#597. Monday post, 22 May 2017 – Are we totally lost?

By philberphoto | Monday Post

May 22

Around DearSusan (DS)’s founder, let’s call him Mr PJ (no, no connection to sleepwear), photographers have congregated from around the world. Mr PP (no, not post-processing), Mr BH (no, not Mr B&H, don’t I wish..), Mr SM (no, not S&M..), Mr AB (no, not testing), and yours truly, let’s call him Mr YT.

Photo gear has “improved” from film to digital, and from early digital to advanced digital. Photography has become much more of a gear game, and upgrading has become a way of life. Or has it?

Let me submit Exhibit 1. Photo gear sales are falling off a cliff, the whole lower-to-mid end of the market taken over by smartphones. Is that a race towards better gear? Hardly! Practicality, ease of use, yes. But not better gear in terms of IQ.

Let me submit Exhibit 2. Mr BH actually sold not 1 but 2 MF systems in favor of 1 APS-C camera and he reports that IQ, unless he blows up his pictures to HUGE size, is undistinguishable. He is plenty happy with his, new cam, and doesn’t use his FF cam that often either. As is Mr PP, who has also become a fan of the same cam (no, not Cam-fan), even though 2 beautiful FF cameras line his shelves (no, not the same as the one Mr BH owns). Mr YT, a true gear whore, has declined to buy the 3 recently released MF systems, in favor of just keeping his existing FF camera, which is no longer that recent. Mr SM just bought himself a new M4/3 camera and is super happy with it. And Mr PJ? He desperately wanted to love one of the 2 most recent MF cameras, because he is now antsy. But, instead of doing that, he finds himself using his smartphone more and more. The only reason that doesn’t warrant his expulsion from DS in full tar-and-feathers regalia is that he is also Mr DS, and he does produce pretty good smartphone pics (Did I just write that, no, no, I can’t believe that I did).

So, where does that lead us? Have we all taken leave of our senses?

I see 2 totally different trends at play.

One is that, for photography as an art form, gear has matured. Performance is no longer the market driver, because “there are no bad cameras any more”. From 1″ sensors on up, one can get superb pictures, providing one is a bit careful with the smaller sensors. So the buzzwords are not “resolution”, or “DR”, or “AF”, or “viewfinder”, as they used to be, or even “mirrorless Vs. DSLR”. They are user-friendliness, user interface, haptics, shooting experience, workflow. No longer gear-centric, but user-centric. That is a sign of a maturing technology. Sure, there are disruptive technologies out there, that will upset this balance sooner or later (sooner, I hope), but this is a welcome state of affairs, except for gear manufacturers who have to adjust to a smaller repurchase market after the boom of the original equipment years.

The second one is that something new has emerged, photography as a free mode of expression. Before Gutenberg, writing was hugely costly, and reserved to very few indeed. Before digital, it was extremely cheap and widespread. Now, it is essentially totally free and universal. Photography is the same. Billions of phones can take pics, and uploading them to social media is extremely cheap and widespread.

Those are two fundamentally different activities, though the technology and medium can be the same. Mr PJ, even when he uses his smartphone, cares a great deal about what he does, and only uses the result if they “measure up”, whatever that means to him. And the same for all others at DS, tempted though we are by the simplicity, speed and ease of use of the smartphone.

Mr SP (you can guess that one, surely), OTOH, cares a great deal that no opportunity is lost for himself and as many others as possible, as fast as possible. Different world. Let’s just not pretend that they are one and the same, different segments of one market, else we can’t understand what is happening, or where we’re going.

As for me, as reader Mr PG (no, even kids can read his writings) so aptly put it in his comment, every bokeh shot I take is an act of defiance against smartphones!

Long live photography, a fine art by the few for the few. After all, how many people can be inside the Sistine Chapel or in front of the Mona Lisa at the same time?

And, for the many, smartphones are plenty good enough. Let them never have cake! 🙂


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  • Adrian says:

    I just attended and photographed 2 physique sports competitions on consecutive days, using an APS-C camera that many regard as consumer grade because it doesn’t have the required look-a-Leica styling and lots of bottoms to twiddle. What is does do is focus and track extremely well, and thr crop sensor gives plenty of reach and more than enough quality. I’ve been using that camera foe nearly 3 years now, so it’s ancient really, and made by a company who apparently make consumer electronics and therefore don’t understand photographers (I hope nobody tells them that Canon make photocopiers!). It does a thing that smart phones cannot – you can stick a tele-zoom lens on the front of it and get in really close and get images of superb clarity, whilst all the smartphone pictures offer a vista of the entire stage with their wide angle lenses, and a nice view of the backs of peoples heads. However, for available light portraits I use a full frame camera (also from the maker who doesn’t understand photographers) because I can happily shoot with available light or a mixture of available and flash at ISO I-beg-your-pardon values and make beautiful clear images full of tone and contrast. Smart phones can’t even use meaningful flash, and in low light their images end up muddy and blurred or proceeded to look as if moulded from plastic.

    I use neither camera to photograph my every meal, photography myself to prove I was somewhere, or take pictures of pints of beer, because I already know what beer looks like and don’t need a photo to remind me and everyone else I know.

    Smart phones have truly hideous ergonomics – too thin, nowhere to hold, no shutter button, tapping on a screen held up vertically in front as you desperately try not to drop the thing. They do one thing very well – they make sharing online very easy.

    If it wasn’t already too late for the consumer market, the camera makers should take note, bit that sector is dead already (we know this because Nikon have decided to make some more products for it, in just the same way as they decided to get into action cameras just as Go-Pros stock price tanked).

    Most people including most photographers – which is really those of us who *think* we are photographers – could probably use a 1″ sensor camera, either a fixed lens model or something like a Nikon 1 with interchangeable lenses, and take all tje pictures they want at enough quality. We don’t, not because we need the features or abilities of larger formats, but because of ego, belief, snob-value, market position, look-a-Leica styling and a whole host of non-rationale emotional reasons.

    Use whatever gets the job done, but don’t be seduced by brand position, olde worlde styling or any other silly emotional things – just use whatever takes th right pictures in the most painless way (unless you are fond of hairshirts and masochism, in which case knock yourself out with something esoteric and difficult).

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Ha ha ha ha ha – ROTFLMHAO !!!!!!!

      I am so fed with rude ignorant selfish stupid people and their blasted cellphones. Can anyone explain why someone wants endless numbers of photos of themselves, blocking out the view of the tourism icon behind them, instead of aiming their phone at the icon and taking 2000 less identical photos of what they stare at each day in the bathroom, while (I hope!) they are cleaning their teeth,.

      I look forward to Pascal’s response. Be warned – I have some very compromising sphotos of these cellphone freaks, which I decided to start taking on my current shoot while I was waiting for them to regain consciousness and remove themselves from the vicinity.

      Adrian one of my pet cams is a Canon PowerShot with a 1″ sensor. I use it for most of my shots of people’s pets, and it’s great for that. Shutter release is a bit slow, so not much use for action shots, but it’s breathed delight into the lives of a number of people through the quality of the portrait shots I’ve taken with it.

      I’d love the details of the cams you refer to in your post.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    It always astonishes me when Philippe or anyone else posts an article like this and nobody responds. My only guess is that you are all too busy taking more photos.

    Cellphones and their cameras have their place – as PJ has proven, they are capable of taking quite good photos – but they do have their limitations like any other gear does. And you can extend that to all the other gear out there, INMHO. In the analogue era my main cam varied between 35mm, 6×9 or 6×6, but I tried all sorts of others. And still do, with digital. Next month for example I’m borrowing a Sigma, to see what their foveon sensor does. Right now I shoot with 3 diferent cams, and enjoy using all of them. Can’t afford a ‘blad, or I’d get one of them too.

    At the risk of upsetting the true believers, Philippe, I think manufacturers are the authors of their own misfortunes. Nikon’s latest offering, for example is being touted primarily (NOT solely) on the basis of 3 features. One -a tilt screen – well HELLO, Nikon – you should have put that on the D810, which this one is replacing! Two – 45MP sensor – which might have negatives as well as positives, for technical reasons, but is going to make bugger all difference to IQ and can’t comoete with MF. And three – XQD cards instead of compacts – well screw Nikon for that one, I spent heaps getting all the cards I need when I bought the D810, and if Nikon wanted to switch from Compact to XQD they could have done it years ago, before the D800 probably. So no thank you Mr Nikon, I will NOT be buying your D820! And you have nobody to blame but yourselves for your financial woes.

    It’s possible to rant like thar about other gear, but there’s no point. I am using the gear I have because I can get acceptable results with it – but NOT because I’m 100% happy with it. And there’s nothing out there that really WOULD hit the target . Odd bits yes – a complete package, no.

  • Jens says:

    My theory is that there is still a big chance for the classic camera manufactures to profit and grow + ease of use isn’t everything. The way I see it, before the digital age and internet there was simply a very limited audiance for most photographers. Usually it would be the family and often it would culminate in a dreaded filmstrip slideshow marathon.

    Internet and social media increased the intrest in photos, consumption of much more convinient and the audiance was much larger and people wanted to share pictures. Additionally it got easier and you had instant gratification since you directly saw the final picture. No need to develop the film.

    As a result more cameras where bought and the market grew at a much faster pace. Almost everyone had some kind of ‘camera’ to satisfy to the need to take pictures and share them. However eventually the cellphones cought up with image quality to satisfy most people (plenty details and good colours).

    In a way we’re back in the time when only real hobbyist (and professionals) care about the cameras. The big difference is that the general intrest and the easy ways to share / consume pictures remain. The possible target audiance is bigger. The thing that camera manufactures should focus more – help people to improve their photography skills by educating them.

    Most cellphone users think of a zoom as a way to take a picture from a different distance, but don’t realize that it is so much more to change the focal length for the image compostion. As well most of these users won’t think about ways to use the available light properly – e.g. maybe there is a bright wall on a sunny day and this will allow much nicer pictures in a backlit situation. And there are many other everyday items that would work as a reflector… etc.

    Once they get more people intrested and generate more hobbyists that way – there are fair chances that these people want a camera that is more flexible. Personally I disliked flahes for a long time and wasn’t much aware of light modificators, reflectors etc. until I learned what they can do for you and how much fun it can be to control / alter the light. Now that’s where all my hobby budget goes.

    In short if more people understand the benefits / additional possibilities of the classic cameras they likely want to buy one. More bluntly: The average person is ignorant by lack of knowledge.
    Currently even if there would be an extremly intuitive camera that fixes all the problems with the interface we often moan about the hobbyists that already own a camera would be the target audiance. That’s the smaller market and would only shift the market shares.

  • Steffen says:

    I just came back from Portugal, visiting a lot of touristic spots. Yes, most people use smartphones but I also saw many, many entry level DSLRs (mostly Canon). I also experienced that many people while having a smartphone, have a very low cost model with bad cameras and they don’t use it for photography on vacation.

    So, I don’t think it’s so ready consumers use smartphones only and dedicated cameras are a niche. Also not everybody is on Instagram or shares photos on Facebook. So the mentioned advantage of smartphones is not relevant for the vast majority.

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