#1033. Renaissance rebutted!

By philberphoto | Opinion

Aug 24

Pascal’s impassioned prediction that there will soon be a camera-gear Renaissance is illuminated by his superlative images like a painfully hand-copied and hand-decorated book of the Middle Ages. He announces with the eloquence of a prophet that the present slump that is killing off the industry will not last.

Whack! The disciple was illuminated and reached satori. Then it all became clear

One reason alone is enough to bring down this house built on sand. For there to be a Renaissance, there needs to be an early Golden Age, followed by Dark Ages, after which a way to re-connect to the Golden Age is found. Well, Pascal, camera companies may be bleeding profusely, but that alone is hardly proof that we live in Dark Ages. Fact is, never have so many images been produced, shared, viewed. We definitely live in the Age of the Image. Hardly dark. The defence rests, Your Honor!

Requiem for the camera market, or Exultate, Jubilate for photo passion?

Ah, Pascal argues, but you cannot count Instagram fast-eye-food images with the same measure as the hallowed, iconic production of Ansel Adams and HCB. Hence my earlier reference to the hand-copied books. I am sure that many at the time thought that what came out of Gutenberg’s presses were not books. Where were the art, the beauty, the charm? Only dry content. Produced quickly and cheaply, without the necessary time or talent to make it into something of any worth. Surely that was not enough to define a book? Just as surely the analogy with “proper, professional images” over “Instagram-smartphone crap” becomes clear? Yet, have printing presses killed off books? And subsequent media, like newspapers, and now digital media? On the contrary, far from being a Dark Age, it was the dawn of a Golden Age of everlasting expansion which is ongoing today, after 5 centuries…

The leaf might well be dead, but the photographic memory of it is very much alive

But Pascal is right in one key statement: photography companies have painted themselves in a hopeless corner. My take on this is simple: they have managed to take out of their products anything vaguely resembling fun and practicality, and instead staked everything on performance and complexity. Not good. Innovation, real innovation, when it came, came from the outside, like the GoPro invention of the “action camera”. Never a good sign. Think Tesla… So I feel for Steve Huff, but the question is: if more pics are made now than ever, there is, there must be a place for the camera industry, for the Huffs of this world, and for DearSusan. Where to find it?

Turning towards the sun…

The answer, as any consultant will tell you is segmentation. The industry is still working off the age-old blueprint of entry-level, middle-market, premium, luxury, and professional. But that is no longer relevant. It was made in a time when all cameras had the same purpose: to make images. The real segmentation today is by destination/purpose: memories and keepsakes, online posting/exhibiting, video, and professional. The poor “fit” between the camera manufacturers’ segmentation and the expectations of would-be clients goes a long way to explaining why, after the peak purchases of changeover from film to digital, new camera sales have fallen so far.

Youth, growth and photosynthesis. THAT is a renaissance, Pascal!

A typical example of that are the many cameras are defined as “premium”, such as the Canon EOS R5, Nikon Z7, Sony A7 IV, Leica SL2. Whom are they supposed to sell to? Professionals? Well-heeled amateurs? What are they good at? Portrait? Sports? Confusion everywhere, an industry grasping at straws, desperately trying to offer cameras that cannot possibly fail to attract every potential customer, but at the expense of really delighting and thrilling any of them. And when you browse forums (“fora” is too snobbish even for me), what do you read? “What is this camera which you can’t even use for professional video?” (the Canon R5 is taking major heat for… overheating) The answer is, it is not a professional camera, let alone a professional video camera. But have Canon marketing not made promises that the equipment can’t quite deliver on? It certainly seems that way. When a would-be buyer reads that, after all, the 12Mp sensor of the spanking-new Sony A7S III delivers such excellent stills files that that camera should be considered for stills also (it is marketed as a video-centric device) , how can said would-be buyer fail to be completely bemused, this in a review regarding a product from a company that has relentlessly pushed for ever-higher resolution for stills, all the way up to 61Mp?

A proclivity for dead leaves in B&W. What does that say about me? That I should call my shrink?

Basically, all these offerings promise performance, but not meaning. Though Leica is an excepion, to some extent. And without meaning, there can be no passion. Yet the passion segment of photography is, I contend, key to a sales revival (a revival, not a renaissance!). Because Instagrammers and YouTubers are, indeed, passionate. Bluntly put, passion is what opens the purse strings. I posit that passion for photography is not only intact, but actually at an all-time high. We live in the Age of the Image. There is however a major disconnect and divergence with specialized/dedicated photo gear, for which passion is indeed wilting fast. Maybe the industry talked too much about equipment, which is only the means, and not enough about photography -both the process and the images-, which is the promise. At DS, it is an old saw that gear posts get many more views than any other. Yet our DearLeader, Pascal, so wisely and presciently never would let the blog veer towards the obviously tempting: more and more gear posts!

Die Blume ist ohne warum The flower is without a why (adapted from Angelus Silesius)

And now the chickens are coming home to roost. New gear that is not really new is out of fashion, for want of passion. Design gear for passion and the passionate, give us reasons other than pixels and stops to be passionate about gear, and a major revival will take place. As it happens, in a few weeks, you will read about an unexpected encounter I had with a novel piece of gear. After a few days of playing with it, I decided that, while it totally fails to meet my description of what I would even remotely consider buying in that class, I could well see myself owning one. Why? Passion over performance. That piece of gear set my emotions in… motion, and my creative juices flowing like few others….

I love my camera a little. I love it a lot. I love not at all…

Bringing back the passion will bring back the customers. It is that simple, and certainly nothing new. Or, to put it succinctly, resolution does not passion make!

 

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  • NMc says:

    Phil
    A great reply to Pascal, thanks.
    In the film age we had film suppliers competing by the production of different emulsions with individual sets of characteristics and compromises. Film and paper was the most substantial part of the industry, and was much bigger than camera and lens production for the professionals and enthusiasts. The HiFi & music industry had an ecosystem of physical content producers that were very much bigger than the mid level and specialist HiFi gear manufactures. Both HiFi and photography worked because there were industry wide standard formats for the consumables and content, and there was interdependence for both gear and consumable diversity to have a thriving industry.

    Today perhaps it is the industries producing portable devices that are the industrial complex for both music and photograph, and it is ‘platforms’ that control creative production, distribution and access, much of it skewed to data gathering rather than quality content. Our new corporate overlords do not deem it convenient, let alone necessary, to have thriving specialist or enthusiast gear manufactures for their industry to survive.
    Sorry for the black pill.

    Regards Noel

  • immodoc says:

    Hi, the camera industry has become a mature industry, which is good, but which also means that it is
    quite difficult for hobby photographers like myself to make purchases bringing major progress.

    In 2003 I went digital, starting with a 5MP Minolta Dimage. I bought lots of cameras after this: OLYMPUS 5050, Nikon D70, D200, OLYMPUS PEN E-P1 (going mirrorless), several SONY NEX-3, NEX-5N, NEX-6, A7, A7R2, Leica M9, NIKON D800.

    Of my current equipment of around 90 lenses (of which 30 are Leica M mount) I actively use two Leica M9, a SONY A7, two SONY A7R2, the NIKON D800, and a NEX-5N.

    The Leicas I use on sunny days, the A7/A7R2s when I need AF for static objects and the D800 for fast moving objects.

    The SONY NEX-5N is use as a pocket-camera with adapted Leica M mount lenses when walking in the fields with my dog.

    What I am missing is a Kleinbild (24×36) pocket camera like the ROLLEI 35 I have a couple of.

    The Sigma fp seemed to be a step in that direction … — Now the future SONY A5 appears to fill this
    gap. And this I shall consider, when it comes …

    Perhaps the camera industry should learn from the car industry – another mature industry – to discover niches, and fill them (profitably).

    I like compact, powerful cameras like my Leica M6 (bought in 1988) and my ROLLEI 35s (the first I bought in 1975). Over the years, I acquired haptic preferences, of course.

    I do not like the current mirrorless “heavy metal” trend Leica SL2 , L-mount alii, and others from NIKON and CANON with their big bodies and their bulky lenses …

    But these are just the thoughts of a humble hobby photographer … 😉

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Give up photography as I know it, and buy into the cellphone-substitute-for-cameras market? No thank you very much. That market caters for someone who doesn’t enjoy the planning and control that conventional cameras offer. Promoting a sort of modern hybrid of Kodak Instamatics and Polaroids. And I never bought into those two, either.

    I can’t help the industry much, right now – because I already did, and so I already have pretty well all the gear I want or need.

    I do understand that some people want the alternative toys – I just have little or no need for or interest in them. Their controls aren’t intuitive (I have a bad enough time using my cellphone to make phone calls!). The range of lenses available is way too limited and narrow for my purposes. I enjoy post processing too much, to hand it over to an AI software program. Worse – I would resent the AI’s delusional belief that its offering would be what I was trying to create.

    If this keeps up, I am going to go back to pinhole cameras and daguerreotypes, or collodion wet plates. And wearing a T-Shirt with a great big slogan “LUDDITE” on the front of it.

    How do you take tilt-shift photos of architectural or food subjects with a cellphone? Macro shots of a spider’s eyes? Bird photography? Sport photography? Dreamy photos of flowers, like yours, Philippe, with the occasional splash of razor sharp? Stackshots compiled from 50 images?

    I can’t figure how sales are falling so far, when I keep bumping into people who are going back to cameras again, and only using their cellphones for snapshots, or so they can put a shot of dear little Annabelle on Facebook.

    And I also resent the unhelpful remarks made by a number of self-styled professionals, who are cracking on like prophets of doom. In these troubled times, a few careless words could cause terrible damage to the business of one of these companies. What excuse justified them saying Olympus had shut down its camera business? – when in fact, it had simply decided to focus on its medical business and sell the photography business to another firm?

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely images, as usual, Philippe! I’m not technically savvy enough to comment about the equipment debate, so I’ll leave that to the others.

  • Dallas says:

    Amasing images Philippe. Im with Nancee on the techo side.

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    It’s strange how photography as art has to fight time after time…
    There were times of hard discussion whether it *could* be considered as art.
    Now it has a hard time to be seen among a flood of images.
    A great part of what i’ve seen in photo magazines the last decades has been strong effects rather than strong photography, just my personal view.
    And now “Art” has to a great part declined to be things anyone could achieve if only they had had the ideas.
    ( I don’t mean to criticize “installations”, many of them are great manifestations of important issues. And Art is probably the only forum open for that.)

    There are several “renaissances” needed…methinks.
    Part of the guilt is, of course, with the way culture is organized (as Jacques Barzun so well outlines in The House of Intellect).
    I come, again, to think of
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=YRxvaVhVN7A

    This doesn’t mean that I disagree with you, Philippe, or you, Pascal, on the contrary.

    I think there just might be a technical renaissance when today’s camera production peters out…only, that kind of innovators are rather rare.
    ( We may have to wait for diffraction optics for a handy carry-everywhere camera being able to really outperform today’s phone cameras.)
    – – * – –

    And, Philippe, your photos delight me – as usual. Lovely!
    They fight the good fight – among all images…

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