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Smile, you may be on camera

When digital cameras first came out, they were huge, bulky and cost a small fortune. This is no longer the case. They are now everywhere. You likely have a camera right now in your pocket that is of higher quality than the state-of-the-art digital cameras were just a few years ago.

When you drive your car, you likely use several cameras just to get out of your driveway. I recently replaced my 11-year-old Honda CRV with a newer model. The 2016 version of the car has more cameras than I do. I am only being a little sarcastic. The backup camera has three different angles. A camera in the right-hand rearview mirror displays the right side of the car. There is a forward-facing camera mounted behind the mirror that I suppose is used by the on-board computer to gently nudge the steering wheel to keep a possibly distracted driver in the middle of the lane. The example is just one car, and a six-year-old model at that.

Look around, cameras are everywhere. Getting gas, a camera takes your picture, stopped at a traffic light, cameras are monitoring how many cars are waiting for it to turn green. When using the ATM, smile, it just took your picture. The next time you go to Wal-Mart, look on the roof before you walk in. There are scores of cameras pointing toward different parts of the parking lots. Other cameras monitor the inside of the store.

Most of the images created by these robotic cameras are utilitarian in nature. They tend to be very bland, some, like the forward-facing camera in my rear-view mirror, is not even viewable by a person.

The tiny digital camera helped our nation and the world out a year ago when we all found ourselves suddenly depending on them for basic communication. The fact that nearly all computers and phones have a built-in camera has allowed the entire national education system to pivot to online learning basically over a weekend last March. It was, and is still far from perfect, but it allowed things to continue. The pandemic has been a horrible, terrible, life changing event for so many people. Some had to say goodbye to their loved ones by using the tiny cameras built into phones and tablets.

FaceTime was not introduced until 2010. ZOOM came along in 2012. Without them, the last year would have been even darker than it was. All this is made possible because technology became cheaper, better quality and smaller. The tiny cameras are far from perfect, but for many applications they have been good enough to get by on.

Because the cameras are better quality than older versions, they can operate in all kinds of lighting conditions. This has led to things like trail cameras that capture anything that happens to be walking by. This can lead to photos that are unique and bring a little joy to people that get to see the results.

One example of this can be found on page two of today’s Times. A river otter crawled up on a dock at a marina in Williamstown. A motion detector within the trail camera mounted on the dock automatically fired the camera. The photo was submitted by Judy Mondo, the owner of the dock and trail camera. It is the type of photo that likely could have never been taken by a person because the shy animal would have never crawled on the dock if a person had been there. This was not the first trail camera photo to be submitted. A bobcat was captured a few years ago and sent in by one of our readers.

Cameras will likely continue to get smaller, cheaper and better quality. Who knows where they will show up next? I never thought my car would carry more cameras than I do, so wherever they appear it will not surprise me.

Art Smith is online manager of The Times and a long-time photographer. You can contact him at asmith@mariettatimes.com.

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