“You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was an advertising slogan coined by George Eastman the founder of Kodak, in 1888. Eastman believed the ability to make photographs should be available to the world; not just those who had “professional” cameras and the special skills to process film and make prints themselves. The “Kodak Camera” came preloaded with film and once all the exposures had been made, the camera was sent back to Rochester, NY, home of Kodak, where the film was processed and printed. This made it possible for anyone who had the desire to take pictures.
Eastman believed amateur photography attracted two groups of people. The first was “true amateurs”, people willing and able to devote time and money to learn the art of photography. They learned the film developing and printing skills and had a sense of photography as an art form. The second group simply wanted pictures as mementos of their daily lives but were hardly interested in learning how to do the rest. Eastman believed the second group was large in number and would buy a lot of his cameras. He was right, but what was hard for him to predict was that many of the second group would, through their journey of making mementos, decide to explore photography using more “serious” photographic equipment and learn to develop and print their own film.
Over the next 100+ years, the photographic camera market exploded and remained divided. On one side was the professional and advanced amateur, using professional and semi-professional cameras. Many of these photographers acquired the skills to process and print their own film. They also spent time learning new skills to use the photographic process to express themselves or make a living. A much larger part of the market were everyday people who continued to use their simple point-and-shoot film cameras to record important moments and people in their lives. During the last decades of the 20th Century, film processing and printing for this market became so convenient that almost every drugstore in America had a mini-lab offering same day print service to their customers. Many of these people saw the limitations inherent with their point-and-shoot technology and moved “up” to more advanced cameras. In fact, most of the “professional” cameras sold didn’t go to true professionals but rather to the emerging segment of the market wanting either better quality photographic memories or starting their journey into the “hobby” of photography.
The new millennia ushered in the digital age of photography. Professional and advanced amateurs began replacing their film cameras with digital versions and instead of making prints in a darkroom, used their computers to “process” images and ink jet printers to make enlargements. The much larger segment of the market flocked to new digital point-and-shoot cameras, some of which had video capabilities. While some people made prints on their personal ink jet printers, the former print mini labs converted over to making prints from digital files. We still shared prints with one another but the cutting edge segment of the market started creating websites, attaching photos to emails, putting images into “digital picture frames” and sharing photographs on this new thing called “social media”.
In 2007 this all changed with Steve Jobs and Apple’s introduction of the original iPhone. It wasn’t that there weren’t other companies selling mobile phones with cameras prior to the iPhone, it was just that they didn’t make it “Apple easy”. In many ways Steve Jobs was the new George Eastman and it immediately reminded me of Eastman’s “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” except this time, “the rest” was done within the device and you didn’t need to know anything about photography to capture an acceptable image. I bought the original iPhone on the first day it was available and was impressed by the imaging capabilities and the fact that not only was it a phone, but also a computer and music player. I realized how simple and easy it was to use when my six-year-old grandson, who had never seen or touched an iPhone before, picked mine up and began using its features within minutes. Video capabilities were included in 2009 iPhone models and almost overnight, the point and shoot digital camera and video market ceased to exist while social media and the internet replaced the mini lab.
If you ask a professional photographer which camera they consider to be the “best”, most will answer with “the best camera is the one you have with you”. For most of us, as we come to the end of the second decade of the 21st Century, this means the camera in our smartphone, usually an iPhone. Over the past ten years there have been many predictions of the imminent demise of the professional or high-end digital camera as smartphone imaging technology continues to improve.
The new iPhone 8/8Plus and X raise the bar considerably when it comes to their camera/lens/display and imaging software features. Like the cameras for the masses before them, I believe they will continue to change the face of photography and bring people into the magical world of more sophisticated cameras rather than replace that market. iPhones can produce very good images and like many of my photographic colleagues, I have one and use it for what is designed for and at times as a bridge to making artistic images. I also have an advanced featured camera with me to create the images that will effectively express my vision. Stay tuned as I continue my thoughts on how the iPhone is changing the face of photography.