Friday, December 12, 2014

Taking photos is fun

My experience of photography echoes that of many others. Brought up in a world of different types of film, where ISO 400 was regarded as fast and ISO 25 as high-quality, the digitization of photography has yielded many changes - some welcome, others not so. In the old days, somebody with a camera had to be sought out to take family photos. Amateurs and professionals enjoyed their photography.  Along came built-in camera meters and out went a barrier between professional and amateur photography. Now amateurs could take photos that were as well exposed and consistently well exposed as the professionals. Then came auto-exposure. Now there was no excuse for a poorly exposed image. Then came auto-focus and another barrier between the professional and the amateur had gone.

Digital arrived with a bang, heralding yet further change. Now image editing could be done in homes as opposed to having to be done by specialists in darkrooms. The darkroom became a thing of the past. Developer trays and tanks, expensive enlargers and expensive enlarging lenses that had cost many weeks wages were unceremoniously tossed out in the garbage. The professional felt the squeeze. Now there was little to separate the professional from the amateur bar a word. Amateurs could just keep taking a picture until they got it right. The barrier of 36 exposures, $5 in film and $10 processing had gone.

With the plethora of cameras and computers available at ever lower prices, a new breed of photographer emerged. Sometimes called "Moms with cameras" they were a new breed of entrepreneur that because of their social networks could take pictures at births, weddings and gatherings. Their lack of knowledge of anything other than the auto function on the camera did not stop them from repeating photos til auto got it right. Their friends and associates were so willing to buy their images that many started websites and tried to sell themselves as photographers.

Then came the iPhone revolution where every iPhone had a really good camera. Following this spectacular success, all the other manufacturers came out with cameras on their phones and linked them to the internet for easy photo sharing. Moms with cameras and professionals became hard pressed to get work. Many went out of business and the future became ever bleaker for those that hung on.

Camera manufacturers found that cellphone users are very happy with the image quality from their phones. The images are by and large so good now that hikers, trekkers, campers and climbers now prefer to bring a phone camera as opposed to a bigger camera. Cameras began to be left behind and camera manufacturers ceased manufacturing the vast array of compacts, concentrating on superzooms, Digital SLRs and a new breed of interchangeable lens compact.

Camera sales continue to slide, professional photographers continue to lose work. This is inexorable. At the same time, professionals are squeezed from another angle - the internet. People that want photos for websites etc now just lift them off websites to use or ask some philanthropically minded amateur for free use of their work. The free online photo album has reduced the profitability of many professional photo libraries for all but historical works.

I can honestly say that all of my website photos are now done with a Nexus 4 cellphone.  The quality is more than adequate for the task. Indeed, even printing to 10x8, the cellphone images are more than adequate. Now there's a thing - how many people now print to 10x8? The rise of the digital picture frame, the tablet and the laptop has really eliminated much need to have physical prints any more.

It is fairly safe to predict that professional photography will have died out entirely by about 2020 as the last dedicated professionals retire. Many of the camera companies will go out of business as cellphone cameras become much improved. Fewer people will want to spend thousands on cameras that are out of date in 6 months or on gear that plummets to no resale value. As an example, I own a 580Ex2 that cost $550 new. It will barely get $200 now. In terms of the value I got out of it, that was poor. In terms of resale, that's poor too.

Photography itself will not die out. It has become so commonplace though that its value has gone. Many will still find it fun. The Googleization of the world where every location is ready to see via Google Earth means that there's not a whole load of point in buying a camera to take a photo of something that can be seen without spending a penny on the internet. As a DSLR owner, I am questioning the point of owning something that never gets used because my cellphone camera is so darned good. It's becoming more a point of not how much I'd get for it but can I even sell it. Certainly I'd like to have a small camera for the funkier things I want to do such as astrophotography but I certainly don't need a hulking great big camera with interchangeable lenses to fiddle about with.

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