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Still Photography Throwdown: Silver Halide vs. Silicon

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Still photography has a rich history of technological innovations to record the light in a scene dating back to the early 19th century (at least). The recent decades have seen these technological innovations create a revolutionary shift in the materials, processes, and uses of still images. Most of the still photography world has completed a move from silver halide (AgX) technology that dominated the field for over a century to digital still cameras based on silicon (Si) sensors that arrived on the scene about two decades ago and have essentially supplanted AgX capture technologies in most applications. This research ponders the question of whether the image quality obtained with Si has also surpassed that of AgX in the context of typical consumer and professional photographic prints and soft displays. Four camera systems, two digital and two film based, were evaluated using both objective image quality metrics and psychophysical evaluation of prints and displayed images. The results show that a high-end digital SLR does indeed produce better images than an equivalent 35mm film system, but that a typical digital point-and-shoot camera has substandard quality that can be somewhat attributed to “too many megapixels” and “too much post processing” for the lens capabilities and sensor size. The conclusion is that indeed film is done, but there remain significant areas for improvement in digital systems. In particular improvements in printing techniques, lens-sensor matching, and noise reduction are called for.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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  • CIC is the premier annual technical gathering for scientists, technologists, and engineers working in the areas of color science and systems, and their application to color imaging. Participants represent disciplines ranging from psychophysics, optical physics, image processing, color science to graphic arts, systems engineering, and hardware and software development. While a broad mix of professional interests is the hallmark of these conferences, the focus is color. CICs traditionally offer two days of short courses followed by three days of technical sessions that include three keynotes, an evening lecture, a vibrant interactive (poster) papers session, and workshops. An endearing symbol of the meeting is the Cactus Award, given each year to the author(s) of the best interactive paper; there are also Best Paper and Best Student Paper awards.

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