plain, Japan
Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 16:57:04 MDT Print View

One thing about living in Japan is that you get to see electronics that are marketed nowhere else in the world. The cell phone market and the available cell phones are way beyond anything else sold anywhere else. Some of the cell phones offered have very high quality compact camera designs specifically designed for photographers, with HD screens. There is even a book reader cell phone that has just been introduced, quite different from the Kindle.

I've been wracking my brain for the manufacturer and the model, but there is already a touch panel camera here that connects to the internet so that you can send your photos. Not sure about the picture quality.

Another market that has been largely ignored is women; most Japanese women (and probably women in other places) that I know don't want heavy cameras. Those women who aspire to professional level photography would probably love to have a high quality camera that is small and light.

Personally I would love a camera that:

- you just don't have to baby at all... you can bang it around and never worry about anything getting into the lens or body. you wouldn't need any kind of special padded bag to protect it.

- would handle any kind of movement, including at macro and super-telephoto levels, so that you never have to struggle with focus and blur.

- would have complete control of depth-of-field so that no matter the aperture setting and focus level you can always adjust the area that is sharp or out of focus.

- would have a single lens that takes in all the focal lengths, from fish eye to super telephoto to deep focus.

- would handle all the ranges of exposure in one image, doing what HDR software like Photomatix Pro does.

- would be able to self support itself, perhaps even hover, so that a tripod would never be needed

just some ideas!

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 20:00:52 MDT Print View

Hi Chris

Yes, I have seen the micro-four-thirds stuff. Not sure: there seems to be some mismatch between the lens size and the sensor size, but how that will work in practice is unknown so far. It may not matter.

> if a compact like that took good enough images for my print publishers I'd use one too!
I seriously question this mind-set. I know some print mags have this demand for 20 Mpixel images, but I personally think they are having themselves on. (A more vulgar term comes to mind.) The printing processes they use for magazines, even for the front cover, rarely justify the resolution demanded.

I am happily publishing A4 front covers (Confederation of Bushwalking Clubs, NSW) of what I think is perfectly good quality using (portrait-orientation) pictures taken with a 5 Mpixel Canon A95. Inside photos of smaller size do not need this much. We have even used a cropped landscape photo for the portrait-oriented front cover once or twice - and no-one noticed the difference.


Ashley Brown
(ashleyb) - F
Re: Re: Brainstorming the ideal camera for backpacking photography on 06/14/2009 20:18:19 MDT Print View

Roger, I'm sure when Chris refers to dSLR image quality he's not referring to more megapixels. It's the quality of the pixels rather than their quality. And whilst it is possible to get decent quality A4 prints from a compact camera in good lighting conditions (100 ISO), the image quality is often lacking in other situations. It's more than a question of sharpness and noise (though this can be a significant point of difference)... APS-C sensors (and particularly the foveon) give richer colours and most importantly a much bigger dynamic range. In terms of megapixels, 6mp is enough for a magazine cover. In fact I seem to remember that National Geographic did an issue where their photographers were only allowed to use 6mp dSLRs for their shots.

In good light, low dynamic range situations, a compact camera can get very close in quality. In most other situations serious photographers reach for a dSLR.

Edited by ashleyb on 06/14/2009 20:19:06 MDT.

Chris Morgan
(ChrisMorgan) - F

Locale: Southern Oregon
Olympus m4/3 6/16? on 06/14/2009 20:50:11 MDT Print View

Looks like Olympus' new m4/3 camera might be announced on Tuesday: