Depending on who you ask, photo prints are up, or down. Depending on where you look, DSLRs are dead, or not. If you ask VC’s consumer photo apps are out, if you ask developers, they are a hot item. The only certitude, one all seem to agree on is that the creation and sharing of photos show no signs of slowing down, ever. What else can we all agree on?
Let’s push aside some misconceptions:
Photo printing is up: According to IBIS World, the online print market is $3.9 billion for 2019 and the annualized market size growth for online photo printing in the US between 2014 and 2019 grew 6%. The most obvious reason is that more people are taking more pictures and thus more reasons to print some of them. People still get married, graduate, have babies, go on vacation, have conferences, sell properties, and still enjoy sharing all these images in print.
DSLR: Take a stroll any given day in the streets of New York or any big cities, and you might notice the impressive display of cameras around people’s neck. From large format to point and shoots, from digital to film, it seems that when looking to take serious pictures, people keep their phones in their pockets and rather use their more advanced equipment. Sure, DSLR sales are down, but any study would show that their usage is up. The reason? Digital cameras have reached and passed a features point where any innovation is not worth the price tag. A 3 or 4-year-old camera will get you more than enough quality results that you will not replace it, especially for thousands of dollars. A new lens is, most of the time, a better option. So DSLR sales are down, usage is up.
Photo apps: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, offer a poor indication of what photography is today. They only reveal a reflection of what people think they should share, not of what photos they take. Instagram promotes groupthink ( see this Instagram account which collects images people copy from each other) and stifles originality ( a recent VSCO study reveals that 82% of Gen Z have held back from posting something they love for fear of what others might think). Photo apps are thriving. There are just for another kind of photography not seen on social media but rather in instant messaging. These photos make up most of the billions of images shared daily and are mostly of funny selfies, items of interests, reminders, and all sort of personal references.
It used to be that every year in September, Apple would point to where photography was going via the release of their new iPhone. This year’s release of the iPhone 11 demonstrates they have now handed that role to Huwai, Oneplus, Samsung and Google. No more new formats like live or 3d photo, no impressive low light capabilities ( at least compared to others). No new lenses or lens ability. Not because they didn’t want to but because the next significant innovations in photography are not going to be in the hardware, but software.
Sensors, lenses, screens have physical limitations. Lenses, for example, have not changed for centuries. It’s still glass on top of glass. Until the arrival of post glass technology, like laser or sonars, which will fetch information rather than receiving it, it will most likely not change. The only advancements possible is in how the hardware interprets the incoming light via smarter and smarter algorithms: computational photography. In that, unlike hardware research, is a much more competitive space.
Photography will soon become what our algorithms will allow us to do. From the obvious AI-assisted always aesthetically perfect images to full 360 immersive holographic reproductions ( think Star Trek holodecks but with still content). Cameras everywhere, on or even part of our clothes, making taking pictures entirely seamless. But without an ability to quickly and instantly share it, any advancement in photography will be useless.
Author: Paul Melcher
Paul Melcher is the founder of Kaptur and Managing Director of Melcher System, a consultancy for visual technology firms. He is an entrepreneur, advisor, and consultant with a rich background in visual tech, content licensing, business strategy, and technology with more than 20 years experience in developing world-renowned photo-based companies with already two successful exits.