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.
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!
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…
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?
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.
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?
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!
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….
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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