You’ll be seeing more Internet of Things devices, like the Google Nest Hub, which allows you to connect to Google Photos and play slideshows.
As I write this sentence, the year 2020 is less than three months away, which almost makes me want to throw on a gold-colored “Star Trek” uniform, tap the voice memo mobile app on my iPhone (pretending it’s my “Star Trek” communicator) and thoughtfully state, in my best William Shatner impersonation, today’s stardate as I begin recording my captain’s log. The year 2020 just seems so decidedly sci-fi to me.
And while we’re not yet flying around at warp speed in starships or beaming down to far-off planets from transporter rooms, there have been some startling trends in the world of tech and photography that seem rather futuristic. But it’s important to note that they’re still works-in-progress and haven’t really been perfected. In other words, before any tech company decides to “boldly go where no man has gone before,” they should continue to work on the bugs in these products or services, right here, right now…on earth.
My hope is that these trends will let you “live long and prosper” as photographers and content creators.
1. Digital Imaging And Video Embrace AI-Like Features
It’s hard to determine exactly how much new technology that camera and digital-imaging companies are developing can be traced to artificial intelligence or AI. I’m skeptical because I’ve seen a number of companies using AI as a marketing buzzword.
However, I will say that we have seen some remarkable technology that, in many ways, has mimicked AI in that the product has a level of sophistication that it appears to be “smart.”
Here are two examples that spring to mind:
The first is from Adobe, and it’s one of my favorites since it coincided with a gaffe made in a large television production. In fact, Adobe ran a clever social media post capitalizing on that mistake. During one of the last episodes of “The Game of Thrones” blockbuster television series, the broadcast included a Starbucks coffee cup that was accidentally left in the medieval like-setting during filming. To address the issue, Adobe had a fun idea: It showed (via a tweet on Twitter) that had the “GoT” episode been made in May 2019 (it was filmed months before), the post-production editors could have used Adobe’s new Content-Aware Fill in Adobe After Effects to quickly and seamlessly remove the coffee from the scene. And the tweet shows the Starbucks cup disappearing.
The edit was made by using the Content-Aware Fill feature, which essentially works the way the tool does in Photoshop but for video in Adobe’s After Effects app. It provides you with the same content-aware fill option to remove unwanted objects from your whole video! So filmmakers can now rest assured that they’ll no longer have to worry about anachronistic present-day subject matter—like a pricey cup of Starbucks Caramel Ribbon Crunch Crème Frappuccino or Starbucks Double Chocolaty Chip Crème Frappuccino Blended Crème—accidentally showing up in a video production of, say, Julius Caesar or Charlemagne. The only cups you’ll see are golden goblets.
The second example is Sony’s Real-Time Autofocus tracking feature. Over the course of the year, Sony made a number of improvements to its autofocus tracking in its full-frame and APS-C mirrorless cameras, in some cases via firmware updates. What Sony has included for several of its mirrorless cameras is the ability for you to track your model’s eye (whether human or animal), and if your shutter is pressed halfway down, it will continue to track that subject, no matter where it moves in the frame. It even continues to track it when your subject is blocked by another object. So once your tracked subject reappears, the camera continues its focus…which it never lost.
In short, it’s remarkable, and while testing various Sony cameras, I found the feature functioned most of the time (depending on the camera and situation). We’re certain the trend of implementing AI or AI-like features will continue for the foreseeable future.
2. Tech & Companies Revisit Dead Product Categories
Over the past 10 years, it’s hard to imagine two product categories that have been harder hit than digital point-and-shoot cameras and digital photo frames. The former group’s market share has, over the past dozen years or so, been eaten away by the smartphone market. The latter group has as well, but it was also usurped by computer tablets, like the iPad and others, which serve as photo frames as well.
However, both categories have had a bit of a renaissance.
Point-and-shoots have found a place in the high-end camera market: Advanced point-and-shoots sport large sensor sizes, high-quality lenses, lots of onboard physical controls and small, compact camera bodies. Such models include the Sony RX100 Mark VII or the Ricoh GR III, and they seem to be great for consumers and photographers who aren’t interested in changing lenses yet still want a high-performing camera that’s small and portable.
It’s not the only revival you’ll see in the world of digital imaging. In fact, one of the most intriguing revivals is the digital photo frame. These frames would present images via a memory card you’d insert into the back of the digital frame, although there have been models that have included WiFi as well.
But in recent years, digital photo frames hadn’t resonated with consumers or photographers all that much.
Until now—or within the past two years—when Google introduced the Nest Hub (formerly called Home Hub) and then Google Nest Hub Max earlier in 2019, which are both Internet of Things (or IoT) devices. They’re both an amalgam of devices that include a smart speaker, home security camera and Google’s voice technology, Google Assistant.
What’s really impressive, though, is that this past fall, Google connected both Hubs with its Google Photos service, which was originally a photo-backup and photo organization service for your phone. But adding it to the constellation of services you can use on the Nest Hub and Nest Hub Max is quite interesting. In short, you can create an album on your phone in Google Photos and send it to play on your Nest Hub.
Plus, Google added photo printing services (allowing you to print 4×6 shots at CVS and Walmart).
In my view, Google’s successfully connected the dots, in part because it started with Google Photos, which many photographers and consumers use. And by having a great backup, I believe they’ve allowed the other services to flow naturally from that. Additionally, IoT products will continue to be a factor in all sorts of products in the coming years for content creators.
3. Continued Refinements In Graphical User Interfaces
When Hasselblad updated its X1D II 50C medium format camera, one thing it did was improve performance. But it also updated and improved the menu structure and graphical user interface, which was already impressive. It’s something a number of other camera companies continue to struggle with, though. For instance, in the age of smartphones, you shouldn’t produce a menu system on a digital camera that looks like a relic from the year 2009. It just doesn’t make sense!
Likewise, tech, camera and digital-imaging companies need to really take a close look at their mobile apps to see if they meet photographers’ needs and expectations.
Additionally, there have been some recent mobile apps that have raised the bar even higher.
For example, ARRI’s mobile and tablet app, Stellar, which it calls its “intelligent lighting control app” is a great example of how a wireless app can vastly expand a filmmaker’s or photographer’s toolset via wireless, allowing them to subtly or dramatically alter the lighting on the set. In other words, versatility is right at their fingertips. It’s also beautifully designed.
4. Designing Versatility Into All Product Segments
There are many companies adding value to their products throughout the industry. Some are adding that value in ingenious ways that you might not think of, and most of the time, it’s adding versatility to the product or service.
Take a company like SKB Cases: Some of its cases, like the ones it teamed up with Think Tank Photo on that are targeted at photographers and filmmakers, have rugged exteriors, but on the inside, they have durable foam liners, dividers and pads that can be reconfigured to store just about any type of gear you go on the road with. So, when traveling, you can be sure to keep your gear safe and secure.