Need work on your image? Well. there’s always PhotoShop!


It’s so easy now, because images are digital. Think how hard it used to be to retouch by hand, when cameras used film and there was all that developing and printing from negatives, and all those chemicals were involved.


When I first sallied forth to take news photos for the late, great Buffalo Courier-Express, I carried a folding camera and a big strobe. Some papers issued Rolleiflex twin-lens reflexes and flash guns, but I preferred my trusty Ricoh Singlex, mounted on an L-bracket, teamed with a Honeywell strobe. The rig weighed several pounds. I was forever swapping out those special short rolls of film newsies had to keep within arm’s reach.


So why does that compact Sony with the fabulous optics, which I have been carrying around for years and years, replace all that gear and then some? Why do I so enjoy the convenience of taking  photos with this not-too-small, not-too-large camera and then loading them into my software to see what I got, and doing the digital darkroom stuff?


And why are we all using digital imaging—which includes faxing and scanning and security cameras and  “scopes” used in health-care diagnosis and treatment? Whence came these technologies?


In very large part, from Willard Boyle, who died last week at age 86. He and George Smith invented the first charge-coupled devices, in 1969, at Bell Labs.


A CCD responds to various shades and intensities of light. It is charged by light. It holds charges that correspond to differences in light. Those differences can be interpreted and the images derived from the result—all with astonishing accuracy and detail.


This technology comes in handy when I am “shooting” this and that for some news medium, and when I am at a social event taking photos for fun. But it was even more important in the Hubble telescope and space vehicles. CCDs were how we got those lunar rover shots and saw the surface of mars. And don’t forget all the culprits “captured” by security cameras.


Boyle came to Bell Labs in 1953 and later was director of a division that worked on computing, digital electronics, satellite communication, quantum electronics, radio astronomy and lightwave communication.


Boyle left Bell Labs in 1976, and served as a consultant for some government entities and several corporations. He held 16 patents.


He and Smith were named fellows of the IEEE and other engineering groups, and won many awards for their joint achievements related to CCDs. They shared the 2009 Nobel Prize in physics with fiber optics inventor Charles K. Kao.


There is another type of sensor used in digital cameras now—the CMOS, or complementary metal-oxide semiconductor. Those are much less expensive to produce. Low-end consumer cameras use CMOS sensors more and more commonly, beginning a few years ago.


Such components convert light into electrons. CCD and CMOS sensors are like arrays of light-sensitive cells (think solar cells on the roof, but way smaller) with each one transforming the light straight ahead of it into electrons.


The CCD and CMOS do this differently. The CMOS can read each pixel or point individually.


CCDs are much more immune to distortion, thanks to their manufacturing process, while CMOSs are produced much the same way microprocessors are. They are more subject to “noise.”


 Cameras are more ubiquitous than ever, now, thanks in part to the development of CMOS sensors. They are inserted into more gadgets and systems including slates and phones. But some of the better cameras included in the latest toys—or tools, depending on how you use them—are based on Boyle’s and Smith’s wonderful CCD.


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I got a couple of communications, by Skype, no less, from people quite excited about Microsoft’s acquisition of Skype. One person was all excited about it, in a positive way, predicting lots of benefits for us users of communications gear and services.


The other person saw things differently. Now Microsoft will stifle Skype, or will stifle development of social networking, or otherwise abuse its power and us consumers.


Both thought I should write about this. But I am sure there are more opinions and comments out there. Send them along. I plan to write about this stunning turn of events when the dust has settled a little.


E Skype lilimartini.