#830. Monday Post (11 March 2019) – Have you lost interest yet?

By Adrian | Monday Post

Mar 11

The weekend of March 16th to 19th will see the UKs biggest camera and photography show, imaginatively titled “The Photography Show“, held at its regular venue in the heart of England at the Birmingham NEC.  It has been through different organisers and names, but the formula has remained basically the same – stands from most of the major manufacturers, lots of stands for everything photographic from lenses through accessories to printing and framing services, and a few manufacturer sponsored talks to promote their brand. I first went with a colleague who was also a keen amateur photographer some years ago, and I have attended every year until this one, when I’m simply not interested enough to be bothered.

 
Star. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

To understand why, let’s look back at the brief history of cameras during my time as a photographer.  The single lens reflex (SLR) camera rose in popularity in the 1960s, when the innovation and convenience of being able to compose and take a photograph through the same interchangeable lenses combined with the affordability of Japanese mass production.  Over the decades the cameras were refined with metering systems, programmed exposure modes, TTL flash, and autofocus, until they became highly capable general purpose tools.  By the 1990s SLR cameras had fully evolved with models to cover every price point and niche, and what had started with innovation had followed the typical product lifecycle which ended in small incremental development.  Although each of the major Japanese brands had a different culture and took a slightly different path, some more innovative and some more conservative, they all ended up at more or less the same place, with a lens mount, a range of cameras and lenses, a user base and an ecosystem to feed them.

 
Night bike. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

By the 1990s, there was a disturbance in the force, as a market for digital photography had started to evolve, often coming first from leftfield and niche manufacturers who didn’t have a lot of history in camera systems, such as Kodak and Casio.  At first, the major manufacturers made high end, high cost sub-frame SLR cameras aimed at the professional market, until gradually the innovation that had come from companies at the sidelines gave way to the conformity of the major brands as they simply took their SLR film camera systems and adapted them for digital capture, until lower prices put them into everyone’s hands. 

 

Rear window. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

So what has any of this to do with whether I attend the photography show?  For that, we need to reflect on more recent history.  During the development of mass market digital SLRs for everyone, there was another disturbance in the force, or rather two.  Olympus and Sony, who had largely been left behind by Canon and Nikon and realised they could never launch a successful conventional assault on the big two, innovated and realised that if they took away the mirror they could make cameras that were much smaller than SLRs with similar image quality that were easier to manufacture and could appeal to consumers who might want something that was better than their mobile phone, which was fast becoming the de facto device for them to take photos with.  The (micro) four-thirds and NEX E mount systems were born, and offered something very different to the conventional SLR cameras on offer elsewhere.

 
Dance Dance Dance. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

The other pair of disturbances in the market were the innovation of mirrorless and the growing importance of video.  Whilst many DS readers will no doubt eschew the significance of video in still cameras, one must reflect on the fact that with the exception of stratospherically expensive Hollywood cameras, most digital video cameras had really tiny sensors, whilst the growing selection of digital stills cameras had much bigger sensors (m43rds, APS-C, FF). This gave the stills cameras significant advantages over dedicated video cameras as they could give that “cinematic” look associated with larger formats and shallow depth of field, plus the added benefit of much better control over noise and the ability to shoot in available light without the use of a Hollywood lighting rig.  DSLRs were not well suited to video since their mirrors prevented focusing when shooting video, whilst mirrorless cameras which had already done away with the mirror had also had to deal with the issue of focusing without one, and so were much better suited to live view and video.

 
Parallel Lines. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

The challenger brands clearly realised there was a perfect storm of innovation, changes in consumers buying habits caused by mobile phones, and interest in video and live view, and devoted significant effort and resource to capitalise on it.  What happened was a product development lifecycle that compressed several decades of slow incremental development in SLRs into less than a decade of mirrorless.  The original Sony NEX-5 was released in 2010, and arguably by around 2017 they had a full frame camera with abilities that matched or surpassed most SLRs, with other challenger brands matching with similar innovation.  As sensors became ever more powerful or cheaper to manufacture, there was also an explosion of new fixed lens cameras from pocket models like Ricoh’s GR1 and Sony’s RX100 through Fuji’s X100 to do-it-all utility knives like Sony’s RX10 and Panasonic’s FZ1000.  It was arguably another golden period for camera buyers, perhaps like no time before when a market in chaos combined with significant innovation, to create new camera systems, formats and form factors as the manufacturers tried – sometimes desperately – to find things that consumers wanted to buy. During this time, I could visit the Photography Show every year and be guaranteed to see new cameras and lenses, as new camera systems with new lens mounts always needed new lens models to satisfy every focal length and every perceived need. In addition, there were new cameras in new form factors and with capabilities that most of us could probably never have imagined. 

 
Block chain. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

Now you can buy a tiny camera that will easily fit in your pocket with a very good quality fast 28-100mm lens that shoots excellent 4K video without pixel binning and can capture 20+ frames per second.  Arguably, the maturity of the mirrorless camera was signalled last year when the 2 incumbents Canon and Nikon finally entered the market with their first serious offerings.  With the significant benefit of waiting whilst everyone else innovated and solved the technical problems of a new technology, and putting pointless minor nit-picking and spec sheet comparisons to one side, they released capable and relatively mature products, which in a segment that had already matured so quickly, actually managed to seem somewhat… well… boring. Lacking any significant innovation. A bit… “me too”.

 
Sculptural. Sony A5100 + PZ 16-50mm OSS
 

So now, with what seems like all the major innovation in mirrorless camera systems complete, we have mature products which iterate on longer product development cycles. Enthusiast models are now released every 2 or 3 years, rather than every year or so, and consumer models often don’t get refreshed for half a decade. The result is less to excite us, and an ever decreasing list of reasons to make us want to upgrade. Having been through a series or upgrades that took me from a Sony A850 DSLR to a Fuji X Pro-1 and Sony A6000, I now own cameras like the A7S, A6500 and A7R2 which are so capable that I have no burning reason to replace any of them.  Whilst I know that for many amateurs wanting a new camera is driven more by desire than need, I think my lack of interest in attending The Photography Show is because on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I’m already there quite near the top.  I suspect even Canon and Nikon will find that once they have fulfilled the initial demand from their brand devotees who want to convert from DSLR to mirrorless, demand will probably fall away. People who simply wanted a mirrorless camera will already have switched brands, and the big two offer little to differentiate their products that will entice users back. 

 

There surely is only so much innovation which can drive sales before we are all so generally satisfied that the law of diminishing returns sets in and nobody bothers to upgrade any more?

 

Full disclosure – I’m waiting patiently for a Sony A7S3 with a new sensor – hopefully a higher pixel count and even better noise management than the original 12Mp sensor. For me it could come with enough resolution and the low light performance to be the universal camera. In the mean time I’m using my tiny Sony A5100 as a surrogate mobile phone for random snapping and enjoying the touchscreen and the simplicity of point and shoot whilst I continue to not be bothered enough to use any other camera.

 
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  • philberphoto says:

    Brilliant analysis and summary, Adrian! I concur 100%. When I went to Paris’ Salon de la Photo last November, I did not even go to the Canon and Nikon booths to have a hands-on look at their mirrorless offerings. First because so much had been written about them, and second because they were so close to what I already knew well, the Sony mirrorless.
    There is only one potential disturbance in the force (copyright @AdrianTurner) about to be released now, the Zeiss ZX1. More soon, I guess.
    Fortunately, newer technologies are already on the radar screen: curved sensors, multiple sensors, halon elements in lenses, etc…
    So I have no doubt that what we are going through is a sequence, and that there will be another sequence after it. Question is, though, as demand continues to shrink, and predictions for the next couple of years are dire, who will still be around to play?

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    The pixel size is already more than adequate – noise levels no longer threaten our photographs – and you said it all, in the passage I’ve copied from your article and pasted below, Adrian – the only reason I recently swapped a lot of gear around was a realisation that what I’d bought didn’t really suit my needs anyway, but rationalising on what I have now has given me a great deal more interchangeability and compatibility. It was more the result of a lack of knowledge when I made the previous purchases, than any “advance in technology” – in fact, both main cameras now (the HF and the FF) are very similar, in many ways, and the HF was released 3 years ago!

    QUOTE FROM ADRIAN’S POST !!!! 🙂
    I now own cameras like the A7S, A6500 and A7R2 which are so capable that I have no burning reason to replace any of them. Whilst I know that for many amateurs wanting a new camera is driven more by desire than need, I think my lack of interest in attending The Photography Show is because on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs I’m already there quite near the top. I suspect even Canon and Nikon will find that once they have fulfilled the initial demand from their brand devotees who want to convert from DSLR to mirrorless, demand will probably fall away. People who simply wanted a mirrorless camera will already have switched brands, and the big two offer little to differentiate their products that will entice users back.
    There surely is only so much innovation which can drive sales before we are all so generally satisfied that the law of diminishing returns sets in and nobody bothers to upgrade any more?

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Ctein wrote about the physical limits of camera sensors some three years ago on T.O.P. He found quite some room for development.:
    https://theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2015/12/the-limits-to-growth.html

    Some other things are on the way:
    The Fujifilm/Panasonic organic sensor under development has appeared in a camera (rather, a camcorder).

    Or somewhere in the future:
    Quantum dots are used in some displays. When will they be used in sensors?
    Advancements in nano technology will make lenses with more Fresnel elements feasible – i.e. lighter and more compact lenses.
    – – –

    I’m happy enough with the camera I have.
    But it has limits.
    A future (if I live that long) camera without those limits would open new photographic possibilities…
    But have new limits!
    > It never ends…

    And pushing limits may leave less time to develop one’s skill within the old limits!

  • Adrian says:

    Kristian, of all the DS members I am.probanly the one who had been most receptive to some of the advancements that new technology has given us over the last few years. When Sony made sensors and cameras that could shoot 20-24fps without viewfinder blackout, my immediate thought was how I could use them to photograph physique sports categories such as Men’s Fitness, which includes acrobatics. I regularly use my A7S to take available light photos well I to 5 digit ISO values, as cameras like my A7S simply create the possibility to take hand held photos which previously may have been impossible, or very low quality. So I’m not against progress at all.

    However, mirrorles cameras have made such huge progress in such a short space of time that the incentives for rapid upgrades must surely be diminishing?

    I agree that sensors etc will continue nue to develop, but feel.perhaos were are reaching as far as existing technology may go without some entirely new sensor, or new technical innovation for CMOS (e.g. “BSI” and “backlit” wiring). Those major changes such as organic photodiodes take a long time to develop, refine and productionise to a point where maybe they can yield larger devices (APSC, FF etc). That’s not that they may not give benefits, but may take time to reach is in a meaningful implementation. Ditto curved sensors for fixed lens cameras etc.

    It’s interesting that some of the more “esoteric” camera form factors, such as those Sony modules that worked with your smartphone, the Lytro, Foveon, and those camera concepts where the body and the lenses weren’t physically attached to each other have largely failed, and the enthusiast end of mirrorles had mostly aped their DSLR cousins – indeed I dislike how each generation of mirrorles body has got bigger and heavier, in response to complaints from the DSLR conservative herd that it’s what they want (because it’s more like what they are used to). We don’t all shoot wildfoul in sub zero temperatures with 600mm lenses wearing gloves, so we don’t all need large cameras with big grips etc, but largely the “enthusiast” segment gives us the same old template from every maker.

    I’m sure there areots of new innovations to come, but I feel for now that innovation has created fairly mature products, with implementations of currently technology that are so good as to satisfy most consumers, with the result in a slowing of product lifecycles. I noticed recently that with no new cameras to show, Sony was now taking a page from Fuji’s book and announcing major firmware updates instead. A sign of the times?

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Adrian,
      I quite agree with your views in your post and added comment.
      I to believe that the present technologies have matured and will give marginal improvements in the next few iterations.

      But the specialities of some brands will spread to others and occasional new additions may come – like e.g. in-camera sensor tilt (Canon patent).

      And (you say) Sony takes after Fuji doing firmware updates, *good* news!
      Many seem to wish they’d also copy others with better UI and haptics.
      – – –

      I just wanted to point to the distance left – according to Ctein – to the physical limits.
      ( Ctein also mentiones some ways of significantly improving sensors within the present technology, e.g. by new readout methods.)

      And sooner or later some new technology with be able to come closer to those limits – which, as you say, takes quite some time.

      And there will always be some new (or old) category of photography that can take advantage of that.

  • Cliff Whittaker says:

    I wonder if there is anyone in the audience who cares less than I do about what’s going on in the world of imaging technological development. I’m more about creating images than I am about R&D. If someone comes up with a new, different and exciting technology that makes me think I can use it to create better images I’ll probably buy it. If the price is anywhere within the realm of affordability. If they don’t, I won’t miss a beat. I’ll happily scoot along making pictures without ever thinking about what I could be missing.
    R&D only interests me when it becomes a reality. And then I go, “WOW! Look at this,” and throw my arm out of socket grabbing for my wallet.
    I know a lot of you are like me and that’s why we need people like Adrian and other technophiles to keep writing articles and pushing the limits of “what could be.” I’ve never given much thought about wishing I had more gadgets on my camera to do different things. I just accepted what was there and went on. But every time I’ve upgraded I’ve seen remarkable improvements in image quality and functionality . But I don’t upgrade every time a new model comes out. Maslow, you know.

    BTW, Adrian, I love The Rear Window photograph in your post. Reminds me of an Edward Hopper-style image. Great capture.
    And thanks for the green bicycle, too. :))

    • Adrian says:

      Cliff, I think there are plenty of photographers who feel the same way as you, as demonstrated by a few comments here. The things that have made me upgrade through mirrorles cameras have been better focusing and better noise management / image quality. I don’t think I’ve bought a camera for “features” alone, but I do find a use for them – for example I use the Sony Play Memories apps that allow multiple exposures and exposure blending to remove the need for certain types of filter. I used to think face detection always a gimmick, until I found how useful it was for street photography portraits, and eye AF now makes formal portraits easier too. I know that Apps and face detectiin may be heresy for some, but my attitude has become “whatever makes it easier to get the job done”. The pictures in this thread were taken with a camera that doesn’t have a viewfinder, but comparing on the rear screen is easier when you can touch a point to focus on. Which brings me to say thank you for your kind comments about “rear window”. The lighting on the building was rather uneven (too bright at one end, too dark at the other”. It needed some work in post production to fix that, and also enhance the mood of the very mixed lighting, and I wasn’t totally sure about it myself, so I’m really glad you like it.

  • NMc says:

    The race for technical proficiency has thwarted holistic product development innovation. The more nerdy and geeky nature of digital photography has resulted in reviewing culture that is not able to write/vlog to a relevant consumer audience for a product, rather just preach tech goodness orthodoxies that were somewhat out of date more than five years ago. Witness the cult of “full frame is the gooderest” that has dominated photography writing in recent years.

    With the slowdown/maturation in technical advances and lower consumer motivation for small iterative tech only improvements, the companies that survive will be the ones that re discover consumers, and rediscovers some form of spirit and joy that should come from ownership and use. I think we are beyond the “jack of all trades” products as typified by current, not so popular, same-same but only a little bit different cameras. The camera market has less product diversity that was available at the end of the film era. Without healthy consumer market the mid to high end products will wither due to industry contraction.
    Will the market die before it matures?
    Regards Noel

    • pascaljappy says:

      Hear hear. And we’ll hopefully still be around to applaud them!

    • Adrian says:

      It’s probably fair to say that the brands that have more engagement with their customers are those that don’t really sell on technology – I’m thinking of Leica and Fuji. Instead, they tend to push certain emotional buttons to create an emotional relationship with customers. However, I feel that works with only certain types of customer, who are looking for something “traditional” and who have their emotions swayed by “retro” looks etc. I genuinely don’t know if that’s a sustainable business, because I don’t know what a future generation of “older” photographers will be looking for. However, one shouldn’t dismiss companies like Sony, as their products have clearly engaged with customers on some level, judging my their sales success. I see some of their products as enablers – the push the envelope of where and when you can use a camera, and what they can do. For example, my original A7S simply extended the shooting envelope for low light, which opened new creative possibilities. I feel the same way about 20-24fps for subjects such as sports, or maybe wildlife Pushing the envelope and creating new creative possibilities isn’t bad is it, otherwise we’d just be stuck with same old “me too” complacency of the big two, and their glacial incremental developments?

      • NMc says:

        Adrian
        I did not want to name companies as good or bad, I think that they all have something to offer, and I am certainly not against the technical advances. With regard to Sony and Fujifilm I think the best thing they have both done is to compete against themselves and not cripple models to maintain internal simplistic hierarchies.

        What has not happened with digital cameras is a comparable evolution as with computers, phones and tablets, ironically which now come with very usable cameras. For example the evolution with photographic software, we no longer tell the programme how to process, rather we command to the results we want, an oversimplified analogy but I think it still holds true.

        With a modern digital camera we should just set the maximum amount of noise we accept in shadow (which will be basically black), the maximum amount of blown highlights we will accept, give us black and blown highlight warnings so we know when to reconsider. The camera is a computer it should be able to figure out the optimum way to preserve data. Then we just adjust for exposure time and or depth of field, either could be manual, auto or range dependant semi auto. What we currently have is a system with remnants of a convention for accommodating different emulsions where the photographer was expected to understand the properties of each emulsion, which is like using a different camera with different sensor in the digital age.

        In my opinion I don’t think we have seen the true digital camera yet.
        Regards Noel

        • Adrian says:

          Hi Noel,
          What you describe is highly logical, but I think it would upset the traditionalists even more.
          I remember a forum debate about how phones applied digital image processing to optimise the result (blue sky, open shadows, tamed highlights etc). I asked why camera makers didn’t do the same to their jpegs, and the response was a barrage of opinion about how photographers wanted to be in control. In my opinion this is shrieking denial wrapped up in a falsely held belief in artistry (and misses the point that the largest volume of low end cameras are bought by consumers). If you want to take control, by all means so do, and develop your raw files. Why the camera can’t take control when instructed to, or produce optimised jpegs, is nonsensical to me (so I am.agreeing with you). That’s why I don’t have a problem with face detection or eye focusing, it’s about making the job easier. Having exposure controls that date back to the dawn of mechanical cameras probably isn’t helpful, and some manufacturers have tied themselves in ergonomic knots trying to still provide that in the context of modern automated cameras, in my opinion.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    In one guise or another, I spent my entire working life providing advice to business. After 40 years, that ended and I have been fooling around amusing myself ever since – opening my eyes as a “customer” of business. And both as an advise and as a customer, I find the way business – at a macro (not an individual) level, of course – thinks is utterly bewildering.
    You’re all making comments about it, of course. And you all seem to find it just as bewildering as I have. What is WRONG with doing what customers want? Why is it so hard, for these business managers, to face the reality of their existence, and make customer oriented product lines? It can’t be just about money – for most of their history, they’ve had tons of the stuff.
    My solution has been vaguely similar to what I am hearing from some of you – I’ve just turned it all around, and instead of seeking from them what I want, I’ve taken from them what I can afford of the stuff that I find “of interest”, out of what they’ve made available, and I’m using it to create new uses and applications which continue to feed my creativity. An adaption of Lily Tomlin’s famous line (in her “Bell Telephone Company” one [wo]man show) that “Turnabout is fair play!” Put more simply – I’ve turned the problem upside down.
    We’re apparently all supposed to be docile creatures with no brains, and no idea what we want or need, and we’re supposed to “do as we’re told” – ie, buy what they shove at us. My mother could have told them nearly 70 years ago – “good luck to you, for trying – but it won’t work with my kid! – he has a mind of his own, and NOBODY can control the little horror!”

    • Adrian says:

      Jean Pierre,
      Is the problem perhaps that customers want all sorts of different things?
      As photographers, we tend to speak of ourselves as a homogenous group, when in fact we are all very different. Forums are filled with opinionated individuals who feel their views are those of all photographers when they’re not. Enthusiasts are a tiny proportion of the camera buying public, although they are profitable as they buy a lot of products, so all manufacturers want to court their wallets.
      Consumers want easy to use – that’s 95% of the volume market. Enthusiasts want all sorts of different things based on age, experience, photographic interests etc – so I may favour high ISO performance or frames per second; Pascal likes low ISO implementations and colour fidelity; Adam likes the simplicity of Leica M; Paul likes the manual controls of Fuji. We all want something different, and isn’t that why cameras have mostly become.general purpose tools, to be everything to everyone? I know Pascal laments why can’t a camera maker just produce something simple for people who just want to take photos, but in a shrinking market, I think now more than ever that manufacturers have to entice as many people as possible with the widest shooting envelope and the most features to cater for the most use cases…
      And you see what I’ve done there? I’ve spoken for others 😉

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I seem to be talking too much, again. Yes I agree with what you’re saying, Adrian.
        Still – Nikon did itself NO favours by introducing the D810 without a tilt screen, and both the D500 and the D850 with a tilt screen that only tilts one way. And way earlier, speaking of “tilts”, its tilt/shift lenses were dramatically less adjustable than Canon’s, and they’ve had a decade to fix that!
        Going beyond that – the rather petulant and childish reaction of some camera manufacturers to the – shock, horror! – possibility of someone wanting to use a lens made by a different manufacturer Instead of facilitating such things, for the greater good of absolutely everyone, on all sides.
        And the wanton failure to give software upgrades some of these camera manufacturers have on later models, to owners of earlier models, in an equally childish attempt to induce them to buy a new camera.
        What you say is perfectly true – but within the confines of it, it’s quite a simple matter for camera manufacturers to perform a great deal better than they have in the past. IF they actually WANT more sales, that is.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Is this the answer to your dream, Adrian? (I had to laugh when I started reading it – this article was posted on my last birthday!)

    https://www.digitalcameraworld.com/features/sony-a7s-iii-leaks-release-date-news-rumors

    • Adrian says:

      Hehe Jean Pierre, I read the article you linked, and felt it was another example of photographers speaking for other people. I use my A7S as a stills camera so I have no interest in video features, though I accept that enhanced bit rates and codecs are important. I actually don’t want a new battery, and don’t particularly care about screen resolution or EVF since in general they are already good enough, and thing like refresh rates and fidelity are probably more important. The battery thing is a good example of SLR users complaining about something because they didn’t change their own behaviours and understand how to get good battery life from mirrorles cameras. I regularly get over 600 shots over a few hours of sustained use at competition s, and don’t have an issue having to carry a spare and change it – and having a system where every battery works in every camera has far greater value than having 1 camera with a bigger battery that’s totally incompatible with all the other bodies. I think all these issues are a combination of some types of photographer believing their opinion is more important or that they speak for everyone, combined with internet amplification syndrome.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        Ah, yes! “Opinionitis” – a dreadful disease, where the sufferer is incapable of accepting the possibility of anybody else having a different viewpoint – and has seizures, trying to defend the indefensible. My only defense to such people is to ask them politely to write their opinions down on a piece of paper, fold it over twice, and “shove it where the sun don’t shine!” 🙂 I can’t be bothered trying to reason with them. It’s quite pointless.

        • Adrian says:

          It’s often not that the opinions are empirically wrong, just that everything should often be viewed from a point. A longer lasting battery is better… But not when you have multiple bodies and share all the batteries between them. A tilting twisting screen is better… But not when it makes the cameras bigger or thicker to make them the same size as a DSLR. A bigger grip is better for large lenses or gloves hands… But not for anyone who wants an enthusiast aimed body in the smallest package for travel and portability. I once had a heated debate with owners of a very large very expensive “pro” SLR who were adamant it was the “best” camera even though it clearly had been out passed by a newer cheaper model that had more features. In the end the debate was about how big and solid it was and how that made it easier to use. Personally, I found it’s cheaper brother easier to use as it was much better suited to long distance travel, hand held work all day, and had more features such as a more sophisticated off camera wireless TTL flash system and the ability to compute depth of field. It’s all about perspective. I don’t claim to speak for others, but I wish others would extend the same courtesy. Unfortunately, we can’t all have a camera perfect for us as the makers don’t make a million different variants, so we all have to compromise on something general purpose that suits the 95 percentile who fall within the normal distribution of the bell curve.

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