Yesterday in one of the conversations here on Fotozones Dave (webco) brought up the question of cellphones and how they are not only killing the compact camera market, but also posing a threat to serious photography equipment. This, together with a brief scan of the ongoing and contentious Nikon D4s thread over on Nikongear.com has got me thinking a bit about how cellphones might be able to play a bigger role in serious photography as we forge into the future.
This morning I was out on a cycle ride along the beachfront here in Durban and I had my iPhone 4 with me (as I always do). It’s a glorious day here and I was seeing some interesting scenes that I snapped using this 3 year old cellphone. They’re not bad, but they’re far from being as good as the stuff I am seeing come out of the new cellphone cameras. The ones with 40+ megapixels and full manual controls, etc. When I snap these images I love to share them with my Facebook friends and it’s really easy using the Facebook app on the iPhone.
Anyway, the thing is no matter how big they make the sensor in the cellphone, or how much control they give you over the process of making the image, as a photographer I don’t think I would ever be completely satisfied with using just the cellphone. I want to try different lenses and different angles. Sometimes I want to look at a scene through a viewfinder, other times I want to use the Live View. There’s no way a cellphone is going to be able to give me that kind of versatility.
Or is there?
In reading some of the comments over on that D4s thread about how users avoided upgrading from the D3s to the D4 because of the XQD and SD/CF card issue, or the fact that it doesn’t have enough pixels for their needs, I thought to myself, how stupid are these camera manufacturers to not see the glaringly obvious path forward? Why aren’t they offering the option for users to customise their cameras in exactly the specification they want? If you can build a PC with different components, or spec out your own Mac with different video cards and quantities of RAM, why the hell can’t a camera be customised the same way?
If I wanted a camera with a D4 chassis, but with dual SD card slots, a built-in flash and wifi why can’t they make it for me? Why can’t the camera system be modularised in such a way that I can swap out parts myself? If I want a tilting LCD, or an optical view finder, what’s the problem? In the days of old we could change focusing screens, finders and even film backs on our cameras, but nowadays we’re forced to accept whatever model the manufacturer puts on the market. And that’s that. Trying to find the right camera for your needs is like a hit and miss affair.
Wouldn’t it be cool if somebody made a mirrorless camera that has an interchangeable sensor on it that could accept your smartphone as its “brain”? You simply dock the phone to the camera body and viola, you can now use whatever lens you want on that mirrorless body and let the phone do the processing. You can share your images on social media, or you can wifi them to your editing machine. Maybe even edit them on the smartphone itself. Why not? If they can put a 40MP camera into a cellphone now, why can’t they put Photoshop on the thing too? Instead of looking at the image on the phone screen you could use its built in wizardry and transmit the image to your nearest smart TV with a 4k screen and see your edits on there.
These technologies are already with us, but instead of thinking about modularity, and focusing on their strengths (optics and design), most camera makers seem to be trying to re-invert the wheel around their own legacy. Nikon are especially guilty of this. They stick to engineering around the F mount like to do otherwise would be heresy. It’s crazy.
If I’m honest the thing that attracted me to camera culture in the first place was the coolness of its modularity back in the day. Being able to change lenses, put on other things like finders and focusing screens, accessorise and in a small way almost make your version of the camera unique, was the cool thing that pulled me into this culture of photography. I only started to see photographically a few years after owning my first dozen or so SLR’s. True story.
So while the camera industry is going through its biggest challenges, I wonder if there are any executives left in the world who actually think beyond what the accountants are telling them? Are they thinking in a visionary manner the way Steve Jobs used to about products, or are they only searching for survival and being reactionary in the way they develop products? Shouldn’t the likes of Olympus and Nikon and Sony (to a lesser extent maybe) be thinking about building photography systems around smartphones? Why not build their own smartphones that work with their superior photographic solutions?
I’m picturing the day when I can create my own camera with whatever technology or optical solutions I want in it. I want to be able to choose my own sensor, my own skin colours, my own storage and processing solution, my own sharing apps built into it.
Why can’t I do this yet when all the technology already exists?
One of the fun stuff I find myself trying to understand is where the camera / lens technology is headed. I have many reasons for this but one of these is to take advantage of any new technology while another is to avoid putting money in technology that does not work or is doomed to oblivion in a few years.
I have spent a lot in F-mount lenses and in FX/DX cameras which I continue to fully use. I have also purchased many mirrorless cameras and lenses. Each have their advantages and disadvantages and this is why I own both dSLRs and mirrorless systems even while I understand and respect those who have chosen to use only one or mainly one. I am naturally keen and interested to see what the future may hold for these and have started new threads or posted in several threads my thinking and also solicited from others what they think.
Roger Cicala of LensRental wrote an article that dwells on the subject that I find very interesting and I thought I'd share this here. Some of us folks at Fotozones have been engaged in various discussion on where the camera/lens technology is heading and have learned much from each other's view regardless of whether we are in agreement or not. I thought I'd bring some of that discussion here to actively understand your thoughts on this matter. Listing down the features we would like to see in our cameras (dSLR and mirrorless) and perhaps why will also help us to see what we are perhaps missing out.
I understand that this can be a contentious subject but I hope that the postings following this will be respectful and will reflect the great maturity and intelligence of the members of this forum. At the end of this all and despite whatever disagreements there may be, it is my hope that we would have a better understanding and insight of what lies before us and that we would all benefit from such.
This is the link to the article by Roger Cicala.