Techniques, Reviews and Commentary

iOS 7 A Potential Digicam Killer

Throughout most of the iPhones life the iOS operating system implementation in terms of taking photos and looking at them has only changed in small degrees but looking at today's iOS 7 announcement I think we can say that the iPhone as a photographic instrument has been significantly elevated.

I expect that for an even greater cross section of people the iPhone will be the only camera they actually need and indeed on any given day even now over half of all photos taken will be taken on an iPhone. iOS7 will only escalate that market penetration.

Whilst it is not likely that the iPhone or any mobile device would replace the DSLR as a serious weapon of choice for photographers I think the wall is now running out of clear space for the messages iPhone domination.

Ultimately of course the iPhone is not the best camera out there, it doesn’t pretend to be, but in the world of mobile phone cams it is the most consistent across the board and compared to your average digicam in terms of direct usability and practicality it shows the way. It has become a very serious player, despite the protestations of the traditional photography community.

For most people a camera is not a device for creating art or professional work, it is an every day visual communications tool and indeed most photographs taken reflect that more prosaic need.

When it comes to modern day image based communication absolute image quality is of very little significance, after all most photos are posted to Facebook, emailed or simply viewed on the screen of the camera, with perhaps a few making it to online sharing sites like Flikr, the making of prints to place upon the wall or in a frame are a minor consideration. All of these real world uses demand little in terms of resolution or the finer points of high image quality. The iPhone and other mobile devices are totally sufficient.

What really matters to modern day image communicators is a three Ss, snapping, seeing and sharing and ideally the three Ss should be impeded as little as possible by the camera in question.

For all the cleverness the large players in the traditional camera market display, they have failed to accept and build upon the three Ss. Exposure is often still very hit and miss, white balance often offers anything but, the concept of seeing the photo clearly rates quite poorly, with many having less than stellar screens.  Just ask anyone who has seen one what they think is the best feature of the Samsung Galaxy 4 ..... the screen! But to consumers the biggest expressed impediment is sharing, it's just too complex. You have to take your photos then place the card into a card reader at your home computer, load them, open them, edit them, sort them and then post them using a protracted process. There is no immediacy to any of it, you have to wait to do it, thus as a primary communications tool your average compact camera falls disastrously short of the mark.

Sure, some manufacturers have got on board, namely Samsung and Sony, the more traditional manufactures have simply turned their backs with token gestures, hoping the problem will go away, of course it hasn't. The sales of compact cameras have been decimated over the past few years with Olympus lately announcing their withdrawal altogether from the compact camera market. Of course lately we are seeing some moves in the direction of better connectivity, but at best it will be a kludge, cameras do not have mobile data plans and all the other smart stuff for sharing and sending emails, messages etc, Most users will need to do stuff via bluetooth or wifi, but realistically why use two devices, i.e. your camera and a mobile phone to send the data via bluetooth etc when one can do it all. And even more realistically, if say Canon or Nikon think they are going to build at some time a competitor for the Samsung Galaxy or the iPhone.....well that would have disaster written all over it, they are about 5 years too late to the party.

In the long term for compact cameras to gain any market share back, they would have to offer some radically better image quality and options, be vastly cheaper than smart phones, and have usability that is vastly better than they currently are. And they would need much much bigger and better screens. It’s not going to happen, that market is dead, no matter how optimistic the manufacturers may appear and regardless of the opinions of those who inhabit internet photography forums. If camera makers intend to make any money from gear in the future then the only course is high end DSLR and Mirrorless cameras and perhaps a few boutique products such as the Sony RX100 etc.

Even for some more serious photographic pursuits the iPhone and other mobile phones now produce images which are more than satisfactory for an overseas trip or some serious pics of the family and even for press work. I would hazard a guess that the iPhone 5 currently produces images that quality wise would look just as good as those that were created by DSLRs of just a few years ago and this seems to be the opinion of many of those people I come across in my classes. I can’t tell you how many claim their iPhone takes better photos than their DSLR or compact, and regardless of whether they are right or not it doesn’t matter, that is what they believe and they choose to use the iPhone in place of their other gear, often.

Indeed only recently I asked my wife, the lovely miss Wendy, if she would like a new mirrorless camera that could use the lenses I already have, the response was, no I'm perfectly happy with my iPhone and I'll just get an iPhone 6 when it comes out.

What has really got me thinking with the release of iOS 7 today is when you see that slick new interface, its new photographic-based capabilities, methods of operation and integration across the entire system you can only conclude that traditional compact camera manufacturers must indeed be shaking in their collective boots, they haven’t got a hope of coming anywhere near the general user experience.

And Apple didn't announce the new iPhone 5S or 6, nothings been changed in terms of hardware but for most consumers the experience of using their current iPhone will simply be elevated another couple of notches and compared to the clunky archaic interfaces they deal with current compact cameras one would have to conclude that many will simply say to hell with the compact.

Simply put all three Ss have been radically improved, the camera offers more options without any greater level of complexity so its still simple, sharing is now vastly easier and the experience of looking at your images on the phone is also improved what more could one ask for.

Well you might want more control, you might want even more features but that's not a problem because there are literally thousands of apps that will do that for you and no doubt developers will build upon the power of iOS 7 and offer new options which are better again than current versions.

Most traditional camera manufacturers really stuffed up the usability aspect of the cameras, menus are often a complete hodgepodge with complicated processes hiding capabilities and navigation systems often simply defy belief sometimes requiring hours of reading equally incomprehensible manuals just to get properly functional. Is it any wonder that students in my classes constantly complain of the cameras being overly difficult and unfriendly.
Unfriendly is certainly a term I had never heard anyone use in reference to an iPhone and I expect it will be even less of an issue with the coming iOS 7.

Technically the last two incarnations of the iPhone have consistently nailed white balance and exposure with few problems. iOS 7 adds just enough in the way of extra control that for most photographers it may not be necessary for them to load any additional apps and no doubt there will probably be some “under the hood” improvements in the way that it actually processes the data from the camera itself.

Of course camera manufacturers would need to be factoring in that the iPhone 5 is due for replacement in the very near future and judging by what Samsung have achieved with the Galaxy 4 there can be little doubt that the step up to the iPhone 5 S or 6 or whatever they wish to call it will in the photographic area be undoubtedly quite significant both in terms of megapixels and probably exposure quality. It is also quite likely there will be an improvement in the level of noise present under low light conditions and indeed there are many processes that could be put into place that will help address this current shortcoming.

I also have no doubt that lens quality will be significantly improved one only needs to look at what Nokia have been doing in relation to the Pureview camera-phones, there will also be a significant improvement in terms of the sensor itself.

Ultimately it all boils down to economics, Apple will sell literally millions and millions of the next iPhone model and there are millions of iPhones out there now, no camera manufactured could possibly hope to sell anything like that number of any compact camera model. Apple can justify devoting enormous research and development costs to the improvement of the camera module for the phone, as they will easily get every cent back and way way more. A camera manufacturer has to be far more careful with R and D expenses, and I imagine it is the lack of control in this area that is driving many camera companies so close to the wall at present.

In a nutshell then, what is it that iOS currently offers photographers that will improve and change their experience with the iPhone camera, try this list.

First the overall interface simply looks slick in every way, it will be a pleasure to the eye and that should not be underestimated.

Second, you have the option to shoot in square and panoramic formats, and accessing them is dead easy.

Third, there are a range of easily accessed built in filters that will be adequate for many peoples immediate needs.

Fourth and probably most importantly the capabilities for sharing have been radically improved and made far easier to use.

A major problem limitation up until now was the actual cataloguing and organizing of the images, most people simply ended up with a long continuous camera roll making it very hard to find individual images. You could sort things and work around it but most folk didn’t bother. iOS 7 presents several ways of organizing your images which are both very easy to use and very easy to navigate using locations or times shot. In fact you can even look at whole catalogues on the basis of the year they were shot and all of this seemingly happens automatically, though the details at present are sketchy.

iCloud integration has been radically improved and this means that the past problems of backup and sharing with other people via Photostream have simply been removed.

To me however one of the greatest new feature will be Airdrop which means you can simply share your photos locally without having to use any additional applications such as bump.

Ultimately I get the feeling after looking at the iOS 7 release that a compelling photographic device has just become even more compelling, ultimately it difficult to see why I would choose to use a compact camera for anything at all unless of course I was needing super zoom or something quite specialized, indeed more than ever, for most people the iPhone and iOS 7 will likely be the only camera they need.

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