Between Accessibility, Content, Delivery, Results & Storage
Updated: Aug 3, 2019
Photography has come a very long way. Back in the days, before the advent of tiny VGA cameras on those foldable mobile phones, purchasing & owning a camera was a very involved process. The whole eco-system was interdependent and the overall experience was quite exciting for everyone involved starting from the users to sellers to photo studios & labs. People kept their pride possession safely in their wardrobes, and only occasionally took them out much to the sudden amusement of their friends & relatives who at the very first sight of it would say "wow you have bought a new camera, how nice, where did you buy it from, how much did it cost you... etc. etc.". Almost everyone went through that moment of attention at least once in their lifetime related to photography. The local photo studio guy knew what camera his customers used, as he not only often suggested & sourced the Film roll or commonly called negatives from Kodak, Fujifilm, Agfa..etc. typically with ASA 100 & 200 rating, but also helped unloading them off their cameras to develop them into 4" x 6" prints & loaded new ones for the cameras to be ready to shoot. For many, those cameras are still lying in those closets even today, long forgotten, but not really obsolete. Read further to get a bit more context around what is actually going on.
People have always wanted to photograph & be photographed, regardless of the era or millennium. If one has to summarize what has really changed since the first camera was made in the year 1841, you will realize that only the delivery device (the camera) has evolved but not the content (the photograph) itself, if we were to keep the quality & resolution aspect of it aside for the moment. Smart phones with cameras have only solved "the accessibility" issue for many who neither could afford a camera back then, nor had any interest in photography while this entire evolution around content delivery took place. The quality of the content did improve a bit with digitalization because it no longer required people to learn or have any knowledge of using a camera & taking pictures with acceptable or say usable quality. Well, in our paradigm, using the word "taking pictures" vs "making pictures" has huge implications and we will dwell into this topic pretty soon so stay tuned on that.
Enough frustration has been meted out by photography enthusiasts on various forums on how smartphones with cameras have literally destroyed the mainstream camera industry, stifling innovation & even bankrupting some of their favorite legendary brands. While some of this is partly true, but in my opinion, that clear demarcation between those who just want to take a photo with anything easily accessible & no prior experience with cameras vs those who have always used a proper camera for a proper photo have always been there. That customer base has virtually not changed ever since technology started making those leap frog advancements. The mobile phones are partly responsible in creating a wrong notion that it is powerful & advanced enough today that can replace a mainstream camera for 90% of an average person’s photography needs. True especially for those who were not part of the industry’s transition phases and never truly got an opportunity to try a proper camera earlier to know why a camera in a smartphone cannot really replace a standalone camera. What people are forgetting that if cameras on mobile phones are becoming powerful and negates the need for a standalone camera, then so is the case with standalone cameras too because they equally enjoyed those advancements in performance, size, ease of use & user experience. The great divide in terms of capabilities still remains between a camera on a phone vs a proper one. When mobile phones had 3 MP cameras, the pocket cameras were 8-10 MP. When the phones started having 12 MP or more, the pocket cameras started having 18-20 MP or more and I am not even talking about the other advancements. Due to the physical limitations, cameras on phones have to rely a lot on firmware processing internally to offset or compensate for things they can never achieve.
If you are familiar with Film photography, you will recall people got trainings & knew how to work with chemicals, enlargers & different types of papers to develop the negatives & get the right effect versus those who now know how to work with the post processing softwares like Lightroom or Capture 1 today. Having a darkroom was quintessential and required to have a lab professionally setup to ensure all negatives were processed using the right chemicals & developed properly. Today, professionals work with Digital negatives (DNG or RAW) on their high-end computers & iMac machines if in-camera JPEG does not have the desired results. Back then, we used highlighters & light brushes on our negatives to add a bit more contrast or artifacts to our images, just the way we are doing it on these softwares today. Which essentially is leaving the content (the photograph) pretty much with similar effects!
A quick rewind and you will recall that negatives had to be developed and printed so as to see the results. The negatives where then stored in polypropylene transparent sleeves that we also kept safely in our closest. With digital today, we need to have fast storage cards or in-device memory and a display to see our results and as the collection grows, we transfer them to dedicated hard drives or on public cloud services like Flickr or Google photos. We do however at times get some of them converted to physical copies as well through digital print shops round the corner, but then the summary of this paragraph is that when the transition happened from Film to Digital, what really changed was the overall storage & archival process majorly, while simultaneously also addressing the accessibility part of it.
The digital cameras although have given the advantage of taking multiple shots in different settings, but eventually it still boils down to that one best photo among all those shots. For example, if you shoot landscape, will you use all the 10 identical shots you took with your camera? No. You will eventually only keep the best and delete the rest. In the old days, the lack of real time visibility disciplined the photographers to think through their composition, use best framing techniques and appropriate exposure settings on the camera to ensure that when the results came out they were nothing less than stunning. Its a learning curve and you will enjoy it for sure.
Whether its Film cameras, Mobiles phones or DSLRs, Photography have always been for those who are Hobbyists, DIYers, Enthusiasts and Professionals.