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Why Gen Z Prefers Low Megapixel Cameras

Julien Donkey-Boy, Harmony Korine

The latest iPhone 14 pro has 48 MP. The "hottest new" TVs make great movies look like stageplays.

Did people ask for this? Perhaps with their wallets. It seems the camera on the iPhone has been the most important feature for more than ten years as, coinciding with overall operating speed and connectivity, photo and video have become central to the way we interact with the world and each other. Documenting moments through a quick tap has replaced, for many, everything from communicating with friends to journaling to carrying a grocery list.

In 2003, twenty years ago, people were relatively happy with the 3MP Nikon Coolpix 3100. For better or worse, the Coolpix is becoming cool again. According to the below New York Times article, "Young people are opting for point-and-shoots and blurry photos."

"The Hottest Gen Z Gadget Is a 20-Year-Old Digital Camera."

It makes sense. Photos are not necessarily used to capture sentiment, but rather authenticity. Crisp photos don’t equate to nostalgia, or even truth, and as our smart phone cameras became beautifiers through multi-lens optimization and digital filters, it’s natural that a resurgence towards distortion renews as a fad. It's not unlike the indie rock that arose in the 90's and 00's (Dinosaur Jr., Modest Mouse, No Age, Neutral Milk Hotel, etc. etc.) were in direct messy contrast to the sheen of 80's synth and hair metal, and the "high key" pop hits from boy bands, Britney, Avril Lavigne, Maroon 5.

There’s a reason why, at first blasphemous, impressionism captured the attention of so many viewers. For a long time, people wanted art to mirror reality; well, sometimes the ship far away appears a smudge to the naked eye, and sometimes the ship close up, even if viewed clearly, was foggy in memory.

Impressionism, Sunrise, Claude Monet

Life is chaotic, and perfect iPhone snapshots don’t necessarily reflect its chaos and longings and imperfections.

There is a suite of films (more a certification) called Dogme95, in which a few 90's-era Scandinavian filmmakers, bored and disillusioned with history's overly produced films set out to make iconoclastic movies which followed a set of rules that limited visual aesthetics, thus heightening realism. They called these rules "The Vow of Chastity:"

  1. Shooting must be done on location. Props and sets must not be brought in (if a particular prop is necessary for the story, a location must be chosen where this prop is to be found).

  2. The sound must never be produced apart from the images or vice versa. (Music must not be used unless it occurs where the scene is being shot.)

  3. The camera must be hand-held. Any movement or immobility attainable in the hand is permitted.

  4. The film must be in color. Special lighting is not acceptable. (If there is too little light for exposure the scene must be cut or a single lamp be attached to the camera.)

  5. Optical work and filters are forbidden.

  6. The film must not contain superficial action. (Murders, weapons, etc. must not occur.)

  7. Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden. (That is to say that the film takes place here and now.)

  8. Genre movies are not acceptable.

  9. The film format must be Academy 35 mm.

  10. The director must not be credited.

The King Is Alive, Kristian Levring

The Idiots, Lars von Trier

Julien Donkey-Boy, Harmony Korine

The films, as one might guess, tended to defy not just aesthetic norms, but also cultural ones, with highly contentious subjects that were raw, absurd, and often insulting. But they were also embraced as a return to filmmaking sanity, recognizing how more popular films always seemed to view the world and its potentialities through meticulous structure, polished dialogue, pristine lights and sound.

Amid the relative safety of our real-world and digital cultures today, it makes sense that younger generations seek to see their daily lives embodied in purposefully low-resolution photographs, allowing them to reclaim a bit of “danger,” and add some chaos to their memories of moments that were undoubtedly chaotic.

Millennials had their return to analog film photography—arguably less safe with difficult manual settings and light leaks. It seems fitting that Gen Z does the same but with the faster pace of digital photography, more akin to the improvised nature of MTV camcorder shows.

There is a personal liberation in seeing the world through a blurry lens; it allows us to de-beautify our lives, which tend to be a confusing combination of beautiful, crisp, selective, vague, obscured, and forgotten. In this way, a slightly blurry, grainy 3 MP photograph is more accurate and honest than if it had been taken using all 48 MP of an iPhone 14 Pro.

It's not a rejection of technology; it's using old tools whose limitations turned out to serve a unique purpose.

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