Sunday, May 4, 2014

Where is the camera industry heading?

We are in a world of increasing miniaturization and where technology is becoming increasingly ergonomic, designed to suit the needs of people rather than people having to fit around the needs of badly designed equipment. Ages ago, I had the displeasure to work for a shipping company. There, they used some ancient software that was extremely counter-intuitive to use. The software had not been updated in over 30 years and was hosted on an out-dated mainframe situated in Prague. It was in Prague because it's only in the backwaters of the world that such elderly technology is still used and supported. Productivity at the shipping companies with more modern technology was much higher due to the more intuitive technologies employed.
At the same time as things are becoming more ergonomic and designed to suit people's needs, technology is also making imaging quality better. Just twenty five years ago, digital compact cameras came out. They were absurdly expensive and the image quality was poor. Indoors was the only time that they could generally take a decent photograph. Outdoors, fairly ordinary contrast would cause turquoise or red fringing around the highlights. Since then, imaging has surged forward. Sensors have become better and processing has become better as the boffins have worked out how to get around many of the issues.
The marketing gurus have been hard at work trying to convince people they need ever more megapixels and ever newer cameras. That has abated a bit now as people have begun to realize that the marketers have been taking them on a ride. Most people never print a single digital image. Thus, 2 megapixels is the most they need for many things or perhaps 3 if they want to photograph a document. I used to photography my daily schedules with a 2 megapixel Blackberry camera. My Nexus is 8 megapixel which is way more than adequate - it's excessive. This is just a quick sample of why a cellphone camera is so user friendly. 
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We seem to be heading toward smaller cameras and more user-friendly cameras. Cellphones take the photo, upload it to Picasaweb or to Flickr or to any one of a number of image hosting sites. They also allow the user to compose blog entries using the images or simply post them to social media websites.The growing explosion of photography is due to the ease of using cellphone cameras.
At the same time as cellphone photography is becoming very popular, people are finding that digital SLRs are bulky, cumbersome and heavy. The popularity of cellphone cameras has driven most of the compact digital cameras off the market. Thus, manufacturers have responded with more compact digital cameras that have interchangeable lenses in order to try to win back their declining customer base, hoping that interchangeable lenses will woo people away from cellphone photography.
The sad fact is none of the digital SLRs nor digital compacts will upload to the internet without using additional hardware such as a wifi card or a card reader or a wifi plug-in gadget. It's all extra expense and extra bother for a world increasinly accustomed to the ease of use of cellphone images.
The quality of cellphone images is quite high, these days. My Nexus produces images way better than my 10 year old digital compact could produce and on a par with what my DSLR can produce. Purists will add caveats to that but the caveats are meaningless. People who take photographs largely don't care about the ultimate image quality. They want a record of an event - the quality of most cellphones is good enough. It's certainly better than we could get from film 30 years ago. We have reached a stage where image quality is good enough and any improvements are minimal.
I firmly predict that in the next 20 years, digital SLRs will largely die out in the way large and medium format cameras have all but died out. The main camera for enthusiasts (assuming that we're not all photographed out by then) will be either an interchangable lens compact or a bolt-on lens/sensor assembley that attaches to our smartphones - a bit like Sony's latest idea. The future is all about change and sweeping away the cobwebs of old.

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