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Digital cameras to suit all tastes

As noted in my previous posting last night, I went out photoing photoers last Sunday, and one of the more interesting photoers I photoed was this guy:


That’s an iPad, being used as a camera. I mentioned this to Michael Jennings, and he told me that the first iPad didn’t have a camera built in. The second one did, but it wasn’t very good. Not designed for proper photoing, merely for video-conferencing. But people used it to take proper photos anyway, or they tried to. And on iPad number three, the camera is quite good. Not in the same league as a dedicated camera, but good enough for many, for taking tourist snaps in good daylight and for telling friends what they are seeing.

I know the feeling. If you are a techy, or if whatever you are doing just has to be really, really good, you use the best kit for each job that you are doing. But if you are a civilian, you just love the idea of one machine that does everything for you. There is just one pile of magic to master, just the one gadget to be faffing about with when you are on holiday. I have never used an iPad, but I entirely know why this guy is using his iPad to take photos, rather than a regular camera type camera.

I talked with him. So, using one of those things to take photos, eh? Yes, he said, and he eagerly showed me some of the photos he had just taken, of Westminster Abbey. They looked fine to me, although a regular CSI character could easily work out the man’s identity from his reflected face in this:


He’s not the first iPad (or Tablet or whatever) photoer I have spotted in recent months, just the first who obliged with a good clear pose for me to photo, a pose which obligingly hid his face.

I have been photoing digital photoers for over a decade, and if there is a technological trend in evidence, it is that the range of cameras being used by digital photoers has slowly grown. First, there were the very first digital cameras, like my very first digital camera. Rather big, very expensive and rather clunky, but they worked! Meanwhile the Real Photographers were going digital, with even bigger and massively more expensive cameras, which looked, then as now, just like regular old cameras that used film, and which made use of the same even more expensive sets of interchangeable lenses. Then cameras started to emerge which were betwixt and between (“bridge” cameras) the little ones and the Real Photographer cameras, like my last two cameras, with their ever more amazing zooming abilities. I try to get cameras in focus whenever I can, and in my photos you can see the zoom numbers climbing as the years have gone by, the latest Canon “bridge” camera being 50x!

And while all that was happening, mobile phones were also getting good enough to use as cameras. Just like my iPad Man, Mobile Phoner relishes only having one machine to fret about, to do everything. Hence the ever increasing smartness of smartphones.

It all reminds me of how General Motors worked out, in the 1920s, that the idea of just one basic kind of car for everyone was silly. Instead GM offered a range of cars, to suit all tastes and pockets. But, there never was a Model T digital camera, available only in black, and the camera market is easier to enter, so there never was a General Cameras either. The range rule has prevailed with digital cameras from the start. It didn’t have to be thought of, it just happened.

This range of cameras is reflected in my latest clutch of photoer photos, here (already linked to above). There is the Real Photographer (1.2), or at any rate the photographer using a Real Photographer camera, the guy with the reflecting sunglasses. There are the ever smaller and ever cheaper dedicated digital cameras, often decked out in bright colours (silver (2.3) and red (3.1) in these photos as well as just black). There is the guy using his smartphone (3.3) to take photos (of the man blowing bubbles on the South Bank). There is the 26x zoom camera (3.2). Even the little red camera (3.1) is 10x, as you can clearly read if you click on that one. Tellingly, there are cameras there where it is a bit hard to tell at a glance if they are single fixed-lens or multiple choice lens, bridge or Real.

There must also be another kind of camera being used, to add to all these others, which is the one that is so small and so unobtrusive that it cannot even be seen. These cameras are hidden in glasses, or in buttons, or in hats, or in jewellery. Time was when only the likes of James Bond had such devices, but now, I presume, anyone who wants such a camera can have one. I must have photoed many such cameras, but I will never know about it.

I salute these invisible cameras with particular fervour. They are Little Brother’s answer to Big Brother’s now ubiquitous and very visible surveillance cameras. These invisible cameras are the reason that They will find it so very hard to ban outdoor photography by civilians, however much They might like to and however hard They try, because They won’t be able to see it happening and tell it to stop.

14 comments to Digital cameras to suit all tastes

  • A few months back I saw somebody stood in Cologne cathedral taking pictures with his iPad. He looked ridiculous.

  • Well, having photoed these people for a decade I can tell you with absolute confidence that they mostly do not care how they look.

    They are too busy having fun.

  • Which means, by the way, that just as they often appear ridiculous to others, they also, often, appear wonderful, certainly to me, in ways that it would be impossible to make them do were they not taking photos.

  • It is believed that the reason that the first generation iPad did not have cameras was because Steve Jobs believed that people using it to take photographs would look ridiculous. This received complaints, not so much for people who wanted to use it to take photographs, but for parents of small children. Point the iPad at the baby, start up a video conference with the grandparents, allow the grandparents to watch the baby, and the grandparents will be happily occupied for hours.

    However, people then started using the iPad for taking photographs anyway. So, Apple gave it a decent camera. I have one myself, and I prefer taking photographs with it to taking photographs with a cellphone camera. Whether that is the quality of the camera, I am not sure. (By standards of cellphone cameras, the one in the iPad is of high quality, but most high end phones have cameras of similar quality). I think it may be the screen. Everybody who takes digital photographs knows the experience of taking what you think is a good photograph, but discovering later that it is blurry, but being unable to tell that at the time on the tiny screen on the camera. The iPad has a large, very high resolution screen, so you have a much better ability to tell at once if you have taken a good picture or not. If you haven’t, there may even be a chance to take it again.

    A final good thing about the iPad is its fantastic battery life. (This isn’t hard to explain – if you look at pictures of the innards of an iPad it is almost entirely battery). At the end of a busy day, its not uncommon to find that your batteries are low or completely depleted on all your devices except the iPad. You see something that needs photographing, so you use the iPad simply because it is still going.

    As for looking ridiculous, that is all about what is normal and expected. If everyone does it, it no longer looks ridiculous.

  • gt2.jpg

    For instance, if on a slow afternoon you unexpectedly find your self at the tomb in Jerusalem where protestants believe that Christ rose from the dead, it can be *really helpful* to have your iPad with you.

  • Michael

    I have been using my iPad to photograph 19th century prison registers. It works in quite poor daylight, no hand shake and you can see it focussing and re-focussing. I get home, plug it into my iMac (about 1000 images) and it uploads them to the iMac and, via dropbox, to the lady who distributes them to the transcribers. I might look silly, but who cares?

  • llamas

    Riffing on both of the latest posts –

    mrs llamas and I saw the incomparable Leonard Cohen live at the Fox in Detroit last Monday.

    Despite the continuous efforts of the ushers to prevent photography during the show, I see where there is a complete bootleg video of the concert available online. It’s obviously taken from the audience, but the quality is very good – some sort of support – and the sound is so good that I wonder whether it wasn’t ‘tapped’ from the audio feed.

    When that sort of technology is widely-available, nothing is safe – not your privacy, not your intellectual or artistic property, nothing.



  • I don’t care whether the photographer looks ridiculous; more importanly to me, it looks like taking the sort of photo with one’s tablet as the guy in the first picture is doing would be terribly inconvenient.

    But it’s iCrap, so I’m sure there’s going to be an iCult of people telling me how it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

  • DOuglas2

    I can think that in many situations and for many people, having a viewing/framing/focusing screen the size of an iPad might be a great tool.

    In pro video production I often see camera-people using iPad-sized auxiliary screens when the camera already comes with a perfectly-good viewfinder. So there must be some utility to the practice.

    Also, I’ve noticed that all the TV directors who, on their recces, used to peer at stuff through an aperture-box made from thumbs and forefingers of two hands, now peer at stuff through their iPhones.

  • Dom

    The best thing about the iPad camera is the switcheroony thing. That is, it photographs what what the viewer sees, or the viewer himself. That means you can get yourself and friends together, see what you are photographing, and then, voila!

  • Johnnydub

    If you’re looking for a good all in one device then the new Samsung Galaxy Note II LTE is a lovely bit of kit.

    5.5″ IPS screen, decent camera, big battery, takes 64GB MicroSD cards… You look a bit Dom Joly making calls on it, but its a perfect size for someone who wants both phone and tablet ergonomics…

  • The Jannie

    What is it about Cologne cathedral? It was there that I saw a fat lady in floral leggings (yecch) using hers to snap the interior.

  • Andrew Duffin

    Good grief.

    Using a thing that size to take photos, when you could use a camera, or even a phone.

    I suppose it makes sense to Apple fanboys: “look at my logos, ye peasants, and despair”, or something like that.

  • Sceptical Antagonist

    The worst thing about recent generations of digital cameras/phones/pads is the bad habits they force you into; the main one is making you hold the device at arm’s length. Doing that creates a pot-luck scenario as to whether it will be sharp or not.
    All the previous years’ advances in technology to reduce camera shake are now being used to compensate for bad technique!