So Much Denial About Workflow

Every time I write anything about how the camera makers are still stuck in the sneaker net era and that they really have to figure out how images get shared easily if they want to sell cameras, I see a wave of denial washing over both the camera company representatives and an awful lot of the Internet-active photography forum posters. 

I’ve come to ignore those folk. They simply are so completely set in their ways that they’re the grumpy old men, not me. They’re also oblivious to what’s happening throughout all image use. 

Back in my magazine days, photographers sent us slides. We looked at them on light boxes. We sorted and tracked them manually, and it was a real pain. It was a pain for virtually every reason. But one of the big ones was timeliness. Best case, someone rushed us slides via overnight courier. Obviously, you can’t do that for every image you’re looking at or your costs go skyrocketing, so often we’d get more bulk submissions via a slower courier service (e.g. two-day or even regular UPS). 

Today, magazines aren’t just putting out paper products once a month (week, quarter, whatever). They’re also trying to look “current” by publishing on demand via the Internet. The sad truth is this: virtually every professional photographer is now being beat to the punch by amateurs using smartphones (and also electronically available stock images). Because the publisher thinks that they need currency, they’ll use a poor image quickly over waiting for a better one. 

The world of imaging has changed, and the camera companies didn’t change with it. Worse still, many photo enthusiasts haven’t changed with it either. It’s as if they still want to use command keys in a text-based DOS system instead of a modern windowed and graphical OS. 

In essence, all those folk arguing against me are saying “no, WordStar is good enough.” No, it’s not. The world moved on and the text-only computers didn’t. Where’s WordStar today? (I just know I’m going to get lambasted by a developer using a Unix-based system typing code into a text-based editor; yeah, if all you do all day is text, text-only is okay I suppose, but we no longer have the equivalent in the imaging world.)

Lately Apple has been getting as much flack as I am, mostly due to their removal of legacy ports and standardization of USB-C on the new MacBook Pro models. Gone is the SD slot. Now exactly who is protesting about the loss of that slot? You guessed it, mostly people using dedicated cameras (still and video). Surveys show that we’re the last ones using removable media on our laptops. Everyone else is moving stuff over the air (or via very fast direct cabling). 

As I’ve written before, you have to think ahead in the tech window, not behind. Does everyone claiming that workflow for photography is fine today really think we’re going to have SD cards a few years down the road? The clear tendency is a move away from physical media, especially physical media physically moved between two devices. 

The simple fact of the matter is that photography workflow sucked 30 years ago and it still sucks quite a bit today. It sucks enough that I can’t typically beat a college student with a smartphone in posting to a social site or news site. That’s not right. Why should I be at a disadvantage at all when my gear costs more than a consumer phone (and by far)? It’s not that smartphones are more ubiquitous, it’s that they’re more sophisticated than modern cameras. Phones moved into the 21st century, cameras didn’t.  

Camera companies have been tinkering around the edges of workflow for a long time. But they’re simply not getting it right. Nor are they at the leading edge of what can be done, they’re way back over a decade’s worth of trailing technology and ideas. 

I know that the professional photographer of 20 years from now is going to be posting instantaneously, not moving images via cards and readers and what not. I’m pretty sure that’s true 10 years from now. It might even happen 5 years from now. What I’m complaining about is that it isn’t beginning to happen today, and it should have happened yesterday. 

Yes, I’ll get all kinds of “but the technology isn’t there yet” or “it isn’t fast enough” types of complaints. That’s why customers aren’t product designers. Customer use can inform good product design, but is generally the last person that knows what is truly possible—let alone the leaps and innovations that might need to be taken to get there—and that customer will live in their current world right up until the day someone shows them a better world is possible. 

That’s what I’ve been trying to tell the Japanese camera companies for a bit over a decade now: make a better world for photographers. Some small steps have been taken, but then sometimes I see the wrong problem solved. Nikon SnapBridge, for instance. The engineers involved have been quoted as seeing the biggest problem being the first time pairing of devices. No, it’s not. The biggest problem is what happens after they’re paired. I really couldn’t care less if it takes 20 steps to get the devices set up right if forever after they operate exactly the way I want them to. 

Yes, it’s an annoyance if it takes a complicated setup to pair the first time. But it’s a one time annoyance if done right. What we don’t want is an “every time” annoyance. Workflow today is an every time annoyance. 

Last month I spent almost a week on a college campus looking at how images were being used. I’m going to follow that up with a couple more such visits in the near future, plus some interviews with organizations that are actively serving near real time images to their customers. But I can tell you already that none of the students I talked to so far would really like a dedicated camera, because they perceive that it would make them less able to be active in sharing imagery. Slower. More cumbersome. More steps. 

And yes, they’re well aware of the image quality limitations of their current phones. They’d like better, but they’re not going to give up the convenience of sharing immediately. Read that last sentence again this way: they might buy a dedicated camera, but not any of the current ones. 

Now if you’re a real curmudgeon and just want to be left alone moving your card from your camera to your card reader, manually importing for a half hour or more, then slowly browsing through the images while you wait for preview versions to be fully created, and so on, then absolutely, the latest and greatest dedicated camera is for you. I suggest waiting for one with more pixels so you can also buy a faster computer and more data storage capacity. 

But some of us are tired of this workflow. Heck, I even know I could make a lot of money by offering a current workflow-done-right book or video series. I still want better than what we’ve got. So I’ll repeat my call from time to time, like a foghorn in a dull gray seashore where you can’t see even 50 feet. 

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