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Traditional Cameras Are in Danger of Falling Behind Smartphones!

September 26th, 2017

Last week several things in the photographic media struck a chord with me:

  1. Tony and Chelsea Northrup’s Picture This Podcast comparing Smartphone features to traditional camera gear features.
  2. DxOMark.com give the iPhone 8 Plus a 94. They started including Bokeh and Zoom features in Smartphone ratings.
  3. PetaPixel’s article, “Dear Canon, What Happened To Your Innovation?

All these put into words the feelings that I’ve been having over the past several years about Canon, Nikon, and to some extent, Sony. Feelings like:

  • I want my camera interface to be more like my smartphone. Camera interfaces feel like they were designed in the 60s.
  • I want my camera WiFi to automatically sync my photos to the Cloud like my smartphone does.
  • Sony has done much better innovating recently than Canon or Nikon but the Sony interfaces and software are still bad!

The chart above from Tony and Chelsea’s podcast communicates the issue. In the past 6 years, Samsung and Apple have been innovating like crazy and the traditional camera manufacturers have been asleep! It is clearly more likely that within the next few years, you’ll get the best camera from Samsung or Apple than you’ll get from the traditional camera manufacturers!

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16 Responses to “Traditional Cameras Are in Danger of Falling Behind Smartphones!”

  • I am one of the few rephotographers who is saying Apple is out to replace the DSLR. Thanks for your post adding more wood to the fire.

  • I seriously doubt it. I’d prefer it if my smartphone was actually a really good phone. All the talk about 4G service etc and my cell phone still sucks. I long for the days when to turn the radio on in my car all I had to do is rotate the volume knob clockwise instead of having to program the damn thing.

    Apple can add all the bells and whistles to the iPhone they want it’s still a tiny little sensor shooting through a tiny plastic lens. They can quote whatever manufacture specs they like but cell phone cameras will NEVER be as good as a REAL purpose-built camera. Pixels are not created equal.

    I just shot with a Canon camera with an ISO as high as 4M. I’d never use it that high but it looks awesome around ISO 350,000! Recently we shot an aerial survey with the Canon 5DS, those that don’t think that 50MP doesn’t make a difference have never used one. And shortly after completing that project we’re starting to test fly a camera with 100MP’s.

    People can pixel peep, quote statistics and resolution charts comparing cell phones to camera’s all they want, the best photography will not be done on a cell phone. It’s not the camera, its the photographer. If you want to take cool pictures, point your cell phone at something cool. If you want to take interesting pictures, become a more interesting person and use a camera.

  • I wish the basic controls on Canons and Nikons were still like the Sixties. I like a shutter speed dial on top of the camera and an aperture ring on the lens. A few manufacturers such as Fuji still do this and they do very well. On the other hand, there is Sony, the menus on which are very modern and really awful.

  • I don’t want my camera to have the same interface as my smartphone.
    I really don’t want to have to poke and prod my camera to change setting when I expect to be taking the frames into Photoshop as layers.
    I use my camera for more than just RE and when I need to shoot fast and change setting on the fly, I don’t want to take the camera from my eye and navigate menus where I used to use a finger and thumb before.
    I don’t want my images “on the cloud”.
    I license my photos and much prefer to keep them securely off of the internet. I also don’t want to to be trying to upload photos as I shoot.
    I DO agree that Canon and Nikon haven’t been innovating much in the last few years.
    Both companies have a huge lineup of DSLR cameras that could be pared down substantially.

    Useful things:
    Wi-fi across the board. It’s small and cheap to implement. CamRanger is awesome but there really isn’t any reason why Canon, Nikon and Sony can’t have the same level of remote control on every DSLR/mirrorless model they sell. Backing up to a phone or tablet on the fly would be a great option. What do you use to remote control the camera on your smartphone?
    More setup macros/presets. I’d like to be able to set up my camera once and save the settings to be recalled quickly. Anybody that shoots live events knows how many times that would help. It’s also great if you do things such as volume photography and can share a preset to make sure all of the cameras have the exact same settings.

    Phones are first and foremost, phones. The camera sensors are tiny and no matter how many pixels that get crammed onto the chip, there are problems that come with the size reduction. Phones also don’t have the physical connections for remotes, flash sync, USB, HDMI, External microphones, etc.

    The biggest downside isn’t technical, it’s human. If you show up to a job with an iPhone (or similar), you just aren’t going to be taken as seriously as the photographer with the DSLR. You may also give the impression that you aren’t needed. I constantly get a “wow” by homeowners when I get out and set up my gear and it’s not all that special given what can be bought today, but those homeowners are impressed with the agent for hiring me. While nearly all RE photos are one use images that will never be displayed again six months after the home sells, there is that magical image that an agent wants to blow up or you want to use for your portfolio and show with a projector that you need to have enough quality to hold up. There are also those times when you have difficult dark interior and need to push really hard on the image in post to get a finished product your aren’t completely horrified by. A big sensor is going to have less noise and more dynamic range to give you that latitude. In a market segment where the professional is trying to differentiate themselves from the agent that uses their phone for marketing photos, showing up with the same tools isn’t going to look very good.

  • I am totally with Ken on this. Not to mention that I need my cell phone, as a, well, phone plus I use it with my Canon 80D and now my GoPro5 for certain applications as a larger display as I shoot video. Add to that that as a professional, I hate to change equipment since even moving from one Canon model to another means I have to relearn where all the controls and settings are to be found. I need to focus my brain on what visual image I want to capture, not where to find my controls and once there exactly how I use them. I have to shoot without any extraneous thoughts or interruptions of my work flow.

    I think it fabulous that these phone can take better and better imagery, but professionally, I want one set of equipment for my photo coverage and something else for communications. And the idea of uploading images to the cloud at any time could not interest me at all. If, perhaps, I shot for an Internet news outlet I can see it but I shoot RE not breaking news.

    I am afraid that in an age of technology advances on steroids, we are being wagged by our tails. Let’s focus on getting the best images visually, not the endless tools being placed in front of us to drool over. Good images start in the mind’s eye of the photographer and rely on talent only secondarily on equipment. And it is good images that sell properties. Equipment can help photographers get there, but not without the brain being there first.

  • To quote Chicken Little, “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

    Can you shoot 5 frames per second with your phone? Can you mount a tilt/shift lens on you phone? Can you shoot brackets on your phone?

  • I have a UX/UI background and my A7ii is much easier to use than my galaxy s8 in manual mode. Just because it has a pretty touch screen does not mean its easier to use. Recently, on vacation my girlfriend finally realized that using the Olympus Tough point and shoot (Best Vacation Cam IMHO) was much easier to use and better quality than using our phones. I also noticed that the iphone required one extra step to turn on the flash compared to the samsung. Not an iphone user but many other vacationers asked us to take a pic or 2 with their phone. Usability is funny in the way that we are forced to learn an interface and then we become comfortable with it and claim its easier because we know it. Counting steps to complete a process is one good way to tell if performing a task is easier or not. Now when I am out and about taking pics for fun or capturing a quick moment where quality does not matter, cellphones are a huge win.

  • I don’t see any problem with adding smart features to our systems. It would be a option that in some circumstances be useful. Might even open up some doors for a new type of service. How many times do you get a request for “Could you send me a front shot ASAP”? You could just switch on the share and send a small jpg. Whatever, the “Smartphone” (sometimes I think they are to smart) will never come close to replacing a pro with a decent system…. unless they can shrink down the pro and insert them into the slim slot….

  • Remember the Kodak Instamatic? A consumer camera for snapshots of family and friends. A phone is just a consumer device and camera for snapshots. I know…there are folks out there shooting fashion, commercials, and even music videos on their phones, but the phone still can’t hold a candle to the quality glass on our dslr cameras…and never will. Phones will always try to imitate a dslr, but isn’t imitation the fondest form of flattery?

  • Will the smartphone make my case of gear obsolete? That’s not been my concern. I’ve been watching more from a perspective of *Who will be the key players 5-10 years from now; *Where is the technology going; *Where do I need to navigate to.

    It gets real interesting when you consider the future. If they can cram 12MP on a sensor 33 sq.mm small, along with all the other capabilities, imagine what they -could- do if they decided to change gears. Mirrorless are exciting folks today. What’s next is likely to be no less exhilarating.

  • As far as RE photos, I’d be just as happy if my camera was a black box with a great lens, and all of the controls were done from the phone, with the ability to program custom scripts in a bracketed sequence.

    As it is, in a set of 4, I’m forced to touch the camera at least once between frames, which is not a real big deal if I use the ” align layers” feature in PS.

  • In all honesty why can’t cameras have many of the same features that are already available on smart phones like GPS, bluetooth, wireless connections? How developing a DSLR with the ability to install an app, for example like a portable version of Lightroom OR the ability to upload to Instagram or Facebook or to the cloud. I know some cameras provide these features, but why is it that I have to go out and buy a new camera to get those features. They should have been included a long time ago…

    Today’s manufacturers HAVE lost a great deal of ground when comes to providing features now found on smart phones. Why can’t a camera be more like a smart phone in terms of making it easier to add new features like unlimited bracketing OR built-in panning OR capturing 3D space (like the Matterport camera does). What camera manufacturers should really be focusing on is developing cameras that utilize software that can be updated, WITHOUT forcing customers to buy new cameras with new features. This probably won’t happen because the manufacturers like selling more cameras, but they are going to lose customers to those devices that do work more in this fashion.

  • I will certainly make my smartphone a mainstay of my R/E imaging business, as soon as the fashion and home decor and travel imaging industries do likewise. That is, to me at this point in time, the notion is absurd. I’m being paid as professional and, the primary functions of my cameras and lenses to achieve the best results possible. My clients deserve and expect that.

    Sure, cameras should offer ALL the file communications etc that phones do but phones just don’t have the capability, results, or client acceptance of a pro camera setup at this time. Some great work has come from phones, BUT much more stellar work come from dedicated cameras, by far.

    Small Confession:
    I HAVE used my Galaxy S7 mounted on a Zhiyun Crane M with the purpose-built Samsung wide lens for a fairly good short video clip or two. The Exception, not the rule.

  • @Phil, certainly smartphones can’t match the quality of a pro-dslr, but why can’t our pro-dslrs have more customizable features like smart phones do? For example, why are we stuck to a specific number of auto-bracket shots… why can’t we have as many auto-bracketed shots as needed. OR, why are we stuck to 2 or possibly 3 programmable buttons on a dslr. Why can’t we have the ability to to create as many programmable features as needed with the ability to easily select the most appropriate one for the shot we’re taking? These are the types of things that that today’s DSLR manufacturers are falling behind on.

  • @Chip, I am in full agreement with these points. The big boys might do well to catch up before the phone guys do a deal with Sony for bigger sensor. Could happen.

  • @Phil You’re right on! I’ve been holding off on buying a new DSLR for a while just because there is so much activity going on in the DSLR and mirrorless worlds. Sony certainly seems to be doing some interesting things right now in terms of camera quality and features…

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