The current state of digital imaging products, services and technologies is still far from being consolidated. Every month a new idea or improvement comes out and contributes to slightly or radically modify the existing scenario. As a result, also our expectations and behaviors as consumers (or producers) change.
I think that a good — though personal — way to face and understand the current changes in digital photography is to start from one or two pints of view. By restricting the anlysis field, we’d probably have more chances to get in the big picture.
1. The technological perspective
Wether we are casual photographers with very poor technical know how or techno geeks plenty of high-end gadgets, in the last 7-8 years we have assisted to a race between consumer electronics manufacturers to improve the technical features and capabilities of their consumer grade and hi end grade equipment: a battle for higher sensor resolution and size, bigger memory, faster lenses, higher computational power.
Honestly, I have to admit that I used to look with suspicion at many announcements on megapixel increase in low end point-and-shoot cameras with small sensors and cheap lenses – more a marketing strategy to attract casual shooter than an actual progress in digital pictures quality. Long story short, 10 MP and scene detection are common features in budget cameras today.
While resolution may still be improved without dramatic impact on the final price, I think that the next challenge for camera manufacturers won’t be the number of MP of their models but the introduction of more and more advanced computational photography features. While face detection and scene detection are becoming popular in bridge models, I believe that in the next month some other exotic features will be available: for instance, the increasing convergence of still and motion pictures will enable photographers to rapidly shoot a huge number of pictures while pressing the release button in order to choose the picture that better describes the scene, and to delete the others.
Pictures will be considered as single frames of a movies and movies as a sequence of hi resolution pictures. I will be talk about other sci-fi capabilities in the next posts. In few words, this technological improvements are dramatically changing our idea of still picture as the memory of a moment.
In the next posts, I will probably spend a couple words on some great articles available on the Internet: The moment camera by Michael F. Cohen and Richard Szeliski and Computational Photography by Brian Hayes, to mention two of them. I think they can help in better understanding one of the possible futures of digital imaging.
2. Consumers turn (sometimes) to producers
The second shift in the digital imaging world is the overcome of the mere distinction between content producer and content consumer. The terrific role of the user generated content on the Internet is pretty consolidated and I won’t spend a word telling how cool is shooting a landscape, working with Photoshop, publishing on my Flickr account, waiting for comments from Flickr’s users. Old story.
I think that a more honest approach to this shift is brought by the paradigm of ecosystems – truth must be told, also “ecosystem” is rapidly turning to a buzzword in blogs and conferences.
While the old digital photography attitude can be considered as the mere action of shooting and consuming content, we are smoothly entering a new era of digital photography, an ecosystem populated by professional and amateur contributors, web applications providers, personal communication systems, social networks.
This disruptive change has a terrific impact not only in consumers’ behavoir but also on professionals photographers’ work and life; presently, college classes are plenty of young, creative amatuers with pro gear in their hands and a strong desire to see their names engraved on some “picture of month” web contest, who don’t even want a dime for their shots.
The quality of their work, even still far from being excellent, is generally quite high and, more important, almost for free. An earthquake for the professionals whose experienced work can be now replace by a college student portfolio at a discounted price.
Vincent Laforet, who is one of the most respected american photographer — he used to have a staff job at New York Times before resigning to start a career as a free lance shooter — shares his own two cents in The cloud is falling, a valuable article on the changes of the world as we knew it.
Of course, just two perspectives can’t tell all the story but — be patient — more thoughts are to come.