It's funny working in an industry where if you are not going at 50,000 miles an hour you are considered to be standing still. One area where Microsoft is speeding along is photography. In this post I will explore the announcements, the demos, short and long term products and then the future that lots of people are beginning to see. For me, the fact that people are already seeing such a future and its possibilities is very exciting (both the visions and the fact they are having them without drugs!! (humour))
Look at the recent events:
Now this is all very nice, but so what - a better format for bigger pictures, that could be a bit like FAT disks getting FAT32 format, but it is not. Now read about Photosynth and Seadeagon and you realise that people are not just seeing a HD future, but a future where seeing details and accessing them is much, much easier:
The demos by themselves are awesome -
Chris Koenig : Seadragon and Photosynth
If you haven't already seen Seadragon or Photosynth, then you need to watch this video from TED 07. The speaker, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, is an Architect at Microsoft, and responsible for the Seadragon product.
This is AMAZING technology - absolutely unbelievable what they've been able to do here. You can try out Photosynth for yourself today, but Seadragon itself is not publicly available (I can't wait to get my hands on this Seadragon demo)!
The short term future is described by people like Pete:
Microsoft & Photography - Pete's Eats
I've been a heavy Photoshop user since v2.5 now but thought I'd do some research at Microsoft to see what kinds of things we have to offer too. I have to say, I was pretty surprised at the content I found and thought I should share...
- Microsoft Pro Photo - a site devoted to professional photographers with news, blog, articles and events. I've only just started to explore this site myself but I'm pretty impressed so far. One of the recent news items there is announcing a partnership between Phase One and Microsoft.
- Microsoft Photo Info - an add-in for Windows Explorer that enables you to see and edit the metadata of an image without opening another application. This is actually pretty handy.
- Microsoft Pro Photo Downloads - a download site, linked from the Pro Photo site. Features some great apps, articles and utilities such as Synctoy and various Photoshop workflow pieces.
- Microsoft Research Group Shot - use this to create a composite image from a series of photos. I haven't played with this yet, but it's from MS Research so should be worth it...
- Photosynth - browse large collections of photo's in 3D. You have to see the videos to get this.
- Seadragon - not specifically for photo's, but imagine being able to view large images like this if you're a pro photogrpaher... The speed is amazing and will be seriously useful in a studio environment I think.
So, some pretty good resources so far. I'm sure there are some more hidden depths to explore too...
In fact, the information already available has lead to some people being inspired to write their own tools:
Microsoft Releases SEAMonster "Content-Aware Image Resizing" Utility
In April, I saw SEAMonster demonstrated by one of the Microsoft Research guys. It's hard to quickly explain the amazing differences between simply "cropping or resizing an image" as opposed to "content-aware seam carving" -- so pah-lease:
- Watch this quick video!
- Download SEAMonster Beta
Can SEADragon be released next?
People are now also seeing further into the future with views on how the world will be different.
Two different perspectives are provide by Steve (my former boss and all things SaaS) and Pete Scargill (IT Chair of the Federation of Small Business and good friend, when we get time to catch up)
Steve Clayton: Geek In Disguise : Kindle is Software + Services
I haven't seen it yet and hear great things already but imagine the Kindle with Microsoft's SeaDragon technology embedded. Maybe it already has something like this but seeing the Blaise demo with Dickens' books made me think it's a match made in heaven. Maybe not though given the ambition to get books down to the device in ~1m and the size of some of the SeaDragon collections I have.
and from Pete who writes for Computing - it is very much worth reading the whole article, however, to give you a taster:
Travelling through time - a 3D tour of the world made real
I’ve just come out of the most AMAZING talk and demo.
This is superficially on the subject of photos – and what we (by that I mean the world) can do with them – I think you’ll find this very interesting, mind-boggling in fact, but you’ll have to bear with me as I take it through in stages – don’t try to skip any.…
Traditionally, most of the more elderly amongst us (myself included) used to go off on holiday, take pictures, take our films along to Boots, get the pictures printed, look at them and then shove them away in a draw to go mouldy.
Then along came digital cameras – the ones that some said “would never replace film” – well, they have, well and truly. So, many people now have digital cameras and go on holiday, take WAY more pictures than ever before… and put them on a disk to go, erm, mouldy. I’ve been taking pictures since the first digital cameras came out – all neatly categorized and stored in directories which no-one will ever see.
then along comes Microsoft Labs at the TechEd conference this week in Barcelona. These chaps been working for some time on something called Seadragon.
Stay with me – I’m making a point and it’s worth it.
So – Consider Google Earth – you can zoom in and out to any part of the world and go in with incredible detail - turned geography lessons upside down I’d imagine – I could not imagine not teaching a kid how to use this tool. Of course, you don’t hold data for the whole world in your PC – no, it’s pulled in from the web only as and when needed – as you zoom in from the entire world view which has very little detail, to someone’s back yard. And this is the key to the next stage.
Now consider a screen with thousands of little thumbnails of pictures, you can zoom into any one, and keep zooming. The only hit your machine is taking is the size of your screen – like Google Earth, it’s pulling in information only as it needs it – on the fly.
So, in the Seadragon demo they zoomed in through hundreds of tiny, side by side photos lying on the screen, into a tiny glossy car advert. But wait, in the corner of the tiny ad as they zoomed in, were some little car images taken at different angles – zoom in – they’re actually hi-res images with text - pages within pages if you like – almost ad-infinitum if need be. In another example one photo when zoomed in turned out to be the entire text of a whole book, chapter by chapter side by side – and you just zoomed in smoothly till you got what you wanted. Think about this for your web site – instead of lots of pages – you have one page – and just keep zooming in on the bits you’re interested in. A completely different way to think of publications.
And none of this is really new – a different slant on microfilm – bigger, better and faster – but then, along comes Photosynth… and here I’m coming to the interesting bit.
What the guys at Microsoft have done is to make software that analyses photos and gives them scoring points for all the features, angles, corners, colours and so on and assign a set of numbers to each photo – all totally automatically of course, no human interaction – making it possible to compare one photo with another and – wait for it – yes, they can actually tell how one photo relates to another and where the photographer stood when he/she took the shot.
So – take a few pictures of your house at various angles – all the way around and fire the photos at the software and it is capable of building a “mental image” of the original shape - and you’re right – they’ve managed to put those flat photos in a virtual 3D space - in the order and orientation that they relate to each other.
To explain – imagine you built a plaster model of your house, and on each wall or corner, stick a photo you’ve taken of the real house, hold it there with a pin, and let’s say you’ve a really nice door - as someone moves up to the door in the photo of the front of the house - well, you can’t do this in a real model – but imagine moving close up to the door, and the photo changes from an image of the front of the house, to the close-up of the door. Imagine an image of the door handle – look toward the handle – image smoothly changes to that image… one could go on ad nauseum.
Don’t get me wrong, we’re not really talking about a guided tour of your house. Taking a slight leap, we’re talking potentially about a guided tour OF THE WORLD!!!!! (minus boring fields and the sea of course)
That’s today, but what’s really exciting is this: Some time ago I saw a demo at a university of a very crude attempt to extract 3D imagery from photos – but this is WAY beyond that. They then briefly showed us a demo - same scenario, a church this time with about six photos. Move around the photos smoothly and you get an idea of the original church – but that was not good enough – all of a sudden the image smoothly moved around the outside of the building in full 3D. Amazingly they have demo software that figures out the original 3D image from the photos and lets you view and pan a complete, solid 3d image! All from a bunch of flat photos and NO human interaction.
Move forward to a different world to the one we have today… let’s say in a few short years at most (and most of this is conjecture on my behalf).
Consider something like Microsoft Virtual Earth – consider a system that lets you zoom down to the ground in full 3D, walk around at ground level in full 3D, up alleys, into shops, to anywhere in the world that Flickr etc have available in images in sufficient number. Not only that but the text that accompanies modern photos (metadata information) is used to tap into Wikipedia as required and extract useful notes for you.
Imagine sitting at the screen, descending to a shop in a street, going into the shop, let’s say a jewelers shop – and as you zoom along the shelves you spot a ring you like. Zoom in and you can see the crystal in every minute detail. Press a button and get complete information about the product – and how long it will take to get to you. Press another – credit card – and it’s yours. Within seconds the images changes on the shelf to “sold out” and everyone else looking in sees that change.
Finally a bit of background reading for those of you want to know more about JPEG XR:
Posted By PSN Editorial Staff
A new attempt to provide a higher-end sequel to the ubiquitous JPEG image standard is officially under way.
Written by Stephan Shankland
The multiple countries participating in the Joint Photographic Experts Group, which created the JPEG standard, have approved an effort to make Microsoft’s HD Photo format a standard called JPEG XR, said Bill Crow, who has led Microsoft’s HD Photo effort and who just took over the company’s Microsoft Live Labs Seadragon imaging project. XR stands for “extended range,” a reference to the format’s ability to show a wider and finer range of tonal gradations and a richer color palette.
“The country vote is done, and it passed,” Crow said. “That means the International JPEG committee has decided to go ahead and create the standard. Now it’s just a process of doing that work,” a process that will begin later this month in a meeting in Kobe, Japan.
thanks and enjoy your photos, today and tomorrow
Fri, Nov 23 2007 8:42 AM
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