Revenge of the PhD Camera

Hipstamatic water meter
Hipstamatic water meter

Cameras come in two flavors. There are expensive serious cameras used by serious photographers to take serious photographs and then there are PhD, (Push here Dummy), cameras. Serious cameras meet the highest technical standards, lenses are diffraction limited, chromatic aberration approaches zero, pixel counts match Nyquist limits, ISO’s exceed retinal sensitivity, auto-focus is instantaneous, color spaces are wide, calibrated and range into the infra-red and ultra-violet. PhD cameras don’t go there! PhD cameras provide a button for dummies to push. Over the years I’ve ying’ed and yang’ed from serious to PhD cameras. It’s not that I cannot make up my mind. Camera choice is another eternal struggle sort of like that squabble between good and evil or light and regular beers.

When I’m on a serious photography kick I put time, expertise and money into my pictures. For me serious photography is exhausting. I  seek out worthy subjects, wait for the right light, agonize over composition, experiment with lenses, tweak f-stops, adjust shutter speeds and take as many exposures as light and time allow. Then the post shutter ordeal begins. Digital imaging processing makes anything possible. You can take your exposures and like some mad photo-shopping Rumpelstiltskin spin straw into gold.  But, as in the fairy tale, there is a high price, perfect images will suck years out of you. Photographers often talk about workflow and they aren’t kidding. When I start tweaking my workflow I know I’m reaching the end of my serious rope. Photography is one of my hobbies and I never ruin hobbies by turning them into jobs!

The World's largest Photo Libraries 2011

Eventually I snap out of it and resume PhD’ing. Unlike serious photography PhD’ing is effortless and fun. It’s always been fun, remember Brownies and Instamatics, but this is the golden age of PhD photography! In the last decade PhD cameras have evolved and mutated from cheap plastic boxes filled with grainy high-speed ISO film to sophisticated little internet photo-shopping engines that ride around in our pockets as cell phones. I don’t even know why they are called cell phones. My iPhone takes hundreds of images for every phone call it processes. It’s really more of an iCamera+iBrowser that can, on rare occasions, be used as a phone. Based on surveys of web image sites I am not the only iCamera user. PhD photography is growing faster than the national debt.

Mixing up cell phone color channels
Mixing up cell phone color channels

Explosive growth attracts armies of sinners and saints. Every two-bit whore chasing a buck is now writing image processing software for cell phones. In the last two years we’ve seen apps that stitch panoramas on the fly, apply cheesy photo-shop effects and automatically create HDR images by blending two or more exposures.  As Sturgeon’s law predicts most of these apps are crap but that’s not a problem for PhD photography. The goal is to offer a fun button for dummies. My favorite PhD app is a great little toy called Hipstamatic. Hipstamatic simulates crappy old PhD film cameras loaded with expired film. You can choose a lens, a film and a flash or you can just shake your iPhone and let it randomly select these parameters. Shake and shoot; it’s the revenge of the PhD camera.

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