Personal Observations on the Death of Popular Photography Magazine (1937-2017)
by Jeffrey Sward
 
Click here to view The Rise of the Cellular Phone Camera
Click here to view Personal Observations on the Death of Silver-Based Film Photography and Silver-Based Printing
 

Popular Photography Magazine has ceased publication as of March 2017 after a run of nearly 80 years. I discovered the news by clicking on a twitter link which sent me to a dpreview.com article. The dpreview.com recent news page contained the Popular Photography obituary. It is both fitting and ironic that this news was detected via digital and social media when digitization and cellular phone cameras were in large part responsible for the demise of Popular Photography.

The death of Popular Photography is a seminal event marking the end one era and the beginning of the next. This demarcation of a milestone is more significant than the loss of any actual future content.

The rise of digital photography ultimately lead to the creation of the now ubiquitous cellular phone camera. The simultaneous rise of social media and the perpetual connectivity of cellular phones created the proliferation of instant photographs immediately shared. Subsequently the volume of images taken worldwide dramatically increased. As cellular phone cameras increased in relative quality, the resulting images reached the "good enough" threshold for most consumer uses. The case can be made that the general public was never particularly interested in improving the quality of their images. Cellular phones made actual "real" photographic equipment irrelevant for most consumers. Hence, the two main functions of Popular Photography ceased to be relevant, namely image quality and equipment evaluation.

 
Allen Murabayashi and D.B. Hebbard offer related comments:
 

And of course none of these channels [print magazines] can compete with the stream of vernacular images and video that one can find through Instagram and Snapchat. Taking better photos has always been a niche concern – and it has become even more so as photos have become a kind of slang communication. - Allen Murabayashi [1]

 

In a world where every smart phone is a camera, consumers simply are not going to be as interested in the latest camera equipment, and other information related to photography. The tech websites frequently discuss photography – at least as it concerns camera phones – and the web provides plenty of alternatives to the traditional magazines. -- D.B. Hebbard [2]

 
The following article by outgoing editor Miriam Leuchter was published in the final issue of Popular Photography. The unintended irony is palpable.
 

SMARTPHONE VS. CAMERA

Do You Still Need a 'Real' Camera? Consider these facts before you decide whether your smart phone is enough

Text by Miriam Leuchter; photos by Satoshi

1 Smart phones have good cameras. They keep improving, not just in image quality but in capabilities. The best camera phones released in the past year – Android's Pixel, Apple's iPhone 7 Plus, and Samsung's Galaxy S7 – take sharp pictures, focus quickly, and even let you shoot bursts as fast as 10 frames per second. Newer features such as dual camera units for creating the appearance of shallow focus, 4K video resolution, and built-in image stabilization systems help the look of both still photos and video.

2 Real cameras do cooler tricks. It's tough to justify buying a point-and-shoot when your phone can do a comparable job in everyday use. Camera makers are fighting this trend by adding bigger sensors and special features to their compacts. You can also find specialty cameras that do things your phone can't do, such as fly (hello, drones) or take 360-degree spherical images.

3 You already use your phone daily.  Smart phone cameras rule when it comes to size, convenience, simplicity, and easy, instant posting to social media. They're great for snapshots and sneaky pictures. They're extremely handy for making notes and recording the stuff you encounter every day. Just about every committed photographer we know, serious enthusiasts and professionals alike, shoot with a smart phone some of the time. And you'll have that option whenever you reach into your pocket or purse.

4 Special occasions need special gear.  The pictures that pay the bills, get printed big and framed for the wall, or are tough to get just right – these still require a dedicated camera. Committed photographers want to set their pictures apart from the hordes of smartphone-wielding snapshooters. Can you make distinctive photos with a phone? Absolutely! But cameras give you far more options.

5 A camera's bigger sensor means more resolution.  The physical size of a sensor makes a difference. For instance, while they may have the same number of light-gathering photo diodes in their pixel wells, a 12MP Four Thirds sensor will have much larger pixels than a 12MP smart phone sensor. The larger the pixels, the sharper and cleaner the images. And Four Thirds sensors are physically smaller than the APS-C-sized chips used in entry-level DSLRs and some ILCs, let alone the full-frame (35mm) and medium-format sensors used in top-level cameras. So, these not only have larger pixels, but more of them. No wonder some studio pros insist on medium-format digital camera backs with up to 100MP for their most important work – as Satoshi did for the photos here.

6 Body size affects image quality, too. Heat plays a role in photography by creating digital noise in images. A phone's body tends to build up more heat than a larger camera body does, and this degrades image quality, especially in low light when the electronic sensor must work harder to gather data.  Smart phones and cameras alike apply a certain amount of noise reduction in processing JPEG images, but, while this will help the overall appearance of the picture, it will also rob it of resolution – and phones often add a lot more noise reduction than you would need to with a good camera. 

7 Smart phone cams need lots of light.  Noise isn't the only issue. You also need to consider the overall sensitivity of the sensor. Remember those little pixels versus the big ones? Their size makes a big difference in a sensor's ability to take in light. Most cameras will give you usable images in much darker conditions than phones can handle.

8 For true shallow focus, you need a sizable sensor.  The physical size of the sensor affects a picture's potential depth of field – how much of the frame is in focus. The smaller the sensor, the harder it is to isolate a subject by keeping it sharp while objects in front and in back of it blur out. Photographers use this technique judiciously – often you'd rather have more of what's in the frame in focus than to let it go blurry – but it's a look that's prized in portraits. New smart phones, such as the iPhone 7 Plus and the Pixel, create this effect by manipulating the image, but it's not as convincing or attractive as with a large sensor and the right lens.

9 A camera gives you optical options.  Smart phones mostly sport wide-angle fixed lenses, though a few have added a second telephoto module, very few (such as the Asus ZenFone Zoom) have true optical zooms. But even most compact cameras provide a telephoto zoom and some reach as far as 60X. DSLRs and ILCs give you dozens of options for high-quality glass, not just telephoto zooms and primes but specialty lenses such as tilt-shifts and fish-eyes. (Yes, you can get add-ons for smart phones, but these don't offer nearly the control of a camera lens.)

10 Real flash makes a big difference.  The built-in lamp on smart phones lacks the intensely brief duration of a strobe. You can't hold it at an angle to your subject or bounce its light, the way you can with a hot-shoe flash for a camera. Real flash lets you stop motion for a briefer instant than your camera's shutter is open. This also lets you produce cool effects, such as leaving the shutter open for a longer exposure to let some motion in the scene appear blurred while using the flash to freeze the subject. Camera flashes can sync up with each other, too, letting you set up several lights to fire at the same time.

11 Focusing a smart phone is a challenge.  Good smart phones do a decent job of figuring out what part of your picture should be in focus. But good cameras and lenses give you sophisticated auto-focus tracking capabilities for when your subject is moving, and will let you pinpoint the exact spot you want sharpest when you focus manually

12 Changing exposure is even harder.  Smart phone cameras let in as much light as possible as quickly as possible. This helps them avoid noise by using lower ISOs and shorter exposure times. But you might want to set the camera for a longer exposure to let your subject's motion go streaky. Or you may want to preserve the mystery of darkness or render the bright white of a snowy day. A camera can easily change the exposure by widening and narrowing the lens aperture or reducing and increasing the time the shutter is open. With a smart phone, if you can do this at all, you'll need to step through an app. For very long exposures, forget your phone entirely.

13 It comes down to control.  The more you care about photography, the more you want to control the process of making a picture, from how you frame the shot, to how much detail you capture, to what you can do with the image after you shoot. All those buttons and dials on a camera can seem intimidating at first. But once you learn your way around, you realize that they make it easier to get the photo that you imagined. Having a viewfinder lets you immerse yourself in the scene; you can use your fingers to control the lens and the exposure without taking your eye off your subject. You stay in the zone and start to think like a photographer. And that, in turn, will let you take better pictures no matter what tool you use.

EXOTIC HYBRIDS
One way to get better Image quality is to add a little camera that works only with a phone. For Instance, the Dx0 One pops Into an iPhone's Lightning port; the Hasselblad True Zoom snaps onto a Moto Z and gives you 1.0X optical zoom and real Xenon flash.

TIME-LAPSE TOSSUP
Want to create a time-lapse video from a string of still images taken at regular intervals? Many new cameras have time-lapse built in, and apps let your phone do it, too. But keep in mind that using your phone for this could keep it tied up for hours – or days.

BETTER TOGETHER
Now that most cameras have built-in Wi-Fi (and sometimes NFC), you can not only share images right from the camera but use your phone as a remote control, changing settings and firing the shutter from 50 feet away or more. [3]

 
Excellent effort Miriam. All for naught. Too little too late. Spilled milk under the bridge.
 

[1] Murabayashi, Allen. "Don't Mourn Popular Photography." PetaPixel.com. Mar 7, 2017. https://petapixel.com/2017/03/07/dont-mourn-popular-photography/

[2] Hebbard, D. B. "Bonnier Says It Has Shuttered Popular Photography and American Photo." TalkingNewMedia.com, March 8, 2017. http://www.talkingnewmedia.com/2017/03/08/bonnier-says-it-has-shuttered-popular-photography-and-american-photo-no-new-word-on-deal-for-wenners-us-weekly/

[3] Leuchter, Miriam. "Do You Still Need a 'Real' Camera?" Popular Photography March 2017: 60-61.

 

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