The end of photography or the start of something special?

The death of the camera isn’t a new debate but one that has been thrown into light again more recently with Apple basing an entire ATL campaign around beautiful photographs taken on their handsets. Three years ago, Annie Leibovitz helped put the nails in the coffin of middle-market cameras by saying the iPhone was the ‘snapshot camera of today’ so doesn’t this latest campaign serve to prove the reign of point-and-shoot is now finally over?

Currently most smartphones offer some pretty good quality cameras for the everyday user, and there are even some professionals who confess to now using their smartphone devices to take photos instead of their more expensive kit.  Surely it comes down to whether photography is about capturing the moment or the detail.

For the everyday user, it’s got to be about the moment. With over 1.75billion people owning a smartphone today, we mainly view photos on small – often tiny – screens, irrespective of the full size of the captured image.  Taking an image on a networked device allows us to share information such as location, weather, who we are with and even fitness levels, elevating a simple photograph to a whole new level.  Photography has always been an art form of storytelling, so with such a compelling universe of information just waiting to be pinned to each photo, we can argue that smartphones are not just ‘good enough’ but actually offer more of a story than the camera has traditionally done.

Many professional photographers, on the other hand, hold that real photographic talent is in capturing the detail and getting the composition spot on, all in exceptional quality.  There are certainly times when this stands true; some of the iconic shots from Wimbledon and game-changing astrophotography shots in recent weeks would have been impossible with today’s smartphones. However a combination of increasing megapixels and access to powerful editing tools is producing some pretty good amateur shots. Many high profile newspapers have let go of staff photographers in favour of a more freelance approach, and others such as regional publisher Archant have actually launched an online platform for the public to send in their photos.  Does this mean the paparazzi, with their thousands of pounds worth of kit, are becoming obsolete?

This all adds weight to Annie Leibovitz’s argument about point-and-shoot cameras. So why are some camera manufacturers and traditional photographers so unwilling to accept this truth? Change can be good. Fashion photographer David Bailey changed the face of the industry in the 1960s when he decided to discard his tripod in favour of having the freedom of movement in holding his camera. Similarly, many were opposed to digital photography over old film when it was introduced, but it didn’t take long for those with any business acumen to realise that going digital was quicker, cheaper and more accessible – let alone better for the environment.  In the same way that the transition from film to digital is now taken for granted, the shift from point-and-shoot cameras to networked devices with lenses should be obvious.

We’ve seen camera manufacturers developing networked cameras with Wi-Fi and NFC capabilities to aggressively take on the smartphone. Only time will tell if this is a successful strategy but Apple’s latest campaign certainly hopes to prove otherwise. Perhaps we’ll see the point-and-shoot market segment disappear in the future, allowing camera manufacturers to redistribute their budgets to focus on really high end devices. Alternatively, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility to imagine these brands taking a leap into manufacturing smartphones themselves – didn’t Sony’s partnership with Carl Zeiss offer them this bridge?

In the meantime, non-camera brands should be taking every opportunity they can to jump on today’s connected consumer. Restaurants have led the charge in banning smartphone photography, encouraging diners to experience rather than document, so brands should be capitalising on this, hitting consumers with experiences they’re encouraged to share and comment on, exponentially increasing the brand’s reach via Snapchat, Instagram, Reddit and more. There’s a new found love of showmanship in today’s society and it’s never been easier for brands to connect with younger audiences and hit look-a-like networks.

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