By David Willis From the camera obscura to the smartphone, a camera design requires only a few key ingredients: an imaging plane (digital sensor or piece of film); a way to preview the composition (screen or viewfinder); and a way to project the image to the imaging plane. Digital cameras incorporate miniature computers, hardware and software to capture, interpret and store this information while film cameras provide a housing for the roll of film and a way to move the film forward. Digital camera designs were formed largely around these legacy analog systems so photographers who had invested in older lenses and peripherals could continue to use them with the newer digital models. Because of this and, in fact, due to this, DSLR, compact and mir-rorless designs offer numerous advantages over smart devices like optics that can zoom, low-light abilities, manual controls and RAW capture, as well as aperture and shutter controls. Despite this, as wireless abilities move to the forefront with instant connections to social-media services like Instagram, Facebook and Tumblr, smartphones and tablets have completely undermined a huge segment of the marketplace and heavily impacted the traditional business paradigm for photography, as well.
Phone maker Nokia, for example, has just invested in Pelican Imaging, a company that’s known for producing a small lens that houses an array of even smaller lenses. Useful for camera phones where every square millimeter of real estate matters, this array projects an image with all points in focus to the sensor. This would allow users to readjust focus after the image has been captured, similar to the Lytro camera, wrhich allows you to add subtle perspective changes or manipulate focus and depth of field simply by clicking on different points in the image. In theory, these new ways to capture an image eliminate the need for aperture and focus, and if aperture and focus become irrelevant, what does that imply for future lens designs? Electrical components are still becoming more and more efficient, and it’s even possible that sensors will be incorporated into the lens itself. Or, as in the case of Pelican Imaging, sensors may capture an entire scene without even needing traditional optics, leaving any fundamental photographic decisions like composition and focus to be decided upon while the image is being prepared for broadcast, print or upload.
What we’re seeing aren’t fundamental changes to camera designs, but rather camera designs that are, however slowly, adapting to meet the needs of a new digital environment. This is why the iPhone and smart devices work so well as imaging devices even after the numerous disadvantages. There are countless apps for honing the image and adding features as it’s prepared for its destination online, where it can be published within seconds. To address this, many newer compacts and mirrorless cameras like the Canon PowerShot SI 10, Samsung NX210 and Olympus PEN E-P5 have added built-in WiFi connectivity. The Samsung NX2000 and NX300, and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-G6 and ZS30 also offer Near Field Communication (NFC) technology
Lytro Cameras for linking the camera directly to nearby smart devices. In an effort to compete with Apple’s iOS mobile operating system, Nikon’s Coolpix S800c is based directly on the Android operating system, as is the Samsung Galaxy Camera, which also offers both WiFi and 3G technology.
With the same full-frame sensor as the SLT-A99, the Sony Cyber-shot RX1 has shown that you can carry top-notch imaging possibilities in your pocket, with a top-five imaging score in DxOMark’s Camera Sensor Ratings grid upon its release. Leica’s latest M-series digital rangefinder cameras are also full frame, and there are several compacts with APS-C-sized sensors like the Fujifilm X100S, Leica X2 and three Sigma Merrill compacts, the DPI, DP2 and DP3.
What do all of these advancements mean for pros? Everything isn’t doom and gloom for photographers. Interestingly enough, while the compact market is steadily shrinking (Olympus has just announced that they will be killing their low-end tier of compacts), the demand for mirrorless models is still steadily rising. It’s likely that the next couple of years will see models with similar offerings aimed squarely at the professional end of the market, like the Nikon D3200, with WiFi capability through the WU-la adapter, and the Canon EOS 61), which is the first DSLR to offer built-in WiFi. DPP