What’s the Point of Taking a Photograph?

(commentary)

I know what your answer is. But what do camera makers think the answer is? 

Therein lies part of the dissonance in actual product versus customer expectations, and one reason why people have stopped buying cameras at the rate they used to. 

Practically, it’s not really any easier for me today to share an image I take with my DSLR than it was for one that I took with my SLR twenty plus years ago. The same deferred steps are involved: shoot, return home, remove from camera, process in some way, print/share. Moreover, it’s a linear, non-automated process and a time-intensive one.

Thing is, anyone under 30 probably never really practiced the old linear, non-automated process. They would have been born in 1985 and likely wouldn’t have been taking any photos until the turn of the century. Even then they probably would have been using an instant or disposable camera. The linear, non-automated process isn’t something they ever experienced. 

Indeed, if we agree that someone’s first serious camera wouldn’t likely be bought until they left college, then by the time those 30-year olds graduated, the iPhone would be coming to market the following year, changing everything. Actually, one of the events that tended to prompt buying an SLR (and later DSLR) is birth of first child. So let’s calculate backwards from the iPhone. Here in the US, someone born in 1979 would have been able to buy an iPhone instead of a camera to record their first child’s birth (average age of first childbirth). Which one do you think gets the photo to the grandparents more quickly?

So if we agree that smartphones are convenient and now dictate how images are taken and shared, pretty much everyone born in 1980 or later needs some really good reason to buy a more sophisticated camera. The camera makers haven’t really given them one. Photographs have always been about the moment, not the dynamic range or pixel count.

Photographs are made to be seen, my own peculiarities notwithstanding (very few of my images have been seen by others). The Internet now gives us a wealth of ways for them to be visible: email, blog, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Flickr, 500pix, Pinterest, Picasa, Shutterfly, Snapfish, Photobucket, to name a few. Actually, I was surprised to find out how many defunct ways there used to be to share photos on the Internet (anyone remember MobileMe Web Gallery or the Kodak Gallery or Nikon's myPicturetown?). And just last week, Apple finally formalized Photos for Macintosh, which now makes their whole concept of iCloud Photos fully live for the Apple ecosystem. Leaving out Facebook and Twitter, we’re still approaching a billion registered users of photo sharing sites on a planet of eight billion people (obviously, some people sign up for more than one, but still…).

So I think it safe to say that one key reason we take a photograph is to share something with others, and that many of us are going to do that via the Internet in some way. 

So where’s the Internet button on my Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, Samsung, or Sony camera?

Sure, sure, if I want to load an app that is flaky and I want to go through the hassle of connecting the camera and mobile device, and if I don’t mind then having to do things on the mobile device much like I’d end up doing at home on my desktop, only with a smaller screen, and if I don’t mind waiting as things bigger than I need move from device to device, then yeah, I can probably figure a way to get what I shot to where I share it. Heaven forbid, however, that the camera makers do anything to make that easier. 

Recently I watched workshop students in Patagonia do the following: take a shot with their expensive DSLR, then take the same shot with their smartphone to share it with those back home. Yeah, trying to do that with the shot they took with their DSLR would have been so much work that they’ll just sacrifice the quality and use the smartphone instead. Moreover, there generally isn’t WiFi out in the middle of nowhere, though surprisingly, more and more often their is cellular access. 

So where you take photographs is a bit important, isn’t it?

If you travel, your serious camera doesn’t really help you share immediately with folks back home.

If you go to an event, your serious camera doesn’t really help you share immediately with folks back home. 

If you’re at the hospital with your first born, ditto.

In fact, if you’re anywhere but in your home where you computer is, your DSLR just isn’t ready to share. And should you try to force it to, you’ll be jumping through all kinds of hoops and swearing at flaky connections and incomplete software. 

Nikon and Samsung once thought that the answer was just to build Android-based cameras. But that really doesn’t solve the problem, does it? It just makes for really big, ungainly smartphones that can’t phone ;~). And which still require you to do the “smartphone stuff” to share the photo. 

Simply put, cameras aren’t integrated into the modern world. Not even close. Most consumer cameras probably don’t even need storage cards. They need storage built-in, yes, but they really need intelligent direct connection and integration into our wireless lives (cellular and WiFi, and WiFi of all types) that automates where images go and why. 

We take photographs so that they can be seen. At one point, Nikon’s way of having them be seen was to plug an HDMI cable into your camera from your TV and to run a slideshow program. Okay, but that only shares your photography with those who happen to be in the same room with you. Why isn’t it that I can share that same slideshow wirelessly to the world? 

The Japanese camera companies are in a box that they designed. They can’t get out of it because they never thought about doors. It’s time for them to build a door and get out of the box.

© Thom Hogan 2015 / All Rights Reserved bythom.com  @bythom #bythom