Picture this: A newly unveiled superconducting camera may one day capture faint galaxies or planets that lie beyond the solar system. Researchers at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently revealed their 400,000 single-wire superconducting camera, the highest resolution camera of its type.
While the first superconducting cameras that were capable of detecting single photons were developed a couple of decades ago, at the moment, no large-scale superconducting cameras exist, and even the largest don’t exceed 20,000 pixels.
The new camera is comprised of ultrathin electrical wire grids that are cooled to “near absolute zero, in which current moves with no resistance until a wire is struck by a photon. In the superconducting-nanowire cameras, the energy imparted by even a single photon can be detected because it shuts down the superconductivity at a particular location (pixel) on the grid. Combining all the locations and intensities of all the photons makes up an image.”
Creating a superconducting camera with a much greater number of pixels was challenging, because it’s almost impossible to connect every single chilled pixel among many thousands to its own readout wire. The research team overcame this issue by combining the signals from many pixels onto just a few room-temperature readout wires.
After the team adopted the new readout architecture, researchers saw rapid progress in increasing the number of pixels, from 20,000 to 400,000 pixels. Ultimately, the readout technology can easily be scaled up for even larger cameras, and a superconducting single-photon camera with “tens or hundreds of millions of pixels could soon be available,” according to researchers.
What does this all mean? Eventually, with improvements to the prototype camera, it may one day be able to capture imaging of faint galaxies or planets that exist beyond the solar system.
While researchers are still working on cameras of the future, standards have had a major role supporting technology, components, and parts behind the snapshots, from camera phones to facial recognition captures.
ANSI serves as the U.S. secretariat of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO)'s technical committee (TC) on photography: ISO TC 42, Photography, which focuses on standardization primarily (but not exclusively) in the field of still picture imaging. ANSI administers the U.S. Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/TC 42, sponsored by the Society for Imaging Science and Technology (IS&T), to coordinate national standards activities for existing and emerging photographic technology.
Published standards developed by TC 42 include ISO 12232, Photography – Digital still cameras – Determination of exposure index, ISO speed ratings, standard output sensitivity, and recommended exposure index, which provides a standard method for comparing the photographic sensitivity of different digital cameras and smartphone cameras. TC 42, with the support of experts, has also developed standards related to tripod connections, hand-held cameras, electronic flash equipment, and imaging materials, among others.
Standards also support facial recognition technology, including ASTM E3115-17, Standard Guide For Capturing Facial Images For Use With Facial Recognition Systems, which is intended for use by practitioners who are choosing, setting up, and operating photographic equipment designed to capture facial images for use with an automated Facial Recognition System or for manual comparisons by a trained facial examiner. The standard was developed by ASTM International, an ANSI member and audited designator.
There are standards behind your trusty camera phone, too: IEEE, which develops and publishes standards relating to electronics, published the revised IEEE 1858-2023, IEEE Standard for Camera Phone Image Quality, which covers quantifying the performance of camera-equipped mobile devices, with an emphasis on metrics and procedures appropriate to the types of sensors, lenses, and signal processing routines present on such devices. The standard is not intended as a general image quality standard for photographs produced by high-end dedicated cameras [e.g., digital single lens reflexes (DSLRs)]. Metrics include spatial frequency response, color uniformity, chroma level, lateral chromatic displacement, local geometric distortion, texture blur, and visual noise.
These are just a handful of the standards that support photography through the years, with more work underway.
Read more about NIST’s work via its recent news item, NIST Team Develops Highest-Resolution Single-Photon Superconducting Camera.