Carver Mead

Carver Mead, Chairman of Foveon, spoke on The History and Future of Electronic Photography at the AMD Commons Building in Sunnyvale Tuesday evening. His talk covered the history of photography from Joseph Nicéphore Niepce’s heliograph to Foveon’s X3 sensor technology. It was very interesting to note how the underlying technology behind most digital camera’s sensors, the GRGB Bayer Pattern (circa 1970), is so closely modelled after the potato starch on glass plates techniques from 1906. Foveon’s technology is akin to Eastman Kodak’s Kodachrome color film (circa 1935). By using a pixel well of silicon, Foveon relies on silicon’s ability to absorb wavelengths of light at differing depths. This allows for the creation of a sensor that captures full red, blue, and green for every pixel.

This makes for very exciting technology. Foveon’s sensors mean the dramatic reduction of artifacts such as moiré which have plagued Bayer Pattern-based sensors, increased sharpness and dynamic range, and greater saturation and color fidelity. It’s safe to say that many people are anxiously awaiting the release of Sigma’s SD-9 digital SLR (the first camera with the Foveon X3 sensor) later this year.

There was a Sigma SD-9 in the hands of Dick Lyon, one of the Foveon’s chief scientists. Unfortunately, despite what was probably a spirited attempt by the throng of people surrounding Lyon following the talk, the SD-9 just didn’t seem to want to leave his hands. It would have been nice to have gotten some images from the camera on my memory card, just to see how good it really is. The few images on Foveon’s web site have been very encouraging. Alas, we’ll just have to wait a little longer to find out for ourselves.

I heard from Peggy that Dick worked on Newton, specifically the Rosetta Handwriting Recognition (HWR) system. Ah, the Newton connections continue to mount! It is heartwarming to see some of the Newton alumni have not stopped creating groundbreaking and revolutionary technology.

In the end, it’s the person taking the picture who will be most responsible for the quality of a photograph. Superior technology doesn’t necessarily make a bad photographer a great one; it just turns bad pictures into really nice bad pictures! Quality comes from learning and ample amounts of practice. No matter how good a photographer you are, however, you’re bound to have one of those days when your photos all turn up like crap. This evening was one of those days, as I just didn’t have that magic touch. Fortunately, tomorrow is another day!

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