UBC Reports | Vol. 49 | No. 8 | Aug.
Computer Science Professor Invents New Digital Camera
Old technology was the key
By Michelle Cook
In a world of pocket-sized digital cameras and colour printers
capable of turning any kitchen table into a high-tech photo
lab, the UBC ScanCam seems an unlikely harbinger of the next
wave of computer graphics technology.
With its bulky wooden frame and accordion-pleat bellows,
the ScanCam could be an antique from another photographic
era. But look a little closer and youll see that the
8 x 10-inch film plate usually found at the back of vintage
cameras has been replaced by a sleek flatbed scanner.
The odd-looking contraption can generate an 8.5 x 10-inch
image and scan it at 1,200 dpi (dots per inch) to produce
a digital graphic with a resolution of 122 million pixels.
The image can then be enlarged into a 34 x 40-inch poster-sized
print with a 300 dpi resolution. And its all done with
about $2,000 in equipment, says the ScanCams creator
Heidrich, an assistant professor of computer science, began
pairing old and new photographic technologies last summer
in an attempt to find a cheaper way to capture high-quality
In this area of research, we always want higher resolution
images in order to get more detailed graphics and we want
it to be inexpensive, Heidrich says. With this
camera, for the first time we have been able to produce digital
photography that approaches large-format analogue photography
in terms of resolution and quality.
The ScanCam is a bargain compared to the mass-market digital
cameras currently available. Although less expensive, they
only produce six-million-pixel images. Even a professional
digital camera with a price tag of $30 - $40,000 only produces
Heidrichs only costs were the vintage-style camera
kit, which he ordered online, a Canon Lide30 scanner, which
he modified slightly, and a few other parts. He and graduate
student Shuzhen Wang then developed the software necessary
to operate the ScanCam.
The cameras ability to capture extremely high-resolution
images and enlarge them inexpensively makes it an excellent
tool for product photography and commercial art. It could
also be used to electronically archive museum collections
and, with an infrared function, to scan fruit to check for
things like core rot.
Sound like a photographers dream? The ScanCams
biggest drawback is that, with five minutes of scan time needed
for each image, it cant be used to snap shots of living
subjects or moving objects. So far, the only subjects patient
enough to pose for Heidrich and Wang have been toys.
Even so, Heidrich has approached a few Vancouver camera shops
to field the ScanCams commercial potential and they
are interested. But dont consider trading in your Nikon
Coolpix just yet.
Although Heidrich envisions a much more streamlined version
of the camera commercially available 10 years from now, he
says theres more research to be done on working with
such high resolution images. Among the challenges still to
tackle are developing an interface for the ScanCam software,
addressing problems with distortion correction and digital
zoom, and finding compression techniques for dealing with
large digital images.
After that the ScanCam should be, as they say, picture perfect.