5G Technology and Digital Photography. What It is and What You Should Know.

5G is the fifth generation wireless technology for digital cellular networks that began wide deployment in 2019. But what exactly is 5G and how will that affect digital photography? One answer is obviously speed. Each generation of gigahertz transmission has stepped up the speed of data transfer, and with ever-increasing image sensor capabilities, the bulk size of individual images (let alone the size of 4K and higher video files) increases the need for speed when transferring these images from one source to another. Like it or not, we’ve become a generation of speed freaks.

The Demand.

Nikon D850

Nikon D850

The latest generation of digital camera image sensors captures between 30-45MP of data with each RAW image in addition to the size of the accompanying JPG. This means that data card real estate and transfer speed capabilities must increase exponentially to accommodate the photon collection glut of data. And that’s just the parking lot acreage on the camera card. Transferring those images from the camera to the computer is another issue altogether. This transfer is now routinely accomplished over WiFi, either at home or over a remote location network. Some of this info will make your head spin.

How will 5G technology impact digital photography? Consider that an experienced shooter will capture between 100 and 300 (both RAW and JPG) images during a typical outing. Not even considering the rapid succession of images captured during a “live” shoot when in Burst mode, this excessive accumulation of captured images requires serious transfer efficiency just to keep the traffic moving. 

If you imagine your camera images as automobiles traveling down the highway, the congestion on the image highway is becoming significant and the volume of cars- staggering. Not only must the speed limit on that highway increase but additional lanes will be required to accommodate the massive number of vehicles traveling the highway.

The Accommodation.

5g-network-transformation-rwdThe digital communications industry is an ever-evolving cause and effect animal that feeds on technology, innovation and speed. This industry builds glutinous devices that generate massive amounts of data and require breakneck-speed delivery vehicles. Digital technology is a growing beast with an insatiable appetite whose keepers never stops feeding it. The industry’s dual mottos seem to be “too much is never enough,” and “nothing succeeds like excess.” To accommodate this need for speed, the communications side of the industry is tasked with building faster and more powerful transmission solutions. Hence, 5G.

As with previous network products, the transmission racetrack is divided into regions called “cells”, that are linked by individual antennas. This array of cells and antennas is analogous to high-speed lanes on the digital highway. Virtually every major telecommunication service provider is deploying these antennas or intends to deploy them soon. The frequency spectrum of 5G is divided into millimeter waves; mid-band and low-band. Low-band uses a similar frequency range as it’s predecessor, 4G. 4G was a marvel in its time, but time is but a stepping stone with technology, and the steps are getting closer together.

5G technology and digital photography is a highway that is both deep and wide by definition, and that means quicker downloads, increased interactivity of devices, much lower latency rate and a significant impact on how we live, work and play. Latency is how long it takes the network to respond to a request, which could be you trying to upload an image to a server, play a song or video or load a website for example. A network has to respond to a request before it even starts loading, which can lead to minor but perceptible lag. We all know the drill and are familiar with the spinning beachball of lag. The connectivity benefits of 5G are expected to make businesses way more efficient and give us race car drivers increased access to more data, using Autobahn passing lanes and utilizing the full speed limits more than ever before.

Speed Limits.

5G IllustrationDATA TRANSFER SPEEDS OF 10Gbps and 8K Video on fast track? This all sounds impressive, but what does it actually mean?

Gbps (gigabytes per second) transfer rates are common in fixed networks transporting business class data, but are still only a pipe dream for most fixed network “coach class” users. According to AT&T, at 1Gbps you can download 25 full frame JPG images in under a second, a TV show in under three seconds and an HD movie in less than 36 seconds. 10Gbps is widely accepted as a realistic expectation for 5G when it is fully commercially available, but early 5G services seem to be topping out at around 1Gbps.

But this is still a vast improvement over the current data highway speeds. This year 5G is expected to roll out with more than 50 billion devices and 212 billion sensors connected to network services, generating more than half a zettabyte of data traffic per year. If you’ve never heard of a zettabyte before, it’s 2 to the seventieth power. While the full implementation of 5G is still a couple of years away, the current increase in performance is welcome indeed.

While the new 5G encompasses a full spectrum of performance issues from pure hair-on-fire transfer speeds to near-instant interaction between networked devices, probably the most conspicuous advantage to the photography industry will be the access and speedy transfer of large images to and from compatible sources. This leads right to the heart of one of my favorite new toys… personal and group cloud servers; in particular photo club servers.

These private online storage facilities provide both protected access and massive library storage. With a private server, you have not only a library, but a very quick and knowledgable librarian. This is private servitude that is both completely legal and ultra safe. Away from the crowded speedway of the shared Internet, private servers provide a world of security and access that rivals a digital gated community. More info: (https://digital-photography-school.com/set-up-your-own-personal-cloud-system/)

Back to the 5G Technology and Digital Photography Highway.

4g_versus_5GWhen fully implemented, this 5G superhighway will provide a long awaited solution to the logjam of downloading images from the camera to the computer as well as the problem of off-site image storage while also providing seamless access to all personal image libraries via any networked device. This same (personal or group) server is already available via cell tower using the 5G pathway. There are currently more than 236 million WiFi connections in the US alone.

New wave digital cameras will undoubtedly provide direct upload services to properly 5G capable servers. This means that sharing and posting images will be accommodated instantly and remotely. Not only that, manufacturers are quietly working on recognition and communications links between users of particular high-end model cameras. Images captured by one shooter can be monitored (and shared) by other shooters and devices, even in remote environments. 5G, combined with quite affordable (quick and massive capacity) memory cards will enable shooters to capture and transfer huge images. Projections of background image processing will either lighten the editing and sorting process or exacerbate it- the jury is out on that one.

Software developers will latch onto this new turbo-charged transfer and processing capability quickly. Expect serious editing capabilities handled by AI routines to be embedded into even mobile software apps to enjoy the power on the new 5G Autobahn. Now the same technology that makes driverless vehicles more able to respond to fast changing situations than humans will be entering the onramp of digital photography soon. Faster response, reduced lag, and more device interactivity will open up a whole new generation of devices. Buckle up.

I’ll publish some followup information about the whole 5G situation next- some things very cool- some things very scary, both for you and for your current way of life. All things you should certainly know about. Keep your eyes wide open. See you next time.

About Herb Paynter

Herb is a published author, photographer, retoucher, color reproduction specialist and a regular writer for Digital Photography School. Download his iBook Digital Color Photography from the iTunes store and view his Light and Color video series at Gotta Know Videos.com.
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1 Response to 5G Technology and Digital Photography. What It is and What You Should Know.

  1. A torrent of junk is still junk. The fact is that DSLR sales are plummeting, to the extent that Nikon is thinking of closing its camera business. Cellphones, with their astonishing camera capabilities, are taking over the selfie and “I was there” shots. But because of limited memory onboard the phones, the storage capacity is limited, so the 12 or 16mpx cellphone cameras rarely store RAW files. Instead, to save space, they radically compress the images. So the 5G capabilities might be nice to have, but are not essential for cell phone users — and they ARE the market.

    So a flood of bad images is made worse. Perhaps you’re right, and we will see pros longing for 5G capabilities in their cameras. But most likely what we’ll see is the fast transfer of crappy pictures which resist old fashioned (yet reliable) printing because they’re over compressed.

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