Photos should be tagged for alternate aspect ratios

Today, fewer and fewer photos are printed. We usually see them on screen. And more and more commonly, we see them on a widescreen monitor. 16:9 screens are quite common as are 16:10. You can hardly find a 4:3 screen any more, though that is the aspect ratio of most P&S cameras. Most SLRs are 3:2, which still doesn’t fit on the widescreen monitor.

So there should be a standard tag to put in photos saying, “It’s OK to crop this photo to fill aspect ratio X:Y.” Then display programs could know to do this, instead of putting black bars at the center. Since all photos exceed the resolution of the screen by a large margin these days, there is no loss of detail to do this, in fact there is probably a gain.

One could apply this tag (or perhaps its converse, one saying, “please display the entirety of this photo without crop”) in a photo organizer program of course. It could also be applied by cameras. To do this, the camera might display a dim outline of a widescreen aspect ratio, so you can compose the shot to fit in that. Many people might decide to do this as the default, and push a button when they need the whole field of view and want to set a “don’t crop” flag. Of course you can fix this after the fact.

Should sensors just go widescreen? Probably not. The lens produces a circular image, so more square aspect ratios make sense. A widescreen sensor would be too narrow in portrait mode. In fact, there’s an argument that as sensors get cheaper, they should go circular and then the user can decide after the fact if they want landscape, portrait or some particular aspect ratio in either.

The simplest way to start this plan would be to add a “crop top/bottom to fit width” option to photo viewers. And to add a “flag this picture to not do that” command to the photo viewer. A quick run through the slideshow, tagging the few photos that can’t be expanded to fill the screen, would prepare the slideshow for showing to others, or it could be done right during the show.

Plus-shaped sensors!

Crop tags makes sense, and some kind of support in camera for it would be good. Adding support would be relatively easy, so hopefully someone will just do it. But I think that is some way down the priority list, behind such gems as decent small image sizes (as you mention, most people can't display a full size image nor the camera reproduce that level of detail) and better standardisation of chargers (follow the cellphones and allow charge off USB)

What I do like is the idea of a square or plus-shaped sensor. Square has the advantage that you still have a rectangular sensor so primitive software will cope with it easily, but plus-shaped has the advantage of greater coverage. I'd prefer the latter and let the software people deal with missing areas in RAW files.

Sensor shape

Of course, the sensor shape has to pack on a wafer, which neither a fat plus nor a circle will do as well as a rectangle. Nothing will do as well as a rectangle. The sensors have to get very cheap before this is done.

Plus signs nearly

Plus signs nearly tessellate, where circles don't. But I suspect a certain amount of off-sensor circuitry is necessary anyway so it might not be as big a deal as expected. I'm thinking 6x4 plus rather than 16x9, but either would work.

The down side of a square sensor is that wide rectangles to suit modern screens lose even more of the available pixels. But since modern cameras have such an excess of pixels compared to displays I don't think it's that much of a handicap. Then again, they have so much storage that post facto crop-by-tag is not going to hurt either. Unless we start seeing the Nikon-style "crop to boost frame rate" idea developed. Which Casio do too with their ultra-fast video rates. So maybe there's merit in it. Up to the engineers, of course.

There are a number of cameras that will now take 16:9, 4:3, etc.

There are a number of cameras that will now take 16:9, 4:3, etc. The new Olympus, some Cannon, a Panasonic camera. They've come out in the last 3-6 months, aware of the issues you discuss.

They allow the taking of the photo in the format & ratio at the time of composition... the challenge is that the LCD display is a fixed size, and usually 3:2, which might make it hard to correctly guage that the output will be. However, the features are there now in nearly every new camera I looked at recently.

Have a great day, thx for the EFF.

Taking and flagging

I am not so much wanting the camera to take a 16:9, by which I presume you mean cropping in-camera. That can certainly be an option. I don’t want to throw away the information, however, so what I really want is for the display programs to know that they can safely display the image 16:9 (or other cropped aspect ratio) and a way for the camera (or me in the photo organizer) to tell the display program this.

If you are only going to display on a 16:9, it is fine to crop in-camera, but in reality I display on different monitors. My 16:9 HDTV. My 16:10 big monitor. My old 4:3 laptop. My almost 16:9 but not quite netbook. So I want to keep all the information. It goes in both directions. For example, to display my 3:2 photos on my HDTV, I will crop top and bottom. To display on a 4:3 screen I would have to chop left and right.

not sure

I'm not sure the camera is the problem. To start with, no one wants to fuss with the camera any more than they have to when taking pictures. The camera aspect ratio is a function of the preview screen size. You want to know what your picture includes when you take it. That's just WYSIWYG. It is tricky human engineering to fit a wide screen into a hand held digital camera. Remember, modern cameras, smart phones and PDAs use the same form factors as Roman wax note pads and cuneiform clay tablets, and fingers are still necessary for manipulation but are still not transparent.

The smarts should be in the display software. After all, most displays require a computer of some sort to actually display pictures. The simplest approach would be to have the display program actually look at the picture and figure out what to show. If it can find faces, it can surely figure out the center of interest of the photo and recognize landscapes and portraits. If it makes a mistake and crops incorrectly, you can just click a key or stroke the trackpad and the problem is fixed and the change remembered. (Sure, add an EXIF data field for the preferred cropping, but don't make this more work for the user.)

Composition

Actually, lots of photographers care about composition of the photos, including what box they frame the photo in, so you do need to do something at the camera if you want to create photos for display on widescreen TVs in a 4:3 viewfinder.

But many people do this unconsciously. They just frame what they want and it turns out it’s a more landscapey image and the top and bottom are not that important, so all you need then is a flag you can add in the photo manager to say “OK to display at 16:9, you are not losing anything.”

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