The term “camera” is surprisingly fuzzy: It can be applied to anything from the original camera obsura to the “networked lenses” in our phones1—a huge technological and functional divide. The upside is that it leaves the definition up to us, the photographers: We can set our own criteria for the kind of tool we find ideal.
In the essay ‘In Praise of Shadows’, Robin Rendle tries to answer that question for himself (“How would you describe the perfect camera? What do all cameras secretly hope to be?”) and identifies some interesting criteria:
Cameras should be indestructible! They’re not for sitting on shelves, looking cool, and gathering dust. Cameras are for throwing into backpacks and then hiking up mountains. (…) a camera should always be ready at a moment’s notice. Tiny adjustments, viewing images, taking pictures, editing on the go, everything; lightning-fast. Faster-than-fast.
Sounds like a phone at first listen, but Rendle insists that the phone’s very connectedness, its “network excess” as he calls it, is too distracting from the task at hand:
Separating the act of taking a picture from the process of publishing it makes all of this fun again because when photography and publishing are too close together (like on my phone) I’m paying attention to all the wrong incentives.