These smartphone cameras are getting ridiculous
It seems that we have reached a tipping point for mobile photography. With new flagship devices such as the iPhone X, the Pixel 2 XL and the Galaxy S9, it seems that our phones can finally replace our cameras. For the past decade the camera wars has always been a battle between Nikon and Canon but nowadays that battle seems to be more irrelevant for most people. Apple, Samsung, and Google have stolen the spotlight for innovative photography hardware. Have you all heard of the Huawei P20? It’s the new high-end smartphone from the Chinese tech company and it’s camera might be the most advanced camera on a phone so far. The thing has three lenses (four if you count the front). One is a 8 MP telephoto, another is attached to a 40 MP camera, and the third goes to a 20MP monochrome sensor. The front facing lens feeds into a 24 MP sensor. That is insanity.
(This is what the Sony A7 looks like. It’s a great camera and I love mine. It’s actually a really small camera but unlike a Huawei P20 it can’t fit in your pocket)
For comparison my Sony A7 is only packing 24.3 megapixels and its doing that on a sensor that is far far larger. In well lit scenes, the imaged produced by a Pixel 2 XL is solidly in DSLR quality as shown here (go see for yourself). Even professionals are choosing smartphones over dedicated cameras for their work. Steven Soderbergh’s Unsane was filmed entirely on iPhone 7 Plus.
Effects on the camera industry
With the advent of high quality cameras on our phones it seems that people are ditching their actual cameras and it seems to be a process that has been happening for decades. Which each decade experiencing a paradigm shift in how photos are taken. In the ’90s everyone who wanted to take pictures had to own a 35mm. By the ’00s the camera manufactures still dominated the industry. Digital cameras had a lot of hype and phone cameras back then were still pretty bad. I recall that my Samsung flip phone’s camera from those days took low res photos. In that decade, film photography has become irrelevant for the average consumer, but now in the ’10s, it seems that camera manufactures are fading into irrelevance. For the average consumer there are less reasons to use a dedicated camera. Last week, I ran a statistically insignificant Twitter survey to see what the class uses for their picture taking needs.
(The results, though statistically insignificant, are quite skewed)
This chart is more conclusive:
(Camera sales have declined precipitously)
The death of the camera
There are many analyses done on the decline of camera sales. In this write up, the author asserts that what has been disrupting the camera industry is Instagram culture. In particular he argues that the “insta” part of Instagram killed the camera. He adds to the popular narrative of how we have become dependent on instant gratification and makes the point that the value of the pictures that we take has depreciating value. According to him, people take photos in order to get gratification on social media through likes and comments on Instagram and Facebook. It’s true picture sharing is easier with a smartphone over your DSLR (thanks to social media), but I don’t think that is the main reason why the smartphone is beating the camera in the photography industry. I’ve alluded to it; I think the smartphone has become sufficient for the needs of most consumer.
Since the beginning of consumer photography to the present, regular people take pictures for mostly the same reasons: to record memories. Whether its to remember a vacation or the birthday party of a close friend, people brought their cameras with them to create a visual representation of their memories. Whatever solution that can do this task the most conveniently will become the choice for most people. There was once a time when this was the compact camera; now the smartphone is the most convenient way to record memories of birthday parties, honeymoons and the most important moments of our lives. I do not believe that social media interaction is the reason why people take pictures; the reason for photography has been a constant despite rapid technological change.
What about the professional and advanced amateur?
For this subset of the population, the smartphone will not be replacing the camera anytime soon. Gear matters a lot for these people and the use of this gear will become one of the ways advanced amateurs will differentiate themselves from the rest of the picture taking masses. Advancements in mobile photography will not sway these groups to ditch their Nikons and Canons. When photography has become a profession or a serious hobby, advanced camera specs are still lusted over.
(The latest beast from Nikon, the D850. MSRP $3299)
While advancements with smartphones have not disrupted much for professionals and hobbyists, social media has certainly have brought a whole new way work is shared. For the hobbyists, it has never been so easy to share your work. Everyone with an email address can create an Instagram account and proceed to upload the photos that they are most proud of. It has never been so easy to reach out and connect with your favorite photographers; everyone is just one DM away. Arranging collabs has become much more streamlined. With the rise of Instagram, I feel that photography has become a more popular form of creative expression. It seems nowadays everyone has some kind of interest in photography, with some wanting to get into it as a hobby. This popularity comes form the perception of easy exposure through the use of social media, like Instagram. Compared to painting, photography is fast and can go around the world in seconds.
For the professional photographer, social media is both a valuable tool and an hinderance. With social media, it has never been easier for professionals to connect with clients. Their work is easily viewed through social media and contact is nothing more than a simple DM. A lot of photographers put their emails in their Instagram bios. While this is great for the established pro, it has also become enormously difficult for newcomers to break into the professional scene. A strong social media presence can be a huge benefit for a pro photographer but with hundreds and millions of users, competition to get noticed has also never been so intense.
I’d love to hear what you think about this topic. Photography seems to be the art form that is the most disrupted by new technologies. How do you think social media and mobile will affect this tool/art form/hobby in the future?