Today I asked myself, “What will the next generation(s) of professional cameras look like?” What follows are my guesses, conjectures, hopes, and fears.
Smart-phones will be the real competition for prosumer cameras, except for craftsmen models (Leicas, Hasselblads, etc.) and specialist models (Canon 1D, Nikon D3). Everything else will be miniaturized, filled with sensors, connected to the Internet, and software extendable.
The final advance of the current generation of cameras will polish the performance of imaging sensors with slightly better low-light capabilities and more dynamic range. These improvements will allow almost anyone to shoot in nearly any lighting condition and pull a usable image from the RAW file. But, for the most part, the imaging sensor has reached its pinnacle.
So, where will improvements be made? The first step — and this will happen across all consumer and professional cameras — is that cameras will become more connected. Consumer cameras will upload directly to Facebook over Wi-Fi, while pro cameras will have a quick way to edit and upload photos via a cell phone network to newspapers and agencies. The 5D III, there will be a SIM card slot right next to the SD memory slot (that’s right, no more CF cards).
But uploading images without captions will leave them almost useless, so cameras will also include a built-in GPS and will use a geo-location service to guess at the first part of the caption eg. “On the afternoon of Jan. 3, in northern Cairo, Egypt…”. The rest of the caption will have to be written on a touch screen, but that might be two generations out.
A camera with a touch screen would support more robust interaction and eventually lead to applications that customize photo taking, editing and transmission possibilites. You will buy a vanilla camera, then add applications to extend the camera so it can capture lightning, stitch together panoramas, do fancy toning, watermark, or transmit to the newest social network. And, If the applications are allowed to integrate deep enough, I predict a burst of innovation in image processing software.
Right now, cameras only have the proprietary RAW processing engine designed by a few engineers at the camera company, and any independent engineers with RAW processing innovations can only create computer-based RAW conversion software. In the future, you will have the choice of letting the camera use its default software to process the RAW file or letting a custom RAW processing app do its magic in-camera. As cameras collect more and more sensors, the possible improvements will grow exponentially. This will open up the image to innovations we can’t even dream about now, such as using an internal gyroscope to remove camera shake. The camera maker that opens their cameras up to external innovation first will reap the rewards of other people’s research and development.
In the post-SLR world, an inevitable innovation that I cringe at is time-traveling cameras. We would experience it as pressing the shutter; the camera would record the frame from a split second before. This would be accomplished by basically recording constantly a loop of video on internal memory and selecting the previous frame from a preset interval when the shutter is pressed.
The one innovation that all of these depend on is better batteries. Processing and transmitting sucks energy, and no one wants to return to the early digital days when batteries only lasted an hour.
I’m not a sports photographer, but it would be nice if some system was created to embed in the image file the current game time, players, and conditions so they don’t have to be sussed up in the mad rush to meet an early deadline.
As cameras gain the feature of transmitting over cell phone networks, I hope that they also can instantly transmit images so that when memory cards are confiscated by the police, images are resting somewhere on a safe server. But this will be a double-edged sword as the only response police can have is smashing a camera before it transmits the images…ouch.
Facebook and other companies are creating a software and using their massive databases to auto-recognize faces. If they ever open up or rent out that data, it could be another tool for the auto-captioning of images.
All of these features will de-value the technical skills of photography, so anyone — without experience — can easily photograph an event and an editor will be the only skilled worker at most publications. Sports, event and spot-news photography will be done by writers and minimum-wage photographers and will meet the low quality standards for many newspapers, websites and agencies. The supply of skilled photographers will stay the same, but the number of publications that need them will decrease, and competition will drive wages down.
I’m still thinking about that… If you’ve made it this far, leave your opinion.
Looks like the application based camera is already in the works. The ability to disconnect the lens here seems superfluous, but operating system and touch based screen are pretty amazing.