Archive for February, 2009

The future of digital photography

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009


Mark Zanzig/zettpress

I admit that I am fascinated with the future. I enjoy predicting the future based on trends that are reality already today.

While I am somewhat pessimistic about the future of photography as a business, I want to shed some light on the practicalities of digital photography, the file handling, the editing, and the storage.

So, what trends do we see today?

1. Image sizes that fulfil what people want

Cameras will soon produce image sizes that are fully sufficient to do whatever consumers want, even huge poster prints that are better than prints made from 100 ASA slide film that was state-of-the-art a decade ago. Canon’s 50D is the best example for this development. While this is still a semi-professional camera, it does not take a PhD to predict that there soon will be a camera in the consumer segment offering 15 megapixels in a very good quality.

The respective RAW file size is about 10 to 15 MB. So, shooting 500 images will create about 5 GB of data. This is still too heavy for any useful online handling today, but what if the speed of Internet connections continues to increase in the future? I’ll get to that in a minute.

2. DSLR cameras reach for the video market

This development is interesting because it makes still cameras more useful for any use. Whether you want to create high-resolution photos or high-resolution videos, it does not matter. Your image device will be able to capture the scene. However, video file sizes will put a heavy load on the computing power and the bandwidth involved. Today’s networks are too slow to handle that kind of load, but again – this could change in the future.

3. First signs of cloud computing services

We see first signs of cloud computing happening. We’ve got services for photo and video storage and sharing like Flickr and Youtube, and we’ve got on online version of Adobe Photoshop. Today, it’s still not feasible to upload large amounts of data to these services. For example, uploading 500 RAW images still takes ages. But what if this bottleneck is removed?

4. Available bandwidth increases

The other day I found a very interesting Podcast titled The roadmap towards the gigabit society. It comes from Nokia Siemens Networks, a big telecommunication infrastructure provider. About 4 minutes into the Podcast, their CTO explains that we may soon get an incredible 1 gigabit per second to our homes, a dedicated line for both downlink and uplink. All I can say is – wow. I want this service.

At this speed, transmitting 500 RAW images is a matter of minutes rather than hours. Suddenly, using cloud computing becomes a realistical alternative to your desktop computer.

That’s why I am very convinced that photographers will use cloud computing services in the future. A lot. You will not use powerful computers but rather smart display units similar to the small netbooks that have become so popular recently. You will probably upload all your images and videos from home (or maybe even from the road). You will edit these with smart services that are located on the web. And you will store them on the web as well, probably with some sophisticated access right management.

All this will take place within the next ten years, i.e. until 2019, probably earlier.

Some serious questions remain though:

:: Security of services. Can you actually trust those cloud computing services? Do you really want to put your crucial images on a server that you can not control? Given the fact that accounts are being terminated all the times for whatever reasons, you will need either waterproof contracts with those providers, or you will have smart online backup services that act as mirrors for the uploads. Or you will have to go for classical backups, either created by the online services (and sent to your home). Of course, you can still create the backups at home.

:: Pricing of services. Today, we are used to pay once for a software like Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom and then use it for as long as we see fit. Of course, today’s online services are free or very cheap, but in the future I expect prices to increase, especially for editing software. Online backups will be rather cheap as these services are not as complex as editing software.

:: Global availability of high-speed networks. It’s all nice if you can upload large files, but what if your customers are still on a slow connection? At least this problem will limit the full usability of the faster network (on your end) – the majority of visitors will still have to look at downsized previews, because they are on a slower connection.

Anyway, I am very much excited by thinking of the gigabit society, whatever other changes it may bring.