“Why do we fall Master Bruce?”
“So that we can learn to pick ourselves up”
Co-conspirer Philippe recently wrote a farewell to Olympus in which he described the terrible decline of the photo market. More recently Steve Huff posted a similar obituary under the title Photography has become disposable. This may feel sad, particularly in these gloomy days of global illness, recession, political disaster, and social distancing.
Whether we choose to view this market collapse as a disaster or a new start is entirely our own decision, however.
In his post, Steve makes a fine central point :
Well, I’m sure hundreds of executives have attended many death-by-powerpoint meetings to find a solution to falling sales, but if one C-suite acknowledged how utterly boring and inadequate for the aforementioned ego-boosting scenario their expensive offerings have become, they’d not be in this situation, right now.
By opportunistic design or by long-term fogginess, Sony have compounded the problem through a technological arms-race. By shifting differentiation to purely technical ground, they have (1) brought about tremendous progress in a tremendously short time (2) (almost) become leaders of a market terminally shrunk by the inevitable limit of how much tech we really need/want/have patience and money for.
While it seemed like a brilliant 3-6 year strategy, it now seems like the transition to another mode of domination (one that would, you know, actually rekindle our love of cameras) was not part of the general plan. New cameras from Sony are systematically more (literally) of the same, while those of most other manufacturers are exercises in catching up. That’s cash cow strategy at best, not growth opportunity …
My utter distaste for social media is a secret to no one. But people can engage with them however they wish if it makes them happy. They only need to remember that those content commoditisers are not their friends. Only they get something out of this microsecond-celebrity Faustian deal. When the dopamine-rush ends, we are only left with a greater need for online admiration.
So here is the modern amateur photographer, wedged between a social-love well that needs constant refills and an unsatisfying race to greater specifications. Both equally bad for self-esteem, the environment and our creative needs. Not to mention the bottom lines of manufacturers, both forces being mutually exclusive, with one side much, much, stronger than the other.
All of which is desastrous for the industry, but could be excellent news for some photographers. Don’t get me wrong, I hate to see those companies collapse, their illustrious names disappear and their employees lose jobs and livelihood. But I strongly believe that the desire to create photographs is as strong as ever and that fragmentation of those giants could lead to something better for many.
After this consolidation phase, during that phase, even, we could see greener sprouts emerge from the vacuum left behind by the falling behemoths.
A Dark Night of the Soul always precedes enlightenment. And nature abhors a vacuum.
This is where DS is heading. Over the next few months and years, we hope to be tracking and following that new light in the dark.
Where will that light come from?
It won’t be one light, but could be dozens, possibly hundreds. My recent silence on DS has been caused by a recent Obsessive Compulsive Dive into HiFi. One from which I barely emerged with my sanity, and largely thanks to the help of good friends who have fallen and bounced back themselves 😉
The audio world today is absolutely fascinating. You’ll find that Steve Huff’s site features HiFi reviews more and more frequently, and it’s easy to understand why, because that universe caters for tastes, points of view, preferences, niches in a way that the photo world has completely forgotten to, or may have never actually done.
If you are technologically minded, you can sample of the sound of Ethernet cables and go down the rabbit hole as deep as your wallet will let you.
Design-conscious? There are tons of solutions for you.
Mad about music, don’t care about audiophilia madness? That too is well catered for.
You own twenty great recording of utterly crap music and want to hear them played in the most spectacular way, buy to your heart’s content (if this sounds condescending, my apologies, it isn’t. But it does make me uncomfortable because it feels so close to where cameras are today …)
Tight-budget great sound? Easy. No limit oligarch? We’ve got that covered.
DIY fan who loves to find / mod and assemble exotica? Welcome to the feast. Prudent one brand man (that’s me)? Pick you’re choice, there’s a lot on offer.
Computer based? Vinyl based? Fan of Redbook? PCM, DSD, MQA … It matters not, there are solutions for each and all.
Pro exactitude or mellow warmth? You choose.
You get the drift …
Now compare that to the one-size-fits-all-scenarios, do-it-all camera that we were supposed to acclaim with our dinero and you begin to understand why one sector appears to have a much bigger smile on its face than the other. Some photographers are delighted with the new models but, as sales stats so harshly prove, many aren’t.
Photo-world execs must have been class buddies with car manufacturer execs as cars have followed a similar trajectory to cameras. In a generation, we have transitioned from American Grafitti or Thelma & Louise to a sterile market from which dream and fun have largely disappeared.
Sure, a few exciting and original brands survive ever stricter regulations and monolithic media like weeds clinging to life in the mono-species emptiness of a perfect lawn, but they are more the exception than the rule. Open up a typical brand catalog and what you see is just .. so .. uniform. Not only has all imagination and dream departed the scene like good will fleeing politician brains during a pandemic, but the range logic follows a wealth/tech ability hierarchy that wouldn’t look completely out of place in a film about slavery (interestingly, most Asian manufacturers do not follow that logic, so why do Asian camera makers?)
Sounds familiar in the dying photo corner? If you’re rich you can have a meaningless 20 fps and 200k ISO. If you’re poor you can have an equally meaningless 6 fps and 50k ISO.
In a world were data can allow (well-meaning) companies to tailor products almost to the level of the individual, why oh why would product design based on price and specifications only make any sense?
How about execs start listening to actual phone users (not focus groups) and start thinking about what shooting scenarios photographers are actually passionate about ?
The disconnect and disharmony between company leaders and users is leading the industry to a photographic dark age, an evident lack of mutual understanding and of true advancement.
And now, or soon, it may be time for a Renaissance 🙂 In Petrarch’s words “This sleep of forgetfulness will not last forever.” Some of us are only too happy to turn that creased page of the do-it-all cam that actually does so little / fast & sharp AF lens.
What I’m interested in, of course, is what’s on the next page … What wonders lie just behind that hill …
Thanks to Philippe, we will very soon be exploring one such bud of new hope.
There will be others. Some will make it, others won’t. Such are the goal and fate of startups. Finding sustainable business models for new ideas isn’t easy, particularly in a market made so uniform for so many years. But, gradually, we will (hopefully) see a new scene thrive among the wreckage of the previous generation.
My guess and hope is that specialisation and passion will be two main drivers of this renaissance. The sooner we can cleanse our collective psyche of the damage of technological FOMO indoctrination, the sooner new entrants will have alternatives to offer that stand a chance of sticking around.
Streamers stream digital music from Spotify, Amazon, Tidal, Qobuz, NAS and USB drives. CD players play CDs. DACs make that info analog. Amps amplify that wavy signal to a level that will drive loudspeakers to make significant noise. Speakers transform electricity into emotion.
Likewise, lenses focus photons onto a receptive surface. Sensors turn those photons into electrons. Cameras shift those electrons to memory. Software lets us alter that memory. Screens and printers transform that memory into visual artifacts and emotion.
From two very similar (but reversed) workflows, two radically different sectors have emerged. In a way, the audio scene is here to guide us togs to creative and financial recovery. Sure, a sensor production line costs a few billion dollars and we won’t see dozens of them crop up anytime soon. But everything around the sensor is an opportunity for tuning and personal preference. The photo universe was far richer than today when film lay at the heart of cameras. Think SL66, Fuji 9×17, Linhof 6×9, Minox …
It’s harsh. Evolution takes no prisoners. But the sooner the dino strategies turn to compost, the sooner more varied and evolved beings can … see the light 😉 I, for one, cannot wait to meet them!!!
Never miss a post
Like what you are reading? Subscribe below and receive all posts in your inbox as they are published. Join the conversation with thousands of other creative photographers.
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.