What Can Cameras See that We Can’t?

January 17, 2017

We all take cameras for granted now – we carry them around in our mobile phones even, snapping images right, left and centre. We rely on them to capture sights and events exactly as we see the ourselves, including colour, light and detail, but cameras are actually capable of “seeing” and capturing things that we can’t see. Let’s have a look at just a few.

Split-second images

While the human eye can see rapid events and changes as they happen, they can’t freeze time or images, or fixate on a single instant of time. A camera, however, especially a high-speed model, can effectively freeze motion (and almost time), as long as there’s enough light or a decent flash.

These types of camera are often used in sports photography, as the magic often happens in an instant – the ball crossing the line, the high jumper soaring at maximum height then touching the ground again, for example. Other events, like a water balloon bursting or a match head combusting, were never been seen in detail until relatively recently.

Very faint light

This is something of a mixed bag, actually. Our eyes can see faint light, especially if we give them time to adjust – just walk into a dark room, or look up at the night sky and wait a few minutes. If you look up at the night sky you’ll see countless stars, but even these stars are only the brighter ones. With high-tech cameras with high ISO values, like the ones produced by Andor Technology, even more stars can be captured.

Cameras can do something that our eyes can’t and that’s collect light over a longer period of time and turn it into a single image. By using longer exposures, cameras can collect enough light from otherwise invisible stars to turn them into images.

Very fine details

While the human eye is good enough to see fine details, it can’t zoom right into the image to pick up all the details that are available in the object or image. A camera with a macro lens can do just that, picking up the details in tiny insects, or the grain of wood, leading us into a hidden world.

One interesting application of the macro lens is to look at everyday objects in a different way. It can be quite surprising to see extreme close-ups of the familiar objects we see and use every day as they can often seem unrecognisable.

See tone without colour

Many people wonder why black and white photography is still very popular even though we’ve had colour photography for more than a century now. We see in colour, apart from a few people who are completely colour-blind, so seeing an image in black, white and grey is something most of us only do when looking at a photo.

The reason we like black and white photography so much is because this rendering can bring out the differences in tone, as well as emphasise the form, shape and lines of objects and scenes. When colour comes in, many of these contrasts and differences are lost or harder to pick out.

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