Camera makers still think of the embedded software on their devices as “firmware,” whereas the mobile phone industry has taken the next step and sees their offerings as “operating systems” or “software platforms.” While it is thus still somewhat of an afterthought within cameras, software enhances the imaging-related capabilities in smartphones and sometimes turns them into the better camera. This creates a demand for the same interactivity within the digital camera arena. We believe the embedded software that comes with cameras will be more integrated with the device and it will be expandable through apps. Digital Cameras will become “smart cams.”
The full report shows you how the rise of photo-related phone apps are making them camera competitors, how more interactive camera hardware sets the stage for more complete experiences, and what ‘open source cameras’ reveal about creating more capable devices.
Rich with examples, all Artefact Reports also include conclusions about business opportunities and exercises you can use to understand how this trend may affect your products and services.
This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.
So here I am, sitting at Las Vegas Airport waiting for the plane that’ll take me back home to Seattle after a few exhausting days at CES in Vegas… I feel worn out from all the meetings, I feel hung over from last night’s party, but most importantly, I feel like a naughty kid that got caught with his hands in the cookie jar.
Over the past few months at Artefact, I have been working on a camera concept that aims to paint a vision for where photography could go. As we were thinking about how to best start the conversation with the industry that we are looking forward to having, we came up with the idea to staging a “stealth product introduction” on the CES show floor.
Now you have to know that the concept currently is in “appearance model” stage, meaning all we have as of today is a non-working “looks-like” mock-up of the product. Nevertheless, we shot the video next to the Polaroid and Nikon booths at CES, with Fernd and Tucker asking questions to a “WVIL product manager” (played by me) about his new product.
Issara and Yaque from Dos Rios Films pulled an all-nighter to superimpose the product’s user interface onto the camera’s screen and posted the video less than 24 hours ago.
We didn’t explain that the camera is just a design concept, but offered glimpses at the our website’s URL WVIL.de that would explain the whole story.
A few hours later, the video has over 1,500 views and some commenters are crying “fake”, completely dissecting Issara’s and Yaque’s late night work… I’ll have to catch my flight now, but will see how this story unfolds after I’m off the plane.
It feels fantastic to be a naughty kid!
In our previous post on the topic, we argued that for the future of digital photography we see big opportunities within the three areas of redefined product architecture, connectivity and the integration of hardware and software. We arrived at these assumptions by evaluating the current digital photography market as well as neighboring market segments, by taking a closer look at the history of photography and by observing common trends in digital technology.
In looking ahead at what this will mean for the development of digital photography, we must also take the photographer into account and deliberate how to best add value for the user. This quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, and the essential question:
At the same time as we are looking at what lies ahead in terms of technology, we are deliberating on how to best add value for the user, which quickly leads us to looking at the basic, foundational propositions of image capturing, by asking
“What is photography all about?”
Mankind has always been fascinated by the topic, mainly due to three basic human interests that we all share:
Said photographer Aaron Siskind: “Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… it remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.”
Capturing the moment to remember it has always been one of the main motivations and desires, be it in writing, drawing or through photographic images. No matter if the memories are staged or spontaneous, photography helps us to remember events, mood, atmosphere, location and – last but not least – the people involved.
Sometimes, just capturing the moment isn’t enough – and photographers turn into artists that creatively express themselves, generate a certain mood using photography or use the photos they have taken as a basis for post-processing.
In analog photography these goals were accomplished with ink, paint, airbrush or a simple “pointed scraping tool” as it was used in Polaroid Art, where the photographer dissects and then scratches the emulsion of their instant photos to create a desired effect.
Nowadays there is a slew of digital tools available, most importantly Photoshop on the desktop and mobile offerings such as iPhone-favorite Hipstamatic.
No matter the purpose – memories or art – photography always wanted to be shared. This was first accomplished using prints. In today’s connected world, this desire is illustrated through the abundance of digital photo frames and such online services as Flickr and Picasa.
What would the ideal camera need to accomplish?
In today’s world of ubiquitous camera-equipped cell phones and affordable point-and-shoot devices however, one does not need to understand the basics. Instead, there is not much more to photography than pushing the shutter button. Or is there?
Professional systems still rely heavily on the vocabulary and techniques of old, since these undoubtedly deliver results.
But what about the rest of us? The ones that the camera industry sees as “prosumers”? The following two ads – both interestingly about Micro-Four-Thirds cameras – capture the spirit of these products rather concisely:
Kevin Spacey does not want to be “that camera guy“, instead this artist is taking great photos without being a great photographer.
Aspiring photographers are given tools that are in-between the point-and-shoot world and the professional product world. The products promise to unite what is best about the two categories – high quality glass and sensors and an unrivaled ease-of-use. Yet, the so-called prosumer cameras do not bridge the two worlds.
Painting a vision for the future, we believe that the ideal prosumer camera will be characterized by the following three attributes:
Professional cameras as well as photography have always been associated with accuracy: finding the moment when light and subject feel “just right”, framing the shot and then exposing the photographic medium for the right amount of time and with the right amount of light.
The ideal “prosumer” camera will maintain these characteristic traits by presenting the user with precise controls – both in terms of hardware and software – that will facilitate the taking of the “perfect picture”.
2. Ease of use
Kevin Spacey has a point: if an aspiring photographer does not want to be “that camera guy”, his device should comply, by offering simple point-and-shoot-like options. On top of that, when the user demands it, the prosumer camera of the future will offer complete control. This allows the user to grow, experiment and develop additional skill.
The camera will unlock new capabilities through modular extendable hardware and software that will provide additional tools for creative expression.
The camera of the future will be a platform for aspiring photographers, one that guides and assists in the pursuit of great photography and helps one to become better at it. This will be accomplished both through an adaptive and integrated user interface, as well as through a network of users that will enable photographers to learn from each other.
Stay tuned – in our upcoming post, we will describe how these ideas and opinions are translated into a product.
This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.
As one would expect from any self-respecting creative consultancy, Artefact has a deep interest in photography. For some of us it is a hobby we are passionate about, for others it is a social or creative tool, some actually earn decent income on the side with it.
This leads to a lively conversation (and sometimes spirited debate) about the topic and we thought we’d let you in on our conversation. We will do this in the form of a series of blog posts: We aim to assess and analyze both the history and the status quo of photography, discuss areas of opportunity for the industry and – after having outlined our point of view on the topic, share our thoughts on what we consider could be a compelling product for the aspiring hobbyist in the year 2013.
Cycles of Disruptive and Sustaining Innovation
Invented nearly 200 years ago, the camera industry took it’s first series of experimental steps during the 19th century. After William Fox Talbot invented the positive/negative process in 1816, the first color photograph by James Clerk Maxwell was shown in 1861 and the Kodak Brownie made photography accessible to the masses at the end of the 1800′s.
The introduction of standards like the 35mm format and the 135 film cartridge after the turn of the century led to market growth and a commoditization of the technology started in the 1950’s with the release of cameras like the Agfa Optima and Kodak’s Instamatic. In most recent years, the industry changed from film to digital.
During this history one can clearly see alternating waves of disruptive and sustaining innovation: times where the introduction of new technology opened up photography to new users, followed by periods of more sustaining progress, where incremental improvements and price drops dominated the market.
The digital age has caused a major shift in the industry. It has fundamentally changed who the major players in the industry are by wiping out film. It has taken photofinishing out of the (specialty) store and brought it into our homes. Since the cost per picture has been reduced to zero, the volume of pictures we take has increased by an order of magnitude which gives rise to new tools. Where we used to share pictures only in person, we now share them online.
Yet for all these changes, digital photography has not sparked the transformational change it could have brought for the photographer. It has not yet changed how we take photographs.
Product Architecture and Technology: The Status Quo
Over the years, different form factors have been explored. The industry has now settled on two stable architectures: cameras with and cameras without interchangeable lenses.
The former segment is comprised of single lens reflex cameras and the – currently very “hot” – EVIL systems.
For the most part, cameras with non-interchangeable lenses could be categorized as point-and-shoot devices, even though that term does not do justice to cameras such as the Leica X1 or the Fujifilm FinePix X100.
Today’s digital cameras feature sufficiently high resolutions and the technical challenges of the past (such as low-light capabilities, vignetting, etc.) are constantly being improved.
Author and camera expert Erwin Puts sums it up nicely in his review of the recent Photokina 2010: “We have now the situation that every camera produces image quality that is better than what you need and even a small EOS 550 can create quality that is not that far removed from what you get with a 1Ds.”
All in all, the manufacturers work on incremental and predictable improvement of proven systems bringing these closer and closer to perfection, yet hesitate to truly innovate. We cannot but agree with Puts who provokingly states, that “A vision for photography would be nice too.”
Digital Technology’s Impact (and Lack Thereof)
Critically looking at the past two decades in which the photographic medium has gone through a tectonic shift from film to digital, it is somewhat surprising that the impact on photography as a whole is not as vigorous as it could be: While the post-processing has been altered with the advent of digital technology, the act of taking photos has remained the same for the past 100 years. The most significant change is that photographers are now looking at an LCD screen instead of through a viewfinder.
We find this rather disappointing and think that there are both technology potential as well as untapped user needs that could spark a disruptive change.
The Grass on the other Side of the Fence
Where do the camera industry’s prospects lie? On the search for a point of view, some might say it is too easy to point to other industries, but let’s go there just for clues: mobile consumer electronics have embraced new technologies and opportunities more enthusiastically than the static camera industry.
Mobile electronics leverage wireless connectivity and make extensive use of sensors (e.g. location, proximity). They take advantage of the integration of software and hardware, and blur the boundaries between still and video functionality.
For these reasons today’s smart phones are in many ways the better image capturing device. Traditional camera manufacturers will face greater pressure and threat of obsolescence from increasingly capable camera-enabled mobile devices. Not surprisingly, mobile phone giant Nokia has been the world’s largest producer of cameras for the past number of years.
To sum things up, based on our observations, we see missed opportunities in three main areas:
- Product architecture: To date, the shift from film to digital has created merely incremental changes – what other opportunities still exist?
- Connectivity: most of our electronic devices are connected, why not the camera? The digital camera of the future will be linked in multiple ways, allowing for photography devices to communicate with each other and with “the cloud”.
- HW/SW integration: In most technology areas, hardware and software combine to produce better results and better experiences. Camera manufacturers cannot afford to continue to only use software as an “afterthought”. Going forward, hardware and software must be integrated into a tightly knitted system and great user experience.
“Now what does all this mean?” you might ask. The three areas highlighted above will enable exciting new possibilities and novel use scenarios for photographers. And we will get back to these after looking both at the user needs and wants, as well as guidelines for an ideal camera in the next part of this series.
This article was first published on Artefact’s blog.