Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Phones That Camera Companies Should Make

Phone Conversation - Salt Lake City, Utah
Everybody has a cellphone. Everybody has their cellphones on them all of the time. Cellphones have cameras on them. Everybody is carrying around a camera, snapping pictures.

Photographer Chase Jarvis coined the phrase, "The best camera is the one that's with you." Specifically, he was talking about cellphones. The camera on your phone, while not as good as a DSLR, is a perfectly capable photographic tool in the hands of a skilled photographer.

A couple of weeks ago I published an article entitled State of the Photographic Industry 2017. I mentioned that camera sales were down almost across the entire board, and pocket point-and-shoot camera sales were especially down. I said, "Cellphones have significantly eaten away the market for pocket cameras." A whole lot of people are using the cameras on their phones instead of other cameras.

"It makes me wonder why Canon and Nikon and others have not ventured into the cellphone marketplace," I continued. "Why aren't these camera companies making Android phones designed with photography in mind? It seems like such a lost opportunity."
Walking Holga Style - Salt Lake City, Utah
On social media someone mentioned to me that it's not too late for camera makers to jump into the cellphone market. There is a demand out there for cellphones with quality built-in cameras that produce respectable image quality.

I thought about this and came up with some ideas. I do believe that there is a large demand for quality cellphone cameras, and that camera manufacturers could tap into that and take back some of the market share they lost to cellphones. Adapt or die, right? It's beyond time for camera companies to adapt to the changing times.

To help, I have figured out the mobile devices that camera companies should release in 2018. If they haven't already begun working on this, they better get started quickly! And, please, unless you are going to team up with Apple (which I doubt), just stick with the Android system. It's tried and true and a heck of a lot of people are using it.

Mobile Tourist - Salt Lake City, Utah
Fujifilm is known for their vintage-looking mirrorless cameras that feature the unique X-Trans sensors. They have a very loyal almost-cult-like fan base that will buy their products because it has the Fujifilm name printed on it. This seems like a good place to start, because, if done right, there really is the potential for a hit product.

Fujifilm should make a cellphone that, when viewed from the back (or what would be the front, if it weren't a phone), looks like a rangefinder camera, colored silver and black. It should have a very slim pancake lens with a manual focus ring around it, maybe in the 24-35mm equivalent focal length range. The lens should be sharp and fast, perhaps fixed at f/1.2.

The long side of the phone (or top, if it weren't a phone) should have two wheels--one for shutter speed and one for exposure compensation--as well as a shutter release button. It should be as much of a facsimile as possible in design to Fujifilm's other cameras (I know, tall order, considering it is a cell phone, but not entirely impossible, either).

Inside the phone should be a 12-megapixel 2/3" X-Trans sensor, complete with the different film simulations that one would find in Fuji's other cameras. It should also include an app for processing RAW files.

What you'd have is a phone that would be a conversation piece anytime it's brought out and an excellent picture-taking tool that serious photographers would appreciate. It would essentially be a pocket fixed-lens camera capable of producing good-quality images that also happens to be an Android cellphone. Cool idea, don't you think? I'd buy one! This is something that Fuji could pull off and few others could, if anyone.

Canon & Nikon
Busy Businessman - Salt Lake City, Utah
I'm lumping Canon and Nikon together because they make similar products. I imagine that if they independently made cellphones that they wouldn't be all that much different from each other.

The biggest problem with cellphone photography is a lack of versatility. You have a wide-angle fixed-focal-length lens and that's your only option. What's needed is the ability to zoom with your phone. Nokia's solution to this was mega-resolution (zoom by cropping or digital-zoom). Apple's solution to this is a second camera. Neither option is ideal.

I think if Canon or Nikon could produce a zoom-lens cellphone that it would be a big hit. It doesn't have to be a super-zoom, but perhaps a five-times optical zoom. I think people would really appreciate the focal-length versatility.

Of course this would be the final nail in the pocket point-and-shoot's coffin, but you might as well lose the market share to yourself, because someone is going to do this. And people would choose a Canon or Nikon phone because of name recognition ("It's got to be a good camera, right?").

Another option I thought of that could be intriguing are interchangeable-lens cellphone cameras. I'm thinking lenses that attach by magnetism perhaps. While I think that this would be interesting, the problem is that people would have to buy and carry extra lenses, and the average Joe just isn't going to do that. So the phone would have to have a higher-end camera in it, designed and marketed more towards the serious photographer.

The Target - Riverdale, Utah
If Pentax/Ricoh made a Ricoh GR cellphone, it would sell. It would need a sharp and fast fixed-focal-length lens and a good sensor, perhaps a 12-megapixel 2/3" sensor. Add Pentax's pixel-shift technology and I think you'd have a winner.

The key to this cellphone is that it would need to be designed with the serious photographer in mind, taking popular elements from the Ricoh GR, such as Snap Focus. This is a phone that street photographers would want to have. The average consumer probably wouldn't pay much attention to it, so the potential market wouldn't be huge. But I think it could be successful if designed and marketed correctly.

Proud - Layton, Utah
When Sigma first introduced the unique three-layer Foveon sensor, the sensors were actually somewhat small. Over the years they've made them bigger and bigger with more and more resolution. But what if they took the advances that they've made and applied them to a small sensor, much smaller than the original?

It would be interesting if Sigma made DP1 and DP2 cellphones, one wide-angle and one standard focal length. Choose which one you'd like. Sigma is known for their lenses, and I'm sure they would have sharp glass on their phone. Sigma would likely come up with some unusual design element (as they do sometimes). They would have to include an app that would allow post-processing of their RAW files.

I'd be very surprised if Sigma actually made a cellphone because the market would be very small for it. But it would be a tempting choice if they did! I would definitely want it.

Blue Shirt, Yellow Umbrella - Salt Lake City, Utah
I didn't include every camera company. I think Sony could make something better that's more designed for photographers, but as it stands now they are one of the top leaders in cellphone camera manufacturing (in both quantity and quality). What they're doing is working from a business perspective. Other camera makers not mentioned are free to come up with something, as well.

What's clear is that there is an opportunity for someone if they should accept the challenge. There is a demand and there are potential innovations that could propel cellphone cameras to the next level of quality. Someone is going to make a bunch of money. I'd like to see some of the major camera manufacturers be a part of it.

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