Buggy Whips and the Google Pixel 2…..

Will the Google Pixel 2 in phone camera whip the compact camera market and challenge DSLR’s in terms of image quality? 

Well if the first pictures Google have released in high-res are true to the real form of the OOC images, then it is very had indeed to see the difference between a crop sensor whip off lense camera (MILC or DSLR) and the compact camera had better learn fast or drop out of the race. I cannot see a single image that is notably inferior to a good qaulity amateur enthusiasts camera, and in fact the dynamic range and blurred  background effects  (bokeh) mimic some of the best unadulterated sensor images from those types of bigger cameras. 

What we are actually talking about now is very much this ” oh those internal combustion engines have their place, but they’ll never be as good as a horse and buggy. No sir, you can’t beat a living thing, does the work for you, smells and breathes quality and reliability” .

The first deriviative of this analogy, taking it further, is that we no longer drive on torturous rutted roads. Our photographic media has changed. 20 years ago when I worked in advertising and design, we sweated with photographers over details on colour transparencies and negatives, only to have our best efforts sabotaged by the CYMK process into print. We worked with 660 dpi scans and laser exposed colour separations. The road is different now, essentially 72 dpi at two feet from the face is all your eye can resolve anyway.

Secondly in stretching our analogy too far, they had better stop producing buggy whips. A few years ago all the local mommies turned up at every kid’s event with a DSLR dangling around their necks. It was often a gift from grandparents, hint hint take lots of baby shots, or an essential purchase. But those kit lenses did the cameras no favours, and most of the entry levle DSLRs became obsolete because mobiles caught up ENOUGH in image quality for the new medium. The internet. Suddenly images were no longer even needing to conform to 1080 pixels in terms of perfect resolution and sharpness, they were a little 300 odd pixel width image on Face’ or Insta’ or Snap ‘.  Everyone had iPhone, and soon the cost of the ubiquitous single buttoned accessory overtook that of an entry level DSLR kit. 

Like those buggy drivers with their whips, they dismiss the new technology as inferior and when you are talking about a 6,000 to 10,000 eurobucks investment in a Full Frame DSLR system with fast lenses, then yes you are darnable right. However the whole landscape has changed and the masses are consuming their media in a different, immediate, 24/7 up time. Also those peer groups and family we share photos are influenced by this, and the impact of an image surpasses the need for technical quality of the image.

We have then come a little full circle perhaps especially back to the long tradition of Leica, the original Olympus PEN and also the box brownie shots. It was more important what they captured in terms of its immediacy, its’ historical importance, its irony, its illustrative or illuminative capture of the blink of the eye period of time and history.  From the beaches of D-Day to the oval office, the small , take anywhere compact camera took many of the most impactful images of the 20th.

So we come to the latest offerings from Apple, Huwaie, HTC, Sony and Google Pixel 2. The images are frankly astounding for a mobile phone, and point I believe to what I said about in camera processing compensating for lack of sensor size and optical ability. A bit like sensible old hooves and wooden wagon wheels giving way to rubber on asphalt, we see a sea change in how images are created  in the few microsecond after the sensor is exposed. 

So now we can certainly start to count out the fixed lens compact camera from the mass market, and a good number of shortish focal range zoom compacts. For a lot of photography of family, landscapes, townscapes and so on, you really don’t need a zoom or telephoto lens. You can survive well with around a 32- 40 mm equivalent fixed lens, and crop when needs be. If you did a world wide EXIF analysis prior to mobile phones, and in the era of the 28-80 mm kit lens, you would probably find around 35 mm as the modal focal length due to the subjecy matter we as humans like best – us, where we are, who we are with.


The best camera possible, is the one you always have with you.

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