ARE “REAL” CAMERAS ON THE WAY OUT?


Following my brush with the Pocket Film Maker, I pointed a former computer editor for a daily newspaper friend of mine, at http://www.mojojuju.com to make a point about the range of accessories available for the iPhone, and how they extend the iPhone’s potential.

He rang me a day or so later very excited about some of the gadgets featured and though that all of this pointed to the future. So he, in turn, rang his documentary director son in the UK to see what he thought … the response was rather crushing along the lines of “where have you been? Hiding under a rock?”

It seems that his son has several of the gadgets from the web site and uses them with his iPhone to make, effectively, story boards for his docos. This coupled with a forum entry I read (I can’t remember where) about a photojournalist discussing rebuilding his outfit with a digital audio recorder, a couple of Nikon V1 cameras and lenses, and a Mac Air set me pondering (again) about where we are headed.

The rather ordinary straight out of the camera jpg shot of a MAC truck at the top of this piece, is typical of many of the photographs that have kept my family eating since the late sixties. Ordinary, mundane and probably a bit crisper than many that found their way into many publications. The major difference is that I photographed it with my by-no-means- state-of-the-art mobile phone – a Nokia N95. For many reproduction purposes it is perfectly acceptable.

It was quite salutary to compare it with a couple of images I made with two of the first DSLR cameras to hit the Australian market. … a Canon DCS 3 and a Minolta RD-175  both of which cost the equivalent of $13,000 odd 2012 dollars at the time. Not cheap.

That the money bought with Canon was an APS-H sensor with 1.3 MP (1268 x 1012 pixels), 189 images on an IBM Microdrive, files that had to be opened on a computer (no jpegs), and no monitor. It was also enormous, and very heavy.

The Minolta used a three sensor system (an idea that Sony was rumoured to have revived a year or so ago for a new mirrorless camera, but nothing appears to have eventuated), broadly similar to a three chip camcorder. At the time the final image was probably better than the Canon, but neither were easy to handle with the Canon being tall and thin and the Minolta short and stout.

What I loved about both were their immediacy. I could take a photograph, and in seconds be working on it on the computer. In short, I was hooked on digital right at the beginning. It took me some years until my finances coincided with the price of the Nikon D100 before I dived in. I still shoot b&w film and process it but , to be honest, that’s a hobby.

The comparison with the Nokia N95? The phone wins in terms of quality, colour fidelity and printability. The two SLRs far ahead in operating convenience and flexibility.

That’s the past. The developments in ten years have been amazing, so what’s ahead? Stills and video have merged; cameras (even full frame ones) have gotten smaller, lighter, and produce far, far better quality results. However, I’m not sure that any of us, the major manufacturers included, really understand what is going on.

The convergence of still and movies has already happened; the melding of image maker, computer  and the world-wide web is happening now, I can send pictures direct from a phone or a camera to anywhere in the world in an instant, but is that necessarily a good thing? Millions of people think so.

What may be the most important development is that the way in which we use photographs in communication is changing.  It is a fact that more photographs than ever before are being taken. It is also a fact that fewer of them are being printed. It is also a fact that more and more are being displayed electronically. And it is also a fact that more and more are being incorporated in everyday emails and social media sites as part of the dialogue, rather than just an after thought attachment.

Communications have moved from being words plus pictures to words and pictures being the message. It is not just a subtle difference in the way we talk to one another, but rather a fundamental shift in emphasis.

At the moment the ideal tool for this is the phone/camera/video + audio recorder that forms the basis for most of our communications now … in short what most people are using now.

Cameras – even those that link closely to the internet – are way behind in convenience and usability in terms of being connected. There’s no doubt that for quality and making prints the current crop of cameras from the point and shoot to the interchangeable back models are way ahead. Makers are innovating and trying to compete at every level in the marketplace, but they are making some very strange decisions.

Sony, for example, have created a $2800 dollar camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder … sure there are workarounds, like the Zacuto and Hoodman. One around your neck on a lanyard, the other attached to the back of the camera with elastic bands. Elastic bands on a near $3000 camera? And adding up to $300 extra to the cost.

Slavishly imitating the viewing mechanisms of camera phones may be a smart move at the bottom of the market, but is it really the best way to frame and compose? Or the best solution for camera shake?

One of the best things about camera phones and point and shoot models is their simplicity. Is it really necessary to keep adding features to the more upmarket models creating a barrier between the snappers and the “real” photographers.

I wonder how many “real” photographers use all of the features of their cameras? How many Leave the PASM dial on P? How many use M? What I want is a device that puts as few obstacles as possible between me and the subject.

Right now that’s my Nokia. It’s in my pocket all the time. Not because it’s a phone  which I use perhaps four or five times a month, but as a camera which I use on an almost daily basis.

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