New chips transform photography, video.

While I was on vacation, a feature story I wrote earlier in the month got published on Wired. It’s about the technological progress in CMOS imaging chips, and why the tech is making it possible, for the first time, to record video on a digital single-lens reflex camera.

Photographers are really excited about the possibilities that these cameras — with their high-quality imagery and their interchangeable lenses — present. It seems clear that the technology may work big changes in the way photojournalism is done, with photographers increasingly expected to deliver short video clips as well as still images.

Here’s a snippet from the feature:

For the first time, professional-grade single-lens reflex cameras are gaining the ability to record high-definition video. That capability, photographers say, has the potential to transform both still photography and moviemaking — and it’s largely thanks to advances in the semiconductor technology used to make the image sensors inside these cameras.

“I think this is the holy grail for news photography,” says Randall Greenwell, the director of photography for the Virginian-Pilot, a newspaper in Virginia.

Greenwell says photojournalists are already shooting both stills and video, but using separate equipment for each medium, which is awkward, cumbersome and requires additional training. With a single camera that can do both stills and video, he says, the job of the new-media journalist will be greatly simplified.

“With that kind of flexibility, it’s going to be a real game changer,” Greenwell says.

While compact digital cameras have had video-recording capabilities for years, the image quality provided by these cameras has been disappointing because of their small image sensors and comparatively poor, miniaturized optics. High-end video and movie cameras produce top-notch HD video and their interchangeable lenses give filmmakers the creative control they crave, but the cameras are big and expensive. Even the RED ONE, a super-high-definition movie camera that records digital video that’s comparable in quality to that of film stock, rings up at about $17,000. That’s a bargain compared to movie cameras, but it’s still a lot of dough for most people.

By contrast, the 21-megapixel Canon 5D Mark II, which shoots 1080p HD video, will cost $2,700 (plus the cost of lenses) when it becomes available later this year. The 12-megapixel, highly rated Nikon D90, which records 720p HD video and is available now, costs even less: a mere $1,300 gets you the body plus a basic zoom lens.

Both cameras deliver extremely high visual quality for both still and moving images — and just as important, they allow photographers to use a wide complement of interchangeable lenses, from macro lenses for extreme closeups of insects to long telephoto lenses for shots of offensive plays on the other end of the football field. That’s important to pro photographers, for whom lens choice is a critical component of the creative process.

“The single biggest difference between still photography and a movie, aside from motion, is lens choice and depth of field,” says Vincent Laforet, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who is part of a Canon marketing program, “Explorers of Light.”

“I’m amazed myself at how quickly the tech developed a life of its own and how fast it’s evolving,” says Eric Fossum, an entrepreneur and engineer who developed the type of CMOS imaging technology used in most modern cameras while he was a researcher at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the early 1990s. “It’s kind of mind blowing to me.”

Read the whole feature: New Chips Poised to Revolutionize Photography, Film

New chips transform photography, video.