"eBay Camera"

New Product Idea for Camera

© Brooke Clarke, N6GCE


Background

In the past film cameras were commonly designed to be hand held and were optimized for taking pictures of people (Kodak's main busness) and landscapes.  When digital cameras came out they typically imitated the prior art film cameras.  Web cams are digital cameras that can be used to take either still or moving pictures and are designed for connection directly to a computer and typically are for head shots like in a video conference.

Basis

I use anumber of different cameras.  Here they are and my comments about them:

HP 6200 Flat Bed scanner

This is connected to my computer by USB and is plugged into the AC mains for electricity.

Pluses

Minuses

Kodak DC 290 Digital Camera

Pluses

Minuses

22 Aug 203- The DC-290 does support "override" control of exposure by means of locking the exposure to the prior exposure and also can be computer controlled for zoom.  So far my laptop has locked up when trying to use the remote software, but the exposure can be locked using the manual menu items.

Nikon N90

This is a 35 mm film camera.  It has 4 "brains":
  • one dedicated to exposure in the camera body
  • one handling all the I/O in the camera body
  • one in the lens
  • one in the external flash
This camera is fantastic at getting good exposure automatically in almost all lighting conditions.  I comes the closest to a point and shoot camera as I have ever seen.  A lens swap takes seconds and when the computerized lenses are used they automatically tell the camera and flash their settings.

This is the most flexible camera I have ever used.  Kodak will scan the negatives and supply digital images in different file sizes for an extra charge.  The problems are the expense of buying and processing film and the time delay between taking a photo and getting the digital file.  The latter is the biggest problem.  With a digital camera I can set up the tripod, make an exposure, and leave the subject and tripod alone, then have a look at the digital image on the computer a few minutes later.  If there's some problem I can re-expose and check in another few minutes.  It might take 3 or 4 tries to get a good image and an hour's time.   But this could not be done with film, you would just make the best of whatever you got back.

Logitech Pro 4000 Web Cam

Pluses

  • Very light and small.  If a lot of the features that are on the DC 290 that are not needed for this application were removed, such as:
    • Batteries
    • memory card
    • viewfinder
    • focusing system
    • handles
    • top LCD display
    • rear LCD display
    • all buttons and controls
It would be considerably smaller and lighter.  This is important to allow the use of a desk lamp, 2 arm support.  This type of support can not carry a camera the weight of the DC 290 but can easily hold something the weight of the Pro 4000.
  • Can take still or video with sound.  Some ideas can easily be conveyed with a video that are very difficult to convey with still images.

Minuses

  • Difficult to focus.
  • The stock support doesn't allow getting the camera where it's needed.  A small tripod or maybe tripod thread to door clip would be a better support.  Need to look into how to mount it on a desk lamp.
  • Very limited exposure control.  It has a strong automatic exposure control that's hard to overcome.  When a desk lamp is used for illumination the automatic control still fights you.  It seems to work best with very even illumination, like a studio with North light.
  • limited resolution.  TV type not camera type.

Nikon D300s

This camera more than meets the idea but at a much higher price.

Need

With the advent of eBay there is a need for a camera optimized for taking pictures of objects being sold.

Object Size

The vase majority of items sold on eBay can be shipped from someone's home using the USPS, UPS or Fedex.  This means a product, camera subject, that can easily fit on a table top.

Lighting

In order to get a good image even lighting is needed.  This might be provided by a number of lamps or by a reflector like an umbrella.  The camera should have good low light sensitivity to minimize the need for lighting power.  The camera should have built-in strobe lighting with provision for external slave strobes either connected by wire or triggered by the main camera flash.

Included with the camera would be at least 2 strobe lights with an option for more.  The first two would be mounted on the desk lamp support.

Photographing objects for auction - This Kodak web page is aimed at using their low priced cameras for takng eBay photos.  You can see the poor quality that you get using this type of camera.   You can do much better than these examples if you have a digital camera that supports "Override" control of focus and/or exposure.

Interchangeable Lens

The standard lens should be a C or CS mount zoom lens with the zoom and focus controlled by the computer.  A user could remove the stock lens and attach any C or CS mount lens desired.  Greatly adding to the flexibility.  Maybe the stock camera would come with a manually controlled lens and the computer controlled lens would be an option.

Macro Lens

The lens needs to be able to focus on a dime that's filling the field of view.

Still or Video

It would be an added feature if the camera could be used like a web cam with sound.  In this mode the image size and data format needs to be selectable.  This camera would have a huge advantage over conventional web cams due to the computer control of exposure, white balance, etc.

Resolution

The final image will not need extreme resolution, but since some image processing may need to be done, such as erasing backgrounds, image rotation, etc. the starting image size should be adjustable up to something in the 10 MB file size area.  The output file should be in the users choice of a number of common image formats such as tiff, jpeg, bmp, etc.

Support

In order to get sharp well focused images the camera needs to be supported.  Rather than use a conventional tripod, it would be much more convenient if the camera was on a support very similar to a 2 arm desk lamp.  This is a very convenient support and allows positioning the camera easily.  For larger objects the table lamp mount could be attached to a ladder or other suitable object.  For outdoor use a laptop computer and optional battery power supply would be needed.

Note that the old Polaroid 4x5 copy camera with a light on either side is close to this concept, but there was not enough flexibility in positioning the camera.

Convenience

When a flat bed scanner is permanently connected to a computer it's much more convenient ot use than a digital camera that requires connection for every upload of image files.  This new camera should be designed to be used when connected to a computer and has no need for battery power.

Computer Control

Conventional cameras have built-in exposure control designed for taking portraits or landscape shots.  This type of exposure control does not do a good job on objects of the size we're talking about here since a black subject on a white background will fool the camera's exposure controls.  This camera should have computer control of all the settings while providing an automatic starting point.  This is similar to the exposure control of a flat bed scanner where you can set the threshold, highlight and gamma based on a histogram of intensity or press the "AUTO" button.
The histogram and three exposure sliders (shadow level, high light level and gamma) on the HP 6200 might be replaced with 9 sliders, one for Red, Green and Blue.

Note that the HP 8200 flat bed scanner uses a newer type of software, not the ScanJet software, and although the 8200 software has a histogram display, it is NOT useable since it's physical screen position is not aligned with the shadow and highlight controls and there are NO cursors, very poor human interface.  It's so bad that I returned the 8200 scanner.
Zoom control from the computer as well as cropping should be easy to do.

The strobe lamp output should be under computer control and would also have standardized modes.  Flat lighting would be one mode, and a number of shadow modes for subjects where you want some shadow to make the surface texture more visible than would be the case with flat lighting.

This is what's called a tethered camera.  Tethered cameras are now used in studios where the CCD chip in the camera is generating a hugh file for a single image and by having the camera directly connected to the computer the file download problem is greatly reduced.  But in this case the tethering is to allow removing all the manual controls from the camera thus reducing it's price and to allow seeing the image on a computer screen so the exposure and cropping can be adjusted to get it right the first time.  This will eliminate those black rectangles often seen on eBay and on web pages.

Blue Screen

It would be great to have a Blue (or whatever color) background subtraction feature.  By making the table top and background a certain color (that can be selected on the computer screen just by clicking on the desired background color) that color can be subtracted leaving either a white background or the subject can be overlaid over some other specified image.

Open Standardized Interface

The camera interface should follow an existing standard and be available for users and/or third parties to support with their own software.

Price

Under $ 500 for the camera, software, camera to computer USB cable, instruction book and documentation on CD-ROM.  Free software updates and bug fixes from internet download.

Other Ideas?  Let me know.


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