An Incredible Example of the Pace of Modern Technological Change
I created this webpage for one purpose. It drives me crazy how naive most people are about the pace of technological change in the modern world. People think artificial intelligence is centuries away, that traveling in space on a regular basis is the dream of future generations, that the world we see around us is a good approximation of the world we will live in a century from now, and apparantly that "film will never die", that often-heard cry of the nastalgic movie-director and romantic photographer alike who together hark for a time when visual media was pure and free of the ills of technological dystopia. The problem is, people do not comprehend the increasing speed with which technology evolves. This webpage attempts to exemplify this trend.
Sometime in mid 2002, approximately, I was having a conversation with a friend about photography. This friend is an avid photographer (it might have been her major, I don't recall), and I remember her going on about how film would never die, and about how digital photography would never equal film photography. She commented on the unimpressive resolution and high cost of such equipment, and on the unprofessional utility of most contemporary digital cameras at the time, which did not even include interchangable lenses or SLR-type action among other ailments. This conversation really irritated me because I could barely have imagined such a myopic view of the world, had it not been presented to me directly by this person. In recent years SLR-type digital cameras and interchangable lenses have come into being. Likewise, the resolution has continued to increase while the price has continued to decrease.
In late 2003, I got the idea to collect as much information on digital cameras and their history as possible and to present that information in a clear graphical context that would illustrate just how incredibly fast this technology has gone from mere emergence to complete domination of the industry. The plain and simple fact is that digital photography went from a nonexistent medium to a common medium in about seven years. According to the graphs presented below, it is my prediction that digital photography will dominate film photography by New Year's 2008, and that it will all but wipe out film photography by New Year's 2010, less than fifteen years after its inception.
The vast majority of the data presented on this webpage was collected from http://www.dpreview.com/reviews/timeline.asp, which has amassed historical data on the evolution of the digital camera for several years. Despite some huge holes in their dataset (many of their archived camera model data do not include introductory prices for the models), there is still an abundance of measurable and quantifiable data available. One thing worth realizing is that the source mentioned above archives "serious" cameras only. 640x480 cameras (the .3 megapixel categories in the following graphs) became so cheap and so ubiquituous after 2000 that they were no longer included in the timeline mentioned above. Instead, they were relegated to the status of trinkets found on keychains, mp3-players, and cell-phones. The same fate probably awaits 1.2 megapixel cameras as well.
Release-Date Price of Digital Cameras Vs. Time, plotted for five sensor sizes (straight line fit):
The graphs above and below show the same data with different line and curve fitting algorithms applied to the points, each point representing a single camera model. It should be noted that in the 6 megapixel and above category a few outliers exist prior to to 2003, but were so expensive that they did not easily fit on the graph. It is also worth noting that as of the end of 2003 there were a few 8 megapixel models released. I did not graph them because there aren't enough 8 megapixel models to estimate trends for them yet. However, the introductory price of one of these 8 megapixel cameras was a mere $999, which serves to point out the most extraordinary observation about these two graphs, which is not the rapid decrease in price for any given sensor size, but is the increasing rate of decrease in price as large sensor sizes are produced.
In other words, as sensor size increases, it is easy to observe from these graphs that the price of a corresponding camera comes down more and more quickly over time. This suggests that in the future, as larger sensors are used in digital cameras, that the time between the original introduction of cameras with a particular sensor size and the time when such cameras goes out of fashion will shrink nearly to zero, which follows on to suggest that digital cameras will be virtually released at low price even for new models in the future.
Release-Date Price of Digital Cameras Vs. Time, plotted for five sensor sizes (exponential fit):
Another way to gauge the progress of this technology is to look at the average cost of a digital camera with respect to its sensor size. To normalize across cameras with different sensor sizes, the following graph shows how much a single pixel on a sensor costs over time on the left axis and how much that cost extends to a theoretical 12 megapixel camera on the right axis. The prediction made by the curve is that sensor pixels will decrease in price by a factor of eight or more between 2004 and 2010, resulting in 12 megapixel cameras in the $100 price range by 2010. A 12 megapixel camera would have a resolution of 4000x3000 pixels which would produce a 13.3 x 10 inch print at 300 dpi or a 26.7 x 20 inch print at 150 dpi.
Release-Date Price Per Sensor Pixel (left axis) and Per 12 megapixels (right axis) Vs. Time (exponential fit):
Another way to measure the proliferation of a new technology is to observe the number of individual models being created by various companies across the market as the market grows. The following graph shows the number of models of digital cameras released on a monthly basis (red) and yearly basis (blue) with an extrapolation in the annual production that reaches 200 models per year by 2009. (The line fit discards the single model released in1994 incidently). The prediction is that the number of new models created per year should double between 2003 and 2009. It is interesting to note that I tried curve-fitting with an exponential and a parabola and both curves hit 200 even earlier than the straight-line fit, which suggests that this graph is conservative in its projection.
Number of New Digital Camera Models Vs. Time (straight line fit):
I would really like to hear what people think of this. If you prefer private feedback, you can email me at email@example.com. Alternatively, the following form and comment section is available.