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Thursday, 05 September 2019


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For the past few years I've been enthusiastic about phone cameras (including an article on TOP) as the camera always with me and in the spirit of one camera one lens.

Yet for the extended motorhome trip I'm on now I bought a new Sony RX100vi. Why? It's the constant search for the ideal photographic solution for me. Sony finally made the digicam I've wanted, albeit at a dear price. It's terrific. So much camera in so little space.

For the last three months both my phone camera and OMD have remained unused. Yet when the new iPhone is announced next week and the new OMD EM-5 somewhat later I'll probably be tempted in those directions. The phone has huge advantages in just being there. And that OMD is great when the only purpose is photography.

I think there remains a place for all three, at least for now. But it can get expensive keeping up.

Older AdAms are dying-off. And are not being replaced with a like number of nOObs. Photography, as a hobby is going-south. Times and interests change, same as always.

Print publications are being replaced by video—both TV and on-line. Ken Rockwell is now doing video, his blog posts now link to YouTube.

Geoffrey Chaucer said: Time and tide wait for no man.

I could say Will the last person to leave still photography please turn off the light?. But I won't.

The "loops" are called oxbows and are naturally occurring. Eventually the oxbow is cut off leaving an oxbow lake.

By John McPhee
February 15, 1987
The Mississippi River, with its sand and silt, has created most of Louisiana, and it could not have done so by remaining in one channel. If it had, southern Louisiana would be a long narrow peninsula reaching into the Gulf of Mexico. Southern Louisiana exists in its present form because the Mississippi River has jumped here and there within an arc about two hundred miles wide, like a pianist playing with one hand—frequently and radically changing course, surging over the left or the right bank to go off in utterly new directions. Always it is the river’s purpose to get to the Gulf by the shortest and steepest gradient.


And like the Mississippi's unending flow to the sea, humans have always and will always have a need and a way to make pictures. Or so I hope.

"He then calculates the rate at which the river's length had been contracting, and extrapolates that by such-and-such a year the river would disappear altogether."

Before the great real estate crash, a realtor told me that housing prices had been going up steadily for many years so that in the years ahead they would surely be much higher. My response was that the weather had been getting steadily warmer for many months (it was August) so that by February it will surely be 150 (F) degrees outside.

Who will burn out first, ILC customers or camera manufacturers?

I mean, looking at Nikon’s S lens road map for the next two years, it appears that f1.2 is the new f1.4. Big, expensive, and exclusive.

My everyday carry camera is a Lumix TZ80. Short of magic I don't see how a smartphone will ever compete with that 30x zoom and EVF, so I think there will be an irreducible market for that sort of camera.

I am still doing wet photography and Plat/Pald.
Dinosaurs still roam the earth
(I also have some new Sony E mount stuff)

Well I’m going to use an analogy that should be dear to your heart. 20 years from now children born this year may very well not feel the need to know how to drive with autonomous driving vehicles being the norm. I like to drive, enough so that I recently bought a gently used 20 year old Mazda Miata. I could have bought a newer more “refined” version of the same car or something more computational advanced but I chose what seemed appropriate for my use case; top down fun in the summer. Car manufacturers continue to churn out a myriad of vehicles even as we in the US seem to have adopted a SUV in every driveway mentality.

I chose my most recent camera in a similar but slightly more pragmatic way. I didn’t buy at the top of the food chain, I didn’t buy a P&S or rely just on the, very good, cameras in my iPhone XS or Samsung S9, I bought a camera that met my needs - in this case it was a current model that has since been superseded (or is that superceded) oh well.

Meeting customer needs (while making a profit) is indeed the business that most companies are in and as long as there is a market someone will likely choose to fill it. I think the interesting thing is that the learningis may shift from the camera companies informing the designs of the phone/integrated camera makers to the firmware learnings of the phone/camera makers informing the more niche camera designs that readers of this column may ascribe to.

The contrarian in me wants to point out that we have several rivers that don;t reach their endpoints anymore - the Colorado and Rio Grande are looking mighty trickly lately.

But photowise, there will always be some options, the question is how many, and how much?

If you don't think an industry can disappear into nothing look at Kodak, or saddle makers. Sure, they are still in business, but on a much smaller scale. And I think for cameras you need a certain critical mass in order to invest in new designs because tech R&D is an expensive business.

And as someone else said, the people buying cameras are getting older. Me too!

I've had three digital cameras since 2004, all Canon, and only moved on to #2 and #3 when the sensor quality and overall feature set improved sufficiently to warrant the change. I opted for high quality lenses early on, and they continue to serve me well, for the professional and personal work I do. I think I was born with the "mostly-not dazzled-with-new-stuff" gene, which I thank my parents for regularly. But those who, like me, "use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without" are probably the nightmares of corporate marketing teams. Oh well...

Mike, I think you can make analogies with many products that were once high (or higher) in quality, but have been commoditized and compromised in quality to a sweet spot where they satisfy 80% of people's quality expectations 80% of the time. The serious professional/amateur/connoisseur can still usually get that extra 20% of quality, but with greatly increasing expense and difficulty.

Consider the state of high quality audio vs. the MP3 streaming that has become the standard for quality. Or quality of cell phone communication where we have come to accept constant scratchy and dropped calls at great prices. How about business Skype conference calls, the poor quality and connectivity has become an acceptable evil: every time voices echo too badly or everyone has to ask "can you hear me?" everyone simply hangs up the connection and tries it over again, multiple times.
These are examples of 80% acceptance of 20% quality.
I fear smartphone photographic imaging/video is exactly at that 80% point, where an entire generation knows nothing better, and consequently is completely satisfied, having had nothing but low expectations.

I am not afraid for photography and photographers. Looking at the second graph only says, that we are where we were before the onslaught of digital. The pace of quick upgrades in quality and features led us to believe the numbers are going up forever.
Interesting would be numbers before 2003/2003. I suspect that they were quite similar.
If anything, there is a plus in the number of photographers worldwide; smartphone users. So there are more of us than before! Rejoice!

So sad for digital cameras. Smartphone cameras have not replaced my film cameras. That might never happen.

Similarly, lots of folks are still enjoyin' the "space" of vinyls.

The loss of the SLR accessory sales via the arrival of the high quality P&S cameras was largely offset by the rise of the onsite one-hour photofinishing minilab which was really where the new found profits were made - better photos faster was a huge shift in camera store successes, once that went away so did the stores, i.e., Wolf Camera, that as a large chain/lots of overhead wasn’t sustainable without it... It may just be that there’s another imaging disruption coming that will change what we use now as well and thus the cycle continues (perhaps we should be concerned that someday somebody will create a contact-lens camera with who knows what sort of capabilities, holding a phone in front of your face to take pictures could become very antiquated!...)

When I started working as a high-tech salesman half-a-century ago, I was sent to a sales training course, where I learned some really useful stuff.

One thing I remember was this story: The President of Black&Decker spoke to a sales meeting. He told everyone that the company had been doing market research and made an important discovery - most people did not want to buy drills, they wanted to make holes. IF B&D could show they made better holes, they would sell more drills.

In photography, most people just want to make photographs and they will choose the best tool for the job. Face it, for the vast majority of people, the smart phone is that tool

I took me just a couple of minutes to write down the functions I use on my iPhone 8 that cameras do poorly or not at all:

Zoom with two fingers - never have to remember which way the lens turns (optical+digital)
Choose a focus spot with one finger touch, from ~2" to ⚯
Adjust exposure with that same finger
Turn flash on/off with a finger
Take a "live" photo and turn into an animated gif in seconds in Photos
Create flawless panoramas in the camera in real time
Choose format, still/video, slo-mo/time lapse
Edit in the camera
Send a photo by email to anyone
Send a photo by message to those for whom i have mobile phone contacts
Post on Instagram, etc.

They are not perfect - my complaint - the buttons that function as optional shutter buttons are too stiff so I use the home button which can be awkward.

And how do you expect camera companies to compete in the mass market? Everybody gets one of these cameras free! It's bundled with the phone, messenger, web browser, clock, GPS, etc. etc. etc. they update every couple of years.

Fortunately for camera makers, there are enough professionals as AdAms to justify a market for sophisticated cameras. But if the market continues to shrink expect to see fewer models and the effects of the PV curve - lower Volume and higher Price, something I think is happening already.

Plus, now the bulk of the development cost is probably software not hardware, a turnaround that happened with computers 25-30 years ago.

Maybe as one of the second- or third-tier camera companies sees the end coming, they will introduce an open source camera. Here's the hardware, here's the software specs, have fun!

"the used market might continue to cannibalize new camera sales; and so forth."

Doesn't it finance the new camera sales? At least I'm surprised that shops can charge €700,- for a five year old Panasonic GH4 body.

To my mind the golden age of (enthusiast) stills cameras is somewhere before the 1980s. The 2010 shiny hopes of a future with compact, nicely styled cameras with good optical and ergonomic properties has dimmed substantially.

Looking at this weeks introductions of some really ugly Sony and Canon products I can only think that their sales depend mostly on an indiscriminate buying public that's been talked into the idea that it needs to have a camera.

Regarding the death of professional cameras to the smartphone, I think it’s important to remember the inverse of that: as smartphones become more prevalent, visual content gets more and more ubiquitous, more easily consumed. And that requires more of it to be made.

There’s always going to be the travel photographer, the fashion photographer, the automobile photographer, the food photographer, and the product photographer, because there will always be media (either advertising, public relations, or journalism) that’s based in those industries. There must always be a camera to take pictures of the camera, for as long as we’re selling cameras, or anything else.

To draw a parallel with my former industry (I work in public relations now, but spent several years as a journalist for print and digital publications), newspapers are dying. That doesn’t mean news, or published content, is dying. We have more of it than ever, and more people producing it than ever before. More tools to create it with. The death of the newspaper wasn’t the death of the writer.

Until we have a way to create images of reality without cameras, we’re going to have cameras. There are too many things people with money want to publicize for the industry to collapse. If the current ILC market fails, another part of the market should rise to pick up the slack. Buzzfeed may have killed the newspaper, but it inherited the news.

All that said, cameras may be very different in a few years. Camera manufacturers may decide it’s worthwhile to simply scale up high-density smartphone sensors to crop or full-frame sizes and place them in fixed-lens bodies, preferring to just let users zoom in post. Or, as we’re seeing in phones, they may come with several small sensors and lenses, each with a different point of view. Maybe we're looking at the death of the prime lens, rather than the death of all professional camera hardware?

I am currently on vacation in the Canadian Rockies. Based upon what I’ve seen here, the camera is definitely on dead. It seems like every couple has at least one person with a “real” camera around their neck - generally Nikon or Canon, though I’ve seen a bunch that look to be small mirrorless. Maybe these guys are carrying ten year old DLSRs but they are not relying entirely on their phones. The younger people look to be carrying either mirrorless or huge cameras with lenses as long as my arm.

With innovation for the marketplace still ongoing there is still hope for a square sensor camera. If not Canon or Nikon, maybe an aftermarket company similar to the lens makers. A common body that can be bought with a common lens mount for either the Canon, Nikon, and Pentax types. More than likely, the big three would only do it as mirrorless forcing you to buy the adapter for the older lenses. I find it strange that a model has not been offered by anyone. Leica?

Will photography wither away and die if new cameras are not churned out each year? Just about every camera sold new today is extremely capable (and likely vastly exceeds the "needs" of the people who buy them). That bodes well for the future used market. As the number of people who want "dedicated" cameras falls, excellent used cameras will be plentiful. The availability of batteries may be a constraint (but if there's a market for batteries for legacy cameras, someone will meet demand).

For a real-world example of this future, look at medium and large format photography. Anyone who wants to take up medium or large format photography can do so for very little money. Huge numbers of outstanding cameras and lenses made for professionals in the day are available for relatively little money.

While I have my Nikon digital gear, my most recent camera purchases were an Ondu 6x6 pinhole camera and an Intrepid 4x5 view camera. Just having fun and taking pictures. Both are mirrorless by the way.

Mike, I think the biggest issue confronting the camera makers is that most serious photographs (meaning people who are willing to use an independent lens camera) already have a camera that is so good, a newer body or bigger f-stop lens will do nothing to improve their photographs. They ask themselves, why bother? How will my pictures improve?

In my case, I don't care because I am finding old fashioned film to be more fun and rewarding. And I prefer the feel of old mechanical cameras like my Rolleiflex and Spotmatic

I think the extraordinary era around 2010 was an exception.

When I look back at my student days at Guys Hospital in London there were three of us out of 100 in my year who took regular photos.

A frequent question to us three is “ do you by any chance have a photo of ....”. As you say the world is now full of people snapping and there will always be a place for those who love how it is taken.

Fo me that is Fuji for sheer pleasure ( XT1 X100F) and m43 for convenience. Love lenses and as back in the days of film only want to up grade occasionally. But I am happy that the camera industry will persist in a smaller way ... much like the 70s

Mark Twain also humorously noted by reverse logic that, during the Oolitic Silurian period, the Mississippi river stuck out a hundred miles into the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing rod. (not an exact quote)

Well, digital photography may shrink by as much as the North American continent. But artisanal film and pre-film photography will survive the sea change for another thousand years or two.

I think an apt comparison may be to transport. People didn’t stop riding horses when cars superseded them. They merely became the domain of amateurs — lovers. Enthusiasts. That brings its own very high end. People who buy for love don’t look at cost the same way professionals (profit-seeking by definition) do.

I would think by now the major camera companies would have leveraged the tenacious brand loyalty of photographers and offer branded cellphones with a software version of their entry-level cameras. If you can't beat them join them.

A few random observations, some of which may be on point.
There was a time when you could not walk through a commercial photo studio without dodging an 8x10 camera. Now it would likely be an MF digital and who knows how long before that becomes a FF DSLR?
Walking through a gallery or museum I am unsure of how many of the photographers represented there make a living solely from the sale of pictures.
If on the other hand you want to enter a space where you are bombarded with photographs taken by people who were paid for their work, go to the supermarket.
I like my D7100 but I love my Rolleiflex.
As long as photographs have the power to enchant us we will be OK.

I am often startled by how little people seem to understand of the camera market in the 1970s. It was really small in modern terms.

My preferred comparison is Polaroid versus reflex cameras. At the height of Polaroid, they outsold SLRs 2:1. The total numbers at this point were less than 10 million cameras per year. Reflex cameras sold a couple million units a year.

My rough and ready analysis leans on the idea that Polaroid buyers wanted pictures while reflex camera buyers wanted cameras, and holds out hope that there is maybe a stable global market for a few million ILCs per year. The people who want pictures will use their phones.

The world has changed, and vast markets have opened up, so these absolute numbers might even be expected to stabilize somewhat higher than the 1970s figures.

Countering that is maybe some cultural shift that makes people simply not want cameras as much as they did in the 1970s. There are other distracting gadgets and status symbols with, perhaps, more cultural force now.

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