The future of digital photography

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.

8 Responses to “The future of digital photography”

  1. Peer says:

    “Pricing of services”

    Did you ever take a serious look at free software? Like digiKam (which advance with great steps), The Gimp (which can be scripted at will via APIs), Gallery, also Inkscape, Skribus etc.?

    I’m not sure if these softwares meet the need of a professional photographer already, but afaik, there are at least some professionals who DO use these. And this is software for free. Because some people are willing to spend time, effort, and some also real money donated to programmers, and create software free for all to use. In an increasingly global community, only some altruists (programmers or their supporters) are sufficient to create big things, since software can be copied for almost free (and legally so in the case of free software).

    I guess this is another big trend happening right before our eyes. There might be a tipping point when free software will sweep most other software away. Growth in market share is still somewhat slow, but remember the water lily…

  2. Mark Zanzig says:

    I hear you, Peer, but I remain sceptical.

    You can not compare free software with free services, for the simple reason that running a reliable, scalable high-quality service takes an awful amount of money. Just ask the folks at Youtube. I guess that Youtube is losing money every single day they operate. Google has been subsidizing this service until now, but times may change.

    So, can free services work? Yes, of course. I used to have a free mail account at I had it for a decade, until the other day the whole service was shut down. All the mails in my mailbox (mostly spam) got deleted. Boo!

    Just take a look at Flickr’s Help Forum. It is filled with complaints about accounts being removed without prior notice. Happens every single day, even for paid accounts.

    So think again – do you really want to put all your valuable photos on a free service, run by some geeks from their dorm rooms? I don’t think so. Be prepared to pay for quality services you consume, even if it is “just” a couple of terabytes for your RAW photos.

  3. Jas says:

    Speaking of online backups, please check out these online backup reviews:

  4. Peer says:

    The idea was to run your photo collection on a free service run by yourself in your own room. :-) That might not be for everybody … but the software is getting better and easier to use over time. And with these you have (or can have) more control over everything, but of course, there is some learning curve as just with everything.

    But I see where the confusion came from. Your spec included cloud computing for your own photo transformations as well as the public exposure of your photo collection. These two are not exactly the same. Running a server is not the same story as running just some other program. But both can be done.

    AFAIU, digiKam strives to be a replacement for Lightroom, GIMP for Photoshop, and Gallery can be used to create websites to upload somewhere or to run on your server.
    But the thing is, all these are free software, and improving. They might not be what you or some other users need — but maybe they are? (Or will become?) I simply don’t know.

    And anyway, you can mix services. Flickr has an API, other services as well. So if you know a bit of programming, you can mix things and create whatever you want. It’s a lot of fun. Can you do this as easily with commercial software?

    And it might give you a competitive edge.

  5. Peer says:

    And, hey, Youtube and Google run on free software anyway. Guess why… :-)

    It’s not only cheaper, but first of all, it’s about really owning the data. I really know about that one from bad experiences. No vendor lock in and monopolies in free software.

    And your own site is running on Linux, too. ;-)

    Ok, I’m probably overdoing it now. But you might still want to take a closer look at these software at some point. Even if it’s not “it” right now, it might be interesting enough to follow it.

    What you do with it depends on your goals and resources, of course.

  6. Mark Zanzig says:

    Yep, Google runs free software…

    Gmail Goes Down, Again (GOOG)

    Coincidence? ;-)

  7. Mindy says:

    I was shocked when I saw a videographer at a wedding using a canon 5d mark ii as their camera to capture video. Hopefully it turns out good for them.

  8. Mark Zanzig says:

    Mindy, I have been doing doing videos for a while now (for marketing departments and advertising agencies, not weddings) and I can tell you that the video industry is QUICKLY moving towards DSLRs. The 5D mark II is currently the state of the art camera, and I can see why that happens. It offers a much better image quality, especially with Canon’s L lenses, a quality that is matched only by professional video cameras that are waay more expensive. Sure, the handling is still somewhat awkward, but some companies offer already professional rigs to enable smooth focusing and handling… So, expect more videographers to show up with DSLR cameras very soon.