By Mahesh Venkitachalam
Is there a "serious" mobile phone camera out there?
Before you discard the notion of a serious mobile camera as frivolous and of limited use, let me tell you a small story: My mother had an open heart surgery (aortic valve replacement) last year. The photo is that of her, the day after the surgery. Her health was in poor condition before the surgery, and she made a full recovery since then. The only reason that I could capture this significant moment in my life was because I had my mobile phone (with camera) with me. Yes, the image is of poor technical quality, but it is better than having none.
I constantly find myself in situations where I wish I had my camera gear with me. My "gear" is very simple—just a Pentax K10D with a 31mm lens—but even this setup is too much to lug around in many situations. But I never find myself anywhere without my mobile phone, and this seem to be the case with most folks in India these days. The mobile phone camera seems to be the perfect solution to capture the "in between" moments of one's life.
What I find in India is that camera usage is polarizing in two opposite directions. The young ones are all now using mobile phones to take and share photos—most never print any photos. On the other hand, the more serious photographers are moving to digital SLRs since they are getting cheaper. I think this will lead to a decline in use of compact digital cameras.
A similar "in-between" phenomenon is happening in the software world. The (recent) huge popularity of the "twitter" software, which tries to capture life in between emails and blog posting, is an example.
But the current crop of mobile phone cameras are lacking in many technical aspects. Perhaps a call from the consumer, especially the photography enthusiasts among them, will prompt cell phone manufacturers to improve their cameras. I am especially looking forward to one with a fast lens and a raw mode.
Featured Comment by Gen Kanai: "Absolutely. Japan's had 5 megapixel camera phones out for two years or more. The new models have 8 megapixels, mechanical zooms, etc. This is taken from my 5MP Casio set to 4MP. More here."
Featured Comment by Janne: "You see this in Japan too. Go to any large event with lots of people and look at what people use to photograph with. For every DSLR you have ten people with a compact digicam. But for every one of those, you have ten or twenty people snapping away with their phones, holding them up as if in supplication to some wireless deity.
"And for most of those people, the phone cam is not a second choice or a miserable compromise. It's their only camera, they print from them or send them on directly to their friends and they're quite happy with the results they get. Most of them not want the burden and hassle of a separate camera and see no reason to buy one.
"This is the future of mass-market photography. The DSLR and even the compact camera are sideshows, relative niche products for hobbyists. If you want to be the Kodak of the next decade you will be making phones, not cameras.