We benefit every time that smartphone in your pocket improves its camera system. Professional or not, we must admit that the quality of the software producing images on our smartphones is brilliant. All this clever tech will hugely impact photography in the future. Here’s why.
There’s no doubt that all cameras have improved in leaps and bounds over the last 10 years, but even more so for the cameras we carry every day in our pockets. Improvements in smartphone cameras may only seem like upgrades for the everyday person. Yet, I believe they will also shape the future of professional photography.
Flagship phone cameras are now so good that the average viewer wouldn’t think twice that well-shot photographs didn’t come from a professional camera. Smartphone cameras are on a different path from traditional photographic cameras, and I see them as the future for both casual and pro photographers.
Artificial Intelligence Era
It would be naive to think that intelligent camera software like the “Photonic Engine” featured in the latest iPhone 14 Pro won’t find its way into professional cameras. We are entering an era where AI will take a more prominent role in every industry, including art. If used correctly, this could unlock fantastic new possibilities for all artists, especially photographers. Whether you like that idea or not, it is undoubtedly the direction we are heading in.
Why Should Camera Manufacturers Care?
I feel as if the rate of implementation of new software technology has been much faster in smartphones than in dedicated cameras. This rate of innovation may be due to the limitations found with the smaller sensor sizes on most smartphones. This forces manufacturers to find innovative ways to improve their images. However, I believe that soon enough, camera manufacturers will have to ramp it up too. Despite this slower implementation, a decent amount of intelligent software has already found its way into professional cameras. Adding more software would make it easier to take better photos, especially for those just starting. It could act as a way for beginners to find their footing or take the leap to use a pro camera, resulting in increased sales for the camera manufacturers. And at the end of the day, that will be their primary goal.
AI and intelligent software are already playing a more significant role in our modern cameras than you may realize. For example, the latest generation of iPhones is taking multiple exposures, using depth sensors, and performing deep image processing when you press the shutter button. Thanks to the newest computer chips, this is happening in real-time, so fast you wouldn’t even think about it. This technology allows smaller camera sensors, such as those on smartphones, to produce images you may expect from dedicated cameras. Improved dynamic range, higher-quality images from existing sensors, and incredible low-light performance are some basic improvements that pop to mind. Imagine the possibilities that could be unlocked when you bring that software genius to professional cameras.
Artificial intelligence, in one form or another, is already present in most modern camera bodies. The improvements we have seen in autofocus and tracking are all thanks to top-of-the-range face recognition software and object tracking. Tech like this makes creating more enjoyable and allows me to focus on the more crucial aspects of a photograph, such as composition or lighting. This kind of software has made my experience using my Sony a7 IV an absolute joy.
Another example of intelligent algorithmic software in our current crop of cameras is stabilization algorithms. This software may be something we take for granted in modern cameras, as once enabled, it becomes part of how we shoot. It allows us to shoot handheld at slower shutter speeds and explore new photographic options, which is now crucial for most photographers. Once AI becomes involved in this aspect of photography, it will only develop it further, bringing more stability and improved performance. I’m sure you’d agree that better performance is what we all wish for.
What About That Manual Experience?
Now, I can see all the comments screaming at me, saying that software is taking away from the skill of photography or ruining the authentic manual approach. I agree that the new tech will never totally replace complete manual control should you want it. Raw images and manual focus won’t be going anywhere. However, I can see them no longer being the best way to approach shooting. I hardly touch manual focus with the quality of Sony’s current autofocus system, bar a handful of scenarios where I am better off taking complete manual control.
A large part of being a photographer is adapting to different challenges and the constant evolution of technology. Like everything, at first, it will be odd and we may not like it, but over time, the changes may play out to be beneficial and innovative. We may see the new features and technology pushing us to create in new ways and unlocking possibilities we would not have had before.
So, What Next?
The development of intelligent software features on smartphones will keep pushing the whole industry forward, making photography more accessible and more exciting, as well as unlocking new possibilities. It is difficult to predict where the software will go next. Still, I’d love to see more powerful in-camera processing for images taken on our big camera bodies. Of course, this will depend on more powerful computer processing chips and improved batteries. It certainly is not out of reach. After all, the camera we carry around in our pockets is already doing it.
My old eyes just can't deal with "screen as viewfinder." It's useless in bright light, too.
And I imagine that isn't a problem that software can solve. But perhaps I simply lack imagination.
I'm happy that camera phones are improving, and welcome the migration of such improvements into "real" cameras, for old eyes like mine.
Definitely! The new iPhones do have a max peak brightness of 2000 nits on their displays so sunlight may not be an issue so much anymore. However I agree, it is much more comfortable to use a viewfinder for photography!
I agree that we will see more software development to enhance how we use our cameras. That’s been happening for many many years. The eyeball tracking in EOS film cameras back in the ‘90s a case in point, as is to be frank, auto focus. I, like Jan, don’t really like ‘screen as a viewfinder’ either on my iPhone 14 pro max (although I think the camera system is great) or on mirrorless cameras. I prefer looking through the lens on my old EOS 5D MkIV. I do enjoy the options of the iPhone computational photography. Thing is, even if I go completely manual, I still manipulate RAW images in LR, PS, Topaz Ai apps etc.
Totally agree. Editing won’t go away anytime soon, we all have our photographic preferences! Phones won’t replace our cameras as both have their individual uses, which is why one has a viewfinder and the other does not! Agree that using a viewfinder is much more comfortable for photography too!
I'm sure Nikon and Canon are not looking forward to the day when perfectly realistic and exceptional bokeh can be had with an 85mm f/5.6 lens and some AI which will kill off sales of their expensive 85mm f/1.2 glass. It's getting closer to that being a reality.
They certainly are improving year on year. Let’s see what happens!
Why only focussing on the very average Iphone cameras?
The skin tones and textures are absolutely horrendous and the night mode is overrated.
If we want to talk about a phone that has revolutionized mobile photography, let's talk about the groundbreaking Nokia 808.
That was a real game changer.
These days, any mid-range to flagship phone can take really good photos (printed at postcard size).
Oppo and Huawei simply wipe the floor with Iphones when it comes to mobile photography.
Presenting the Iphones as the mobile photo reference is just plain fanboism.
Fanboy might be pushing it a little, but otherwise I totally agree. Pros have been selling photos from their phones for probably nearly a decade. If the photo pleases someone, then it's good for selling and that's the bottom line. I think that lots of people WANT to fall victim for manufacturers clever advertising more than anything. If a phone has 20 lenses, it must be good!
Simply put, the iPhone wasn’t the focus of this article, it’s simply the reference I used through this article as it is what I’m familiar with. I’m referring to the development of phones in general. The title is the way it is as that’s the best way to draw your attention. iPhones get the most eyes and attention so including it increases your chances of reading this article. Seems like a job well done! I agree though, the camera market inside phones has become very competitive that even budget and midrange phones can compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung. This is brilliant as it’s only going to push the industry as a whole forwards! Personally that gets me very excited for what’s to come.
No need for a clickbait title then ;)
Yes, smartphone photography has come a long way.
I remember taking 3.2Mpix photos with my beloved Nokia e90 and telling myself: dang!! That quality is very good, look at the details!
I have tested and used (too) many phones. The one that takes the crown for the best photophone, IMO, is without a doubt the Sony Xperia Pro-I.
This phone takes serious shots.
Too bad it is let down with a slow UI (the Sony photo apps) and an atrocious battery life.
Is it worth 1800$? Absolutely not but we are slowly getting there.
From time to time, I charge and take some shots with my Nokia 808... The output still amazes me 12 years after.
Phones for the most part are AI photography devices when cameras are set up driven. Remember when people used to say "your camera takes great pictures"?. It wasn't the camera, but for phones it is actually the camera that decides what to alter when it cannot generate an image naturally.
I agree that they are slightly different genres of devices, however I wouldn’t say phones alter images, more so they are using clever tech to capture the scientifically best image. Eg, maximum dynamic range.
Point & shoots are a thing of the past however I believe professional cameras will always be around.
I will never part with my Nikon D850
are phones the new point and shoot? Probably...
Try holding a phone like this during a wedding shoot. Soon it will slip from your cramped hands or your head will ache from squinting at the screen in bright sunlight.
On the other hand friend of mine asked for help to purchase a camera. When I told her that besides the costs of a good cam and lenses she'll also need to get herself a decent computer and the learning curve regarding image editing she refrained.
For everyday use is a smartphone for 99% of all people absolutely sufficient.
So, horses for courses I'd say...
But AI and the mobile experience will most certainly shape future cameras, that's for sure.
We certainly don't want the form factor of phones to find it's way into the camera world but the tech most certainly will!