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A friend recently asked, “So do you think that the camera may go the way of the Dodo?”

I was about to reply when I found myself somewhat lost for an answer. None of us can really predict the future but we are all capable of extrapolating a trend to some degree. Being closely acquainted with a subject does not necessarily mean we have some magical insight – on the contrary, it often means we are too close to the topic that we cannot see the proverbial forest for the trees. So bearing that in mind I took a step backwards, attempted to ignore any bias, and ponder the possibilities.

At first glance, there seems to be three trends at work here –

  • the trend towards video
  • the trend towards 3-D
  • the trend towards social media

1. Video – In recent years we have seen more and more digital cameras offering video. At first, the Point and Shoot (PAS) cameras offered low resolution video, but then along came Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras capable of HD quality video. Since this class of camera can use high quality lenses, the results can be stunning, often exceeding those produced by traditional TV and movie cameras.

Even so, today’s video has changed. There was a time when people got out their 8mm movie camera and used up a roll of film at a child’s birthday party of example, and after processing, replayed the video using a screen and projector.. Those days have gone. The film cameras were replaced by digital movie cameras and the screen and projectors were replaced by computers, then came along the mobile phones with built in cameras capable of video recording.

Today we no longer use cameras to produce movies the way they were produced when the 8mm camera was around simply because we can’t take a two hour movie on a mobile phone regardless of how smart it is. What people do today is take video clips, just a few seconds in length – in effect, instead of taking a traditional photograph, people are taking ‘animated’ photographs. We even see this in full length movies. For example, when the movie industry began, movies were an extension of live theatre. Scenes were long, just like stage acts, but compare this to a modern movie. As an example I like to use “The Bourne Supremacy” starring Matt Damon and directed by Paul Greengrass,.I have yet to spot one clip that lasts more than 7 seconds. Yes – SEVEN SECONDS! This is the way video is going. Gone are the days of a 2 hour splicing together documentary of a kid’s birthday party – say hello to 7 seconds clips either as a standalone ‘animated’ photograph, or several clips edited together to create a short scene.

2. Three Dimensional or 3-D – There have been some incredible advances in 3-D movie technology. Gone are the days of sitting in a cinema wearing cardboard framed glasses with different coloured lenses – one red and the other cyan (bluish). While some people are uncomfortable watching 3-D for any length of time, the effects of 3-D are stunningly real. This technology has filtered down from the movie theatres to home entertainment and consequently, the taking of 3-D movies by cameras has already arrived. Unbeknownst to me when I bought it, but it seems I have a camera already equipped for 3-D recording – all I need is a special 3-D lens and I’m all set. Consequently, it won’t be long before computer monitors will be capable of displaying 3-D images.

It’s still too early to see how far this new media is going, but like so many trends – there is a symbiotic relationship between providers and consumers. Providers respond to customer demands – and customers follow trends, thus creating and driving market and hence the demand. The trick is to predict whether or not a trend is real or merely a fad. However, with highly publicized movies such as “Avatar” written and directed by James Cameron, the venture into 3-D has perhaps already surpassed the critical-mass threshold and is here to stay. I feel confident saying this because we normally see the world in 3-D and so it only natural to want to see representations in 3-D also, and let’s fave it – theatre, is 3-D .

So what will the 3-D future bring? I think we will soon be able to watch 3-D without having to wear special lens designed to deceive our visual cortex.

3. Social Media – A few short years ago, the term “social media” was unheard of. Today we live and breathe social media and therefore it has arguably become the biggest influence on the future of the camera. Instead of sending a news team out to scene, TV stations ask people on location to send in images and movie clips they have gathered using whatever handheld device they have, and if these clips are deemed newsworthy, they’ll be aired. In addition, news travels faster by way of Twitter, Facebook and the like, than by conventional broadcasts, so rather than ask if the camera may go the way of the Dodo, perhaps we should be asking, “Will conventional television go the way of the fated little Dodo bird?”

So how do these trends answer the question about the future of the camera?

Unlike the poor Dodo, I do not think the camera is anywhere near extinction, however, I do think the camera as we know it will rapidly evolve. Already, camera manufacturers are scrambling to keep pace with the ever changing trends. Of course this should not come as a surprise as we have already witnessed the fallout. For example, one of the largest and highly respected camera manufacturers – Minolta – failed to react to the digital concept and is now out of the picture – no pun intended. Sadly, Kodak has had its ‘moment’ and is already becoming part of our history.

To find out where the camera is headed, perhaps we should look at its history. The concept of a camera has been around for a few centuries, but the first capture of an actual image occurred about 200 years ago. Like most scientific discoveries, once the dam of knowledge has been breached, there often follows a flood of advancements. First there were glass plates, also known as dry plates, and this was followed by celluloid film. Not to downplay the numerous advancements made in the field of photography but in my mind, the big turning point came with the advent of the 35mm camera. The 35mm camera’s relative simplicity, versatility and portability started a trend, and because of that, its popularity marked the turning point of when history was visually documented in real time.

Other than the introduction of colour film, there were no significant improvements in the camera until the digital phenomenon came along – slowly at first and then it exploded. The interesting thing is – this is just the beginning.

What is foreseeable or predictable?

Perhaps the answer is not so much about hardware as it is about how we use cameras. There are still demands for high quality supper sharp images. One only has to see some of the high quality images in magazines – but wait a minute, what is happening to those magazines? Perhaps not everyone has an iPad/Tablet/SmartPhone – yet! – but you don’t need to be a genius to see where this is going. Why buy a magazine when it can be downloaded? Why print that digital image when it can be linked into a blog? Do we now need those super-sharp images when all we really need in a video clip from someone on-site using a camera built into a phone? And this brings up another point – how many times have you opened a magazine to watch a video clip? Perhaps, like television, printed magazines are are headed towards the exit door.

DSLR cameras are on their way out – of that, I am sure. The whole concept of a mirror flapping up and down is starting to feel clumsy. But things don’t necessarily go away by themselves – they are encouraged to go away when something better comes along. For example, the Twin Lens Reflex camera didn’t go away when two lenses just didn’t make sense – they went away when the SLR camera made more sense. Today, ‘mirrorless’ cameras are starting to make more sense and so with that, it is perhaps time to say goodbye to the SLR camera as we know it.

Who knows in which direction photography will go or how far it will go. But one thing I can say with some degree of accuracy, in the field of photography, there are some exciting times ahead – enjoy the ride!