I remember chuckling in the early 2000s when I saw the first cellphone with a camera, wondering why anyone would need it. Why use that little camera with a fraction of a megapixel resolution, when we had point-and-shoots that could do 3 or even 4 megapixels? You know how that story ends.
Fast forward to the selfie. The poorly framed, self-indulgent Facebook and dating-site photo is growing into one of the main picture types we take. Google's Sundar Pichai said, at Google I/O this year, that we take 93 million selfies a day. And the selfie phenomenon is spreading beyond cellphones to regular cameras, point-and-shoots, bridge and mirrorless models, even DSLRs.
HTC's new Desire Eye smartphone sets a selfie milestone. For the first time, the front-facing camera is as good as the rear-facing one — each having a resolution of 13 megapixels. That's more than the iPhone's main camera. Megapixels isn't the only measure of quality, and 13MP may be overkill (thought it allowed me to do some serious cropping in these photos). But it's a sign of how important the selfie is that HTC invested in such a camera for what will likely sell as a midrange smartphone model when it comes to AT&T later this year. (HTC has not revealed the price and availability of them.)
I tried the Desire Eye this week, and found that HTC really had thought through the process. The front camera's 22mm-equivalent wide-angle lens makes it easy to get a few people and your surroundings into the shot. So it's not just a close-up of your nose, but more like the old practice of setting a timer and then running into place with your friends before the camera snaps — without all that hassle.
The quality is impressive for both the front and rear camera. Selfies I took with both came out about the same, though a little better with the front camera, thanks to the camera app's adjustable skin-smoothing tool.
Though the new iPhone 6 (see review) and 6 Plus haven't increased the front-camera megapixel count (it's still 1.2), Apple has upped the selfie game by nearly doubling the camera's light sensitivity and adding a 10fps burst mode.
Even on the high end, the selfie is not to be ignored. Like its predecessor, the new Sony Alpha 77 M2 DSLR has a tilting, rotating, articulating screen that makes it relatively easy to capture professional-grade selfies — at 24.3MP and up to 11fps. The LCD on the superb Canon 70D DSLR can also be turned towards the shooter.
The selfie screen is especially catching on with mirrorless cameras. Olympus has put a flip-down screen on its first selfie camera, the E-PL7. Every recent Samsung model, even its new, pro-level NX1, has a flip-up screen. And Samsung's NX mini series is designed especially for selfies.
Flip-up screens are becoming standard fare in the bridge-camera category. Aside from the ability to switch lenses, these cameras are approaching the capability of entry-level mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
And selfies aren't just for the kids. Last week I saw a woman, likely in her fifties, taking her picture in front of the oft-photographed arch in New York's Washington Square Park. When I offered to take a proper photo of her using the phone's rear camera, the woman waved me away. She wanted to compose her own photo and didn't need my creative ideas.
If you are practiced in the art of selfie-taking, none of this may be surprising. If you are not proficient in selfies yet, chances are you will be soon — whether or not that currently seems likely to you.
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