The turn of the millennium saw an estimate that mankind had taken 80 billion photos. Three years later, that turned into 660 billion and now, it’s predicted that 1.2 trillion photos will be taken in 2017 alone. We’re capturing more images than ever before in the entirety of human history – so what does that mean for our industry?
Despite this photographic boom, it’s no secret that there’s been a significant fall in sales of digital cameras in recent years. Although there is no concrete proof, many people attribute this crash to the rise of the smartphone; a device that has shaken the photography world in many ways – good and bad.
Phone cameras have seen staggering leaps in technology since the first ones appeared on the shelves in the early 2000s. Primitive camera phones’ spec sheets boasted features like a ‘176×208 pixel colour display that acts as a viewfinder’ – which was quite the top-end at the time.
Today, phones boast apertures as wide as f/1.7, dual lenses, impressive low-light capabilities and sometimes even RAW shooting – there’s a plethora of camera accessories available too like lenses and video mounts. We’ve also seen unlikely collaborations, such as Hasselblad and Motorola creating their True Zoom, that gives your phone the feel of a real camera.
The vast majority of people now own a smartphone, which they have in their pockets at all times. It makes sense that fewer and fewer people are spending money on cameras, in particular compacts – phones are small, convenient and take good enough quality images that you can upload to social media instantly and easily store wirelessly. Why spend extra money and carry another device when you always have your phone on you?
With so many of us using our smartphones to take images, it’s created an interest in photography for people who may not have considered it before. You no longer need to spend hundreds of pounds on equipment, all you need is your phone.
Of course, many people do still buy cameras. For pro-photographers and enthusiasts the larger sensors, higher quality images, better low-light performance and versatility of lenses of mirrorless systems or DSLRs will always come into play and mean that your phone may not replace your camera – but the difference in image quality between some low-end mirrorless cameras and smartphones is close enough for people to be testing the water. The internet is abundant with detailed comparisons between phones and cameras, so it probably won’t be long before smartphones are notably nipping at the heels of camera manufacturers.
Mirrorless aside, it’s an ongoing debate whether or not smartphones will ever replace DSLRs. Many think not, but then again, did we ever think that a phone could replace our beloved compact? Nobody knows for sure whether they will replace the photographic giants, but it’s sure something to watch closely in the future.
So, with this growing pressure on camera manufacturers, will they crumble or simply have to innovate and adapt with the changing tide?
We can see subtle specifications coming into our cameras as commonplace now. For example, DSLRs tend to have wifi and GPS capabilities built in, which plays to our need for constant connectivity. Users can edit and share shots with the world almost instantly with their phones. There are also many things out there that make our mobile devices a camera accessory too, such as shutter releases like TriggerTrap, and other apps, which can be great tools for photographers.
On the flip side, it would seem to suggest that our digital age has us reminiscing about waiting for tangible photographs to drop through our doors, with no idea quite what will arrive. The film revival is definitely here and it isn’t solely for hipsters anymore. Kodak are even bringing back their Ektachrome film, as there’s so much demand for it. Plus, instant cameras are in vogue once again, with companies such as Fuji and Lomography driving this movement and Leica are also getting in on the action.
Fuji in particular have responded to the smartphone age ingeniously by combining our yearning for film with our love of smartphones through their Instax Share printers, allowing you to print retro images straight from your phone.
This topic is never quite complete without the speculation of what this means for the livelihoods of professional photographers. Social media is an incredible tool – Facebook, and Apps like Instagram, have proved to be invaluable platform for image sharing and marketing work.
As fantastic as they are, it has made it increasingly hard to stand out. So many images are uploaded every day with vast numbers of photographers working to get their shots noticed. It’s an ever-more competitive field that’s only getting more intense.
Phones have influenced the industry in so many ways, directly and indirectly, and will continue to do so, not only with impact on manufacturers, but professionals and your average Joe. Nobody knows the direction of the market for sure, but it’s clear the smartphone and the photography industry will continue to intertwine for years to come.