GUY RAZ, Host:
Professor Levoy, welcome to the show.
MARC LEVOY: Thank you very much.
RAZ: What's the problem with my Canon EOS that you want to fix?
LEVOY: There's still a lot of limitations to even the best digital camera. If you point a digital camera out a window, it's very hard for it to capture what's inside the room and what's seen out through the window at the same time. So it either loses the shadows inside the room or blows out what's outside the room, turns it white in other words.
RAZ: There's a picture that you took, and it's on our Web site now at npr.org so people can go see it, and it's of a water channel with buildings on either side of it. What's the photo, and what does the Frankencamera do that a normal camera can't do?
LEVOY: I can throw both of those images into Photoshop and merge them to create what's called a high dynamic range image. But I shouldn't have to throw it into Photoshop to do that. The camera should do it for me.
RAZ: So you take the camera, and you just snap a bunch of photographs of the same shot, and then it automatically combines them?
LEVOY: Well, what you actually do is just point the camera at the scene. It decides how many shots to take, how dark to make the darkest, how light to make the lightest, and then it combines them itself.
RAZ: Mm-hmm. Describe this Frankencamera for me. What does it look like, first of all?
LEVOY: Well, it's ugly, made out of parts we've ripped off of dead cameras. But the key is that it's fully programmable. We can boot it up, and it runs Linux, which is the operating system that hackers prefer, and we can program it to do anything we want to.
RAZ: So what kind of potential can you imagine? I mean, say, you know, you take this camera out, what might it be able to do?
LEVOY: If you have many people taking pictures from different angles, looking at the Eiffel Tower, for example, it could construct a three-dimensional computer model that you could then fly around, or it could even let you just fly around, flipping back and forth among the pictures that you've already taken.
RAZ: Okay, it sounds cool. I want one. When can I get one?
LEVOY: That's a harder problem. At this point, we're just creating prototypes for researchers and for students in computational photography. We hope eventually to spur somebody, perhaps a traditional camera maker, to take this over themselves. That would be a fine outcome to the whole project.
RAZ: There's one thing about this that concerns me a little bit, and that is there's a potential to make everybody, you know, an Annie Leibovitz or a Richard Abaddon, right? I mean, basically you're taking the power of somebody's talent, and you're just sort of handing it over to this camera, right?
LEVOY: Not exactly. The part that we're not automating is the part that's nine inches behind the lens. You still have to be a good designer of photographs.
RAZ: Professor Levoy, thank you so much.
LEVOY: Thank you for having me.
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