MOBILE CAMERA INNOVATIONS
Are the camera guys playing it too safe?
Is it strange that most of the practical photography innovations in the last few years actually came from smartphone makers instead of the camera industry?
Take Apple’s True Tone flash on the iPhone 5s for example, which uses two LED lights of different colors to result in more naturallooking flash. Flashes in the camera industry have mostly revolved around providing more light, but Apple opted to focus on flash quality so that even if you use your flash indoors, your subjects will have more natural skin tones with accurate background and foreground colors.
Then there’s the HTC One (M8) that uses two cameras – the main one to shoot the actual image, and a second to capture depth information. This results in both faster autofocus and the ability to apply editing effects such as selective focal blurring.
Here’s another interesting one: 41-megapixels on a small sensor.
We all know that digital zoom results in loss of detail since it basically involves cropping a photo and then enlarging it. But what if you had enough resolution that it didn’t matter? Nokia’s PureView Pro does just that for a smartphone, resulting in an almost lossless digital zoom, with little distortion in images.
Oppo has a different take on super-high resolution photos with their Find 7 smartphone. It has a standard 13-megapixel sensor, but through software processing, shoots multiple images in quick succession and combines them to form a huge 50-megapixel photo to great effect.
Besides these, smartphone imaging technologies are fast catching up. Samsung’s GALAXY S5 was the first to introduce hybrid autofocus with phase detection and LG introduced IR laser autofocusing to the mobile world with its G3. At this year’s Photokina, Panasonic announced the Lumix CM1, an Android smartphone that will feature a 1-inch sensor and Leica lens, putting it on a direct warpath of premium compacts the likes of the Sony Cyber-shot RX100 series and Canon PowerShot G7 X.
And what, perhaps, may be the biggest point that camera manufacturers have a hard time with is the fact that software is almost as important as hardware. A good user interface makes it simple to set the appropriate settings and just get down to shooting. But I’m sure we all have, at one point or another handled a camera
"The biggest advantage a smartphone has over a camera — it’s always connected to the Internet.”
with a user interface that got in the way and just slowed down the entire process.
Smartphones come as an end-to-end photography process; shoot, edit and publish all in one. And we’ve already gone beyond simple filters to advanced effects such as the motion graphics and post-editing focus adjustments on the fly. Plus, there are so many third-party camera apps out there that users are not restricted to whatever is bundled with their device.
Even professional tools from Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite are getting mobile makeovers, as announced at the recent Adobe MAX 2014 conference in Los Angeles, putting the power of Photoshop, Lightroom, Illustrator and Premiere into an iPhone or iPad.
Now, although there’s so much focus on mobile as a creativity platform, there’s no doubt that camera companies are very good at what they do, which is producing cameras that take top-notch pictures. If you’re serious about photography, you’re going to need a proper camera, equipment and lenses.
However, there has hardly been anything buzzworthy outside of hardware improvements and specifications that only the aforementioned photography enthusiasts would take note of. We do not mean to dismiss these accomplishments; we’ve given rave reviews to the likes of Sony’s A7 series, Olympus OM-D and PEN family, and FUJIFILM’s new X-T1.
But, as much as these cameras push the boundaries of imaging quality and performance, they do not address practical usability concerns. If camera makers cannot buck this trend, we will likely continue to see a contraction of the dedicated camera market.