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Monday, 23 January 2023


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This is interesting, but maybe simply based on inertia, changes nothing in my world. People today have no attention span and are happy to turn over operations to machines so that they need not clog up their brains with learning how to do things. Phones are easy.

My phone's camera will never be anything but a sketch pad, or to remember my parking space in a crowded lot. I never cared to be in the majority of anything, so I'll stay in the sliver of society that still uses proper cameras.


Good (albeit deceptive) historical impression animation.
The “deception”, of course, is that it doesn’t tell a nearly complete story of how cameras merged into the consumer electronics and, most importantly, the communications industries. How photographs are the new notes. Etc. The wider view of world technology and society certainly moderates the story.

But why are you “sad and despondent “? This is inarguably the best age for photography! Just look at the tools and media you have at your fingertips today. Thank goodness that we no longer rely on chemical reactions with coated papers and plastic films to record images!!

BFD. Every generation of smart phone gets replaced every year or so, the old ones go into landfills, all of them filled with forgettable "content".

We buy stuff, that's what our culture does, it's our crowning achievement.

I'm sort of looking around for a medium format folding camera from the 1950s just to try out for fun. Do we think that there will be a market for 70 year old cell phones one day.

It's obvious that the GROWTH of the smartphone dwarfs that of the dedicated camera. Is it also reducing the effective amount of dedicated photographers (in the sense of photgraphers using dedicated cameras, even though not exclusively)? It's not clear from the animation and the answer would add depth to the topic.

There is nothing new about the storyline. The comparison in the chart is exaggerated: the massive units of smartphone sold certainly dwarfed dedicated cameras, but people buy smartphones not solely for image taking.

What I find interesting in the rising of smartphone image taking is that it turns out that the majority of people actually are pretty happy with just a 26mm prime lens.

What strikes me is how well digital cameras did for a brief run.

I helped someone put on a projected slideshow yesterday, using photos from an old, tiny Nikon Coolpix they took to Cuba. Outside photos looked fantastic. Night photos were a blurry mess, but served their purpose.

I'm surprised how many companies are still going, all milking the same cow, it seems. In 20 years, it's hard to say who will remain, but I will be 76 and probably shooting a 10 year old camera that works really well. There will come a time when used cameras are in short supply, though, and prices for them also go way up. Might be good to put one on ice right now, if you really like it.

Beastie Box sounds like a good name for your camera.

And another thing, there's an obvious effect because of population growth. There are a lot more people alive now than in 1950.

Mike, speaking of the Sigma beastie, would you consider going back through your archives and adding a unifying tag / category to your posts about it? You've created an amazing resource about an important photographic niche, and it's too significant a contribution to let it settle into the general archives. If you don't want to be camera-specific, having a "monochrome" category would be an excellent starting point for many interested people.

And in case nobody has told you this recently, your personal digressions into odd corners are widely helpful and interesting. Keeping with this example, monochrome-converted cameras actually aren't that rare – if you also count the ones converted to only see infrared. I've followed your journey and have been getting better results with my IR cameras as a result, including adopting the Monchrome2DNG software into my process.

This makes the walnut-sized brain at the base of my tail hurt.

Why would we be sad?

Hi Mike
Yes it is also cold here in Suffolk, UK, perhaps not as cold as your descriptions which make me shiver.
Camera makers are their own ‘worst enemy’ as they constantly update models which have no need for extra features which give little fresh advantage to the user. They should be considering how to make a truly pocket camera and thus compete with camera phones.
Surely a high quality pocket camera can be made with a manual zoom and eye level finder. Contax made such a film camera with their TVS model which had a superb manual zoom lens in a body which fitted easily into an average pocket. Fujifilm used to make their X30 but stopped some 10 years ago. The X30 is a great little go anywhere camera which could form the basis of a truly pocket camera, its eye level finder is so good you really do not need a screen with all the problems of sunlight and finger marks. Surely the lens could retract into the body and the overall size be trimmed down.
Like many camera users I am tempted by phones but I hate the screens and do not want to have messages and all such nonsense coming at me when all I wish is to just consider what I am looking at.
Best regards
Ian Castle
PS: which is the best way to make a once a year donation?

A fascinating little graphic, especially since 1. it starts the year I was born and 2. I've owned more than a few of the example cameras. Thanks for the link.

That's fascinating, and could certainly be very sad and "desponding". But I have some questions. Since likely many of us here are using cameras, as opposed to smartphone-cameras, to create art (however one might define it for oneself), and (permit me some generalizations) that could be the case for most real cameras sold today and used for still photograph, then how many cameras produced each year are required to support the world's photo-artists? How does that compare to other visual artists? If you assembled a complete kit of gear and supplies for a painter, how many new kits would you sell in a year to support the world's painters? The same question can be asked of sculptors, and print-makers.

Of course, the comparison with these other artists might fail when you consider the technical and manufacturing expense that camera-makers have to invest for new models but since so much of new camera features are for video production perhaps that, to some extent, isn't part of the calculation. I guess what I'm trying to ask is, what's the bottom line required so that when my camera breaks, I can buy a new one that fits into my artistic workflow and allows me to continue producing art?


Yeah, but 'contraption' is just a beautiful word, isn't it? Maybe a little long, is all. Not like my succinct 'OMD E-M1 Mark II'.

My wife's a Data Scientist professionally. And I don't need her to tell me that animation and the data it represents it grossly misleading.

It assumes that people with smart phones would have bought a camera, if it wasn't for the existence of smart phones. That a smartphone sale is implicitly a lost dedicated camera sale. Nope. Wrong.

Maybe I just exist in and around a circle of people who like the haptics and ergonomics of a proper camera?

Are camera sale numbers going down. Yes. Of course. But 'in my bones', I think that it's mostly due to the past market saturation from the digital boom. The smart phone didn't kill the proper camera market. Smart phones rise simply coincided with its the digital cameras inevitable decline, once saturation was achieved.

Yesterday, as my wife and I drove up the street to feed Mr Fin (the most beautiful horse we've ever seen), I took a crappy old Olympus SP320 to take some happy snaps. Not my smart phone. The why? Because using the SP320 was fun. And when you have fun, you take capture better images.

Hmm... thank you for being thought provoking as usual, Mike.

Is it possible that a small subset of "cellphone camera buyers" actually bought their device with the expectation of getting the most use out of the telephone mechanism, the ability send and receive text messages and to facilitate portable access to the world wide web? His numbers assume every phone is really a camera and the buyer's intention is to use the device primarily as a camera. Might be some flawed statistical analysis there. What would Hari Seldon say?

I believe the proper phrase should be "Never give up, Never surrender!" from Galaxy Quest's Commander Taggart. :-)

Blunt Beastie, what a great name!


Looking at that, it's clear that it was digital cameras rather than smartphones that killed film cameras, so at that point 'cameras' were still being sold in large numbers. I bought my last new film camera (an EOS 33 - Elan 7 in the US) in 2000 or 2001, so just after the absolute peak of film cameras; and I bought my first digital camera, a Powershot, a couple of years later.

It's interesting to remember that when Steve Jobs announced the iPhone in the 'One Device' presentation (2007), he spent about 15 seconds on the camera (the whole presentation lasted a bit more than an hour). Early smartphones were not about the camera; that has happened in the last 10 years or a bit less.

Well, yes, the animation does catch one's interest. However, it's just another form of lying with statistics. Just one simple example: it assumes that all smartphones are used as cameras.

The truth is far more difficult to pull out of such consolidated junk data.

I've long asserted that the casual photography market (instant cameras, disposable cameras, pocket digicams, smartphones, instax, etc.) goes through cycles and is how most people share casual imagery.

A much smaller group has always sought out a higher standard and more flexibility in image capture, and that started with rangefinders, went through film SLRs, DSLRs, and now mirrorless. They are different markets.

What makes the analysis complicated is that the Japanese camera companies got distracted by image sensors. Prior to digital, Kodak, Fujifilm, and Agfa dominated the recording medium, and cameras were just the mechanical device used with them. The competition and size of the market was restrained, and peaked at somewhere between 50-60% household penetration.

Digital gave the camera companies a shot at dislodging the "photo industry," including the casual side. You see that with the massive rise of digital cameras between 1999 and 2007. Since Kodak decided they didn't want those low margins, the Japanese saw it as both higher margins for what they were already doing AND growth for the unit volume. Even HP got into the act.

Smartphones just proved that race back towards the casual market—remember, Fujifilm and Kodak dominated the casual market prior to digital—was a short-lived race. A sprint to no finish line.

Meanwhile, the higher end products (e.g. not casual) continued along. The DSLRs were distracted by rapid iteration cycles that produced overbuying due to perception of advancement in capability. When that started to settle out, the buying tapered back to the old pattern.

If you look at ILC unit volume today, it's actually pretty much the same as the 90's ILC volume, adjusted for population. This seems to imply that there is a limit to adoption rates for ILC.

But the thing no one is talking about in that animation is at the very end: smartphone sales peaked and are in an erosion pattern now. That's the reason why Apple wants to try to sell you a hardware subscription to the iPhone these days (yearly "free" updates).

What goes up, must come down. It's just a matter of time.

Smartphones may appear to win but they may not have last laughs. When predators have nothing left to hunt and devour, they turn on one another.

You could probably make a similar animation comparing the sales of, er, pizzas, tacos and green vegetables. Doesn't mean to say you have to join in and give up green vegetables.

This is a truly appalling analogy but you get my drift.

One amusing downside of the good quality of smartphones today is that at famous tourist sights, hordes of tourists keep snapping away well into the night. In the old days, those of us with "real" cameras could shoot (even handheld) past dusk, when the smartphone crowd had long packed up and left.

You could probably make a similar animation comparing the sales of, er, pizzas, tacos and green vegetables. Doesn't mean to say you have to join in and give up green vegetables...

It does if, as sales of them continues to decline, the agriculture industry stops growing green vegetables. You could, of course, grow your own. That analogy applies to silver halide photography, where some build their own cameras and coat their own negatives / paper. However, DIY digital is not really feasible.

You're right to be sad and despondent over that animation, Mike, despite all the rationalizing found in other comments. Enjoy it while you can. We're both old enough that things won't completely fall apart during our actuarially probable remaining lifetimes.

When I took up photography I bought a film SLR. No one I knew did photography as a hobby and no one I knew had an SLR (or TLR or rangefinder), most families I knew had compact cameras and they got used on special occasions to fill the family album. I met some like-minded people at a college class but us people who took photography seriously for its own sake were not common in my experience.

Then digital cameras came along and friends of mine who had shown no previous interest in photography bought DSLRs and upgraded them as new models were introduced. Photography was big and so many people in my circle had a Flickr account.

Later on, phone cameras became common, and decent quality, and those friends now have DSLRs and Flickr accounts gathering dust but they are still taking more pictures than they did back in the days when I first took up photography. I'm back to being on the fringe with my apparently niche hobby as an enthusiastic photographer who often leaves the house just to take photos.

I keep reading that camera sales are declining, it's all doom and gloom, and that everyone just uses phones these days but I do wonder what base is being used to measure this decline? The peak of camera sales in the DSLR and digital compact boom of the early 2000s? Or the market for enthusiast cameras prior to that phase of rapid tech expansion? The data on the animation seems meaningless and is comparing apples and oranges (for reasons many others have pointed out). Clearly a lot more photographs are taken these days and most of them are on phones but I am left pondering whether photography as a hobby has just returned to its previous size - a small niche in a now increased market.

I'm aware that none of the above is data and I don't have any figures to compare Canon/Nikon's film SLR sales to their DSLR/mirrorless sales (I'd be interested to see them). But, with the amazing cameras and lenses available to us now, I'm not yet convinced that the sky is actually falling, it just seems to be back where it used to be and maybe even a bit brighter.

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