The Standalone Camera is Dying

Illustration for article titled The Standalone Camera is Dying

Time's inexorable march has pushed another piece of tech to the brink of obsolescence. The dedicated camera is on the outs – or so claims designer Craig Mod in a contentious article for The New Yorker.

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Top photo by jeyp via flickr

Mod's piece recounts his prolonged love-affair with photography and photographic equipment, including his 2009-transition to the micro-four-thirds system – a smaller, lighter, more intuitive alternative to the DSLR paradigm of high-end photography. Mod made the switch with the purchase of a Panasonic GF1, which he brought with him on an expedition to Annapurna Base Camp in central Nepal. The camera was unobtrusive and took remarkable photographs; significantly – like many phone-cameras – it did so without a viewfinder. In a field test from the Annapurna trip, Mod wrote, "For better or worse, a camera without a viewfinder is less intimidating. You are no longer half-human half-camera … which is wonderful if you want candid, real photographs. Subjects focus on being human rather than being a subject."

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The GF1 marked a nascent shift in Mod's perspective on photographic equipment, one that would fully materialize two and a half years later, when he replaced his GF1 with Panasonic's Gx1 in preparation for a six-day hike through the mountains of Wakayama, in central Japan, re-tracing the path of an ancient imperial pilgrimage called the Kumano Kodo:

During the trip, I alternated between shooting with it and an iPhone 5. After importing the results into Lightroom, Adobe's photo-development software, it was difficult to distinguish the GX1's photos from the iPhone 5's. (That's not even the latest iPhone; Austin Mann's superlative results make it clear that the iPhone 5S operates on an even higher level.) Of course, zooming in and poking around the photos revealed differences: the iPhone 5 doesn't capture as much highlight detail as the GX1, or handle low light as well, or withstand intense editing, such as drastic changes in exposure. But it seems clear that in a couple of years, with an iPhone 6S in our pockets, it will be nearly impossible to justify taking a dedicated camera on trips like the Kumano Kodo pilgrimage.

Mod's piece is certainly worth reading in and of itself, but the comments section – where the readership's sense of nostalgia, individuality and craftsmanship collides at full force with a yearning for accessibility and technological advancement – is where this controversial subject really comes alive. Read it here.

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DISCUSSION

Oh yeah, video killed the radio star.

As someone who dabbled in professional photography for years, I have observed the advance of smartphone camera tech with interest. It is impressive to squeeze that much out of a tiny lens, but it does not come without its cost. I am not talking about the technical limitations such das depth of field, which is physically limited, the lack of exchangable lenses or the high noise caused by the small sensors.

With a phone, photography becomes fast, casual, spontaneous and somehow ... less unique. On many photos I have seen or taken myself with a smartphone, I miss the personal touch, the attention to detail and the feeling that lot more than being at the right place at the right time went into an image. Maybe this oldschool thinking, but i *enjoy* setting up a tripod, choosing the right lens (or camera), taking lots or just walking around the subject for hours to get it right. Smartphones do not help me doing that. They are great for fast captures that do have their own reason to exist (as long as they are not instragram-filtered, bah! how i hate that!), but they are not everything there is to photography.

You cannot replace an art form with "better" technology. You can expand it and you can improve it or you can make it more accessable, but you cannot kill it.

Also, I wonder how much the author got payed by Apple.