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Welcome to William Van Winkle's blog, home for everything from notes on his latest ebooks to leftovers from his articles in CPU, Tom's Hardware, Smart Computing, and other media outlets. Check out his author pages at Amazon and Smashwords!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

When Digital Photography Meets Augmented Reality

I have not reviewed the Panasonic LUMIX DMC-FX77, and I'm not sure I want to. It scares me.

See, the FX77 looks like your standard issue, high-end point-and-shoot. It's got a 12.1-megapixel sensor, 1080p movie shooting, 3.5" touchscreen, and all the other amenities of a modern, must-have consumer cam. It's even got a 3D Photo Mode that works by shooting 20 consecutive shots and overlaying the two best to create a 3D image. I don't care about that. I'm still a 3D skeptic waiting for the day when the technology can add to my media enjoyment more than it distracts me from it.

No, my concern is with this little new feature called Beauty Retouch. As Panasonic recently told Reuters, about half of digital camera buyers "are not satisfied with the way their faces look in a photograph." My guess is the other half are lying. Ten years ago, I had a chin. Now it's gone. There's an app for that.

The LUMIX FX77 and its Esthetic Mode aim to pack an armada of desktop photo editing tools into the camera so you can whiten teeth, lift jawlines (yes!), remove blemishes, and even enlarge eyes for that "I'm a manga warrior princess" look. Need a tan? Bam! You got one. Feeling awkward about those new wrinkles? Poof -- gone. By the time these pictures reach your blog or Facebook wall, you've duped nature and perfected your face.

I'd like to tell you that I'm immune to such vanity. The truth is that I succumbed to temptation and recently took a Photoshop liquify brush to my just-emerging jowls while prepping my blog and LinkedIn portrait image. I spent ten minutes sculpting the athletic look I wanted. And just as I was about to upload the picture, I stopped. "Is this who I want to be?" I asked myself. "If I'm going to write the truth, shouldn't I also be showing it?" So I deleted the image. What you see is who I am.

I can be that strong-willed at 40. At 45 or 50...who knows? But that's not the fun and scary part. Beauty Retouch is where photo technology is at today. Consider where we could be after another two or three doublings in processor capability. Why go through the hassle of post-editing your images when you could pre-edit them? Really, how long will it be until we can download our own avatar skins into a camera and overlay them on top of the real person? There would be no risk of a poor "real" version of the photo leaking out because such a photo would never exist in the first place. Your skin will always be perfect, your teeth dazzling, your eyes never prone to that half-closed, stupefied expression. How many pounds do you want to shave off? If we can comb 20 images to create one 3D shot, why not take the same 20 images, analyze the space around the subject, and trim in the body edges?

If building augmented reality into compact cameras sounds outrageous, think of how close we've already come. In early 2010, Guinness sponsored an augmented reality game in Ireland (tied to the Six Nations Rugby Cup) in which cameras map real-world people's faces and overlay them onto virtual players within the game space. I've personally dabbled with webcams and augmented reality-linked trading cards, in which you see yourself on-screen in real-time with an animated character mapped to a physical object. (For more on augmented reality, check out chapter 4 in my ebook, Strange Horizons Retrospectives, available on Amazon and Smashwords.) It's only another few steps before we apply these capabilities to cameras with photographic-quality realism.

What do you think about pre-editing your photos? Is it insincere and deceptive, or will it simply be how we do things in the years to come? And if the answer is "both," what will you do?

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