Sometimes, you take aim, you miss by a small margin and it’s very frustrating.
Sometimes, however, the miss is so grotesque, so unfathomably vast, that it becomes hilarious.
I believe the Smartphone industry, camera section, is trying its very bestest to fall into the second, far more comical, category and promises to provide endless hours of laughter in the coming years. Here’s why.
In the middle ages of Smartphone photography, circa 2015, cameras on board phones became good enough. ISO and politicians having failed to keep up, I lack a standard by which to grade this adequacy with adequate accuracy, but would guesstimate a solid score of 7.8. Give or take.
Once passed the stigma of actually holding a camera at arm’s length, squinting into the sun like an angry samurai and generally looking a right plonk in the process, I actually started having a lot of fun with my Korean pocket buddy, the Galaxy S6. We both have grey hair but get along just so well.
Using an autofocus lens when you’re used to manual focus only produces a fun-rush, a temporary liberation of creativity and sense of freedom (ended very abruptly by the inevitable humping of the AF, at some point). Using a phone as a camera creates a similar, but more durable (much better AF) feeling, with the added bonus of feeling really naughty. Not only are you trading in your wife for a dancer, but a really dirty one at that.
So …, the thing got good enough for adequate IQ (see pics on this page) and provided profound, yet surpisingly legal, relaxation when the ergonomics and workflow of my mainstay camera just became a bit too much.
Then, sneaky and uninvited, innovation happened. Uh-oh ! 😤
Realising the potential of this market full of people taking the concept of “un-postcarding the postcard” to its very limits by placing their faces in front of every iconic scene the world has to offer, people shading every moment of their lives through instaounce filters, people generally leaving their grumpy old camera compacts for exotic go-go dancing smartphones, companies throughout the phone-manufacturing world rushed to up the technological ante and … ruined everything.
First came the megapixels.
You see, I live in France. A very modern country in which politicians have promised us that, some time in between the end of the ice caps and the first colonies on Mars, reliable, affordable and fast Internet connectivity would be a thing, possibly. More megapixels, in the mean time, equate only to waiting longer for emails to leave my inbox. OK for a medium format fashion shoot, totally pointless in a phone in which the sensor is probably no larger than an ant’s scrotum.
So yeah, more megapixels. In the rear and the front camera. So that everyone gets a really sharp view of those hairs in our ears in front of that Taj Mahsomething. Such a nice design by committee touch.
Then came dual cameras. Glass lenses. Wide aperture lenses. Zoom lenses. Better high ISO performance. Better colour purity. Because, you know, when you slap on that scratchy sepia instapound filter that vignettes more than the tunnel vision of a politician on mission, you really need to start with the cleanest file possible.
This is the first comical act. Phone makers are trying to duke it out with traditional cameras on IQ terms. Instead of playing the fun and instant and intuitive card, noooo, they are going for the DxO tests and other hardcore stuff that no one cares about (at least no one operating this keyboard) and is utterly impossible to achieve. When the short man learns to jump, the tall man manages to jump even higher – Korean aphorism.
So, basically, something in which the laws of physics play a very large role. Like stepping on a rake or falling down the stairs.
Then, there’s the rest. The price, the complexity, the vacant use case.
No doubt some will line up to spend a grand on Pineapple’s latest emoji animation machine. But dancing emojis have the staying power of a politician’s vows. Whereas the creative drive lasts a lifetime.
What happens when the punters realise how bored they really are with morphing into elephants on extasy on their phone screens and that the one true creative outlet on their phablet has been made complex and dull ?
The Smartphone used to be a Polaroid on steroids. Instant feedback fun, some tweaking possibilities, mucking about with a few filters or sliders, and instant sharing with pals, remote or otherwise. It was a very good recipe. Who ever cared about the lens aperture of a Polaroid camera ? Or its MTF ? Or aberrations ? All that mattered was connection. Something even the most expensive ‘real cameras’ have totally lost with their complexity, puny screens and crappy / non-existent handling of ‘sharing’.
And yes some, many in fact, will get the iPhone X or one of its inevitable competitors. But at that price range, you’re getting uncomfortably close to something as innovative as the L16, as terrific as the Fuji X100 or the unbeatable all-in-one power tool Sony RX10 IV. No phone is competition for any of those … Not by a looong shot.
So, here’s hoping they bring back cheap, good & fun. Either way, they’ll make us giggle.
If I’m sounding like an old fart, you’re listening all wrong. And probably sitting too low for your own good.
It’s not entirely impossible that the Smartphone industry may be performing a blind act of self sabotage. By making the Smartphone too big, too expensive, too intrusive, too complex and too good, they may well be shifting it too far away from the promises that made it so successful in the first place (then again, some very creative people think differently 😉 ).
Maybe the DSLR isn’t dear after all ?
Nah, just kidding. The DSLR is going nowhere. The D850 may have punched a very worthy, but temporary, blip of hope into Nikon’s aggressively immobile strategy, it’s hard to see any company with no mirrorless offering survive the landslide.
So what happens if the public loses interest in obese phones while DSLR manufacturers commit strategic seppuku ?
During one of our casual group email exchanges, contributor Adrian Turner summed up the situation rather brilliantly in one sentence about technology in cameras : My view is “what can I use this for?” rather than “who would want that?”
I’m hoping that’s what the future looks like.
On the one hand, people like Adrian, putting to great use the ever-larger shooting envelope that innovation and technology are making possible in elaborate cameras.
On the other, people like me who enjoy a very simple style of shooting, walking their cameras like they would a Schnauzer on a balmy autumn evening, looking for love more than technology.
A world not just dominated by a rush to the highest fps and iso ratings but also caring for those who think of photography as a form of meditation or just ol’fashioned fun.
Good times, right ?
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I have zero interest in phones that take pictures or cameras with EVF. I am interested in the D850 which will probably put my D800E into a backup role.
And I can see why. MyD800e was a superb machine and the D850 seems to border on perfection. Unfortunately, that’s not what the market at large is asking for and I still fear that the D850 will change very little to Nikon’s catastrophic financial results. We’ll see. And it will be equally interesting to watch the public’s reaction to more advanced phones and phone cameras. It’s pretty obvious the market is exploring multiple directions with the L16, the Red Hydrogen and others. I’m not convinced that all this complexity is not missing the mark completely for a significant portion of the population.
I don’t think the D850 will have any significant impact on Nikon’s fortunes. As a non-Nikon owner who hasn’t used an SLR in about 4 years, the D850 won’t convert any new customers, it will just be quite popular amongst existing users who are rich enough to afford an upgrade. It has no real innovation as far as I can tell, so it does nothing really new – it just does what the previous model did, but a bit better.
Anyone who remembers the Nikon Df may not feel hopeful about their promise of a FF mirrorless camera in 2018 – although based on a fairly glacial product development lifecycle (DL pocket cameras, GoPro “competitors”,etc) who knows if 2018 will come true.
As for phones, I’m going say the new iPhone is too expensive and Apple are starring to not understand the market. Western phones sales are at best flat and at worst declining – everyone already has one. Eastern sales are still advancing, but the average spend is $200 and customers like dual sim. So Apple release a single sim phone costing $1000. Again. Why would I want a phone that costs as much as a mid range laptop but has no real innovation? Face recognition? Windows already does that. Wireless charging? Had that 4 years ago. They are in danger of becoming the new Nikon – nice products, but too little too late, because they keep doing what they always do and fail to read the market conditions.
Phone as a camera? Hmmm. The camera specification of a phone isn’t a decision making factor in purchase / upgrade. But… The general consumer doesn’t really care… But…. Men love playing top trumps with specs… Which is why Samsung sell phones to dorky customers who brag about the eyeball tracking gesture controlled heartbeat monitoring facial recognition video replay feature… When is the Samsung DorkMatic 9 being released btw?
Dunno, still stuck with my lovely Galaxy 6. No tracking. Unburstable. I have dropped it on concrete and stone too many times to count, walked on it (in shoes, in the street) and it always came out unscathed. I’m not changing to the newer gens because they add nothing and their rounded designs make them as fragile as iPhones. The 6 is a keeper. And not too shabby for pics, don’t you think (those on the page are made with it).
No, the D850 isn’t an innovative camera at all. I still think it is an excellent camera though. It is tough, reliable, does everything well and doesn’t get in the way like others do. Today, though, I would miss the dashboard nature of the EVF and my M-mount lenses too much. It seems most of the market thinks that way.
There’s an unwritten theory according to which when a super innovative CEO (Jobs, Gates, Musk …) steps down at the end of an industry cycle he/she has dominated, he/she is replaced with an accountant CEO who turns the company into a cash cow. We’re seeing evidence of this everywhere at Apple, from my MBPro to the iPhone X. They are pushing the envelope of every product line but inventing nothing (Apple didn’t invent the smartwatch, although they did make it successful). It looks like we will have to look elswhere for innovation.
Apple didn’t invent the smartphone or the PC either. Much as I think Tim Cook is probably a nice well-intentioned man, and I applaud them supporting an openly gay CEO (still somewhat taboo in business), I think you are absolutely right with where the products are(n’t) going. I recently saw an article with a short interview with the head of the Surface division from Microsoft, who said he didn’t see the iPad Pro as a serious rival, because he saw it merely as an attempt to copy of the Surface line. I largely agree; nothing of much innovation has been coming out of Apple for a while. Their wearables business is tiny, as the global market is very small compared to phones or laptops. Apple’s own laptop business has suffered most from the success of the iPad, and iPad sales are largely stagnant or declining, depending on whose figures you look at.
I’m not criticising Nikon for the D850, I’m sure it’s very good at what it does. It just mostly does what the previous models also did, and adds little to that. Hence it’s mostly going to be an upgrade purchase for existing users, not something new Nikon customers buy. If I’m honest, cameras like the D850 have become the very antithesis of what I want a camera to be – heavy, big (excessively big), cumbersome – I appreciate that for a very tiny proportion of users, rugged built and ability to work in harsh conditions is important (and lots of amateurs say it is even though they will never need it), but the SLR industry seems stuck in some American influenced product development cycle where “real” cameras must be large to make the credible. DSLRs now are 1 or 2 sizes larger than most semi-pro film SLRs, certainly much heavier, and people like me who travel, are therefore hugely unappealing. I’m not sure why well made and durable can’t also be smaller and lighter.
Interestingly, Nokia never took the original iPhone seriously as it wouldn’t survive their drop test, where their phones had to be dropped from holding height onto a hard surface and survive. Of course, they misjudged the market badly, but their own phones continued to adhere to their drop test, and a friend told of having a Nokia Lumia windows phone being demonstrated to him in a shop by the sales assistant taking his personal phone and bashing down hard several times on the counter to prove they were durable. Samsung seem stuck in a rut of pointless “innovation” which adds no real value, whilst dropping the ball on quality and features that really matter, although it seems to affect their sales very little at the moment. Plastic flexes and handles shock much better than alloy or glass. Why anyone would make a phone with a glass back is beyond me.
In that case should I buy a D850 so that I have a replacement for my D810 on standby? Just in case? After all, my major “investment” is in Zeiss lenses with a Nikon base.
You know, as a person who devoted his working life to business consultancy in one form or another, this stuff stinks. It’s crap. God knows who’s steering the leaky vessel. 🙂
For example, just read a couple of reports on the industry – one, that Yashica is making a comeback and releasing a new camera – two, that Fuji is going to release a new one with a high megapixel rating (well, why not? – everyone has) – and three, that Canon has just released a new cam with only 21MP. So WTF is anyone supposed to make of all that?
I think I’ll stay under the bedcovers, till the storm blows over.
You’re asking *me* for buying advice ? Have you *read* this blog ? 😀 😀 😀
No, seriously, if you’re looking for a replacement for the D810 and won’t suffer financially, go for it ! This is probably all the Nikon you’ll ever need. From what I’ve read (never reviewed it personally) it’s fantastic.
Well, I think the market is moving too fast for the industry to react. So many people were using cameras in ways that phones handle much netter that a huge vacuum is being created where there used to be revenue and predictability. And then Sony comes along pounding midrange and hi-end cameras with EVF starlets.
My guess is the equation between what money is left in the piggy, what technology is available (in-house or through partners) and what the remaining market really wants is not an easy one to solve for incumbents.
Fuji have made a great comeback in the midrange and may be interested in capturing some share of the top. How it can differentiate from its own excellent X-Pro and XT ranges is still to be seen. Canikon just seem to be in disagrement with market stats …
Thanks – yes, I see your point – it’s a bit awful to say this, but given all the chatter in the market place about “Nikon’s financial difficulties”, and given my age, it would make sense to spend the amount required to buy a D850, to protect my investment in everything else that the D810 uses. I might get through to the (“my”) finishing line with the D810 – but then again, I might not. And I am absolutely smitten with the Otus lenses. Don’t give a stuff about the weight. Post processing nearly a thousand photos I shot with them in May has about the same effect as savouring fine wine – sometimes, I just sit here feeling gobsmacked by the clarity and the colours. Yes other people might prefer not to go with the Otus, and to use some other lens – and I do understand their reasoning. But for me, the accuracy of the renderings with the Otus lenses, as well as their visual acuity, is mind numbingly good. In the unlikely event of catastrophe overtaking Nik, I seriously don’t wish to be left high and dry, for lack of a suitable camera body to play with my beloved lenses. 🙂
And that, my friends, is VASTLY more important to me, than ANY of the features they can put onto these cameras. But it’s one they don’t appear to want to address – while they are fooling around with everything else they can think of. Yet I am talking about their survival. Interestingly, on the day one of the old hands at this game announces its intention to rejoin the party.
If I was asked today how I see their ratings, I’d have to list them as 1) Sony, 2) Fuji, 3) Canon and 4) Nikon. That’s “commercial ratings”, though, not necessarily how I’d rank their products. It’s worth looking at them from this perspective – the entry price is high, the commitment isn’t easily changed to another brand (except at one hell of a cost) – so this is an underlying factor which really ought to be taken into consideration when deciding which system to buy.
I don’t want anyone to think I am suggesting any of these companies might fail – but I do think they all need to come to their senses, stop flooding the market with a zillion different models of everything they make, and start rationalizing what they think they’re doing to themselves and their customers.
Zeiss sort of has – for most of the past century, they made great cameras – they’ve stopped doing that, and now they concentrate on making lenses – and make them for anyone who wants them, because the main people who want them are camera manufacturers, and Zeiss can fit their cameras out with lenses that are generally better than the ones the camera companies can make.
That makes sense. What does NOT make sense, is the vast range of product. What people want is “better” – not “more”. Car manufacturers worked this out years ago, and chopped superfluous different models – to survive and compete in their market. So why does Sony have over 30 different camera bodies out there right now? – Canon has over 50? – Nikon has an unbelievably long list, and it’s just too hard to work out how many they are currently selling – one of their web sites said over 70 “compact” cameras, alone – without taking any account of HF or FF cameras?
Really – this is nonsensical. The profit margin on compacts is miniscule anyway, and surely the market for compact cameras is the one that really feels the competition from smart phones?
What I want – as a carry-always-camera – is a “DXO ONE Mark II” with an EVF + a “DXO TWO” with a short tele.
Or, even better, both in one box (convenient and saves one EVF) – it would be about the size of a 1″ thick compact.
( At the moment I’m trying to figure out how to add a 32mm eq. OVF of some kind to my ONE.)
Are you happy with the ONE ? Looks like a competent piece of kit but I never used one myself. L16, for all its quirkiness, may well be on to something …
With an (old) iPhone in one shirt pocket and the ONE in the other – quick and easy to use, though not so comfy in portrait mode.
( They can also easily be connected by WiFi. I’ve looked for a cable to connect them, but it seems there are none…)
The ONE on it’s own remembers all settings incl. distance, so it works well zone focused.
It’s very discreet and the b/w small low res. screen works as a makeshift viewfinder for contrasty motifs.
( To toggle photo/video you just swipe this screen.)
But I won’t really like it until I solve the viewfinder problem (I hope to find an OVF with an exchangeable frame), at the moment I can clip on a 28mm eq. OVF (32mm eq. wanted).
The files are supposed to behave like RX100 files, ~same sensor.
( I haven’t used the ONE long enough yet, on my Samsung 13″ OLED screen I’m satisfied.)
– – –
I’m eagerly expecting first reports myself.
I suppose it requires very high precision manufacturing to align the cameras and the directions of the movable mirrors.
And it remains to be seen if the algorithms are ripe enough…
There is a nice very pocketable DXO underwater housing available, so I have the smallest(?) all-weather camera.
Also a filter holder, a lens hood and a tripod fixture.
All that sounds really interesting. If you ever feel like sharing more thoughts & pics, you are most welcome to here 🙂
I’ve written to offer to review the L16 and await an answer. With any luck we might have something to share in the weeks to come 🙂
P.P.S. on DXO ONE response:
Ready for first photo after you open the lens cover (=on) in ~3.5s.
Ready for next photo (raw+jpg or only jpg) in ~1s.
[ Measured by photographing a running 1/100s stopwatch in man. focus.]
( Shutter lag is shorter than I can reliably measure this way, probably <(<) 0.1s.)
( Some reviews mention a not very fast AF.)
Thanks Kristian. Wake up time is one area on which the A7r2 could be significantly improved … I lost photographs to it and it drives me potty to think that if 90% of all that crap that been added, and that I never use, had been chopped out, the speed would much better.
Without wounding argumentative, what does a ONE offer that isn’t achieved with one of the very small bodied 1″ sensor (dedicated) cameras, which mostly have decent zoom lenses?
So WTF is anyone supposed to make of all that?
As a person who has always known that the business world is far from his own skills, but being puzzled by a lot of stuff, I’m glad an expert is saying that I’m not totally off track.
The two years I spent in the switch from Nikon to Sony were painful, as I had to collect tons of information about the different options and try to guess also where the business was going. Especially at the beginning, when all the three options (Sony, Fuji, m43) were on the table. It was absolutely a relief when the new arsenal got completed – and I also learned to keep my GAS under control. Now I can totally ignore that stuff – I’m just following it for curiosity – and focus on using my equipment. The only market that I’m following more is the one of legacy lenses, the inexpensive ones, which sometimes I enjoy to use, and fortunately that market stay put. 😉
Be careful Fabrizio, you can’t rule out falling in love with these legacy lenses 😉
Have fun with those. We hope to test some new entries from Voigtlander soon. Not exactly legacy but almost as good. Fingers crossed …
“you can’t rule out falling in love with these legacy lenses”
It’s already happened with the Trioplan and the Helios 44-2. 🙂 But they can’t be superseded, there’s no new version with fastest AF and such… Ah, there are no firmware upgrades too!
PS The Trioplan wasn’t really an “inexpensive one”… but the Helios was.
If you’re not heavily into action shots, AF is more a nuisance than a blessing as far as I’m concerned Fabrizio. Anyway, you can have your cake & eat it – have AF lenses if you need, but enjoy the legacy lenses. Remember, one of them was the first lens on the moon! – and I bet NASA did its homework before they made that selection!
I loved this comment in your post – ” Now I can totally ignore that stuff – I’m just following it for curiosity – and focus on using my equipment.” That’s almost (but not quite) exactly where I am – but every now & then I get a chance to pick up something I’ve never had (mostly because it cost too much!), cheap, in top condition, second hand – like the two shift-tilts I just bought for peanuts, when the previous owner (who’d scarcely ever used them) closed his photography business.
BTW – once you get to this happy state, it becomes easy to get accessory gear – flash, remotes, floods, tripod[s] & heads, filters, etc etc.
Which were often postponed while getting the camera body/ies and lenses.
Feature creep isn’t going away. This just gives more options to users. You could still use the new iPhones for “Instant feedback fun, some tweaking possibilities, mucking about with a few filters or sliders, and instant sharing with pals, remote or otherwise.” Or you could try more. For those that don’t want to spend $1700+ on a smartphone, there are lots of smartphones at very affordable prices. It could be last year’s model or the OnePlus series.
I guess it isn’t. That’s the nature of the competition we’ve been tought to expect, to justify throwing away stuff that still works perfectly well.
And fair enough. But, at some point, you run the risk of losing everyone’s interest because the use case is no longer something the market can relate to. And telling unsatisfied users to buy last year’s phone isn’t a winning strategy.
We’re still a long way from that point. The masses are still ooh-ing and aah-ing at the prospect of having 3 cameras on a phone and zillions of pixels and every new generation seems to be better than the past. How long that will last and be relevant, I do not know.
“Trying more”, in my mind, means using a real camera, with real lenses and realistically sized sensor. That’s why gunning for IQ when phones can gun for so much else, is really difficult to understand for me …
We could take this further. Pundits are calling the iPhone X a revolution because it paves the way to a world where we no longer even carry a phone and do it all through a watch. So, we’ll use the phone to take pictures ? The sensor will be even smaller ? The handling even more comical ?
I don’t think so.
I watched a Jason Lanier lecture a few months ago, where he talked about the state of the industry and how to be successful as a photographer. He thought that the phone makers were the smart ones, as they had been giving the consumer what they wanted, which is why the compact camera market had withered so badly. You can’t argue with his logic – camera phones killed the compact camera market for general consumers. To a large extend, that was because the phones were convenient, good enough and made it easy to share the results on social media. In comparison, the compact cameras were often lousy, not convenient, and made it difficult or impossible to share to social media. Much as I don’t see the point of camera phones, people clearly buy new phones, for a whole host of reasons, and in doing so get a better camera in their pocket that still offers all the convenience that they liked with those early smart phones.
The iPhone 10 isn’t a revolution, it’s an evolution, again. It’s ironic when people talk about Apple in the same breath as the quality of camera phones, as for a long long time the Apple offering was well behind the curve, and some stay still is, but clever marketing makes the general public think otherwise. Apple sell a lifestyle, and frankly the product doesn’t really matter. Last week a visitor was fiddling with their iWatch to try and answer a call, when it would have been far easier to just pick up the phone – which in fact is exactly what she had to do in the end. Years ago the Chinese makers but tiny GSM phones on watches, and nobody bought them. Maybe the reflected glow of the Apple brand can change that, although there is no market evidence right now that wearables are going to be big.
Pascal, have you looked closely at any samples? When it was announced a few months back, I downloaded full sized samples and took a close look. Firstly, they have the distinct look of files from small sensor / small pixel cameras – hardly surprising. However, more worrying, as the images are somehow “stitched” in camera from it’s various lenses, across the photos the level of detail varied, and in some places parts of the pictures looked soft or had artefacting. The effect was very strange – I don’t know if it was a “pre production” problem, or if it is inevitable because of the way the images are stitched together from all it’s carious sensors and lenses.