Is a Cell Phone a Camera?

“What do you call a box with a plastic, wide-angle lens, tiny imaging sensor and no way to control aperture, shutter speed of ISO setting?”—Joe Farace

Today’s Rant by Joe Farace

If you described a brand new digital camera like that some people would say “it’s a digital Holga,” but I don’t think anybody would say, “that sounds like a great camera.” But if all of a sudden you say it’s a phone, people will rave that it’s the wonderful new cell phone that takes beautiful pictures.

TV Commercials for new cell phones show happy millennials dancing La-La Land-like ballets while listening to music on wireless headphones. Or they’re floating in the ocean and telling their phones, “make a selfie.” But I have never seen a commercial for a cell phone talking about the excellent frequency response of the microphone and that it providea excellent wireless coverage in all 50 states. Nope. Mary’s new iPhone won’t even provide uninterrupted conversations in our house.

But, they’re not really phones, I think. They are portable com-puters that quality wise include a phone function that pales in com-parison of even the crappiest land line. It seems like we were happy to trade audio quality telephone service and dependability for convenience. And hey, we can take pictures with it. And every time a new iPhone of Android phone announces its new camera, on-line and the few remaining photo magazine pundits gush how great the camera is and how it “has portrait mode.”

Many years ago, me and some of my erstwhile colleagues were guests of Agfa (remember them?) in Antwerp and they took that opportunity to ask us some questions. One of the first was “what do you think off us adding a phone to our cameras” and collectively we thought it was the dumbest idea we every heard and laughed our asses off. Turns out it was the wrong question: It turns out that the right question was “what do you think off adding a camera to phone.” Of such trains of thought are future Steve Jobs made.

And to answer the question I asked at the beginning: Just because a device can make a picture, doesn’t make it a camera, any more than a surveillance camera is a real camera. And just as, owning a camera doesn’t make you a photographer; it makes you a camera owner. And that’s my opinion and I may be wrong.

Author: Joe Farace

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