Cameras As Consumer Electronics

Monday, 11 June 2018

Within the world of computers and phones one of the most misused word is “upgrade”. Back several years ago when technology hadn’t plateaued to exceed the needs of the user, the term upgrade had some validity. The next version was almost always guaranteed to be better than the previous version. Features that were added more often than not was something you made use of and look forward too. There was a reason to upgrade a product, improved features drove improvements in hardware.

However, in more recent years the term upgrade has been bastardized to mean “change”. Computer programmers are the guiltiest of this. Often moving through fashionable programming trends for no other reason apart from being newer and more exciting to work with, the world moves and changes fast, arguably creating a world without a stable base and products subject to quality issues and bugs. Newer is no longer necessarily better but branding and marketing have convinced us otherwise.

In the days before the Internet bugs would’ve been a concern with no easy way to distribute a fix a product. You had to get it right first time; now the Internet has trained users to have lower first release expectations and be used to continuous software updates, regardless of if this strategy is a reasonable one.

As the digital camera market firmly takes hold and news of the final large-scale film manufacturing firms start to wind down production, my thoughts turn towards what cameras have become, in comparison to their film counterparts; now it could be argued that the modern digital camera has more in common with a computer than with a traditional analogue camera. In many cases there is no difference between a digital camera and a mobile phone.

Cameras are now subject to the same rules as computers, if there’s a problem with the software they can be plugged into the Internet and updated; If you don’t have enough megapixels compared to your neighbour you could go and get the latest model. Suddenly the camera that was perfectly adequate for years becomes redundant and stuffed into the corner of a cupboard.

For sometime there was a reason to update your camera, I believe the hardware of a digital camera is starting to plateau just as computers did. You can buy any digital camera off-the-shelf today and the number of megapixels contained within it will probably be fine for many years to come, pretty soon camera manufacturers will have to start coming up with new ways and exciting ways to sell you a different camera beyond higher numbers on a technical specifications sheet.

My thoughts return back to an analogue camera, at what point would you decide to upgrade a film camera? What kind of reasoning would you use? If you had an SLR why would you? If you were unhappy with the quality of the camera you’d have two choices, update your lens or change the film. The camera body itself never really went out-of-date.

A slightly worrying concept in the world of computers is the idea of “planned redundancy”; an upgrade is pushed onto your device that than intentional breaks it in some way, or makes it slower to operate, even though the hardware of the device is more than adequate for your needs. As technology plateaus a manufacturer must find new ways in-order to convince you into buying the newer version. Having users not upgrade every few years is terrible for profit margins.

Digital cameras are undoubtedly more convenient than an analogue camera ever would be, but maybe with the change to digital we’re inherited an indirect consequence of mass consumer electronics that will eventually prove to be unacceptable. Imagine turning on your camera ready for a days shooting, to discover it won’t work until you installed an update? Or perhaps because your camera has contracted a virus, or now your camera needs to always have a connection to the Internet to periodically prove to the original manufactures that you hadn’t tried to hack your camera or dismantle it?