Jan Brouckaert Photography


Towards the end of the digital camera

- History (1945-1990)

Remember the eighties when cameras were such things you took out of the cupboard on holidays or special occasions?

The tool was bulky and quite awkward, using it made the whole event special.  Canon, Nikon, Contax, Leica, Voigtlander & Practica were the known and famous brands available then.

The films Kodak, Agfa & Fuji had commercial films packets bulked for an interesting price and every couple of years some new film came out.

The camera principles was quite simple, just know your aperture and your shutter time or used the Auto mode to be shure ;)

Most of these cameras used film: colour or B&W mostly in the 24/36 format or even smaller if you had a compact or a small Kodak.

Opposed to that you had the hobbyist or pro who used the more expensive cameras sometimes the 645 format or even larger, with even more lenses. You needed a car to go on photo trip, as those things were so bulky.

Oh yes, then you had the darkroom, a nearly sacred place in which a lot of photographers developed their Black & White Kodak Tmax, Fuji Neopan, or Ilford Delta films at home, you nearly became high by the smell of the chemicals used for the separate baths. Every image was different, every good image was a bit of luck, a piece of craftsmanship and a joy for life that was framed and put on the wall in the best cases.

The technical improvements in cameras at that time were the auto-focus, the automatic rewind of the film, and some light metering in the camera that was shown on the screen among some Program modes that were often of limited practical use.

- Digital Revolution (1990-2010)


But then, in the nineties came the digital camera…

First, some clumsy technical strange ugly plastic products those were only good for early adaptors only. From 3 megapixels on, the digital camera started it’s race toward perfection.

Oh, There was a phase before, the one I knew to well, and when I started myself with photography: I shot on film and then used a scanner to digitalise the images with the help of a program called Photoshop.

Most film & camera producers saw the digital revolution happening and quickly invested in some kind of digital cameras.

Except of a few, the most known is Kodak, who had the pay the price whit it’s life for missing the boat, a very strange and deplorable fact seen afterwards because it was a Kodak engineer, Steve Sasson who made the first DSLR (digital reflex camera) in 1975.

Other brands followed later in the hope to still catch up, some of them indeed did.

Leica did for instance not believe in the digital revolution and could rely on its fans, conservative & well established photographers who did not believe in the switch. Their M7 came out in 2002 when all other manufacturers were already moving to the digital ere they still produced a high end analogue camera.

But they saw their mistake and happily, with a delay of 10 years, they produce now decent digital camera’s even when they rely on third parties for the production of their consumer market products. (Panasonic).

Besides of Panasonic who took a part of that consumer market, two other giants tried to make a name without knowing a lot about photography. These were Sony and Samsung.

Samsung started from nowhere and even if they even may keep a small percentage in the consumer market there presence in the pro market faded away. They stopped their Samsung N series and sadly gave up in the pro-sumer and professional digital camera market.

Sony was more clever, they realised they lacked the classic camera knowledge and the risk was too big to compete with giants as Canon & Nikon. Their first digital cameras named Sony Mavicas did not promise a big future.

So they bought the nearly dead Konica-Minolta and made big plans on creating a whole roadmap of innovations. And did it work? You can easily say that today Sony is the one who brings innovations to this highly saturated market. First came the A series, a more traditional DSLR but soon they jumped in the smaller and more practical mirrorless market with their A7 and A9 series, and added a highly performing compact series. The 5000/6000. When they were first introduced cameras they were not taken seriously by many and still today traditional photo-education doesn’t even mention the brand, but today no one can look besides them as they drive the market with try and error market innovation products.

In the meantime digital cameras on the consumer market have come to a point of maturity, so, it can be said that they’re no longer ‘bad cameras’ produced these days. As from the point that 8 to 12 megapixels could be achieved, the battle between analogue and digital was over, first in megapixels and then a second time, some years later in ISO, which is the sensibility of the sensor, taking pictures in low light became more and more easy, when they found a way of keeping noise and other artefacts out of the final image.

Today at the technical point of view we wonder which improvements can still be made.

The quality of the image is now reproduced in a more then decent way. We have enough megapixels and ISO settings provided in the last generations of cameras is amazing.

Probably some points can still be improved but will these be enough for consumers to buy a new camera? (Wi-Fi, app integration, more and better software integration)

Last but not least a word about video. When the digital camera came out we saw a rush on these products and new photographers rose. A few years ago the same happened in the field of video. From FPS (frames per second) to 4K and 4KHD, the digital video made the same leap in quality as the digital photo. The good thing about it is that most products now combine mature photo & video capabilities in one and the same product!


But also on software the time stood not still, it is easier and easier these days to alter images in Photoshop, when before we just enhanced the sky and make our colours pop out, now you can easily take a person from one image to a completes different one without to many work.

These innovations led to a lot discussions in more then one field.

First of all it destroyed somehow the belief that photography was impartial, honest, unbiased and objective.

Today, Can we still believe the image that is presented in front us as reality?

Secondly we were unsure of the mention photographer, are you still a photographer when you move one house from one picture to another? Could you still call this photography or should be use another term like digital artist or graphic designer?

What we know for sure is that photography as such has less and less boundaries, and the result of that still remains very discussable, but creativity has increased exponentially.

- Smartphone era (2010 – now)

And then came the smartphone…. First the camera was first only a cool gadget in the smartphone but by 2010 it became a powerful feature in the phone and a big selling argument:  From a few megapixels in the beginning, the quality quickly went to 12 megapixels and more. Off course Megapixels is only one part of the equation, the size of the sensor is important to. But we see that the mini sensor is enhanced by the smartphone software processing that allows images to be printed and even achieve gallery quality. So what’s next?

The naissance of the smartphone photography gave also birth the several apps and platforms that were created for this. Instagram is the most known one; this app allows you to digitally enhance the images and published them in the app.  Their filters are well known, were original at first but tend to get boring in the long run IMHO.

Another feature about ‘classical ‘photography that is under pressure is the format?

From analogue photography we inherited the 24/36 format that was the size of the mostly used film. This format creates then landscape or portrait formats depending on how you held the camera.

Digital cameras are also bound by the limits of the sensor (in stead of film), but they gave the possibility to shoot other modes, such as 4/3 or even 16/9. But all these were just crops of the initial sensor, so quality was mostly lost in these occasions, unless you Megapixels count could allow these action, for instance panorama images use this format.

These days most images are published on Facebook and Instagram. Here we see that the format does not equal 2/3. In instagram it is impossible to add a classical 2/3 frame, it will be cropped to their 4/3 or square format (there is still a way in which you fill up the rest of the image with a white border and then put a 2/3 image inside, but that gives you a lot of work of something that ought to be obvious.

Also Facebook isn’t particularly fond of respecting your initial format.

The image will be cropped when posting, and only the viewers who click on the image can see the full image. Is that something that will be corrected or is it a deliberate choice? For photographers it is a lot of hassle these days to show their work online in the format they want to. WordPress is a good example of this?

-The Future?

We can expect that the coming years smartphone photography will be even more powerful. If you look at the leading smartphone manufacturers then you see that they all invest in photography possibilities as one of the key features of their smartphones.

The IPhone 7 Plus was the first to introduce 2 cameras, and some other factures already have followed while the Sony Experia XZ reaches already 23Megapixels. The IPhone X goes even further enhancing the camera capabilities.

So the big question is will there be a point when the classical single device camera will be obsolete? Today already a lot of consumers feel that they don’t have a need any more to carry a separate camera when they can do the same with their smartphone.

The next category or the prosumers or photo enthusiastic. Today they still have the possibility to make better images using lenses and lighting that are calibrated with their equipment. Also with a camera, they feel in control of the situation, where as the smartphone, the way the image turns out is more dependant on the software in the phone, so sometimes the result is harder to predict although the latest smartphones introduced pro-modes in which the users can control the situations better.

Although these Pro modes might still be considered as marketing gadgets, they are closing the gap in the prosumer market.

The pro photographer is the very last category. Photographers invest a lot in equipment and a part of the elements lined out above, other reasons like speed and colour management adds to these.

However, if we have seen how fast the digital revolution happened, we can expect the same with in-camera photography. The smartphone is still open to a lot of technical innovations in the world of things but photography seems to be high on the list of features the consumer wants to pay for.

At the other hand the question is whether new generations of cameras find enough technical innovations to keep the camera as such on the shelf. With a bit of luck the camera’s can keep one step ahead of the smartphones. Leading by the digital innovations by Sony we can believe in it but at this point we should not forget that Apple and Samsung who are heading the smartphone race just of more means in their R&D department then the means of the camera manufacturers all together and smartphones are their top-selling product…

So apart from your personal preferences, the end of the digital camera seems to be the future for most of us. Their will be still users who prefer cameras compared to smartphones, just as there are now people who prefer to work with analogue cameras, out of habit, or out of an artistic choice, but they will just be a small fragment in the market.

The list of links gives more info on this evolution, the last link, dated October 30Th 2017 stating that Nikon closes a Camera factory and blames that on the Smartphone says enough ….

Thanks for reading







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