The Camera: Built by Man, Invented by God | NZ Photo Art
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The Camera: Built by Man, Invented by God

The Camera: Built by Man, Invented by God

The camera is only one of many items which are actually invented by the Creator of the universe. A microphone works on the same principle as the human auditory system, radar is an exact copy of how bats (who are completely blind) can fly. When they recently built the new Airbus A380 aircraft which is certified for up to 853 passengers, the designers faced a huge problem. This large aircraft needed a wingspan that was too large for airports to accommodate, and so the designers of the Airbus A380 went back to nature for their answer. They attached cameras on an eagle to see how the shape of an eagle’s wings change in flight, and they copied the very same principles on the wings of the Airbus A380 to be able to reduce the wingspan. These are just a few of many examples of how humans copied some of God’s inventions in items we use daily.

Why do I say the camera was actually invented by God? Human vision is far superior to the best camera in the world, and therefore comparing a camera to the eye might not be a fair comparison. However, the camera works on the same principles as human vision, or for that matter, most animals’ vision. I’m going to briefly touch on the optical physics of the eye as a camera, an understandable comparison since the main elements of the camera have the same functionality as the main elements of the human vision system.

 

  • Lens
  • Iris & Pupil (Aperture ring)
  • Retina (Image Sensor)
  • Image processing

This article won’t benefit you to take better photographs, however you might find it interesting. For more detail on how a camera works, you can refer to the blog article “Understanding your Camera“.

LENS

Both the human eye and the camera have a lens to focus the light and create an inverted image. The difference between the two lenses is how they focus on the object. In a camera, the distance between the lens and the image sensor changes by moving the lens forwards or backwards in order to bring the object into focus. This can’t be done with the human eye. To bring the object into focus, a muscle in the eye known as the ciliary muscle changes the shape of the lens.

The lens in the human eye focal length is close to a 50mm ‘normal’ focal length lens on a full frame camera, 43 mm to be precise. This means a 50mm lens on a camera will give the equivalent field of view to normal human vision.

IRIS & PUPIL (APERTURE RING)

Both the eye and a camera have a diaphragm in front of the lens to control the amount of light that gets through the lens. This is the pupil at the center of the iris in the human eye, and the aperture ring in the camera lens. Both widens and narrows depending on the amount of ambient light. Since the focal length and the diameter of the pupil in the human eye can be measured, the human eyeball should function as an f/2.1 to f/3.5 camera lens, which is a fast camera lens. Animals like an owl eyes are designed for hunting and catching prey at night, and therefore the pupil of an owl’s eye can open much wider so that more light passes through the lens to be able to see in low light conditions. Therefore an owl’s eye can be compared with a super fast camera lens, about f/1.0.

The amount of light collected in the human eye is regulated automatically by the iris and we have no conscious control over the size of the pupil. Therefore we have no control over the depth of field like we do with a camera where one can adjust the aperture. However, our eyes are more like a video camera that continuously scan over a scene and focus on different objects within a scene.

RETINA (IMAGE SENSOR)

The camera’s image sensor is like the eye’s retina onto which the light coming through the lens is captured or read. Both the retina and a camera’s image sensor are highly sensitive to light.

The retina consist of millions of rod and cone cells to detect the light, while a camera’s image sensor consist of a grid of millions photosites to capture the light. Each of these photosites is better known as pixels. The human eye has a lot more pixels than your camera, about 130 million pixels. That makes me feel humble with my 24 million pixels camera.

The camera’s sensor photosites are identical and equally sensitive across the entire sensor, while the human eye’s retina have a central ‘hot spot’ known as the macula where there are less light sensitive rods but a very high density of colour sensitive cones. The rod-shaped cells are light sensitive, while the cone-shaped cells react to colour, therefore the cones are responsible for both colour and detail vision, while the rods just see black and white. Owls have far more rod cells than humans in their eyes, enabling them to see extremely well in low light conditions. However, humans have far more cone cells than an owl which only have a few, therefore most owls see in limited colour or in monochrome.

The retina of the human eye’s diameter is about 32mm, almost the same size as the 35mm image sensor on a full frame camera.

The image sensor in a camera is flat, while the retina is curved along the back surface of the eyeball, which means the edges of the retina are about the same distance from the lens as the center. On a flat sensor the edges are further away from the lens, and the center closer. Therefore the human eye should have better ‘corner sharpness’ than a camera.

IMAGE PROCESSING

The image processing in the human vision system is where things really gets fascinating and the camera will never ever get even close to that.

In digital camera’s, the photosites on the image sensor detect the light and converts the optical image to an electronic signal and sends the information to a computer chip for processing into an image, and then stores the image on a memory card.

In the eye, the image is focused on the retina, and a system of rod and cone cells detect the light and converts the optical image to electrical impulses and sends the information along the optic nerve to the brain.

Most of the advantages of our visual system stem from the fact that our brain is able to intelligently interpret the information received from our eyes, whereas with a camera, all we have is the raw image. What we really see is our mind’s reconstruction of the scene based on input provided by our eyes, and not the actual light received by our eyes. For example, often we see a photo where it looks like a little branch of a tree is growing out of someone’s ear, but with our eyes there was no way we could imagine it, because our brain corrects the images received from our eyes for all sorts of optical deficiencies from experience how the image is supposed to look like, e.g. we know a branch can’t grow out of someone’s ear.

Unlike the intermittent shutter clicks of a camera, the eye is sending a constant feed video to the brain. A subconscious part of the brain (the lateral geniculate nucleus if you must know) compares the signals from both eyes and reconstruct the information to form a 3D mental image, and sends them on to the conscious part of the brain (visual cortex) for image recognition and further processing. The brain also sends signals back to the eye to move the eyeball slightly to scan an object of interest. The end result is a 3D mental image whose detail has effectively been prioritised based on interest.

The retina is also doing a huge amount of pre-processing itself. The retina has several dense layers of neurons, which determine detail such as motion, orientation, colour and brightness. Researchers only discovered this a few years ago.

THERE’S MORE

There are many other astonishing inbuilt systems in the human vision system too. Just to mention some:

Higher-end cameras have “Optical Image Stabilising” (OIS), or sometimes also called “Vibration Compensation” technology build in. It involves either physically moving the lens or moving the sensor, depending on the type of stabilisation system. It works by using a floating lens element (Lens Stabilisation) or by moving the image sensor (Sensor Stabilisation). The sensor can be moved in such a way as to counteract the motion of the camera.

The eye also has a similar system, just much smarter. It is called the Vestbulo-Ocular Reflex (VOR). It is an inbuilt muscular response that stabilises everything we see, by making tiny imperceptible eye movements in the opposite direction to where our head is moving. Without VOR, any attempts at walking, running, or even head movements while you read these words would make your vision blurred, scattered and impossible to comprehend.

Then there is also a complicated process of cleaning, irrigation, lubrication and protection that happens every time we blink.

CONCLUSION

“Comparing the camera to the human eye isn’t a fair analogy. The human eye is more like an incredibly advanced supercomputer with artificial intelligence, information-processing abilities, speeds and modes of operation that are far beyond any man-made device, computer or camera.” – Publication “Popular Photography”

Apart from the entire universe, the eye alone should be more than enough proof of the Divine itself. Humankind has been trying for centuries to figure out how the eye works, and the eye continues to surprise researchers. While biologists and scientists all over the world try to unlock the secrets of the eye, God is still busy creating thousands of eyes every day in unborn babies and animals. And different types of eyes too. Some which are excellent in capturing colour and detail like the human eye, some which can see in the night like owls’ eyes, some who can function in water like underwater animals’ eyes, just to mention a few. And each and every eye has such a unique design, infinite adaptability, irreducible complexity, and is made by extreme perfection. Each person’s eyes are so unique that iris recognition has become a fool proof identification system. The uniqueness of the pattern of lines, dots and colours of the iris are roughly 2,000 times more powerful than fingerprints. Only DNA is more accurate.

“To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, the whole idea of something so flawless could have been formed by natural selection seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.” – Charles Darwin

Whatever your view or religion, the eye continues to be a source of inspiration in the optics and bionics fields.

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