In 2005 I bought myself the first digital SLR camera under $1,000. The Nikon D70 was then only the second such “cheap” digital single-lens reflex camera on the market. It was a huge investment for me at the time but it was worth every cent.
Not only did it rekindle my love of photography but it opened up the world of digital. I would fill gigabytes of memory with pictures as I rediscovered the joys of having a professional camera again; and being able to frame up decent shots and snap the pic at exactly the moment I wanted to. I had started out my career as both a writer and photographer but was told by an early boss I could only focus on one of them, because old negative-based photography was so time-consuming.
But being digital changed everything, as it would change all of photography itself.
What made a SLR camera so remarkable what that, unlike earlier cameras, you could look through the actual lens using a complicated mirror mechanism. This allowed you to actually see what would be captured, unlike previous models that had a small viewing lens above the actual lens. After framing the picture and when you clicked the button, it flipped the mirror up and burnt the image onto the negative. That mirror movement produced the characteristic click that has so defined professional photography and given an unique soundtrack to press conferences and the paparazzi.
The DSLR didn’t have a strip of negative to expose but it retained the larger body of a pro SLR – in part because the two major manufacturers needed to protect their investment in the camera systems. These include, in no small part, the lenses you attach to the cameras, and this “glass” can cast a small fortune. That characteristic click sound as the photo was captured was artificially included in the DSLR to keep professional photographers happy, one camera maker told me gleefully.
Now, I don’t even own a DSLR – although I’d be deeply appreciative to whoever I lent both my Nikon and Canon to if they returned them – but take all my pictures using my smartphone. Like everyone.
I recently upgraded to the iPhone 7 Plus, which has two 12 megapixel lenses – one wide-angle, the other a zoom – which allows it to replicate that classic photographer’s trick of using a telephoto lens to take portraits with the subject in focus and the background blurred. Its other camera upgrades and usability tweaks make it arguably the best smartphone camera.
The latest camera phone I’ve tested is from reinvigorated Motorola, the skinny Moto Z. This little phone differentiates itself from the rest of the Android pack by having clever modifications that you can attach to the back using strong magnets. One of these is the superb Hasselblad attachment that takes amazing images, using the screen as a viewfinder. It has a 10 x zoom function that I tested with a ship in Cape Town’s harbour at sunset. The wide view was glorious, and the zoomed-in view lost none of its rich orange and gold colours nor its definition.
Of course, Hasselblad are masters of photography who make cameras that are to other cameras like Maybach is when compared to other cars; including those of its owner, premium manufacturer Daimler-Benz.
A lot has changed in the 11 years since my first DSLR.But it shows how companies, from Apple to Moto to Hasselblad, have had to reinvent themselves. They’re doing a good job so far.
This column first appeared on Financial Mail