The near future of photography discussed

Mar 16, 2012 | News | 10 comments

This is a light hearted look at what is happening with our hardware.

When video cameras  became cheap enough and accessible to the public in the 1980s some people thought that regular ‘stills’ photography was on its way out. The same was true with black and white photography once colour film was affordable. There’s a rhythm in the popularity of photography that allows regeneration with new younger audiences. Each generation of photographers creates new ways of using photography. Gone are the shoe boxes of enprints that were dragged out at Christmas. These have been replaced with Facebook galleries. The Internet generation are far more effective at sharing their photographs than any previous generation ever were.

Camera manufacturers are just waking up to the fact that the DSLR may well be a dinosaur within a few years. Compact cameras are probably on their way out too. Compacts are being replaced by camera phones and SLRs are being challenged by mirrorless cameras.

My question to you is: What would Apple produce if its design team were to create a ‘pro grade’ camera?

For a start it would be able to be used by anyone,  not just a few folks with elite knowledge. It would certainly incorporate a live view screen as used on the iPhone. It’s much easier to compose a picture by distilling the three dimensions of real life using a two dimensional screen.

Apple would probably use in lens shutters too as Fujifilm have created on the revolutionary X100. The X100 mechanical shutter delivers 1/4000th second ‘in lens’ with a flash sync of at least 1/1000th second too.

The sensor size is the next issue to consider. The latest APSC sized 16mp sensor of the Fujifilm X-Pro1 is supposed to out resolve the 21mp full frame sensor of the 5Dmk2 and the 22 mp sensor of the 5D mk3 because of it’s non Beyer pattern pixel arrangement if recent reports are to be believed. So perhaps that’s the size that would meet all but the most demanding users. APSC and modern lenses can easily surpass that resolution and image quality.

What about user interface? I’d suggest Apple would use an OLED touch screen retina display covering the whole of the back of the camera. Like the touch screen on the iPhone 4 but bigger. 6″ x 4″ would be great. Imagine a double tap to go 100% and being able to scoot around the shot with your finger? It’s technology Apple already have access to and it’s one reason pro photographers like their iPhone.

I’d suggest to Sony that they attach a PlayStation controller and 6″ screen to their camera. If that controller can take a virtual F1 car around Monaco it can certainly operate a camera with buttons to spare. It just works brilliantly as a user interface and a 5-year-old can use it as well as any adult.

So what about Nikon? They have entered the mirrorless race but is it in a half-hearted way? They are still developing their DSLRs and it seems no one told them that the pixel race is over. There is no way the Nikon zoom lenses can resolve detail at the pixel pitch of the latest D800. At least Canon have been sensible limiting its latest flagship camera to 16mp.

Both these companies risk being swamped by Fujifilm and or Apple if they should enter the market.

This is no time to be complacent as the demise of Kodak reminds us. Sony and Panasonic seem to think that putting a 20th C German brand name on an Asian made lens will somehow keep their brands alive. However the clunky and chunky lenses developed for the Sony alpha cameras are way too bloaty to compete with the sleek new optics from Fujifilm.

Leica has set out it’s stall with the M9. It’s all very well having amazing lenses costing many thousands of pounds each but if the majority of shots taken are miss focussed due to operartor error (experiences of more than one of my M9 owning workshop deligates) it’s time to rethink the focussing method and not the lens or camera design.

Fujifilm have reengineered the whole lens mount and back focus design of their latest camera, the X-pro1 and it is this kind of joined up thinking that will allow it to overtake the current crop of front runners clinging on to lens mounts and back focus distances from bygone eras. But can the X-pro1 focus fast enough and with accuracy? Will it be an ‘orb’ producer? Time will tell.

The industry is becoming exciting again and the popularity of photography has never been higher. I’m so glad to be part of these changing times and I welcome innovation and new methods of taking pictures with open arms.

If  innovation didn’t happen the iPhone would have a small screen and buttons like a Blackberry and we all know where that brand is heading.

So what does the future hold for professional photographers? I expect the next generation of cameras will be far simpler to use and more readily accessible to the amateur or part time shooter. It will be a further closing of the pro amateur divide. Perhaps the ability to see and use light creatively plus the ability to engage a client and capture a moment will be the currency of professionalism.

Just because the tools are easier to use doesn’t have to mean its easier to be a great photographer.

This is a can of worms post. Who am I to make such assumptions? I’ve put a few devils advocate ideas out there and I’m inviting you to join the discussion. Please keep it positive :)

10 Comments

  1. Sean Shimmel

    One last thought…

    Would be intriguing to start a new article reviewing not the equipment that captures an image, but… the end viewer (NOT counting fellow photographers) who consumes it.

    Result?

    While I wish clients would, none will care about or notice the supposed differences whether with brand, high-iso capabilities, lenses, video/audio ports and live sliders (again, fellow photographers and tech peeps don’t count)

    Instead, even with beautiful imagery captured with the costliest equipment they’ll most likely end up simply saying things like:

    “Can you delete that part? I hate my double chin!”
    “She’s got her mother’s eyes.”
    “Look at that lake! Reminds me of our vacation last year in British Columbia.”

    or worse yet… “Cool” and walk on.

    Summary:

    1. Unfortunately, nary a one will notice the difference in real world application.

    2. If a photographer enjoys the micro-differences that he (or she) himself can detect, then by all means spend the extra money on the costlier equipment but at least honestly acknowledge this fact ($30,000 medium format, $10,000 parabolic umbrellas, etc)

    3. But in the end, it’s all hardly worth the electron microscope (and valuable time) it takes to come to this simple conclusion.

    Is it fun to analyze and conclude in the mind’s what makes for perfection?

    Of course.

    But is it ultimately profitable in the real world apart from tech debate?

    Not so much.

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Sean,

      Great points. When I bought my X100 it was the different way of shooting that felt more organic to me that changed the type of pictures I was taking. The image content rather than how it was achieved is the end game. Sometimes though a technology or opportunity becomes a game changer. The smartphone camera has changed the way the world uses photography.

      It’s always a pleasure to read your comments.

      Kindest regards, Damien.

      PS; I’m in Chicago for a few hours in May. I’ll call you up and mabe we can get a coffee :)

      Reply
  2. Anthony Dawson, Ayrshire Photographer

    I am still sceptical, I dont think any amount of automation can really make a photograph as the one constant that has been there as cameras have changed is that its the photographer that’s important in getting the most from the tool.

    I also don’t believe touch screens are the way forward, they are too prone to errors and mistakes, accidental touching, frequent misinterpretation by the software and so on where are buttons make use of that thing, that ability we have in our fingers,,, the ability to touch and feel is far more intuitive to use without having to look at a flat screen.

    OH PS,,, weeks back when the D800 was announced first thing I questioned is if Nikon glass and glass size is even remotely up to standard to cope with the packed in resolution,,, you look at medium format its a huge sensor and an equally huge hunk of glass.

    So I think we are most definitely on the same wave length.

    As for change in the cameras / tools, all we can do is work with it, some things are nothing more then gimmicks to try and boost sales or make a product look better (D800 /D800e anyone?).

    But like Darwins theory, what is useful sticks around, what is not soon disappears.

    Oh and to look really scatter brained, one of my recent wedding was talking cameras with a guest (no surprise really) and they had one of them Sony compacts that had a huge lens strapped to the front.
    Nice idea having quality glass but when I handed mine over for them to get a feel of the first comments were:

    *Wow it feels so well balanced*
    *I think I can guess what does what* which was a reference to the buttons.

    If that’s not an interesting concept that SLR’ design has the working practice right?

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi Anthony,

      Great points well raised. The evolution of the camera will take on a Darwin approach as you say. Every now and then though there needs to be vision beyond the demand. Henry Ford once said “If I had asked my customers what they wanted they would have said faster horses”.

      Thanks for your contribution, Damien.

      Reply
  3. Sean Shimmel

    My simple thoughts :)

    Mighty Joe Young

    Reply
  4. david cooke

    Have to agree with you on the Nikon issue, one has to assume that they will be bringing glass out to match there cameras ?????!!!!!!!! at least I hope so as I am upgrading to a D800 in a few months, although maybe you have pointed this issue out !!! maybe not ?

    Cheers Damien I have a headache now :-))

    Reply
    • damien

      Hi David,

      I think the D800 wil be an amazing camera and suit a lot of uses. I think it is too over the top for wedding work where sometimes 1000s of files need sorting through and the final print size rarely exceeds A4. But for landscape, commercial and stock library work it will be amazing. I expect decent primes are needed to release the full potential of this resolution. I have the latest generation of Nikon pro zooms for my D700 and they are noticeably sharper than the previous ones even at 12Mp. The D800 will easily reveal their abberations and artifacts. It will be interesting to see if the D800 files exhibit 3 times the detail of the D700 ones.

      Cheers, Damien.

      Reply
  5. Jon Allen

    Interesting article, I can,t wait until the clatter of the mirror has gone, mirrorless is the only way. Not sure if compacts will every go any further, somehow I think it will take some years before we can, if ever, rely on holding the camera in front of you on a bright summers day squinting at the the screen cos you can’t see the subject, loosing the shot because your holding the camera with one hand while trying to tap the screen to change a particular setting.
    Nikon and Canon will always have their ups and downs and I will dominate the camera market for the forceable future. Believe me Japanese companies look at technologies many years ahead, they already have technologies available that would be beyond your wildest dreams, but to ensure the future success of the company they will only drip feed the market.
    Panasonic are masters of electronic technologies and will have a go at almost anything that is going to make them serious profit. But even the might of Panasonic can get it badly wrong. Panasonic was hell bent on Plasma TV, the market decided on LCD. Sony said Betamax was the best quality, maybe, VHS was the clear winner. Apple may decide to enter the camera market, but we have not seen how this company will survive without Steve Jobs, My hunch they will suffer badly.
    Photography will remain an art no matter how easier it becomes by using a new technology to capture the image. If you cant see the shot it does not matter what camera you have. its gone. I can happily admit I cannot see light like Damien does. Why! its a skill that needs to be learnt, there is no short cuts here. A couple at a wedding will just stand in front of you waiting for your direction, this is another skill which tends to be forgotten.
    No, I do not see myself with the latest Panasonic touch screen offering in one hand and and an Elinchrom quadra in the other.

    Reply
  6. Mark Dell

    It really is a changing world and an emerging market with the latest offerings from Fuji. It does remain to be seen what this gives, i think the younger “Facebook Generation” wont give a hoot what the DSLR’s used to look like – I think its a USP in some ways to offer a wedding shoot with these uber cool offerings?
    I feel that photography at a pro level may split into two camps the DSLR v Mirrorless cameras – dont you?
    I don’t feel that this post is a light hearted look at the way photography is changing you have embraced it with the X100 and I am sure you will do the same with the Prox1
    Nikon have lost their way i feel with the pixel race the x100 proves this!
    I loved reading your comments today and just wait and see what Apple do!

    Reply
  7. Den

    While we are thinking blue sky ….let’s not forget that that a movie camera like RED takes approx 10Mpixel uncompressed shots (photos) at a speed of 24 a second to record movies, with all the benefits of amazing dynamic range. Esquire used this approach for their cover shot http://www.esquire.com/cm/esquire/images/1r/megan-fox-cover-0609-lg.jpg – and this was in 2009.

    Maybe in ten years or so this kind of ability will be in our hands easily. Lightroom 4’s ability to frame grab from video already makes this a possibility. Certainly if I was a press photographer, that kind of dual use (single capture, dual video and photo output) idea would have me excited or worried. Photojournalism will take a new direction. Capturing “the moment” will not be such a challenge if you can can pull it from RAW video frames later.

    Reply

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