Photography is going into a new phase with the system camera revolution, but the bigger digital trends might by gloomy for the photography industry.
Buying a new system camera
Ever since I started shooting I have been a Canon guy. I love their colors, ergonomics and robustness. Their relative high quality cheap EF lenses were also a great add since you don’t buy a camera, you buy into a camera system.
But in recent years Sony rushed by all the other camera players by making awesome full frame system cameras and creating a lenze system to match. As a professional shooter you had to go Sony. The quality of any new Sony Alpha full frame camera with some Sigma prime glass was unmatchable in price and quality. Sigma’s latest small and light 85mm 1.4 continues that tradition.
Then Canon finally came out with the Canon R6, which is my perfect camera. Same color science, same robustness, even better ergonomics are now combined with more dynamic range, in body image stabilization and better low light performance. Canon was not the only party to get back in the race, Nikon now has some really great options as well.
A new phase for cameras and photographers
With these and more beautiful mirrorless cameras coming to the market you might be saying we have entered a new photography phase. Where I think that is true for now, these cameras might be the last ones we are going to buy. Let me explain why.
Let me start with my editing PC. Six months ago I built a PC dedicated to RAW photo editing. I can advise any photographer to do some. It’s a time saver of epic proportion in turn bringing more fun to the editing process because it becomes more effortless.
Realtime video enhancements with software is getting good
That editing PC has a NVIDIA GeForce video card and NVIDIA recently released some software for it. It’s called the NVIDIA Broadcast-app and it enables you to use the video card to do three things:
- Enhance you microphone removing background noise
- Enhancing your speaker, cleaning up the audio
- Enhance your webcam, adding background replacement, background blur and enhancing the video image.
Let me zoom into that last feature. I have a decent Logitech webcam but the image that the video card and software create out of it is just remarkable. I get the same feedback on the awesome image as I get when I use my R6 and the Canon EOS Webcam Utility.
So computational power is able to make a good image great with just some AI and video processing.
The progress in computational photography
The thing is, it’s not just NVIDIA who is doing this. Google’s pixels have been doing computation photography for years and Apple has also made some big strides in this area. You now get more and better dynamic range from your mobile phone than from 3k in professional camera equipment which is scary.
A big part of the “how” they do this has not been in the sensor it’s been in the processor, software and the AI. I recently learned the Pixel has used the same camera module in the last 4 generations of phones so nearly all their camera advancements have been one the software part.
Google’s Pixel has been making better photos over the past 4 years with every new Pixel release. But they use the same camera module and the same sensor. They just updated the software.
The Qualcomm 888 smartphone chip
To facilitate this software part of the equation we need a new generation of hardware, especially chips. This is the area where we see massive technological advancements. Apple’s chips have dedicated units in there for AI and photography. Qualcomm just announced their 888 processor. It’s the processor that will end up in most flagship phones in 2021.
The chip has a very powerful new AI engine with some specific parts which are specifically meant to be used by what they call professional cameras.
But it’s not just there that you see photo specific parts in the chip. The 888 has triple image signal processors. A single image processor is used to get the information from a single camera module. But most smartphones now have three of these modules for various focal lengths. The 888 can combine the images from 3 modules simultaneously. This creates the ability to process an immense 2.7 gigapixels per second!
What are Google and Samsung doing?
Qualcomm always tells us which brands they be partnering with when they announce a new processor.
But some big brands were actually missing this year. Do you remember I said that this processor will be used by most high end smartphones next year? The brands that were missing are Samsung and Google. Google is not that big of a player in the smartphone world. They sold 7.2 million pixel phones in 2019. But Samsung? Samsung sold 296 million that same year. So why are they missing? They are working on their own processors! In April this year Google announced they will start making their own chips for smartphones and Chromebooks. The chip called Whitechapel is in development in cooperation with… Samsung.
You get a chip, you get a chip everybody gets a chip!
So somewhere in 2021 we will have 4 of the biggest smartphone related brands (Google, Samsung, Qualcomm and Apple) in the world each making their own chips. These chips will be heavily focused on computational photography since the camera performance is such an important part of the buying decision of a smartphone. And on some fronts – like dynamic range and hand held night photography – the images of smartphones were already better than our system camera images.
Now add Moore’s law to photograpy
Combine this with Google owning photo editing app Snapseed and the new editor of Google Photos lending element of the snapseed UI. Now add Moore’s law to this and you end up at the same conclusion: “I just bought my last system camera”. What this means for the photo industrie is tough to say, but I know two things for sure:
- Good photos are not going to be unique anymore, everybody will be able to make them from a technical point of view.
- The maker industry will explode even more.
The end or a new beginning?
Now just imagine taking a smartphone photo, adding lighting + bokeh, adding your signature style on the fly and publishing it… in seconds… from the smartphone in your pocket. That is where we are going and it’s awesome and a little scary at the same time. Ooh and if you are thinking this is just going to be photography guess again. Video will be lagging but it will follow.