Photography in 20 years

Photographer, Ferry Building - San Francisco, California

Photographer, Ferry Building – San Francisco, California

“That’ll be you in twenty years” said my family. They were talking about the gentleman above, an obvious enthusiast taking a picture at the Ferry Building in San Francisco. I agreed with their light-hearted comment. Though obviously, he’s using a DSLR and I’m a mirrorless guy, as you probably know. But, that got me thinking. What would photography be like in twenty years?

A decade ago, Panasonic and Olympus introduced the first mirrorless cameras. Ten years later, it’s finally obvious to most that the DSLR is dying and will be replaced by mirrorless. Even more surprising, the smartphone has completely taken over the point and shoot market and now threatens the higher end. The pace of digital technology accelerates and their capabilities increase on an exponential curve. Which means, we may not even recognize a camera twenty years from now.

This silly discussion about full frame mirrorless will be moot. If Olympus plays their cards right, much of the real and perceived advantages of full frame will be digitally simulated and augmented with AI. And, I think this will happen within five to ten years. But, that’s only the beginning. The future of photography is AI and its capabilities will increase exponentially.

Twenty years for now, interchangeable lens cameras won’t be needed at all, even for the high-end. If fact, for most people, they may not have to take any photographs at all. I envision a world where a smartphone app will completely simulate any scene or any person, in software, using AI. Going to a tourist destination? No need to take family snapshots. All you have to do is pick the family members, choose a background, say Disneyland Castle, and the app will automatically generate the image for you.

You can even simulate the past by selecting the kids when they were cute pre-teens and the parents without the thinning and graying hair. Want to take a picture with a celebrity? An in-app purchase will allow you to add the movie star of your choice to your family snapshot.

Sounds crazy? Even now, high-end computers using AI can realistically generate pictures of fake people. In twenty years, when the hand-held devices are thousands of times more powerful, fake image generation will be child’s play. The same will go for professional photography. Any scene could be simulated and there will be no difference between fake and real.

I also predict that future retro hipsters will insist on taking photos the old fashioned way, with interchangeable lenses and non-scene simulating image processors. The cameras that are coming out now, will be the quaint machines, like the film cameras of yore.

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4 thoughts on “Photography in 20 years

  1. We’re already headed in the general direction you’ve alluded to. For example, consider the just-released Nokia 9 Pureview ( with a five-camera setup in the back. It is using design support from Light, who released the multi-lens camera L16 over two years ago. Unfortunately, it took that long to take possession of the initial release and the reviews have been checkered at best (see for example I don’t disagree with the overall assessment. But an awful lot of engineering is going to have to take place beyond what has already taken place.

    But I do agree with one point you’ve written. The argument over “full frame” cameras is moot. Every camera from using a one inch sensor on up is excellent and all of them exceed what 35mm film was able to deliver (and still delivers).

    1. It’s going to get really interesting over the next several years as digital and AI try to overcome the limitations of a smaller form factor.

      Light L16 is a fascinating camera, though the actual version did not work as well as I hoped. And, it looked rather large. I’m glad the technology is being used elsewhere.

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