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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Misinformation: Camera Tech

More than megapixels, it’s the ability to connect that’s driving the rise in camera phones over point-and-shoot cameras

It's amazing what Apple has been able to fit into its tiny iPhone 4S.
At 3264x2448 pixels, the 8-megapixel image resolution in the iPhone 4S is good enough for print sizes up to 8x10. The ƒ/2.8 aperture of the iPhone 4 has been upgraded to an ƒ/2.4, and a new backside-illuminated CMOS sensor offers more than 70% better light absorption for improved low-light performance. A new A5 processor has greatly improved auto white balance, and the camera lens itself has been totally redesigned, including a hybrid IR filter for better color and less blue spill. Beating out the Nikon D90, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, Rebel T2i and 7D, the predecessor to the 4S, the iPhone 4, is the most popular camera on Flickr (www.flickr.com/cameras/), while the top point-and-shoot camera, the Canon PowerShot S95, doesn't even break the top five. With one million units preordered in only a single day, the iPhone 4S is likely to make its presence known on the chart, as well.
Myth: The DSLR is being replaced by smartphones
It's true, point-and-shoots as a species are in trouble. Compact camera sales have continually declined while smartphone sales are increasing exponentially, and it doesn't take a statistician to figure out that there's a correlation. Still, some are saying that the sheer ubiquity of smartphones is likely to encroach on DSLR sales, and that's simply wrong. Image quality in the iPhone and many other smartphones is admittedly great, and it improves with every new release, but there's so much more to creating an image than megapixels, as most compact-camera owners find. Larger sensor size, better depth of field, more storage capacity, higher-resolution images, sophisticated flash capabilities, faster and manually selectable shutter speeds, better tracking and autofocus in general, not to mention full manual controls over options like ISO and white balance—these are only a few of the numerous advantages that even a basic DSLR will have over any smartphone, even an iPhone.

That doesn't mean that camera companies shouldn't be paying attention to the rapid growth in the smartphone market, however. Flickr is by no means a complete or accurate measure of camera usage, but it's a great barometer of connectivity, and these numbers seem to be clearly indicative of a feature that both consumers and professionals want. It's a no-brainer that pros will want wireless capabilities at the same time that they want the benefits of high-end DSLRs and lenses, and while there are workaround options like expensive wireless transmitter add-ons and limited-capacity wireless memory cards like Eye-Fi's line of SD cards, DSLRs are clearly lacking in that area. But ironically, camera technology often will evolve in the reverse, with consumer features debuting in point-and-shoots before they're perfected and passed up to higher-end professional cameras. Smartphones have a few benefits over pro DSLRs—instant sharing, touch-screen operation and much more convenient portability—but cameras are evolving, alongside other technologies, from simple imaging devices that incorporate digital technology into highly sophisticated computers with flexible optics that can far surpass anything that even Apple will be able to come up with.

The looming death of the compact is likely to have broad implications for the industry as a whole. As digital technology is integrated more and more into every device that we use as photographers, camera manufacturers will find themselves competing with computer companies and mobile devices as much as they are with each other. Regardless, DSLRs still have the same advantages over smartphones as they have over compacts. While that old adage that the best camera is the one that you have with you is true up to a point, if you plan ahead, the camera that you have with you will be the one that's capable of producing the best images possible.


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