The streets may be Snowy White, but no Rudolf stories from me tonite. Only a biased and unsubstantiated – but optimistic – analysis of where the market’s at at the end of 2019. It appears Santa ain’t been too generous with the photo industry this year. Presents and good surprises have been few. True innovation is melting like our glaciers. And financial results are looking more and more like a big ship heading for a drifting iceberg carrying doomed polar teddies.
Tragic for the bears. Photo-wise, I prefer to see things differently.
My view on the world, business, hobbies, the universe … is governed by cycles. And we’re reaching the end of one cycle. One governed by technical performance, which picked up when Sony sank its teeth deep into the sensor business, and is now long past its diminishing returns sell-by date.
At the start of this cycle, most manufacturers started playing me too catch up games instead of finding their own positioning on the side of this arms race. Instead of pushing variety, they followed. Inevitably, they stayed behind, in the slipstream. And while there was enough aspiration for all followers to breathe, all was well. But now that buyers no longer care about extra pixels, fps, ISOs … well … you know.
Ironically, the most interesting failure of the whole industry was its half-assed adoption of digital! Turning halides into electrons proved enough for most manufacturers. To them, digitisation of files was sufficient to build a strategy on. Turned out to be a very flimsy one for most.
Because, in the opposite corner of the ring, tiny Tim the phone camera undertood that the real game was being played in digitalisation (not digitisation). Phone manufacturers understood that producing files was 2% of the story. Storing, sharing, editing, posting, preseting … is where the fun was for the majority of the market.
This gave them the early wins and impetus for the most recent driving force in this trend, computational photography, which is only driving the nail harder by contesting the technical suppremacy of “real” cameras in more and more shooting scenarios. I used my X1D alongside my daughter’s latest gen HTC during a beach sunset 2 days ago, and the results are scary scary scary …
So, the photo market is crimble-crumbling faster than democracy in this mad world. Is that so bad?
It’s certainly very sad for those whose professional life those shoddy strategies are now threatening. My guess, though, is that they number far less than people benefiting from the Rise of the Smartphone.
But, mostly, my hope is the end of this most cynical market cycle can lead to something ultimately far more positive. Car performance never made us better pilots. Only less connected to the car. Camera performance never made us better photographers. Only more lazy, wasteful ones, in many – not all – cases.
Dinosaurs must have been uber-miffed at the sight of that mighty roid burning up their atmosphere. But, ultimately, we humans are kind of happy this allowed us to emerge, right?
Horror vacui. Entropy and energy lead to higher complexity. So my hope is that there’s enough energy left in the photo world (that’s us, our desires, our drives, and out finances) to power the emergence of something far more interesting, varied and fun, than the 100Mp camera. Something fun for each of us thoroughly.
All of this is highly speculative and 2020 might just be more of the same sinking race to nowhere. Heck, maybe I’m Mad as a hatter. But it’s my sincere wish that Santa dropped a big parcel of fun and adventure down your chimney last night. Be it technological or not, a book, an idea, a destination, … my wish is that it brings you a lost of lasting pleasure.
So here’s wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a very fullfilling photographic future. To cycles.
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