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Friday, 11 April 2014


I also have the feeling that they are the ultimate photography gateway drug. Legions of young people cut their teeth on getting angles and honing their vision before worrying about the more arcane technical aspects of photography. Plus, the increased sociality of photography platforms these days exposes more and more fresh, impressionable minds to great photography from great photographer across the globe. Instagram works as communications platform, but also educational tool as well.

But as your "awful" post states, many people now think that smartphones are sufficient, and without aspiring to a better standalone camera how are they going to fuel demand in the future? Our only hope is that some future Apple-like company reinvents the camera and generates demand for what kids then think is a new product type.

A trivial example of much needed innovation. Why is it necessary to navigate through multi-screen menus to set up your camera? Why not just connect it to your tablet or computer and use an app to create the settings, save profiles for different occasions ... They could have done this years ago.

I agree that the ubiquitous cell phone cameras are very positive. Photography should be as easy and accessible as writing. And that's exactly what it's becoming.

But I do not agree that phone cameras should be considered a "recruitment device" and your suggestion that phone cam photography is somehow apart, and a mere entry into, photography. That's rather an old guys' point of view (speaking as an "old guy").

Young people don't view photography as the gadget-laden perfection fetish that us old-timers tended to view it. Photographs are increasingly just social language elements rather than attempts at art work or everlasting documents.

What is a bit troubling is that the Instagramming of the photo world leaves no trace. Who is printing their happy phone snaps? There will be no family photo albums, no attic discovery of old photos.

But that's for another generation, long after us, to discover.

Cell phone cameras can be equated to the pocket instamatic, to the Box Brownie, to the folding Kodak of the past.
They produce low quality, consumer grade photographs of sufficient merit to the users to remind them of some circumstance. They will jar the thought processes of the taker of the photograph, to remind them of 'do you remember when', and that is all they are intended to do.
While the results are usually abhorrent to those who 'know' photography, 'real' photographers are not the intended audience. My mother and brothers are the audience.
However, without these miserable excuses for cameras, most of us 'better' photographers would never have started.
It would be too difficult for most of us to create our own cameras unlike the first photographers of the 1840's would have. Most of us would have been stopped by the darkroom, if not by the sheer expense and technical complexity of getting started in photography.
Consider these first cameras to being the training wheels of many a photographer. Many never get past the training wheels, some of us do.
I did.

I’ve been exploring to what extent a recent phone cam (Nexus 5 in my case) can replace the high-end pocket-cam (Canon S* in my case) that I used to carry everywhere; see https://plus.google.com/explore/n5photography or

The answer. Completely; it’s a slam-dunk.

What would Malcolm Gladwell make of this argument?

For me camera phones are great for one thing...photos at work!! I photograph my dept schedule and photograph situations in the workplace that I can text to the boss.

Don't photo me, I'll photo you.

People who practice photography as a hobby or to earn a crust are a different species to those who mainly use a cell phone to record family snap shots,selfies,important moments in their daily lives they like to share with their friends/family etc. etc. , basically both sides will never understand the other and there is no good reason why they should as photography fills a need for both but in a different way.
Cell phone users could care less about proper exposure,dept of field, bokeh blurred background et al all they are concerned with is recording the moment.
When cell phone shooters and point and shoot users see a well shot ,properly exposed photograph they quite often comment that whoever the photographers was must have had a good camera, this tends to upset serious photographers and give them the vapours and worse but if they had a better understanding of the general lack of interest and understanding of photography by non photographers they would be less upset by these comments.

Are you sure we're really enlarging the pool? Or are we just increasing the amount of time the pool has cameras? I didn't actually know anyone before cell phones who didn't have a camera. Now, picture taking has become an almost thoughtless routine (I hope she doesn't see this, but my wife, who is only vaguely interested in photography, has 1400 images in her cell phone, or linked to her cell phone, or however that is done.) The point is, it doesn't seem to me that cell phone carriers are learning anything about photography, or are even very interested in it -- it's just another activity without much meaning. Before cell p[hones, you got a camera out with intent. Now the intent is missing.

Mobile Photography caught the big camera makers by surprise. They thought people cared about features and image quality. 95% of people who will ever take a photo don't know what an Fstop is and they don't care. They want to shoot, edit and share from the device in their palm. And I guarantee a whole generation is getting their worst, first 10,000 shots out of the way faster than Bresson ever imagined.

Right now I'm at the Silicon Valley Contemporary Art Fair with the winning images from the Mobile Photography Awards and we're selling pieces for $1000. Collectors want images that speak to them and they could care less whether it was created on a phone or a Nikon. Get with the program and accept mobile photography as a tool to complement your dslr. Or miss out.

Where you say that cellphones are going to be the early influence of tomorrow's photographers, it is interesting to think about what that implies for the photo*graph*, i.e. the drawing.

Another commenter mentioned taking old models and rehashing them for the computer age. If the formulative experience provides immediate feedback on a competent display, e.g. cellphone/smartphone, there is no reason to think that tomorrow's photographers will be thinking about prints at all.

I guess my point is, if many of today's 'old timers' think along the lines of 'the photograph IS the print', there is no reason to think that will be the case in the future. A computer-rendered hologram may be just as legitimate a 'picture' as a 24x36 print.

Very much to the point -- your comparison of cellphone photo snappers to a sea of 7-year-old Chinese gymnastic students. I mistakenly assumed you'd deployed the cellphone topic like throwing chum into the water just to watch the fish go nuts. When will I learn?

It would be nice, at least, if folks taking 'selfies' today understood that photographers have been taking self-portraits for over 150 years…see Nadar, et. al. The search tool in that phone could provide some useful historical perspective.

Will easy-to-use digital cameras (cellphone and other) result in more great photographs? No question about it.

But will they result in more "great photographers in the future"? In the sense of "makers of great photographs," Yes, by the thousands. But in the sense of "photographers who stand above the crowd"? No, because the Great Photographer era has passed and will not return.

Various tweeting, trendy-and-trending photographers will periodically get huge followings, yes, but only within small segments of the photo community. There will never again be individual photographers who are as widely known across the photographic world as the names bandied about in your post--and featured comments--called What Would They Be Using Today?

(You did a post that revealed this truth a few months ago when you asked for "photographers who have made big name for themselves in the digital era" and few readers had heard of other readers' choices. The photography world is just exponentially larger and more diffused than it was in the pre-digital era.)

Granted, some contemporary artists who use photography will always come along to sell photos for millions of dollars. But the "contemporary art" world is quite different from the photography world, and no practitioners of contemporary art are widely respected by photographers as "great photographers" the way the "greats" in your recent list are regarded.

It should also be mentioned that cameras (still and video) exist in other electronic devices as well. My daughter received a Nintendo portable game player as a birthday present. She spent the first hour or so recording video with it rather than playing games.

"...Because they are introducing photography to a whole new generation of future photographers. "

Mike, I'm testing your theory right now. My daughter-in-law, Tessie, is a prolific iPhone picture taker and Instagrammer. Some of her work is amazingly creative, so I had already concluded I might be able to lure her over to the "serious" side of photography if I encouraged her to keep expanding her creative photographic potential. Anyway, I just loaned her a Fuji X100 (plus the manual!) from my camera collection, and told her to give it a try and let me know what she thinks. If this little experiment goes according to your theory, the X100 may very well end up as a permanent loan!

Yesterday, Tessie emailed me and said she was already taking "better pictures" with X100. Yet it remains to be seen if this loan of a purpose-built camera expands her photographic horizons beyond the boundaries of the ubiquitous smartphone in any kind of enduring way. If so, that's a good sign for the camera manufacturers. If not, then it's one sample point along the path to a very uncertain future for those companies and those of us who want affordable purpose-built cameras.


The cell phone camera has, in some sense, completed a progression. There are people who just want pictures. They don't care about image quality, they don't care about exposure, they don't care about photography. They want pictures, usually so they can show something to someone.

The cell phone camera looks to me like some kind of endpoint. I can get a picture of the kids into grandma's email or up on flickr or whatever in less than 30 seconds from the impulse to complete. How much more improvement can there be?

This gets jumbled up with photography as photography but it really has vet little to do with photography.

The market is all thrown off because, for a decade, we saw a wild spoke on SLR sales for a specific period of time: when the low end DSLR with kit lens was the right answer for people who just wanted pictures. That spike is probably going away now. Bummer for Canikon.

I like the way you've done this, why they're great, why they're not. Forces thought instead of argumentative protection perhaps.
Here's another reason they're great, the best reason in my opinion...because they're technologically inferior.

40+ years of photography taught me several things, 3 years of exclusive iPhoneography taught me so very much more. Images that didn't quite meet expectations no longer failed because of technical reasons. Poor film / sensor choices, questionable lenses, dynamic range, expose to the whatever.... I knew these were lacking going in. The image failure was due to cloudy concept, poor composition, garbled message...it was me, not my tools. iPhone photography offers quick snapshot ability to many and to some it offers a way to learn the craft...or the art. When you think about it that way what an incredible device.

Is this really much different from the box brownie a century ago? "Everyone" became a "photographer" but while it brought change, it didn't destroy the profession of photography. Similarly, the advent of 35mm didn't destroy the 120 (other larger format) film/camera industry, or even the view camera. I expect that there will be further change in the world of photography (3D may be the next big item), in a relatively short time, as the generational cycle of the digital world is much shorter than the earlier "mechanical" generational change. In any event, cameras may change but won't disappear, and neither will professional photography. Its something to look forward to, as such change is usually an improvement.

Of David Miller, I ask "Would you say the same about box Brownies or other early Kodaks?"
Cell phones are similar to them, allowing many users to make snapshots and a few will get interested and go forward to make photographs.
PS: I think I have posted this comment to almost every discussion like this, mainly because I distinguish between snapshots and photographs.

BAH! Are you kidding me? Get real, the photos being churned out by the masses are nothing like, and never will be like, the body of work generated by the current and past generations of learned photographers. Its like saying the Bieber via auto-tune could compete with old blue eyes.

I always chuckle when I read practitioners of the most democratic means of visual expression (photogaphy) claim with a completely straight face that it has somehow become too democratic. It's a story that seems to be repeated every 20 years or so.

Photography changes and morphs every time new technology is introduced. The definition changes for each generation. But as long as humans have eyes, they will always have pictures to view and people that will want to make those pictures.

Those of us who hate cell phone photography are probably too enamoured of the object of beauty a photograph can be. If you put that aside and consider photography as a storytelling tool, then cell phones can be a lot of fun.

I use the camera in my cell phone some; but it's bad enough in enough different ways that I'll often go to a different floor of the house and come back with a better camera to take pictures of our cats at home.

The cell camera is slow, and not very good in dim light. The photos it produces are often not good enough for really any use.

And this and the previous one are hugely better than the two before that, which were practically useless.

As a commercial shooter my bottom line is can a camera or, phone create an image that has a commercial value.
Currently I am submitting images from my iPhone 4 to Alamy via Stockimo.
As yet none have sold, but then I only have a small collation of images. So time will have to be the judge fro this.

I agree with Mike. I have a friend who has a fantastic eye for photography who has learned through using her cell phone. She has not studied composition or exposure but just gets it. I don't believe she has the patience for film and probably wouldn't have used an instamatic, but she shoots constantly - and i'm jealous that she consistently outshoots me, with my almost 40 years of experience and understanding of the technique of photography. I'm often praised by my friends for my shots, but i truly admire this girl's vision.

Was classical music termed "classical music" in Vienna in the 1820s or was it just music?

The Grateful Dead, Led Zepplin, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, et al are now referred to as classic rock but when we were listening to them in the 1960s and 1970s, it was just rock music.

Oh alright then, if no one else will say it: what do you mean psu, "really only iPhone cameras"? Last time I checked, other smartphones had cameras and software for the resulting photos.

Regarding your Michael Jordan analogy (reply to David Miller’s featured comment), I think it fails because it assumes that photography will always have a similar top tier that the most talented can strive for. Put another way; in basketball the top tier is the NBA, where the top players achieve fame, money, and they can exhibit their talent to millions of fans. But what if the pool of potential basketball players became so large that most people couldn’t tell the difference between a good player and a great one? Or didn’t care that some players were particularly good, because all they cared about was their own game and the friends they played with? What if the money to be made shifted from the pro level to servicing the millions of middle-range players throwing hoops in their neighbourhood courts? In that case, the Michael Jordans of the future will never achieve high status and recognition; they’ll just be among the millions of people throwing a ball around after dinner.

It’s the old signal-to-noise problem. While people like to say that tools exist to filter out the noise, most people don’t use them and don’t even care about them, so we get a massive amount of noise that drowns out the signal no matter how good it is. The result, over time, is that the idea of a good signal is devalued.

Cellphone cameras are wonderful. Here's why.
There are 3 photos of my grandfather from the time before he was in his 30s. None of my grandmother. These photos are staged and meaningless, as they say nothing about who he was and what his life was like.

There are some 15 photos of my youth. Mostly blurred, with feet or heads cut off. I have vague ideas what my parents looked like when they were young, what our daily life looked like.

You know what? I envy the generation that grows up with cellphone cameras. It is absolutely wonderful that basically every person now has the means to capture in photos what matters to him.

Oh yes, I hear the moaning that the holy photography is now desecrated. No longer an elitist hobby for wealthy collectors, no longer the exclusive realm of voodoo chemistry and weird rituals in dark rooms that required a lifetime of sacrifice, exercise and training.

A landside. Almost every person on this globe now can take photos, as much as he wants, enjoy and share them. I think this is wonderful.

As I read this blog entry, I found myself thinking how much I regretted ever buying a Kodak Disc Camera (in the early 80s), when my kids were young. We now have an irreparable hole in our family photo history because the prints from those disc negs were so poor, that the kids, in those images, are barely recognizable.

Those cameras appealed to me because they were small and flat, the film in the disc was thicker than regular 35mm film and that disc format ensured that the film was held flat. The bad news was that the negs were only 11mm x 8mm and required as special Kodak enlarger lens (which many, if not most, labs did not own).

Now, when I look at the cell phone images of my grandchildren (taken by their parents), I am reminded of those disc camera prints and I fear that my adult children are in the midst of their very own "digital Kodak Disc Camera" era ~ heading towards a irreparable hole in their family photo history.

Cheers! Jay

I was at a graduation in December. Low angle bright summer sun at the conclusion of the ceremony. Very high contrast. I couldn't see a camera in the throng, but there must have been some as from the stage I had seen all the flashes go off. Outside I saw only the iPhone and the iPad deployed, with a lot of care taken in setting up the shots. Did any of them have anything more formal booked? I don't know. How will their photographs turn out? Will they even know? If they are a little flawed will they mind? It was quite a revelation.

Does anyone use a cellphone to actually CALL someone?

It seems to me that cell phone cameras were the inevitable next step in the main stream of the evolution of photographic devices.

From the very beginning, the evolution of cameras has been all about convenience and democratization—image quality has never been more than a minor diversion from that flow.

All I meant was that I only have first hand experience with the iPhone cameras, and that at least in the iPhone 4s an d 5s they are excellent.

What I should have said was *smart phone* cameras, vs. the earlier generation of cell phone camera, which really barely did anything at all.

"There will never again be individual photographers who are as widely known across the photographic world as the names bandied about in your post--and featured comments--called What Would They Be Using Today?"

MM is dead-on with that keen comment. The sentiment that "great photographers" will emerge from the ranks of iPhoneographers is wishful. That golden age of "great" photographers ended in the 1980's, with faint tailings into the 1990's.

Today photography, at its most hallowed ($$) levels, is being quickly and completely subsumed into contemporary art. There's no place else for the money to go. But that's a story for another day.

There is in my observations a very broad disconnect between cell phone users who use their phones to take pictures and those using carmeras, more so perhaps in some parts of the world than others. I remember quite well being harassed by security guards near a temple in India for photographing with a camera while dozens of Indians with cell phones were happily snapping away. Maybe it was just some form of discrimination but even when I pointed out the discrepancy they didn't get it, or chose not to. One small example, but I see and sence somewhat similar reactions elsewhere: the camera says something a cell phone doesn't The two activities - ways of seeing - are quite disimilar, physically and visually - as most likely are the results.

Huge numbers of people started film photography with low-level consumer cameras with severe technical limitations. In my case it was a Tower Pixie 127. Some of them progressed to being some kind of serious photographer. It's probably possible starting from a camera phone as well; why wouldn't it be?

I'm a professional who has used everything over 20 years or so from a medium format Zenza Brnoica to a Canon Eos 5Dmkiii and now a Sony A7r with currently 8 lenses in my arsenal. There's no denying the beautiful images they're able to produce with the right match but... By far the most fun camera I have used is my iPhone 5s because of it's simplicity. It truly is a point and shoot. Of course I can't control it the way I can an SLR in manual mode but I can still compose and expose a shot pretty much the way I want it and I have gotten great shots from it that I would have missed fiddling about with my 5D's settings and making the right lens choice. And it's always in my pocket.

Nicholas Condon: "I don't know how probable this is. Did the advent of the word processor make more good writers than there were in the days of the typewriter? Or the quill?"

I'm not sure about good, but definitely MORE.

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