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Cameras

Crave Talk: To slim or not to slim?

HP is touting cameras that have the ability to slim images using internal processing, before you've even gone near a computer -- but is this distorting the truth?

In an attempt to flog more cameras in an age of plenty, HP is busy making a feature out of distortion. In particular, it's happy to announce that many models now have a slimming feature, a bit of internal processing that fudges the aspect ratio and takes just a little off the hips.

It's also the age of Flickr, but here I'm still a bit of a Luddite. I love slapping my pictures up, but always in unadulterated form. I have a constant argument with one of my more talented photographer pals -- he sees no problem with Photoshopping images before putting them online. Fine, but say that they're modified. Is that different from cropping or tweaking the exposure, he says, which a digital camera can do before your picture ever escapes? I think so.

A photograph is something that shows how reality looked to you when you took the photo. Tweak it in another direction, and it becomes a painting. Both are fine, as long as you don't confuse them. That's messing with something important. In the same way that reality TV has nothing to do with reality, a Photoshopped photograph isn't photography -- but what happens if the camera does it all for you?

A camera that slims down its subjects is bad in that way and oh so many more, even before you get into the whole business of making a cult out of starvation and why it's not such a good idea to mess around with your self-image. Imagine the fun when your girlfriend finds you've dialled her down a couple of notches. "Does my bum look big in this?" will have nothing on "So you think I'm a fat cow, do you? You can't bear the sight of me!". You'll note that in all the pictures of this miracle at work, the only subject shown is an already svelte young woman -- you don't need to be a feminist to decode that one.

And if the camera makes you look more conventional, why stop there? They're already sprouting Wi-Fi and GPS, with moves afoot for people to be able to automatically share their pictures with everyone else in a 100m radius. The idea is that you get your own photographs, together with enough extra, to create a 3D immersive panorama when you get back to your computer.

That's an exciting idea. Sign me up. But the next step for wirelessly connected cameras will be to make suggestions based on where you're standing compared to a database of good spots for photo opportunities. Then they might as well interrogate a database of existing snaps, and say "The sky's bluer on this one, and there's much less of a crowd in front of the statue -- shall I merge in those details?".

If you want to make the best possible picture of a place, then all these things are legitimate, useful ways for technology to help. If you want to make a record of an event, they're bad news. Forgetting the artistic and philosophical implications, what if the composite picture records a crime that wasn't happening while you were there? Good for Hollywood plot engineers, bad for you. If you do your manipulation at home, you'll have the original. If the camera fixed it up, you won't.

And that's the biggest sin I think HP's cameras commit -- the loss of an irreplaceable original. They're not taking a photo, they're making a statement -- and discarding the truth along the way. That means losing something that can't be restored, ever, and for transient vanity.

In any case, nobody's built the camera that can take on the widescreen Goodwins. I am proud to remain outside the scope of such illegitimate shenanigans. HP, do your worst. The truth is on my side. -Rupert Goodwins