Moving Beyond Megapixels : More Is Not Always Better!

New advancements are ensuring that it’s only a matter of time until your smartphone’s camera is just as good as a point-and-shoot.

Smartphone cameras have come a long way—moving from convenient methods for sharing mediocre snapshots to near pro-quality image-capture tools in the right hands. Although the old benchmark of resolution seems to have topped out, innovation is still accelerating in many other areas of mobile camera technology.

“Packing more, but smaller, pixels into the same size sensor increases noise.”


After years of racing toward higher megapixel counts, camera vendors have finally realized that more is not always better. Packing more, but smaller, pixels into the same size sensor increases noise because smaller pixels capture fewer photons in a given time period. Tiny pixels also run closer to the diffraction limits of optics—particularly the inexpensive kind found in phones—so the added resolution gain isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be. In some high-resolution cameras, a 50 percent increase in pixel resolution only equates to an effective resolution boost of around 10 percent.

HTC has led the way in the retro effort to go back to fewer, larger pixels. Its 4MP UltraPixel cameras feature sensor sites that have three times the surface area of 13MP competitive cameras. In a somewhat odd move, Nokia has also swerved from offering the über-resolution 41MP Nokia 808 PureView to trumpeting the “good enough” 8.7MP resolution of its new flagship, the Lumia 920—which has amazing low-light performance thanks to a combination of high fill factor courtesy of its back-illuminated sensor, better optical image stabilization, a Zeiss “low-light optimized” f/2 lens, and lots of fancy noise reduction and image processing that’s done immediately after the capture.



Autofocus has been a major source of irritation for both smartphone and point-and-shoot camera users—and because it’s never fast enough to capture quickly moving action, it has helped keep D-SLR makers in business. Smartphone makers are moving to change that.

DigitalOptics Corporation (DOC) has created an autofocus system based on microelectromechanical (MEMS) technology that uses an electrostatic charge to move the focus. This lets camera modules (and thus smartphones) be slimmer, and DOC also claims its system reduces lens tilt during autofocus, which in turn reduces image distortions including vignetting. DOC is planning to sell a 5.1mm tall, 8MP camera module with this technology to Chinese smartphone makers, but it’s on the expensive side ($25 per module).

Startup LensVector, meanwhile, is hoping to address the lack of autofocus in lower-end smartphone with a low-cost element that realigns liquid crystal to change the refractive index of different areas of the lens and thus effectively change the focus.

“The relatively small photo sites in camera phone sensors restrict their dynamic range.”


The relatively small photo sites in camera phone sensors restrict their dynamic range. As a result, photos that are backlit or combine sun and shade can either lack detail or look completely burned out. High-dynamic range (HDR) photography combines two or more images with different exposures to try to take the “best of both” images and create a single image that more accurately reflects how the original scene looked.

For many years, HDR could only be done after the fact, with processing software on a computer. But Apple’s introduction of in-phone HDR with the iPhone 4S changed all that, and has ushered in a number of new phones with integrated intelligent image processing that make HDR still image and full-time entire new class of mobile device camera capabilities.

HDR video possible. This feature has until now needed to be custom-coded by the phone vendor and rely on the image signal processor (ISP) chip to do the work. But Nvidia is smashing through that limit with its new Chimera architecture, which will be available starting with its upcoming Tegra 4 family of processors.

By unleashing the horsepower of the GPU during image capture, features formerly only found on high-end cameras will become available on smartphones. Real-time object tracking and panoramas, and best shot selection, will quickly become reality.

Other vendors are putting together systems with many of these capabilities, but what makes Chimera unique is its open interface. This lets other companies write plug-ins that access to the low-level data straight off the sensor, and use the computing power of the ISP, GPU, and CPU. Although it remains to be seen whether Google and Microsoft let these programming interfaces shine through in stock Android or Windows RT, there will certainly be an opening for custom camera applications integrated with homebrew ROM versions. Chimera is open enough to support this type of advanced functionality.


Putting together all these innovations will take a few years, but is inevitable. Combining a Lytro-like light field sensor with a high-powered architecture like Chimera will make amazing photo effects and post-processing possible in real time, in the phone. MIT’s Camera Culture team, along with startups Pelican, Heptagon, and Rebellion are all working on the light field sensor component—as it is expected are Apple and HTC. Pelican in particular made waves recently with its low-key demo of after-the-fact refocusing at this year’s Mobile World Congress—done in conjunction with Qualcomm’s new Snapdragon 800 processor. After four years, Pelican finally appears ready to start announcing some products—stressing how thin its light field–based sensors are, and how they can make possible depth-related processing after the fact.

Google doesn’t want to be left out. Hiring computational photography guru Marc Levoy to work on its mobile photography architecture is just one indication of how serious it is. To quote Google’s senior vice president Vic Gundotra, “We are committed to making Nexus phones insanely great cameras. Just you wait and see.”

Sensor architecture will also continue to advance, with stacked sensors enabling greater on-chip innovation. Expect zero-lag global shutters (which read out the entire frame at once, eliminating motion artifacts) to become commonplace. Real zooms will soon start to be available. Add-on lenses will also increase in functionality, providing true wide-angle and telephoto capabilities. Rumors for the Nexus 5 even include the possibility of a camera module co-branded with Nikon. The only question will be whether anyone will still need a point-and-shoot once these innovations come to smartphones.





The Most Infamous Computer Hackers in History

The invention of the computer brought much good and innovation; however, there are always those that like to go against the grain – cue the computer hacker! Below is a list of some of the most notorious computer hacks and hackers in history; men that have used the power of the computer to wreak havoc in one way or another.

THE HACKER: Onel de Guzman
THE HACK: The ILOVEYOU computer worm distributed through e-mail
THE RESULT: More than 50 million reported infections across the world with billions of dollars in damage and overwritten files.

On May 4, 2000 much of the world woke to an e-mail in their inbox with the subject line “ILOVEYOU: A Love Letter for You.” What looked innocent enough was actually an extremely malicious computer worm, created by Onel de Guzman, that when opened, would ransack your system, overwriting important files on workstations and accessible servers.

Worse yet, the worm would send a copy of itself to the first 50 contacts in the victims address book, which allowed the worm to spread across the entire world in just one day, infecting more than 50 million computers in total, including units within the pentagon and CIA.

Although ILOVEYOU caused approximately $5.5 billion in damages, because it was written specifically for Outlook, the damages were only incurred by those running Microsoft Windows operating system – imagine the damage if the worm could affect other operating systems!

Onel de Guzman

THE HACKER: Jonathan James
THE HACK: Accessed vital DTRA and NASA computer servers “for fun”
THE RESULT: 10 military computers were hacked which led to an overhaul of government security systems and $41,000 in damages.

Jonathan James, also known as c0mrade, is one of the most interesting hackers in history because he not only targeted some of the most major government agencies but also because he was only 16 at the time of his arrest – making him the first juvenile to be imprisoned for hacking!

Motivated simply by the challenge of seeing what he could pull off, James created a backdoor into a Defense Threat Reduction Agency server that was responsible for monitoring the threat of weapons of mass destruction, as well as, he intercepted over 3,000 messages between DTRA employees and gained control of passwords to at least 10 military computers. He also worked his way into the very NASA server that controlled the physical environment (temperature and humidity) of the International Space Station. Although he didn’t aim to do any harm, his ability to infiltrate NASA’s mainframe forced a $41,000 shut down of their system and an overhaul of security systems.

Jonathan James

The HACK: InMotion/Web Hosting Hub Defacement
THE RESULT: Over 700,000 websites were hacked and defaced.

Having already been successful in hacking and defacing the Google Bangladesh website, a crafty Bangladeshi hacker known as TiGER-M@TE managed to access the entire data center of the InMotion Web Hosting network, accessing and defacing over 700,000 websites and sub-directories in the process. More specifically, TiGER-M@TE replaced the index.php file on each site, which, in turn, altered each site’s home page, making each site a billboard of his exploits that read, HACKED: Server hacked by TiGER-M@TE — #Bangladeshi Hacker..

In a rather non-apologetic statement, TiGER-M@TE’s response to the incident boasted, “I hack 700,000 websites in one shot, this may be a new world Record.”


THE HACKER: Gary McKinnon
THE HACK: Accessed vital U.S. Military and NASA computer servers
THE RESULT: He accessed 97 NASA computers and deleted operating files that caused an additional 2,000 military computers to fail.

For as many times as NASA has been hacked, you’d think that they’d have a better security system in place, however, in their defense, they’re the target of the most talented hackers on the planet – Gary McKinnon is no exception. Having been described by a prosecutor as the “biggest military hacker of all time,” McKinnon is an infamous British hacker with Asperger’s Syndrome that managed to crack the code of NASA’s computer system while in search of evidence supporting the existence of UFOs. It is said that he hacked 97 NASA computers and deleted operating files that caused the failure of over 2,000 military computers before he was arrested in 2002.

Gary McKinnon

THE HACKER: Vladimir Levin
THE HACK: Intercepted Citibank’s dial-up wire transfer accounts
THE RESULT: $11 million intercepted, $10 million never recovered

Throughout the 90s Vladimir Levin dabbled in many computer hacking schemes but his most notable (by a long shot) was when he successfully tapped into the dial-up wire transfers between Citibank and their most valued corporate customers, intercepting the signal and transferring the funds into various foreign accounts in the process. Before he was arrested in 1995, Levin successfully stole roughly $10.7 million from Citibank, however, when all was said and done, of all the money that was taken, only $400,000 was ever recovered and returned – meaning Levin pirated his way to over $10 million in plunder!

Vladimir Levin

THE HACKER: Anonymous
THE HACK: HostGator cPanel
THE RESULT: 200 servers hacked to re-direct visitors to malicious third-party site where Trojan virus was then planted

In 2006 an anonymous hacker managed to gain access to more than 200 HostGator system servers and all of their subsequent client sites through a an non-secured section of the host’s cPanel. By exploiting an “unpatched VML security hole” within Internet Explorer, the hacker was able to redirect all incoming traffic to a third-party website that would then infect the web surfers’ computers with a malicious Trojan viruses.

To further complicate the issue, even after HostGator identified the problem and eradicated all of the malicious code, the hack would automatically regenerate; causing the host company to have to repeat the correctional process, until it was ultimately forced to reconfigure all of its 200 servers.


THE HACKER: Robert Morris
THE HACK: The invention of the first computer worm
THE RESULT: Over 6,000 computers were rendered useless

Although he is now a respected professor at MIT, Robert Morris’ most notable notoriety comes from inventing the first computer worm that was not so creatively named the Morris worm. Initially launched from MIT in 1988, to test how many computers were connected to the Internet, his worm proved to be a success, depending on whom you ask. Rending over 6,000 computers completely useless and causing nearly a half-million dollars in damages, Morris’ worm landed him the honor of being the first individual to be tried under the American Computer Fraud and Abuse Act of 1986.

Robert Morris

THE HACKER: Kevin Poulsen
THE HACK: Accessed FBI databases and jammed media phone lines
THE RESULT: He won a Porsche 944 S2 and was featured on TV

Working under the pseudonym Dark Dante, Kevin Poulsen is a black hat hacker that has weaseled his way into the FBI’s investigative databases and wiretap information – but that wasn’t his grand opus. Although he has been dubbed “the Hannibal Lecter of computer crime,” his most notable crime wasn’t cannibalism, it was hacking phone lines, twice.

ONE: When KIIS-FM in Los Angeles was going to give away a brand new Porsche 944 S2 to the 102nd caller, Poulsen managed to hack into the station’s phone system and successfully blocked all incoming callers but himself to ensure that he would be that caller.

TWO: After winning the Porsche, he was forced into hiding but struck again as a result of his face being plastered on the TV screen during an episode of Unsolved Mysteries. During the show the phone lines not so mysteriously jammed – of course, it was Poulsen’s work. It bought him some time but not enough as he was eventually charged with wire, mail and computer fraud, as well as, money laundering.

Kevin Poulsen

THE HACKER: Anonymous
THE HACK: Spread of Malware via a widget
THE RESULT: It is suspected that anywhere from 500,000 to 5 million domains were infiltrated and infected with the Malware

In 2010, a group of Chinese hackers remotely hacked into the servers and managed to spread vicious Malware through the use of a fraudulent customer service pop-up widget on the host’s many domains. Although the fake widget looked innocent enough, it appeared on many of the host’s parked domains and sites that were under construction and, in turn, added banner ads to the affected sites and attempted to install Malware via the Internet browser. Experts have estimated that anywhere between 500,000 and 5 million Network Solutions domains were involved in the outbreak.


THE HACKER: Joseph Thomas Colon
THE HACK: Accessed classified FBI and government employee passwords
THE RESULT: He gained access to the passwords of 38,000 government employees and sparked the spending of $600 million in security upgrades

The first disgruntled employee to land on our list is Joseph Thomas Colon, a former U.S. government consultant that was able to hack into classified government servers on his way to accessing the passwords of over 38,000 government employees – some as high up as the director of the FBI. The best part is that two free computer hacking programs that Colon downloaded off of the Internet inflicted the majority of the damage! Of course, this obviously showed chinks in the FBI’s computer security armor, therefore, the entire network came to a halt and nearly $600 million was invested to upgrade the digital security and to install 30,000 new desktop computers.

Joseph Thomas Colon

THE HACKER: Mark Zuckerberg
THE HACK: Accessed Harvard University’s private student database
THE RESULT: The invention of Facebook

In 2003 Mark Zuckerberg hacked into the protected areas of Harvard University’s computer network and used private dormitory ID photos to craft a picture comparing program called Facemash. Because the site received 22,000 page views within the first few hours and was using unauthorized data, Harvard officials investigated the source to found that it was the work of Zuckerberg. Of course, it may not be the biggest computer hack in history in terms of size and numbers but Mark Zuckerberg’s hack of the Harvard University student database is certainly one of the most infamous. Why? Well, because without it, we wouldn’t have Facebook.

Mark Zuckerberg


Thanks to hacks like these and countless others, the government and private businesses alike have taken great notice in increasing cyber security threats and are therefore acting accordingly.

For example, in Nevada, a law was passed that requires all businesses to encrypt personally-identifiable customer data that is transmitted electronically, including names and credit card numbers. Further, Massachusetts requires any business that collects information about its state’s residents to encrypt the sensitive data stored on any laptop or other portable device — more than 40 states have enacted similar laws pertaining to cyber security.

In the end, each law that has already been established or that is currently under review is in an attempt to maximize the protection of our privacy and our sensitive private data, as well as, minimize the successes of the average hacker. With some basic front-line defense, the hope is that stories like the ones above can be a thing of the past.


We hope you’ve enjoyed this review of some of the most notorious hacks and hackers in history. Above all, we hope you’ve learned a lesson; computer security is of the utmost importance so make sure that your computer, your host, your server and your Internet connection are all fully secure!