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Doomed for extinction

20/04/16
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I think I am probably one of the many people on Earth with a smart phone who has the least amount of "apps". I tend to stick with the boringly useful and mundane such as news, weather, calculators... I do however have a few apps which are useful to keen photographers, like the "Moonseeker". If you go out and about taking pictures in moonlight you must know where the moon is, or it is going to be at a certain time. I also have another app that tells me sunrise and sunset times wherever I am, the times for the golden hours of photography, and also allows me to compute the hyperfocal distance for any lens, aperture and sensor size combination. When it comes to photography I like the involvement, the planning, the research, the thinking ahead, and when it comes to my tools I favor complexity rather than simplicity. I have a lightweight consumer DSLR (which is a blessing to carry when you also have to mind your children out on a trip), but I still prefer by far to take out the heavy weight equipment, the professional tools that allow me to be fully in control of all the settings.

Shame on me, though, the image displayed on this page is a snap taken with my iPhone... it was a sunny but chilly early December day, the first snow of the year had fallen overnight on the mountains surrounding the town of Pavullo, not far from Modena. I was on a lovely walk after lunch with my family near the castle of Montecuccolo, and I did the simplest thing to capture this scene. I just took my phone out of my pocket and "snap", here it is for posterity. I must say that with no effort at all this is not a bad picture considering it was a very high contrast scene taken shooting into the sun. Yes, if you looked with a magnifying glass over the original file you can tell it is not perfect, but who cares about having 36 mega pixels and 15 stops of dynamic range when what most people do is to post a low resolution image on some kind of social network?

Of course with an iPhone you have no control over depth of field, I cannot save a raw file and do all sorts of trickery with HDR (thought the iPhone does a pretty effective HDR itself...), I cannot zoom in and out... But if I want to do all that must I carry a DSLR? Well, you may have come across the Light L16 camera... a small (but rather expensive...) camera with 16 sensors, each with a lens of different aperture or focal length, which can do all sorts of selective focus, HDR, etc... by electronically combining 16 images each time you press the shutter...

I am having a bit of a technological de ja vu here. Think about music. We went from tapes and vinil records to CDs, and that was a big step in quality. Then we needed expensive amplifyers with the best possible signal to noise ratio, wired to huge speakers... then came super audio CDs... but then it all went quiet as people realised it was a lot more fun to carry all your music on a memory stick and listen to compressed MP3 files wherever you wanted, like jogging, cycling etc. So the quality of the sound went down but the fun went up. Years went by and now we talk about high resolution digital audio, which brings some more quality back to portability. But it is no longer revolutionary as the MP3 was. Back to photography we have got fantastic quality images out of our DSLRs, but we have been assisting for a while to the revolution of taking decent quality images with no effort at all, without the need to carry bulky equipment, and be able to share them instantly with whomever we want. I think there will now be some progress towards better quality whilst keeping the same user friendlyness, and maybe the principles pioneerd by the Light L16 camera will become the normal way of taking pictures. But this is evolution, the revolution has already happened.

Having said all that, my next website update which is coming online in a few days includes only images rigorously taken and processed with the highest quality and most complicated equipment I can afford to have! I do not want to let go this part of the fun and I will hang on to my DSLR for as long as I can. But give it 10 or 20 years and I expect that shooting with a DSLR will be the equivalent of today's playing music on a turntable wired to a valve amplifyer. Charming, but not really necessary...