A bike ride photo shot with a GoPro
You can take brilliant photos and videos with a GoPro, even while biking for instance.

The History of Photography - Part 9:

Action Cams, Drones, and Other Novelties

In the eighth part of our series it became clear that smartphones have already taken up their place in the world of photography. While all of this has been happening, camera manufacturers have been doing anything but lounging around doing nothing; they’ve strived to come up with more innovative products, one of the motivations of which is to keep the growing smartphone industry at bay. In the last part of our series “The History of Photography,” we’ll cover novelties that have appeared in recent years and also take a look at what the future has in store for us.

The GoPro Continues to Gain in Popularity…

The GoPro company was founded in 2002. Nick Woodman, who was a passionate surfer in his free time, continuously tried to take great photos while hanging ten, but unfortunately to no avail. At this point in time, waterproof cameras were available on the market, however the quality of these cameras just didn’t hold up to Woodman’s standards. He got the idea to create a compact camera that was especially made for athletic activities. It had to be handy and robust enough so that you could also photograph while surfing. After getting this idea, Nick started selling cameras attached to self-sewn armbands out of a van. He eventually got the seed money he needed from his parents and in 2004 the first GoPro model, the Hero 35mm, came to market.

A GoPro Hero 4
The GoPro Hero 4 is the most popular model.

…and Must Establish Itself

Until very recently, the company was enjoying a lot of success. Sales figures were quite substantial and Nick Woodman even submitted a filing for an IPO in 2014. This also brought a lot of success in the beginning. By the end of 2015, however, the tide was beginning to turn and for the first time, sales figures fell short of their projections. One main cause of this is the relatively niche-market nature of the product: the GoPro was made with athletes in mind and is less attractive to people who are not into sports or just go out for an occasional jog. This limits the potential customer base quite a bit. Another big reason for this fall in sales is that the company was releasing new models in regular intervals that were supposed to replace other “outdated” models, but did not show that many improvements or changes when compared to these older models. The Hero 4 series is GoPro’s most successful product line and will continue to be distributed while production of other models has been steadily reduced since April 2016. Last but not least, the market is very competitive: companies such as Rollei and Sony both jumped on the bandwagon and have been selling their own action cameras with comparable success. In spite of all of this, GoPro continues to be one of the leading innovators in the field.

Camera Smartphones Versus Smartphone Cameras

Though the two terms could seem very similar at first glance, they have two completely different meanings. The latter refers to cameras that are integrated in every smartphone, thus the term smartphone camera. The former refers to a kind of hybrid that is a mix of a camera and a smartphone, which attempts to combine the best of both worlds.

The main part of such a camera smartphone is a larger sensor that is up to 15 times bigger than sensors found in normal mobile phones. This has the advantage that, amongst other things, image noise can be avoided. In addition, they come with a higher sensitivity to light with an ISO of up to 25,600, which also contributes to higher image quality. Another plus of such mobile phones is the high-quality lens. These lenses can be especially fast which is a big plus, for instance, when taking photos indoors or if you’re talking about a real zoom lens that you want to use to take extreme close-ups; an everyday mobile phone with its plastic lens just can’t keep up.

The Panasonic CM1, a hybrid of a smartphone and a camera. | CC BY 2.0 Kārlis Dambrāns
The Panasonic CM1, a hybrid of a smartphone and a camera. | CC BY 2.0 Kārlis Dambrāns

In conclusion, for those of you who value a high-quality camera in your mobile phone, you should definitely check out these camera smartphones. These provide you with (almost) everything a normal compact camera would offer, but in the form of a mobile phone. If it’s not that important to you, you can get by just fine with a normal smartphone. These cameras aren’t too terrible for everyday use and will definitely continue to see improvements in the coming years.

The Invasion of Drones: a Useful Gadget or an Annoying Gimmick?

This is probably one of the most controversial developments in recent years. Though mostly used by the military in the past, quadcopters (aka drones) have been becoming more and more popular for personal use.

Œhmichen No. 2
Œhmichen No. 2, photo taken in 1924

The French air pioneer Étienne Oehmichen already began experimenting with rotary wings in the beginning of the 1920’s; on the 11th of November 1922, his work paid off and the Oehmichen No. 2 took to the skies. Quadcopters capable of carrying people are no longer in use today, but the number of drones being put to use for aerial photography and videography continues to rise. It’s generally allowed to use these small helicopters for fun, but there were problems in the past due to privacy concerns. Infringements on people’s privacy can occur when a drone snaps photos of a person without their consent or perhaps even without their knowledge. In addition, drones are not allowed to be flown out of eyesight since controlling the drone becomes much more difficult and the chance of an accident occurring increases. Also, you are not allowed to fly drones in restricted areas, such as near hospitals or gatherings of people. There are many rules and restrictions for such a small plaything that many people don’t even give purchasing such a gadget a second thought. Yet, there are also some positive areas in which drones can be used, e.g. in disaster areas. Thanks to the drones’ high payload, victims can receive first-aid supplies quickly. Moreover, the Deutsche Post AG has been using drones to deliver packages since 2013.

Drones continue to gain in popularity in the private sphere. If you follow the prescribed rules and regulations, there are a lot of positive aspects to using drones. You could, for instance, take brilliant photos or video recordings of parties, fascinating nature landscapes or even gain a new perspective of your own four walls from the air. Let your imagination run wild!

What Does the Future Have in Store?

You could have the impression that the world has seen just about everything. Yet, we’re continually surprised and impressed by new technological developments all the time. Some discoveries and developments are useful while others might seem a bit unnecessary or you might not even be able to understand why someone would make such a thing. One thing that’s come about recently that many people use, while just about as many people ridicule it, is the selfie stick. At monuments, beautiful places, or at parties, someone is bound to whip out this popular gadget and snap some photos. This device has slowly become one of the first things people pack in their luggage when going on trips or to take with them for a night on the town, even when people could hardly imagine doing such a thing only a short time ago. And who knows what is yet to come in the future…

In the world of photography, technological development will never come to a standstill since photographs are an essential part of our daily lives and will not decrease in importance. We will always want to capture, store, and relive special moments and memories. If this is made easier thanks to improved technology and useful gadgets, these developments will be sure to continue enriching our lives.

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