Tag Archives: Camera

Cameras [BBC column]

This is the script for a piece I recorded for the BBC World Service. It’ s based on a piece I wrote for my employer, Reuters.

We always assume that when a new technology comes along it will displace the old. And that tends to be the case. But displace doesn’t mean delete, remove, consign to the dustpile–which is often what we mean. Radio didn’t obliterate books or newspapers, TV didn’t obliterate radio. The Internet hasn’t obliterated any of them–although if you’re in TV, radio, newspapers or book publishing, you probably feel a bit obliterated. There will still be all those things, though they’ll have to make way for a digital, online world.

The same is true of cameras. Many of us assumed that just as film gave way to digital photos, so would the camera give way to the cameraphone. After all, who wants to carry more than one gadget around with them? Well, it turns out, quite a lot of us. Instead of a camera in a phone obliterating the need for a camera, we took so many pictures with our camera phone that we started wanting to take better photos. So we bought a better camera.

There’s another conundrum here, too. We thought that because all these camera phones could take video, people would be more interested in video than still photography. That’s also turned out not to be true. Sure, we get out the video camera out for Junior’s role in the school play, but for the most part we take still photos because they’re easier to upload, less time consuming to look at. When we do upload video it’s in short bursts, and of something noteworthy. In short, we use our digital gadgets not to build up a mass of memories but to select and share the best ones.

In other words, we are finding ways of coping with this digital cornucopia–where we can capture, store, and upload pretty much everything by focusing on quality rather than quantity. However good our mobile phone is at taking photos, we still think a dedicated camera, with a better lens and innards, will do a better job. We don’t want 1000s of photos–we want the best one. Same with video. We don’t have time to edit hours of footage down to something watchable, so we record video sparingly, and don’t dare subject our Facebook friends to anything longer than a minute.

I don’t know if there’s a law of digital disruption in here, but for sure there are lessons. First off is that people are happy to carry more than one gadget around with them if they think they serve a purpose. Second, the more they do of something the more they want to explore it–so long as they can see an uptick in the quality of the outcome.

And finally, we’re learning how to harness the expected tidal wave of data by using technology to filter out the stuff we don’t need, while ensuring that what we do keep is the best. It’s not surprising, then, that the makes of camera we rely on today are brands our parents would recognise: brands such as Nikon, Canon and Fuji. While the technologies may have changed the way we store and share pictures, the way we take them hasn’t.

The Connections Our Buttons Make

CapOnce we create all that attention data, think of the whacky things we can do with it.

I’ve been banging on about attention data for a while now, and I apologise. (For an explanation and a bit of background, go here.) But I can’t help seeing stuff through that prism nowadays. Like this camera called Buttons that doesn’t take pictures but times, and then searches the Internet for photographs taken at that second:

It is a camera that will capture a moment at the press of a button. However, unlike a conventional analog or digital camera, this one doesn’t have any optical parts. It allows you to capture your moment but in doing so, it effectively seperates it from the subject. Instead, as you will memorize the moment, the camera memorizes only the time and starts to continuously search on the net for other photos that have been taken in the very same moment.

Basically the camera is a phone inside a sort of camera case. Press the button and the phone searches Flickr for photos taken at that moment. (Of course, this may take a little time.)

A lovely idea and a fascinating one. I seem to recall a photography project here where individuals were given cameras and told to take photos at the exact same moment around the city. Danged if I can remember what it was called. But as Tim O’Reilly points out in the comments on a post by Nikolaj Nyholm, it has even greater potential beyond the variable of time:

I imagine that with geolocation, you could potentially go one better. Imagine a camera that does take a picture, but also initiates a search for all other pictures taken at that same location (and optionally at the same time of day/year.)

Less poetic a vision than that of Sascha Pohflepp, creator of Buttons, but possibly more relevant to many users. I’d certainly love to see Google Earth etc use time more in their layers, so that it’s possible to get historical changes in a place (say 3D models of old buildings that no longer exist, or photos like those extraordinary collections created by the UNEP which depict changes in the environment.)

But the main idea here is to use the metadata embedded in attention streams (in this case, when or where a photo was taken) and match it with metadata from other streams. A bit like Last.fm, et al, where similarities are found between what music two quite separate people are listening to. The goal is as Sascha puts it, to subordinate the device to the bigger purpose of connecting people:

Even more so, it reduces the cameras to their networked buttons in order to create a link between two individuals.

The possibilities are endless, but it’s too early in the morning for me to think of any.

Citizen Photographers Get Their Own Agency

Fueling the discussion about whether it’s ok for citizens to take photos of their fellow citizens’ suffering and makemoney from it, welcome to Scoopt: the citizen journalist’s photographic agency, selling mobile phone and digital camera pictures to the press and media:

Who will take tomorrow’s front page photograph – a professional press photographer or a passer-by armed with a cameraphone?

Virtually everybody now has a mobile phone, and virtually every mobile phone now comes with a camera. Britain on Britain supplementThis means that somebody, somewhere is in a position to photograph just about anything that happens on the planet.

If you photograph a newsworthy event, you could have a valuable scoop on your hands. Scoopt represents you, making sure the right people see your photo and ensuring that you get a good deal. Scoopt is simple. Scoopt works. Above all, Scoopt works for you. Join Scoopt today. Snap… Send… Sell…

With another major security alert in London going on as I write, it’s timely.

I know I’m fence-sitting, but I don’t have a view on this yet. It’s hard enough as a journalist being in the middle of carnage or lynchings and not doing anything about it, so I’m not one to throw stones. I suppose you do hope that in the situation you’re able to do both: chronicle the situation for a wider audience (think of how useful those moblog pictures of those caught inside the Underground helped us understand how awful it was for them down there, an empathy that will help unite citizens in grief, horror and determination to thwart the terrorist’s aims) and then help. But I know that’s easier said than done.

(Thanks, Graham. )

Camera Phones. They’re Catching On

Further to my Loose Wire column last week about camera phones, here’s some evidence to back up my shock assertion that they’re catching on. The Register quotes market watcher Canalys as saying almost as many as shipped in the last quarter as shipped in the whole of the first half of 2003.

By 2006, over half of all mobile phones shipped will include cameras, Canalys reckons.

News: Camera phone manufacturers ban camera phones

The limits to camera phones
 
 CNET Asia reports that some Korean manufacturers like Samsung and LG Electronics “may be fiercely promoting camera-equipped phones to consumers, but are wary about allowing their use on their own company grounds.” Both companies have barred employees from using the gadgets in some of their factories to prevent “industrial espionage and intellectual property theft”, the report says, quoting Korean daily Chosun Ilbo (here’s the original report).
 
This is another chapter in the fast moving saga of camera phones. They’ve been banned in some public areas — changing rooms and the like — and CNET says bookstore owners in Japan “are also mulling measures to stop female shoppers from snapping pictures of magazines with their camera-phones”. Korea, CNET says, is considering a law which makes it mandatory for phone makers to install a “noise emitter” in their camera-equipped handsets.
 
Hmm. It’s not all bad, though: I’ve read other stories about folk snapping shoplifters, hold-ups and other criminal activities. The debate is bound to go on, probably until it’s overtaken by miniature cameras that no one can see, built into ties, sun-glasses, or whatever. And of course, with wristwatches and PDAs sporting cameras, where exactly do you draw the line?