Today, nearly everyone has a cellphone in his or her pocket. And it takes pictures. For years now, cellphone companies like Samsung, Apple or Google have touted to have the best cameras in the world, better than the competition and most of all, just as good as the cameras from reputable camera companies like Nikon, Canon, Olympus, Pentax, Fuji, Sony and more. Basically, it’s only because one always has a cellphone on his/her person, not always a DSLR or Mirrorless.
A while ago, the Chicago Sun-Times fired all their photographers and replaced them with cellphone-wielding reporters. Now I am not someone to question THEIR business decisions, I have nothing to do with them. Apparently, the newspaper decided that a cellphone picture was good enough for the stories they were printing. The internet was abuzz with the news and everyone had an opinion better than the “other guy”. Most camera owners were aghast with the news and condemned the newspaper. The bottom line of this story was that it was an economical business decision, not a skill- or quality-related decision.
So I have been doing a few tests over the last few months. Some of my posted pictures on Facebook (undoubtedly the biggest “news” outlet on the planet) and looked at the reactions of people. Yes, I have been counting “likes” as if my life depended on it. The result was quite interesting. Nobody ever mentioned to me it was a cellphone picture or a DSLR picture. Nobody cared. The Likes and comments were all over the board and none of them plainly negative. So will I sell my photo gear and use my cellphone for everything in the future? Most certainly not.
While the quality of cellphones or devices (let's include tablets as well, eh?) is getting better and better, it does not meet MY standards for publishing pictures. Will I never use my phone again to take a shot? Again, most certainly not. Sometimes, I only have my cellphone with me and that will get me the shot. I put one of my cellphone pics taken in the water (a Samsung S8 is waterproof, my Nikon is not) on my desktop as a background. I have a dual monitor setup, so my effective resolution for the wallpaper is 3840x1080. The picture that did so well on Facebook looks like crap on my desktop. Why? because the quality isn’t there. Blown up to proportions that a cellphone can’t deliver, the picture shows all kinds of noise and other artifacts. In other words, useless on my desktop. Pity, it was such a nice shot…
So there is my first biggest gripe against cellphone shots. Will the quality be enough for newspapers? Absolutely. The printers of newspapers have such a low resolution that even the most basic cellphone can deliver enough quality to be printed. The Chicago Sun-Times was right in the decision. Was it fair to the photographers who learned their skills over long years? Nope, certainly not. But it’s a business after all. And businesses have to thrive or they go under.
When I want to make a print, either as a gift or for sale, cellphone quality is simply not cutting it.
In market share
The next onslaught of the cellphones on the “real camera” market is outlined here https://digital-photography-school.com/massive-decline-in-digital-camera-sales-plus-nikon-sees-market-share-decrease/. A “massive” decline in sales for Nikon due to… what? Cellphone market increase? In this article, Nikon sees its market share decrease with 2.7%. Let's keep in mind that Nikon and Canon were the first ones to make “Point and Shoot” cameras for a reasonable price. I know, I still have one, and it still works great for some work. The decline for Nikon (and others) is mostly due to the fact that Point and Shoot cameras are replaced with the less bulky cellphones.
There again, I did some quality tests and again the cellphone (a respectable Samsung S8) did not come out on top. What we see here is a decline in best-selling point and shoot cameras in favour of the cellphone. It looks like the time has come for all the wannabee photographers to hang up their P&S and their entry-level DSLRs, as they were not capable of using them properly for multiple reasons.
If all you desire is to put your shots on Facebook, Instagram, or some other medium and nobody will ever see the high-mega-pixel quality of your camera, why even bother to buy one? It seems like that idea starts to seep down into the brains of “the masses”. Masses that are highly sought after by cellphone companies, but less so by camera makers.
So the ease of use, perceived market share and a takeover of a part of one of the biggest camera makers is a success for cellphone makers? Absolutely. But In my opinion, this is merely an adjustment of the means that people want to spend on their cameras. While a mere ten years ago, there was no alternative but to buy at least a point and shoot camera, today the cellphone is already in their pocket and ready to go. And as a bonus, it’s easier to use than a camera with buttons.
Cellphone makers are making progress, but they’re still a long ways from the home stretch, if taking over from DSLRs is their goal.