Smartphone Camera vs Camera Camera

There are a lot of comparisons between the latest smartphone cameras and high-end professional photography gear. When you look at what the iPhone and Pixel are doing with computational photography to get shallow depth of field or better low-light photography it is pretty amazing. I have watched the comparison videos and seen the photos side-by-side and I have to say, it is really just a matter of time before the smartphone camera outperforms the dedicated camera.

This has forced camera manufacturers into starting computational imaging programs to make sure that the dedicated professional cameras stay ahead of the curve, but are these measures just in vein and the camera manufacturers are just delaying the inevitable?

I believe that there will come a time, in the not too distant future, that smartphone cameras will get good enough. It won’t matter that the $2,500 dedicated camera system does a better job by combining computational imaging with a larger sensor and better optics to make a better image. The shots that will be possible on your $1,000 smartphone will be 95% as good in every situation, and it fits in your pocket and you always have it with you. Who’s going to carry around a dedicated camera, especially one that costs $2,500, to get 5% better images?

This begs the question, at what point does computation imaging go too far? Do you lose some of the specialness of an image if it is enhanced to better than how the scene looked in real life? If you’re able to just randomly point your smartphone camera in any direction and the processor in the camera figures out what would make a better image and makes that image, would it still be something that you would care to look at or share? If everyone could do this, would anyone care anymore?

When this is all possible, I think the only people that will want to carry around a dedicated camera are the people who want to experience the process of making photography as an artform. When I shoot pictures for my hobby and enjoyment, I choose to use a fully manual camera. For digital, I use a Leica M-P typ 240 which is manual focus and manual aperture, and I set it to manual shutter, and manual ISO. I even use a classic light meter mode that gauges the reflection of light off of the closed shutter curtain which means I can’t even turn on live view so I have to focus and compose through the optical viewfinder. The reason that I prefer this shooting style is because when everything comes together and you capture that image that has that little bit of magic, you know that was you and not the camera. It is because of this that I think I will continue to shoot a dedicated camera even when they become obsolete. If there aren’t enough people to support camera manufacturers making dedicated cameras, it might spur a second resurgence of film photography when all of the camera manufacturers are put out of business by the smartphones.

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