What a difference a decade makes

Written by David Shapton

Shutterstock/RedSharkWhat a difference a day makes

The technological progress we've made in a decade is simply staggering and all the signs are that the rate of change is only on the increase.

As a result of reading The DSLR Revolution Is Finally Over, someone emailed me to say that the pace of progress underpinning the rise and fall of the video-capable DSLR is almost frightening, and I must say that I agree. It’s not that I’m scared by it particularly (although it is pretty breathtaking) but that the speed of innovation is increasing, to the extent that I don’t think we can make any accurate predictions at all. Ten years ago you could look maybe three years ahead with some confidence. Now, you can’t even predict what’s going to be at the next major trade show, in six months time.

This effect is real and tangible.

Let’s stay with DSLRs for a moment.

The Canon EOS 5D Mk I

I bought a Canon 5D in 2006, less than a year after it was first announced in August of the previous year. It wasn’t called the Mark I then, of course, and it absolutely didn’t cater in any way for video. There was no Live View and no way to capture anything other than still images, which it did very well (as was the case then and still is now, with only around 12.8 megapixels, the signal to noise performance was good). I bought it because I take a lot of still photos, and this was the first “affordable” full-frame DSLR and I wanted to be able to take some decent wide-angle shots.

Ten years later, we’re on our way, probably, to a fourth generation of 5D, and, whether or not this coming generation of the now iconic camera will make a big deal about video, our current expectations of how a new camera should perform have been completely and utterly transformed. We’ve come from not being able to record video at all, to being able to shoot 4K video, sometimes at a high framerate, on cameras that are more affordable than ever. It’s hard to put this in perspective, but going back just three more years than when the original 5D debuted might help.

Approaching HD

In 2002, I wrote an article for a video magazine saying that while the current digital (still) cameras had sensor resolutions approaching that of HD (ie around two and a half megapixels), several still camera manufacturers had told me that we were unlikely to see them capturing HD video for many years - if ever, because of the data rates you’d need. You just couldn’t get video off a sensor and store it fast enough for HD. What’s more, the storage would have been prohibitively expensive: back then, a gigabyte of flash memory cost around $500.

Just six years later the 5K Mk II - which could, of course, record HD video, came out. (I should mention here that Nikon was the first to release a video-capable DSLR, the D90, which could record 720p).

The iconic iPhone

Here’s another illustration of progress - actually over a span of much less than a decade. The iconic iPhone was announced in 2007. The current version - to be replaced, no doubt, in less than six months by a faster one - is over fifty times faster than the original. Not twice, not five times, not ten, but fifty. And what a camera it has! Quite simply it takes impossibly good photos and remarkable videos.

All of which means that I have absolutely no idea where we’ll be in ten years time. I can guess, but the most likely outcome of such speculation is that my prediction will be based on trends that completely ignore some product or phenomenon that we’re simply not aware of yet.

Hold on tight. The next ten years will be a thrilling ride and we have no idea about the destination.

Tags: Technology

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