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.”
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 😉 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
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