Not Real Photography

When iPhones first came out, I remember listening to a radio program where I lived near Chicago at the time about advances in technology, which was the focus of the show. The moderator was talking to a tech rep about the new item from Apple, and the discussion eventually came to the numerous apps the iPhone had. The moderator said at the time about how he wanted just a phone the way his flip phone was, being merely a calling and receiving instrument. And the tech rep went on to say why he wanted his phone to do everything.

That conversation has stayed on my mind all these years. I also tend not to forget the computers we had years ago and how far we’ve come since, what we have now in the ways technology has taken us. We can do a lot of things just with our mobile devices.

Of course, not everything we can do with them is first rate as far as some things go. One of the things I have an issue with is the camera. To be sure, the lens on these devices is good, especially for being such a tiny lens. Kodak would’ve loved to have such quality with their Brownie when it was introduced back in February of 1900, believe it or not: 118 years ago, Eastman Kodak came out with a consumer camera, making it the first mass-marketed picture-taking machine.

That camera, finished in what they then referred to as “leatherette”—a texture heat-pressed into the cardboard body and painted black—cost buyers $1. Of course it merely took pictures, called “snapshots”, also a new word. But it did pretty well as a camera.

Thing is, nobody thought of it as something to replace real photography. The same thing about Polaroid cameras when they were introduced in the late 1940s. Snapshots.

And now we have mobile phones that have cameras. Ditto.

I think what the public does is gravitate to equipment that can 1) do multiple tasks, and 2) have instant results. That’s just what these miracle mobile devices can do: supply us with almost anything we need to have and do it all in a matter of seconds. That kind of value is under appreciated, in my mind. Once we have it, there’s almost not enough time to appreciate and use everything the phones can do before the next version comes out. Every year. There’s almost no end to the competition from manufacturers like Apple, Samsung, Google, LG, etc., to bring out the newest and most versatile.

But make no mistake: they are not first-rate photographic machines. They are merely snapshot taking gadgets. Yes, they process the photo right now. Yes, you can send it to your family and friends, right now. You can print it and enlarge it (somewhat) and frame it if you want. But can you enlarge the image to what is referred to as poster-size? No.

They will not ever displace a full-fledged camera, such as a Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, or Olympus. Not a Hasselblad or Leica, for certain. Those cameras, in conjunction with such fine tuning things like light meters and remote triggers, strobes, and items like scrims and light diffusion boxes, all make art. It is still an art to make photographs. Directly making the lighting just right, the angles, the shadows in studio photography.

Even outdoor nature and landscape photography, without all the peripherals I just mentioned, is still art. Waiting for the light to be just right for the kind of shot you want, the wind against the leaves in that tree, the birds overhead, the deer in the glen.

You might be able to do it once in a great while—to a small degree—with that iPhone. But you can’t control it. And you can’t repeat it.

Don’t get me wrong: Apple and the other tech companies have nifty phones that can indeed take decent pictures. But please don’t say that these mobile phones take outstanding ones. TV commercials to that effect are very misleading.

Selfies. Huh.

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