The Real Future of Photography

Parents and friends photograph cheerleader camp participants at a recent football game in Ada using camcorders, smart phones, tablets, and digital SLR cameras.
Parents and friends photograph cheerleader camp participants at a recent football game in Ada using camcorders, smart phones, tablets, and digital SLR cameras.

There is a natural tendency in human nature to resist and fear change. In my opinion, this is connected to an instinctive survival strategy. Like many of our instincts, this one can hinder us in the post-modern/information age, in which change in all aspects of society is faster and more drastic than at any time in human history.

In photography, this resistance to change isn’t without value: I resisted switching from film to digital imaging when many other newspapers were jumping on the digital bandwagon in the late 1990s, and I was right. Early digital, in the form of the Nikon/Kodak DCS products like the NC-2000 or the DCS 420, was decidedly not a good investment. Within just a few years, agencies with these cameras were forced to replace these surprisingly expensive cameras, and found themselves with $15,000 paperweights in their offices.

My newspaper, at my recommendation, waited until the third generation of digital became available in 2001, when we bought me a Nikon D1H digital SLR. It was still expensive by today’s standards, about $4500, but it almost certainly paid for itself within a year or two in both erased film and processing costs, and in time saved in the office.

My editor, Dan, uses two digital SLR cameras to photograph a football game recently. The camera in his left hand is his new Nikon D3200, which he used to make video of the game for our newspaper's web site.
My editor, Dan, uses two digital SLR cameras to photograph a football game recently. The camera in his left hand is his new Nikon D3200, which he used to make video of the game for our newspaper’s web site.

The D1H now graces our trophy case with other relics from the newspaper era, and I now shoot with its successor, the Nikon D2H. It, too, is now becoming older technology, but with software improvements (like Adobe Photoshop 5.5), I am still able to get excellent results from it.

So what’s next? Most DSLRs being introduced lately are capable of shooting high definition video, eliminating to some degree the need for a camcorder. Being thrown more into the mix lately is the smart phone, which in some ways can replace the camcorder and the DSLR. In fact, several times over the past few months, I have faced deadline problems that were solved by my smart phone, and my newspaper recently bought one of our reporters a smart phone specifically for the purpose of recording and reporting spot news.

Another complicating factor is that the quality from some of the newest smart phones is beginning to rival the DSLR. National Geographic recently sent one of its photographers, Stephen Alvarez, on a ten day assignment in the American West (including many places Abby and I have visited) armed only with a Nokia Lumia 1020 smart phone, and he was able to make excellent, high-resolution stills and video. His praise of the phone might be sponsored, so I will reserve final judgement until I actually use one, but I have to say that a device like this may be a game changer in some circles.

Of course, in the final analysis, photography isn’t about the camera nearly as much as it is about self-expression and vision. But these are all tools in the tool box, and it benefits us to master those tools.

Photographer friends of mine photograph the coin toss at a recent college football game in Ada using modern Canon digital SLR cameras.
Photographer friends of mine photograph the coin toss at a recent college football game in Ada using modern Canon digital SLR cameras.
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2 Comments

  1. Well said. Just a couple of notes…

    Without the early adopters of digital cameras, I wonder how quickly or well the medium would have advanced. I rarely adopt a new technology early — because of costs and doubts about usefulness or quality — but I’m glad that there are those who *do* adopt it, so that I may later benefit (I have a BluRay and a DVD player, but never would have paid the initial prices for them.)

    It’s also useful to remember that not everyone with a camera has the same goal, purpose, or paradigm.

    Some users, obviously, have a very cloudy idea of their end goal: it’s cool to have the latest gadget, or they want to record a memory without a lot of fuss or expense — these are the perfect customers for low-end compact cameras and smartphones with less of a focus on the camera.

    The other end of the scale might include you, as well as the aforementioned NG man Alvarez: your livelihood depends on the absolute best photos. So it’s a must to acquire training, buy the best technology available (or affordable), and (hopefully) have an innate sense of what you want to capture.

    Others (I include myself here) fall somewhere in between and are perfect candidates for the mid- or low-level DSLRs, which give us freedom and control without (quite) the cost of the high-end gear.

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  2. In the late nineties Dirck Halstead, Time magazine’s senior White House photographer, made some interestingly comparable thoughts in his “Platypus Papers”.

    I recomend it.

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