This post was Inspired by Tony Northrup's "The Death of the Consumer Camera" An excellent youtube post by a very good photography teacher. I encourage you to check this and other videos by Tony. You can find the referenced video here: https://youtu.be/AGp3JXKtHBM
In the video Tony is talking about the impact that smartphones and photography apps are having on people learning the basics of photography, and it being the introduction and foundation of their photography. Some disagree, refusing to accept a camera inside a phone as being a "real" camera or a user of Instagram being a "real" photographer. For myself I see it as no different than when I started photography almost 35 years ago. My introduction was on small 110 film cameras and Polaroid cameras which I shot with for years before finally getting my first "real" camera (Pentax K1000). My first introduction to viewing photographs, aside from the occasional book, was in family and friends' photo albums. Most photographers begin with the love of viewing, taking, and sharing photographs, not by starting out with a full understanding of controlling aperture and shutter speed.
I believe people do learn photography by using Instagram and other photo sharing sights. They learn it the same way I did thirty years ago, by seeing a photo, thinking it was really cool, and wanting to do something similar. They begin to develop an eye for what looks good to them and what doesn't, even if they aren't conscious of it. When some people come across amazing photos (yes, there are some amazing photos on Instagram) they will be inspired to learn more about photography and art which might end up with them moving up to better photography equipment. They may be inspired to take some art classes or read books on lighting and composition. All this has to begin with an introduction to the art that is accessible and draws people in however.
Most photographers themselves have for a long time made the claim that it isn't the equipment that makes the photographer but their ability to envision and create what type of image they are after and their artistic skill and development. To refuse that someone can't achieve this with an app on a camera phone becomes just a bit hypocritical. That's not to say that with different equipment there becomes more opportunity to expand the photographers creative vision. There needs to be, however, photographic tools that help to create and share those images in ways our modern society appreciates and utilizes.
There needs to be a strong enough perceived improvement in more advanced photography equipment to pull those budding photographers into their fold. In film days there were major noticeable differences in quality when moving up film sizes, even in small prints. Today, however, the majority of people (even enthusiast photographers) view nearly all the photographs they will look at on digital screens, not prints. While a high quality print is an amazing thing it has become relegated to very special events. Snapshots and even "nice" pictures are viewed on our phones, tablets, and computers. For this, under decent lighting conditions, there isn't enough noticeable improvement in quality when moving from a good smartphone camera to a "real" camera. Yes, you can control more of the look of the image if you have controls that allow you to adjust shutter speed and aperture but that ability isn't limited to "real" cameras. Many smartphones have the ability to control shutter speed and ISO, keep the RAW file, and some have dual lenses with different focal lengths or even optical zoom lenses built in.
The quality that smartphone cameras can produce just keeps getting better but most camera manufacturers are not making similar jumps in convenience and ease of use. They have to do more than make the minor improvements to quality that's getting developed, especially considering nearly all ILC's (interchangeable lens cameras) have vastly better quality than most people need or care about.
Even when noticeable it has never been quality that has been the primary factor in deciding what camera gear people use. Convenience, ease of use, and cost have always trumped quality. Otherwise, enthusiast photographers from the film era would have shot on nothing smaller than an 8x10 camera and 35mm would not have existed at all. The world would never have seen most of the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Endre Friedman, Jay Maisel, and so many more photographers.
For myself, I prefer to have a camera in my hand that has a viewfinder to block extraneous light and help me frame, I want a camera that has buttons and nobs that allow me to make quick adjustments without having to take the camera away from my eye, and I want a camera that gives me sufficient quality and features for its purpose. Modern digital cameras that are based on traditional film cameras do all of this well except for the last one. They are extremely poor at having features designed for showing and sharing the photos you've taken with that camera. Most are also not very good at making adjustments with the camera itself to the images you've taken. These areas are where smart phone manufacturers and app developers excel.
Unfortunately for camera companies smartphones are bridging the gap toward features, quality, and functionality faster than camera manufacturers are improving their sharing abilities. Transferring photos off of and sharing them on most "real" cameras is a slow and frustrating experience. Doing the same thing on a camera phone is simple and fast. Improving the ability to share photos from your camera to an app on your phone is a good but basic start. By this point in their development there should be the level of sophistication in camera software that smartphones have. There should be partnerships with telecom companies that allow for built in 4g chips inside the cameras themselves allowing straight upload to places like Instagram, Flickr, Dropbox, or even your own home server. This should all be able to be set automatically or under manual control. This should have happened five years ago.
As a photographer I truly hope the camera manufacturers start turning things around quickly. There is still hope, Hasselblad has been making some promising jumps in their tech and design. The user interface on their X1D looks head and shoulders above most others with large clean icons and and intuitive interface. Let's hope the rest of the industry starts to get it before they go the way of the 8x10 field camera.