Will Cell Phone Cameras Destroy The Big Camera Makers?

Posted Jul. 15th, 2013 by Daniel J. Cox

An interesting NBC news article was brought to my attention this evening. It’s all about how cell phone cameras are changing the photography market like nothing the camera makers have seen since the end of film. I saw a different news report a few days ago which was also mentioned in this NBC news article, where Nikon’s president, Makoto Kimura, was quoted in an interview with Bloomberg saying that the company might have to “change the concept of cameras” in order to survive. Wow, what a comment. Change is coming for Nikon. I guess it’s no different than what I’ve had to do these past five years but it’s never easy and I would certainly hate to see Nikon go the way of the dinosaurs.

I honestly believe that one direction for the large camera manufacturers to consider, would be to go ever deeper in to the realm of the mirrorless camera. Nikon has an entry in that division, the Nikon J1 & V1, but others such as Sony, Olympus and Panasonic are giving consumers a larger sensor for better image quality. I personally think there will always be a market for better quality if the size and features remain comparable.

You can click on the image to go to the original NBC News report.

You can click on the image to go to the original NBC News report. Photo above © Devin Coldewey/NBC News

As many know, I’ve been excited about the Micro Four Thirds category of cameras since 2008 or so. I was just plain tired of schlocking the same huge, heavy gear we professionals have had to carry for the past 50 years. Going some place to take pictures is no fun if it becomes painful, especially if you’re not being paid for it. My analogy for explaining my excitement with the lightweight, easy-to-use Micro Four Thirds cameras relates to the life of a professional, large truck mechanic. It goes something like this. If you were getting paid to fix commercial 18-wheelers you most likely would have one huge toolbox. Likewise, shooting for National Geographic and other professional publications, as a competent photographer, we’ve had to carry very large tool boxes. Boxes that include a lens like the Nikkor 600mm F/4 which weighs in at about ten pounds. The mechanic carries that large tool box to make sure he has the tools he needs to get the job done. If not he doesn’t get paid. Likewise, shooting for professional publications requires the same attention to detail. If we don’t have all those big lenses and come back without the shot, we don’t get paid. So when it comes time for people to pay me money for my work, I still consistently bring out the Nikons.

Today, many folks carry the same camera gear I did when I was exclusively earning my living selling pictures. They do so because they know that’s the equipment needed to get the images that pay the bills. The big difference is, those same folks aren’t doing it to pay the bills. They’re shooting to have fun. Often times, I’m seeing that after a sore back, shoulder or neck sets in, my students begin wondering what the heck they’re doing carrying so much heavy camera gear and if doing so is worth the pain. Photography is supposed to be enjoyable! For many, downsizing is bringing back the joy of photography. Some are now using cell phones and others are using the smaller mirrorless cameras. Either way, the photography becomes fun again and that’s the piece of the puzzle the large camera manufacturers have to come up with if they plan to survive. I’m confidant they will.

One last note. As I was typing these words to the screen, a good frined of mine emailed me a note with some photos he recently shot in Zurich, Switzerland. Take a guess what camera he took? You can see more of Mike”s photos and comments below.

Case in point, as I was writing this Blog entry a good friend and Natural Exposure's Explorer sent me a gallery of photos from a recent trip he took to Zurich.  This screen shot if from Mike's PhotoShelter gallery. Read below for a quote from him on the Micro Four thirds, Panasonic Lumix GX1.

Read below for a quote from my friend Mike Cromwell on the Micro Four Thirds Panasonic Lumix GX1. I hate to say it but I predict this is where it’s going. Click on the photo to go to the gallery of Mikes images.

 

Dan,

My son and I went to Luzern and Zurich Switzerland in early July. I did not take one of my large DSLR cameras. Instead I took a Panasonic Lumix GX1, which is a Micro Four Thirds format camera that weights less than one third of one of my DSLR’s. Traveling light is great. Even better is getting great results while doing do. I took some night shots of the Chapel Bridge in Luzern and the fireworks during Zurich Fest. These, as well as the “better light” shots, came out great without a tripod. See the results in the “Luzern-Zurich” album on my photo web site. We had a great time. Too bad Zurich Fest only happens once every three years.

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There are 15 comments on this post…
  1. John. FlipsenOn Aug. 9th, 2013

    I have a Nikon D 7000. What happened an the last trip . I do not know every picture is out of focus. I never did have this before. please some tips

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 16th, 2013

      John, would love to help but you don’t give enough info. Was your camera switched to manual focus and you thought it was on AF? Were you shooting a slow ISO in very dark circumstances? Any number of things could have gone wrong. More info and I may be able to help.

  2. John. FlipsenOn Aug. 9th, 2013

    What I personally think about cell phones ? for me they are a real pain in the neck. You are robbed of your personal freedom. For me if a person wants to reach me I have a telephone at home. I don’t need anymore. These things are interfering in your personal life and freedom. There is enough of that already we don’t for that the cell phone. I think they are pieces of junk and my advice is throw. fill the trash can with it.

  3. Portrait of Mike Cromwell

    Mike CromwellOn Jul. 21st, 2013

    Oops, Just noticed I meant 14-24 Nikon not 14-14, but I am sure everyone could figure that out.

  4. Portrait of Mike Cromwell

    Mike CromwellOn Jul. 21st, 2013

    Dan, Sue and Fred,

    I am pretty sure that you each know that I am not about to abandon my investment in the Nikon full-frame DSLR platform any time soon. I agree with Dan that for “travel, culture and fun” the smaller format is “fitting the bill.”

    The interesting thing to me to note is that the Nikon full-frame DSLR platform is getting smaller and lighter. The D700 weighs 1075 grams (w/ battery), while the D800 is 900 grams and the D600 is 850 grams. At the same time the micro four thirds platform has gone from 318 grams for the GX1 to 550 grams for the new GH3.

    As long as the micro four thirds platform uses the same size sensor (with a 2x crop), its lenses will also always be lighter than the comparable 35 mm equivalent focal length lens for a full frame camera. For example the Panasonic Lumix 7-14 f/4 weighs 300 grams while the Nikon 14-14 f/2.8 weighs 1,000 grams. Obviously if the Lumix lens was an f/2.8 like the Nikon, it would weigh more.

    In summary, I think the real test of the evolution of the technology will be in the sensor capabilities. If you want a full frame sensor for high image quality, the micro four thirds cameras are not currently an option. I just wonder how quickly the sensor technology will evolve to enable smaller sensors to do what the full frame sensors can do today. Moore’s Law would indicate that every two years the density of a sensor will double. So I hate to say it, but it is not likely to be too long before this choice becomes more challenging for us.

    Mike

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 21st, 2013

      Great input Mike. Thanks for sharing your thoughtful predictions for the future in this segment of photography.

  5. Adrian MeliaOn Jul. 19th, 2013

    One of the most interesting innovations in camera phone technology is the ‘time shift mode’ on the Blackberry Q10. With it if one or more people blink during exposure, you can move ‘time’ to before or after to get the best image.

    I would love to be able to send fully captioned images straight from my pro Nikons without the need to download, with the ease that people can send images from smart phones.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 19th, 2013

      Thanks for your input Adrian. Interesting feature in the Q10.

  6. Fred KurtzOn Jul. 18th, 2013

    I get a great amount of satisfaction and enjoyment holding a real camera and making the required adjustments to get a great image. I do not get the same feeling when using a cell phone camera. I cannot imagine going on a photo trip with only a cell phone camera (but I have seen this before).

    This generation has no idea what a reel-to-reel tape recorder is (I have a working unit still), a super 8 movie camera or projector, a record player… I would hate to see the next generation not knowing what a “real” camera is or for that matter what a book or newspaper is. Life is forever changing – some for the good and some for the bad.

  7. Doug BrayOn Jul. 16th, 2013

    Dan,

    As you may recall I was using the Olympus 4/3 system when we first met in Churchill in 2007. As you also know I have since switched over to Nikon and the large and heavy Nikon pro level lenses.

    I agree that, so far, the mirrorless cameras and lenses can not compete with most of the Nikon system for quality, especially in low light and fast shooting situations. However, I do find that I will take the Lumix GX 1 when I might otherwise not take a camera at all. Last weekend I was in Mammoth Lakes Ca. hiking with my two dogs. I took the GX 1 with the 35-70 2.8 lens. I did not feel like lugging around my full frame Nikon and the 70-200 lens.

    I was not looking to create “great art”, but I did want to be able to get some nice images if the opportunity arose.

    Both systems have their value for different purposes.

    Doug

    PS, I would only use my phone as an absolute last resort and have never saved any image I have taken with the phone, that is what a camera is for.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 19th, 2013

      Doug, I shot a series of panoramics with my iPhone 5 in Ireland. My office assistant Jill just printed one 40 inches wide and the quality is hard to believe. Keep in mind that the panoramic feature is stitching many normal sized images together for one large file, but it does a remarkable job and all those singles stitched in to one final photo is better than I would have ever expected and more than acceptable for paid publication. This is all moving so incredably fast who knows what we will be shooting in fiver years.

  8. Sue WolfeOn Jul. 16th, 2013

    Boss:

    I will admit there have been times that after a full day of shooting with 2 cameras wrapped around my neck, I’ve looked at your Lumix and thought about giving it a try. However, I’m with Fred, after having recently spent several $$$ updating my equipment I would hope it isn’t obsolete technology. Hopefully Nikon will continue to give us small to full-sized options with all the bells and whistles we can carry.

    I believe my back still has a few good years left in it.

    Nice pictures Mike!

    Sue

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 19th, 2013

      Sue, it’s not an either or situation. I still shoot my Nikons extensively and can’t see changing anytime soon for certain subjects. Specifically, fast moving animals, flying birds, action sports, etc. For travel, culture and fun, the smaller cameras are more than filling the bill. I just hope Nikon gets serious and gives an option with their amazing build, quality, chip technology and optics. Just not seeing anything on the horizon for now. We can always hope.

  9. Fred KurtzOn Jul. 14th, 2013

    Dan,

    Mike had also sent me that e-mail tonight and I was amazed at what the GX1 did at night with no tripod and told him so. I have not tried that with mine.

    But back to the main topic of your post, I spent $20,000 upgrading to all new Nikon gear last year. I never use my smart phone for photos unless I am taking a photo of my grandkids to attach to a text to their mother and dad. I certainly have never saved a photo taken with the cell phone. Cell phone shots do not currently interest me.

    I do love my GX1 when the conditions are right. However I absolutely love my new big Nikons and the big lenses because what they can do is incredible. Nothing currently can touch what they are capable of doing.

    That being said, I know the day will come when it will all be obsolete. Until that day comes – or my back gives out, I will enjoy the the professional equipment. I have no regrets as I want the equipment to get the shot.

    Fred

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