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Every year ground-breaking technologies shift the way we think about photography. To make sense of the changes, I write about where the world of photography moving. Five years ago I wrote a piece about iPhone camera, and a few short years later Apple listened and introduced RAW support, fully fulfilling my not-so-obvious prediction at a time.
Two years ago I covered both what’s expected inside the creative side of the photo industry, and inside the hardware side of it. I got a few items wrong, but also correctly predicted the dual camera setup on the iPhone.
So what can we expect to see this year?
Computational Photography Gets Smarter
First of all, Light saw the light (pun intended) of day, and started shipping in small batches. I haven't had the chance to review the camera yet, but I had two brief interactions with a pre-production model at Light's offices in San Francisco (disclosure: I'm on Light's Creative Advisory Board). In short, I remain the strong believer in computational photography. Two different approaches to computational photography are represented by Google and Light. Google has shown that incredible results are possible with just one lens, using machine learning and clever computational algorithms to enable bokeh (seriously, the Google hardware work on the pixel sounds futuristic).
Android Authority’s Brian Reigh writes: “Because each lens is essentially split into two – 1 mm or so apart from each other – it creates two viewpoints that are different enough to compute stereo, similar to how dual-lens cameras work. Simply put, Google is using Dual-Pixel technology not just to improve focusing speed but also to create a depth map.”
Light's approach is on the other side of the spectrum. Light's L16 is using 16 lenses are used to create one image. In the future we are likely to see some sort of equilibrium — the Google Pixel will gain a second lens, and Light (or a competitor) will offer a camera with fewer lenses, maybe within 5-7 lens range.
For 2018 I’d expect smartphone makers to introduce a third rear camera — a hybrid approach that was popularized by OnePlus 5T, where the second shooter is a high-resolution camera for better noise reduction, combined with Huawei approach of adding a monochrome camera, for the same reason of improving contrast and noise. With three cameras it’s possible to have both wide angle and tele photo lens, along with monochrome sensor dedicated to improving low light performance.
Stereo Cameras Might Make A Comeback
Pushing a bit on the futuristic angle, I believe we’ll see at least one production smartphone with a stereo camera. Basically, a phone that in addition (or instead of) a bokeh effect will produce a stereo effect — in essence allowing to “peek” behind the subject.
Back in 2015 that was a gimmick, but with gyroscopes and multiple cameras on the back, it is now possible to make it tasteful. The only requirement, it seems, is to place lenses a little further apart from each other. The technology is not new, of course. HTC even released a stereoscopic smartphone back in 2011, but HTC EVO 3D was definitely ahead of its time. Google’s Tango, boasting similarly complex tech, might also make a come back from the dead, albeit in a less ambitious form.
DSLR's Are Becoming A Niche Market
The tidal wave of change has already begun, and it is unsettling. DSLRs have moved into a niche category. As a niche, it now commands a hefty price premium. New cameras aren’t cheap — the technology is advancing, but the pricing easily outpaces the technology. For example, a new lens from Nikon, AF-S Nikkor 180-400mm F/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR, just announced at CES, will sell for $12,400 USD, a price of a decent used car. It will be a good match for Nikon D5, that currently retails for $6,500 USD. In general, a trend to hike prices is attributed to this niche status, and I expect that to continue. So if you are a serious photographer, upgrading your equipment just became a whole lot expensive.
Ground-Breaking Mobile Apps With AI
The fact that iPhone X is as powerful as a modern laptop, it’s natural to assume that developers, who gained access to the iPhone powers in late 2017 will surprise us with new photo editing software to take advantage of this raw power. In addition, Apple now has CoreML, allowing object recognition directly on the device. So we will see apps that can intelligently clone out unwanted objects, like passerby or advertising, as well as gain the ability to do more intelligent processing, taking advantage of the depth information in the camera. Imagine, for example, having the ability to add realistic sun rays with proper shadows to your photos.
The Drones Swarm Into Mainstream
Nobody innovated faster in the drone market than DJI, so when we are talking drones, it basically means DJI. And this Shenzhen-based company has been out-innovating itself. So 2017 saw the additions to Phantom 4 lineup, improving upon a winning design. Both Mavic Pro (released late in 2016), and Spark (released mid-2017) made drones more affordable. More importantly, the size has shrunk, thus allowing to add a drone in addition to all other equipment. Just a few years ago, a drone backpack was of a size of a carry on luggage. Today, it fits in an oversized coat pocket. In 2018, DJI is for sure release updates to Phantom, Mavic Pro and Spark, improving camera quality, object avoidance, and ease of use. DJI’s new Tello (made by Ryze Tech but marketed as DJI Tello) is a new introductory drone that will soon start selling for just $99. If rumors are correct, a new Mavic Air, a drone to sit between Mavic Pro and Spark in the product line up will become the most affordable prosumer drone — at an estimated $699 price consumers will get an incredibly agile foldable drone with a pro-quality camera, RAW support, and 3D gimbal.