One definition of a “snob” in popular culture is a person with a specific interest who takes pride in lording his or her (often esoteric) expertise over others. Art snobs, film snobs and food snobs are the common breeds that come to mind, but a lesser-known specimen is the DSLR snob.
Since the advent of the point-and-shoot digital camera, a certain type of snobbery has appeared on online photography forums. DSLR snobbery is the belief that only DSLR cameras (for newcomers, DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex, cameras with large sensors and interchangeable lenses) can create artistically worthy photography, that the lack of control that point-and-shoot cameras offer renders them subpar. A yet more specific type of DSLR snobbery even contends that shooting in “automatic” mode (this mode makes the camera behave like a point-and-shoot by automatically adjusting the exposure settings) as opposed to “manual” on a DSLR is not an authentic use of the camera.
Photographers who subscribe to this belief would shudder at the rise of camera accessories for the cell phone cameras. Online photo specialty stores such as Photojojo offer macro lenses, color filters and other fancy supplements for the iPhone camera:
The iPhone shutter remote, which comes with a miniature stand that clips to the phone’s side, allows mobile photographers to take self-portraits from 30 feet away with blue-tooth technology. Gone are the days when cell phones were relegated to the task of taking blurry photos when a camera was not handy — this device alone would make crisp long-exposure photos, self-portraits, and shake-freevideos possible.
For even more legitimacy, you can also buy an iPhone Rangefinder, which Photojojo calls a “phoneography system that gives your iPhone all the style of a classic camera.” The rangefinder clips onto the iPhone and, although the lens is faux, has a functional shutter button, tripod mount and viewfinder. Add a black camera strap (it comes with strap loops!), and people will not know the difference between your iPhone and an old rangefinder camera.
Add to this list Photojojo’s magnetic cell lenses and you may be wondering why you should bother springing $1000+ for a digital camera at all. These are macro/wide angle, fisheye and telephoto lenses that attach to the iPhone camera, making good-quality close-up, wide angle and warped pictures all accessible with your cell phone. Wed these accessories to the popular and free Instagram iPhone app (which lets you add the effects of vintage filters to mobile pictures), and there is no longer any need to scour Ebay for an old Diana to capture the quality of the camera’s dreamy shots.
The qualms of the aforementioned “snobs” can be understood: although these gadgets provide instant gratification, they lack the organic quality of learning the ins-and-outs of a camera or developing film in the stuffy warmth of a darkroom. But the growth of photography’s accessibility is by and far positive: for most, taking pictures to record memories is purely for enjoyment, and these gadgets have opened up a range of styles for us to choose from.
But sadly, these gadgets squeeze out room for mistakes, and this may be the greatest loss of all. In moving from film cameras to digital, we soon forgot the delightful surprise that came from mistakes in developing film. The occasional light leak can yield beautiful and unique results. The digital camera gave us the opportunity to seek the perfect shot, but it was all too easy to delete from visual memory all the wonderful screw-ups: the mouths open mid-speech, the bawling babies in family portraits. Each picture can turn out perfectly, but serendipity can easily be forgotten. These newfangled accessories can be the same way: they let us imitate the oversaturation and other imperfect qualities of vintage cameras, but this “imperfection” has a manufactured perfection to it: always consistent, leaving no room for mistake or surprise. Hopefully with this new ease in producing photos, we can focus on innovative efforts elsewhere in photography — otherwise, we will end up with an art form that is available to all, but stagnant and common.