Will the iPhone kill the camera? [Editorial]

I love history lessons, here’s one for you. When the original iPhone was released in 2007, it featured a 2.0 megapixel camera that could take still photos. There was no optical or digital zoom, no flash, no autofocus and no video recording, except for use via a third party app. 2 years later, the iPhone had a 3.2 megapixel camera that for the first time featured an autofocus, auto white balance and auto macro. It was capable of capturing VGA video (640×480) at 30fps. The iPhone 4 came with a 5.0 megapixel camera that came with an LED flash, a light sensor and HD video capability recording at 720p. The 4S brought the 8.0 megapixel camera that we know and love today, complete with full, 1080p video recording and image stabilisation through the phone’s gyroscope. The iPhone 5 took that camera, and shrunk it into a smaller form factor, and iOS 6 delivered us panorama, a really nifty feature that, used correctly can produce some amazing results.

Last night, in the Today’s iPhone groupme chat, our very own Kyle Frost told us about a photo shoot he’d been doing with his girlfriend. He said this:

I decided to try taking and editing one on my phone…. Taken on iPhone 5 and edited in iPhoto for iOS. Never saw a desktop computer.

Now, I’m not going to show you this photo, so you’re going to have to take my word for it on this one… the photo was incredible. I was absolutely astounded at the quality of the photo, the lighting and the color saturation. Contemplating the photo lead me to the question I asked in the title. Will the iPhone kill the camera? In the space of 5 years, the iPhone has moved from a 2.0 megapixel camera that could barely take photos, to an 8 megapixel, 1080p powerhouse capable of some absolutely incredible photos. To prove my point, I’ve grabbed some of the best iPhone images I could find, check out the gallery below!

Just incredible. And it’s the same when it comes to video. But on first contemplation of this question, my initial reaction was “no”. You see, the iPhone camera is pretty awesome, but when it comes to taking great pictures, there really is no substitute for a dedicated camera. I know very little about photography, but simply scouring the web, I was able to find Digital SLR camera’s capable of 36.3 MP photos, or 24.3MP. These models come with incredibly fast shutter speeds, and an ISO range of 100-6400. Dedicated cameras also come with the latest image stabilization technologies, powerful optical zooms and even more impressive price tags. It’s the same when it comes to motion picture. The Arri Alexa, was the camera used to film the latest, and possibly greatest instalment in the James Bond movie franchise, ‘Skyfall’. The technical specification of a camera such as this is simply mind boggling (If you don’t believe me, read it). The iPhone can never hope to seriously challenge devices like this, and so I don’t think that the iPhone will ever kill the professional camera, that is, the cameras that are used to cover sports events, generate press images, and capture movies.

However, I do believe that the iPhone will very soon begin to marginalize the camera industry. That’s because the majority of cameras available to consumers are smaller, more practical digital cameras. It’s this kind of camera that the iPhone is very quickly catching up with. These cameras aren’t designed to offer insane resolution pictures like digital SLR cameras, and they aren’t designed to capture motion pictures at feature film quality. These cameras have been around much longer than the smartphone, so it’s a well established market. But I think that this market is now running on borrowed time.

Once upon a time, you would own a phone capable of connection with peers on one or two levels, some of the more audacious models offered things like email and internet browsing. But, you would also own a camera, because everybody likes taking pictures, and you just couldn’t do it on the phones of the past. Now however, it is estimated that over 83% of smartphones shipped in 2012 will have a  built in camera, 27% of which are 5MP or better. The evolution of the iPhone’s camera technology has proven that smartphone photography is getting better at an almost exponential rate, and the iPhone isn’t even the best camera phone out there.

Nokia has already proven that the smartphone can be pushed to greater heights when it comes to photography, and that can only get better with time. Very soon, the smartphone will overtake the digital camera, and there’ll simply be no need to own a camera at all. Why buy a camera, when you already have a phone that can produce similar if not better results? That is of course, unless you are a professional photographer, or a film maker, that’s why I suggested that the iPhone would marginalize the camera, not kill it.

Besides brute hardware, there are a couple of other reasons why I think that the iPhone, and indeed smartphones in general, will surpass the mainstream camera market. The cellular capabilities of smartphones has created a colossal social media network that has made it possible to take a photo, and share it with the wider world in seconds. I’m talking about things like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Tumblr, and perhaps most notably Instagram. There’s also an extensive range incredibly cheap and effective photo editing software available for smartphones. Apple has claimed that Instagram made it “near-impossible to take a bad shot”, then there’s the like of iPhoto and Adobe Photoshop Express, both of which are incredibly prominent. The sheer effectiveness and convenience of taking, editing and sharing photos via smartphone is a tremendous advantage over the camera market, which requires the use of cumbersome cables, memory cards and the like. There are also some fantastic iPhone accessories available that can improve the iPhone’s imagery capabilities, such as optical zoom, tripods and more.

Stuff the Mars Rover, we can just photograph the surface of Mars using this…

For me, I think that it’s just a short matter of time before the iPhone surpasses the digital camera, and confines the use of dedicated cameras to professional photography and film making. Maybe one day, the iPhone will surpass those devices too… What do you think? Be sure to leave a comment below, or on Twitter @TiP_Stephen





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  • randomprice

    Once smartphones get optical zoom, they’ll definitely marginalize the camera industry.
    Professional cameras will still be around, moslty DSLRs (which are also getting better and better at taking video).

  • yamigenshuku

    @randomprice I couldn’t agree more. The age of the digital camera is coming to a close. Smartphones are allowing us to replace devices like mp3 players, webcams/video cams, gps and even mobile gaming is getting some attention. DSLRs are going to shrink in size, but will be a mainstay nonetheless.

  • Freddy1109

    Agree with your thoughts 100%. It could not be said any better that while a iPhone can take some amazing shots at a good quality it will not replace the DSLR but only replace the “point and shoot” cameras that the majority of the population used to take around with them. I myself still keep a DSLR but in no form or fashion keep a “point and shoot” since i have had a smartphone that could take good quality pictures while i am out.

  • Mike

    Correction: original iPhone did, indeed, have digital zoom feature.  Granted, it was practically useless given the low megapixel ability of camera, but it was there, nonetheless.  I fondly remember being disappointed with it :)