#1032. Where will the Photographic Renaissance come from?

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Aug 20

“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 :

  • We have ceased to appreciate the art of photography for what it is and are now overloading Instagram servers in search of likes and other artificial tokens of cheap gratification.
  • Phones are much better at that game than regular cameras.
  • Ergo the camera market is collapsing.
 
 

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 ๐Ÿ˜‰

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 ๐Ÿ™‚ 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 ๐Ÿ˜‰ I, for one, cannot wait to meet them!!!

 

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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    OMG – a terrorist in our midst!

    Well, for one thing, Olympus is NOT “dead”. It’s not even dying. Its former owners have other fish to fry and simply lost interest in the camera division, so they sold it. But it’s topping the charts for sales, in Japan. And, by the way, my wife likes their cameras, she’s worn out one of them, and I just bought her a new one, to replace it.

    As for killing all of the rest of them off – the financial burden of replacing them with “something else” is beyond my reach, so I’m stuck with what I’ve got. With occasional additions.

    I have an idea. How about – instead of flagging the social media as “the cause of it all”, or blaming everything on cellphones. How about we acknowledge that the vast majority of photos are little more than snaps, they are taken on cellphones, they will never be displayed anywhere except on digital screens (whether on computers, or laptops, or tablets, or cellphones) and their most permanent form is on display, on social media platforms.

    Then we can define photography according to its etymological meaning – a graphic representation created by capturing photons. Where’s your printer? – what post processing software do you use? – what’s your favourite paper? – what other papers do you use?

    At this point, all that “gear” recedes into the background, and its role in the process of creating your image is now officially secondary – over – finished. The real task of creating your image is now about to begin.

    For less than the cost of one of your spare camera bodies or lenses, you can get a decent printer, and a supply of paper and ink that will see you through the next year or two. Chuck in the price of another lens, and you can get a special self-calibrating monitor to view your photos as you prepare them for printing.

    The household budget will remain intact.

    And your wife will know exactly where you are.

    Oh – and people will still be buying cameras – and lenses – and all the other gear.

    • pascaljappy says:

      I believe we’re saying the same thing ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Jean-Claude Louis says:

      Pete, I agree with your point of view, especially when you state that “the real task of creating your image is now about to begin”.

      When I read “Renaissance”, the first thing that came to mind was not technological development. I took me back to 14th century Italy where, after catastrophic famines and the bubonic plague, scholars and thinkers rejected the rigid and dogmatic medieval scholasticism to replace it with a liberal humanism revival, aimed at developing people through arts, literature and modern science.

      Along those lines, photography could experience a renaissance, and become popular again after a time when people were not interested in it. We all can contribute to that and become better photographers through study, perfecting skills, observation, contemplation, experimentation, and sharing ideas and works among like-minded people. There are enough pixels around nowadays to support such endeavors.

  • Lash LaRue says:

    Three cheers!!!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Pascal,
    > “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.”

    An example:
    Ming Thein reported in one of his blog posts, that his own camera project couldn’t move on, because no one was willing (?) to deliver sensors!

    Film factories didn’t have that power…

    ( One does suspect Non-Proliferation Treaties for sensors…)

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Not quite O.T…

    > “… you can sample of the sound of Ethernet cables and…”
    And their sound seems also to be about being silent when there is no message…

    Aah, Pascal, you’ve found
    https://www.tnt-audio.com/clinica/diycables.html
    ?
    ( I stumbled over them researching opinions on diverse loudspeakers.)
    I’m about to buy some meters of Cat6…

    [ If I *had* the pockets to follow Alice down the hole, this site would quickly save me from it!]

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      I have similar problems to the pair of you – there’s something wrong with my HiFi, I’m supposed to have pulled it all to bits and taken the CD player, amp and pre-amp to the store for testing, and to be shown the new range because it’s probably not worth fixing gear that’s a couple of decades old.

      I’m just terrified of the likely price tag! So it’s still here, limping along.

      • pascaljappy says:

        Ouch, I feel for you. That said, if you like your current setup and can find a “repair guy” (that’s not the official dealer) it’ll cost you far less to stay happy ๐Ÿ™‚

  • Dave says:

    You get a camera thrown in for free when you buy a mobile phone. So buying a camera is going to be a conscious decision and is not always that cheap.

    I am not into crystal ball gazing as far as the camera manufacturers are concerned. That Olympus has been sold off and its future is unclear, doesn’t bother me that much. I have my old Olympus cameras (OM1 and OM2, recently serviced) and I think they will outlive me. As someone who has his foot in both camps, I’d like to see more analogue camera manufacturers. Nikon Germany couldn’t come up with a new F6 and Leica’s analogue cameras are so in demand that the next ones will be available in October. I suspect I will go more analogue medium format …

    The lockdowns have certainly hit industry hard but whether the camera manufacturers make much changes is something we will soon see – assuming a second round of lockdowns is not around the corner, which I wouldn’t vouch for. The strict lockdown period still allowed us out for exercise and it was nice to take long walks with a camera in the hand. It was a peaceful time.

    Personally, I am happy to walk around with a manual focusing prime lens mostly on a digital camera and enjoy the challenges and difficulties of just one focal length. Currently I am using a Voigtlรคnder 90mm f3.5 lens on a Nikon Z7 and it is fun.

    Soon I’ll start using my analogue cameras more.

    Nevertheless: I printed out a number of 15x12cm photos at a local chemists yesterday and you really don’t need the immense number of megapixels or lenses resolution around today to get decent photos.

    As to my stereo system. Well, it will turn forty next year and it is still going strong. I doubt whether I could hear the difference between it and a โ‚ฌ10.000 system these days. I wont be investing any money in it unless something breaks.

    • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

      Dave, last time I had probs with it, they wanted me to drag the whole lot to their store – speakers & all. They then tried to convince me I needed new speakers. They tested pretty much their whole range against my speakers. They lost. My 35 year old speakers THRASHED theirs – ALL of them! They were simply stunned by it. Didn’t know where to look or what to sat!

      FYI – dunno which model, but they are Celef speakers – and at the time I bought them, they were being used by the London Symphony, around the outside of the concert hall, so people who arrived late could “listen in”. But even though that doesn’t paint them in 12foot high scarlet letters, I have to say they are damn good speakers.

      I think my prob is a circuit on one side (L or R), possibly inside the CD player, or possibly in one of the amps. So it won’t cost a fortune to fix. And unlike my stupid brother, these toys are simply a means to an end – to allow me to listen to recorded music with reasonable fidelity. I am quite sure HiFi nut cases can manage to spend a couple of hundred thousand bucks on this stuff. But it doesn’t improve the orchestra’s performance, or the timbre of the piano’s sound board, or the roof rattling blast of the organ. When you have music in your soul – music in your REM sleep – it’s hard to take electrical appliances in there, with it!

  • philberphoto says:

    Aha, now I understand the true purpose of this post. It is to picture yourself as the proverbial Renaissance man, Pascal! What do you see yourself as posessing? Leonardo’s bottomless genius? Michelangelo’s awesome creative force? Raphael’s infinite refinement? Pico della Mirandola’s unlimited wealth of knowledge? No, of course not. And not “all of the above”, though, to be honest, I was tempted. No, merely as Lorenzo de Medici. I shall therefore henceforth call you: the Magnificent!

    • pascaljappy says:

      “Pascal The Magnificent”.

      It has a certain elegant flow and comes quite naturally to the mind, doesn’t it ?

      Thus I am henceforth anointed by Philippus Ipsissimus. Wonderful.

  • Alain says:

    HiFi market is about rendering “Art” created by others. Photography market is more about selling tools to produce your own “Art”. Maybe one angle of the problem for photographic equipment manufacturers is that people might discover they are not “Artists enough” and cannot find a way to justify their spendings … so a smatphone is good enough to create for fun / memories and publish on social networks and get likes … Maybe one future would be a “Quobuz photo streaming service” and people will find justification to buy rendering devices to display Art at its best, something better than a TV of course ๐Ÿ˜‰

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