Saturday, October 02, 2021

Image Creation ~ "Ecosystems"

It looks like The Online Photographer may be changing the frequency of Mike's posts.  Putting food on the table is, of course, the most important thing, right?  Sounds like Mike is taking up writing.  It'll be interesting to see what he comes up with.

I have followed Mike's blog for years and I've been very happy to have learned as much as I have from reading his posts.  His insights into how digital files can be made to look good in black and white are particularly instructional.

Alas, the knowledge of what it takes to convert color into black and white, how to make very large prints from small digital files, how lens designs that influence out of focus rendition, all these things and much much more, when done properly, have been subsumed by and "baked into" the underlying software in current digital systems.

Color grading selection defaults can be set to ensure consistency from image to image.  Human perception modeling color to black and white conversion might be the very thing software is based on (and not based on simple color de-saturation).  Image stacking for noise reduction, image "up-rez"ing, and resolution improvement now can happen without us even knowing nor caring about what it takes to make the magic happen.

Over on Thom's website, he shared some thoughts on how small the standalone camera photography "ecosystem" has become.  The points he makes are, to me, quite valid and relate directly to the "baked into" comment I just made.

Back in film photography days the "ecosystem" was very large.  We had the camera and lens makers. We had the film manufacturers.  We had photo-labs and camera shops that sold chemistry for film development.  We had print paper manufacturers and companies that made enlargers and lenses for enlargers.  We had negative and print processor machines we could buy if we could afford them.  We had a gallery system and a vast book and magazine publishing engine.

The "ecosystem" was not dominated by a single manufacturer.  It couldn't be.  The "ecosystem" was simply too large.  For all its size and weight, the infrastructure each piece of the system integrated into was complete.  Everyone needed everyone else for the whole thing to work.

Today?  Things are, quite obviously, different.

Cell phone cameras have become the epicenter of a no-film, no-chemistry, low-overhead, all-electronic "ecosystem."  Cameras.  Lenses. Network connectivity.  Image sharing platforms. Communications.  Sharing.  Everything is well integrated, even down to having direct connections with the original film-era hold-overs of print making and book and magazine publishing.  The number of suppliers that it takes to create this "ecosystem" are substantially fewer than during the film era.

Several short years ago I watched as a tethered camera captured images of a fashion model along the Seine River here in Paris.  The images were edited by a small team of people on a laptop computer, color-graded on-site and posted directly to the 'net.  All in realtime.

Today I no longer see tethered cameras.  Sure, you can take just about any digital stand-alone camera and tether it to a power laptop computer, but why take on that level of overhead when you can do everything from a single device?

Everything can now be shot with a cellphone, by-passing the need for a laptop computer.  The team of people is downsized to just one or two people.  Everything is transmitted straight across the network to its destination.  The distance from idea to final results and distribution can now be incredibly short.

All this leaves me wondering what to do, if anything, with the old, traditional, stand-alone camera/optics systems?

Over a decade ago I mused that wouldn't it be interesting if someone integrated Linux as the base operating system into a camera?  Samsung tried this using the Linux derivative, Android, but the project was something of a disaster.

More recently, as in something less than ten years ago, I commented that Sony, the electronics company who should know well how to do this and how to market it, should take the Android OS, throw away the old embedded OS they currently use in their Alpha-series cameras, and create a fully networked, fully integrated, fully connected camera system.

I feel the opportunity is still there for the taking.  Except, as Thom notes, there might not be the "vision" of stand alone camera manufacturers to make the logical (to me, at least) leap into the cellphone present.

Musee des Arts et Metier ~ Paris 2021