So, 2019 is soon to be over. What has it changed to our (photographic) world over the course of this year? Are the doom and gloom forecasts coming true? Are we the Last Dinosaurs?
The roll call of the departed, or soon to be departing. Posts summarizing events over a year start with such a roll call. Because our ongoing challenge is to match images and music, this roll call is, of course, matched with Chopin’s Sonata N°2 Funeral March. So, what do we mourn? The DSLR for sure. Just look at the low number of new DSLR camera bodies, vs mirrorless, and the low count of new DSLR lenses Vs mirrorless lenses… not dead yet, but we are talking pure legacy in this space from now on. Photokina, the German giant photo show, is on its way out as we knew it. Of the 7 major camera body manufacturers, only 3 will exhibit: Sony, Canon, Panasonic. Game over. How about the whole camera industry? By the looks of it, only Canon and Sony are making any money, with Fuji a mebbe. How long will others willfully keep a losing business? And it is not like there is any hope at the end of the tunnel, either. No reason why the market should recover any time soon, as there is nothing on the roadmap that would impress masses of people enough to change their aging cameras… Finally, the original, innovative, class-leading, Pascal-infuriating Sony A7 has now been discontinued. But to see Canon, Nikon and Panasonic follow in its footsteps to try and slow down Sony’s progress shows it was truly a landmark camera.
This leads me to the umpteenth iteration of the inevitable discussion: is photography dying? Ravel’s Bolero. My take is this, simply. Images are more numerous than ever before, as are people who take them. But we, the Photo Establishment, do not take them seriously ’cause “it is only smartphones, and IQ sucks”. Let’s go back some twenty plus years ago, as digital photography broke through the 1Mp mark. It meant more images than ever before, but the Photo Establishment did not take it seriously ’cause “it is only digital, and IQ sucks”…. But, make no mistake, smartphone IQ is getting better by leaps and bounds. I was already quite impressed with the output from my iPhone Xr, and that of the XI is supposed to be quite a bit better yet, so….
So where is the gear market headed, beyond its 7th straight year of sharp drop in volume? The clear and present trend is a flight to the upper end of the market, as far aways as possible from the market-share eating monster at the lower end. To wit, Sony have released their 64Mp A7R IV before a more affordable A7 IV… Other releases for 2019: The Hasselblad X1D II, the Leica SLII, the Fuji GFX 100… And the rumour mill has it that Canon will soon fight back on the resolution front, with a record-setting FF 80Mp camera body, in its EOS-R (mirrorless) line.
Similarly, lenses have been getting ever more sophisticated (faster, with now quite a few lenses faster than f:1.0 (!!), APO, etc… whether from camera manufacturers or third-party. Which, by the way, also makes them heavier, not exactly in sync with the shift from DSLR to mirrorless. On of the more intriguing products to be announced is the Rumiere 75mm f:0.95 APO. Both super-fast and APO, mouth-watering…. But price and weight might change drool into tears…
I cannot fail to indicate that ambitious specifications do not always guarantee upscale performance, let alone upscale images. One of the most unexpected product announcements of 2019 is the Zenit M. Seemingly a re-housed, re-badged Leica M of 2012 vintage, but with full-Leica-of-today prices ($10K+ for the camera and lens kit!). And complemented with a mouth-watering 35mm f:1.0 Zenitar. Tempting lens, until you read the review of the Zenitar 50mm f:0.95….
On a totally different level, the market for photography (not photo gear) is not suffering in sync with the gear market. Evidence of that, among many, is that the Paris Photo exhibition is now expanding overseas with a New-York spring version. So how do a solid maket for pictures, a sea of home-made, smartphone-based images, and a decreasing number of camera-sourced, quality images jive?
My take is that, just as overtourism (novel word) overruns famous spots, there is now a serious case of photoverload. There are no major places worth discovering any more, only new photo takes of existing super-spots. Which leads to one of two directions.
Either one just gives up, because there is so much free good stuff out there, so easy to reach over the Net, that one loses the will and drive to contribute, so one just uses a smartphone. That way we keep memories, and we put in minimal effort into getting minimal results, because, in any case, our images won’t make the grade in the face of what everyone else sees on a daily basis, which has become incredibly good. Don’t we all know people who have just “given up serious cameras in favor of smartphones” ? What if it weren’t about the impractical gear (and that, it is), but about the images, and the very real challenge of creating worthy images in a world awash with them?
Or we strive to blaze our own trail, to be excellent, to be different, to stand out, to turn out masterpieces. There is some evidence of that, not only in the solid sales of top-end gear, but also in the expectations of many workshop attendees, who won’t pay so much for improving their skills, as was offered by the Layer Cake DS proposal, but demand straight strings of Wow! shots, guaranteed to shock and awe one’s friends. Just look at images submitted for photo competitions, and popular images on sites like 500px. It is all about more. More spectacular, more exotic, more…. Just like more pixels, more DR, more…
Which is why, is this photo-feeding frenzy, DearSusan feels a bit like le village d’Astérix. A place where better matters, and sometimes less is more. Where un-destinations trump destination shoots. Where un-postcards are preferred to glowing, seen-’em-a-million-times postcards. Where slow photography lets images blossom. Where quality ignores quantity. Where gear is the tool and not the fully-automatic-magic-wand-replete-with-masterpiece-guaranteeing-AI. So, yes, just like valiant Gauls, we may be surrounded and outnumbered, but our head druid, Pascal, is busy concocting the 2020 brew of his famous potion magique!
That is what I wish you all, my friends, in 2020, on behalf of all of us at DearSusan. That photography be your potion magique!
PS: it is, or has been just days ago, the time for gifts. Let me tell you what has been mine. A free piece of software called Pxlr X. Editing software. I don’t use it for RAW, but when I need to edit JPEGs. It is very intuitive and easy to learn, and results are excellent. For free! I call that excellent value. And did I tell you that it is free? Enjoy!
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