Echoing the words of Sony President and CEO Terushi Shimizu, Qualcomm Vice President of Product and Camera Management Judd Heape believes that AI smartphones will outperform DSLRs in terms of image quality in the next few years. His estimate is a bit longer than the 2024 date mentioned by Sony, offering 3-5 years as the time frame, but he believes the sensor area is already there and now AI capabilities will push it over the edge.
It’s a bold claim, from both people, but are they right? Well, I think context is important. For the 99 percent of people who just want to quickly get the camera out and take a half decent picture while on the go, yes, they probably are. But can they really usurp DSLRs and mirrorless cameras in all situations? No, I don’t think so.
There is no doubt that smartphone cameras and AI technology are improving at an unprecedented rate. They are improving much more quickly than today’s DSLR or mirrorless cameras. Sensors and computer imaging technologies are already much more than anyone expected just a few short years ago. in talking with Android saladHeape said, “In terms of getting DSLR image quality, yes. I think the image sensor is there.”
He also said that “the amount of innovation that’s going into portable image sensors is probably faster and more advanced than what’s happening in the rest of the industry,” and I don’t think there’s much doubt that’s true. And it’s not really a surprise. Everyone owns a smartphone. Not everyone owns a DSLR or mirrorless camera. The market is much larger and it makes sense to invest in these small smartphone sensors.
And it’s not just about sensors, it’s about processors. Snapdragon processors, which are produced by Qualcomm and which are probably found in the majority of smartphones out there in the world, far exceed the capabilities of the processors found in most cameras. This also makes sense, because they have to perform more demanding tasks than just taking pictures. But when you need to take pictures with it, all that processing power is right there and available to use.
And that’s exactly what the AI capabilities of newer phones do, taking advantage of all that processing power to eventually get an end result that rivals most people with photos taken with a DSLR or mirrorless camera. Smartphones encroaching on DSLRs and mirrorless lands were not entirely unexpected. They’ve gotten rid of built-in cameras pretty much overnight and thanks to the power that smartphones bring to them, it’s simply a matter of time.
But will they replace DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for everyone and every situation? No, of course not. While computational photography can do a lot, and while we’ve seen developments like 10x optical zoom, DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will hold their place in many photographers’ lives for a long time.
Even if smartphones can eventually overcome some of their limitations – such as shooting fast-paced events in low-light situations, there is still the problem of ergonomics, connectivity, and the technical ability of more advanced technologies. I think sports and wildlife shooters will struggle to adapt a smartphone to the needs of long lenses. Working with flash is also another big hurdle for which I don’t think smartphones will ever be used very much among the masses. And there are a lot of other technologies and genres where I don’t think smartphones will give us what we need.
Not that I don’t think they will be able to do such tasks, I don’t think there is motivation for smartphone companies to work on it. As with flash, for example. I think that every smartphone on the market today is able to work with almost any flash system from a hardware and technical point of view, not just software. But there is no incentive for smartphone manufacturers to really develop it because it is a relatively small segment of the smartphone ownership market. surely, Profoto has their own appBut it’s not a smartphone company and only works with its lights, iPhones, a few select Samsung devices, and not all smartphones across the board.
In the end, I think it all boils down to control. The more responsibility and functionality we free up from AI, the less control we ultimately have because the processor does it all for us, guessing what we want. And for the vast majority of smartphone users, that’s okay. This is, after all, who smartphone companies are developing for. But the “niche” capabilities that only DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can offer? I don’t think this will change for a long, long time, if it does. If so, I think it would only be because they need to unlock a certain ability for one thing and third party developers are taking it upon themselves to exploit that ability for more use cases and niche features.
I have to admit that I find myself using my smartphone for more general photography these days. Explore a new city or head into the wilderness to go camping. It’s more convenient and the photos are already good enough to document our lives. But for more creative stuff, where I want to control every aspect of the shot and possibly interact with other devices, I still take DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, and probably always will.
What do you do with DSLRs and mirrorless cameras that a smartphone can never replace?
[via Android Authority]
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