Pascal has graced us with his usual brilliance in his post “more Leica M11”, in which he dissects why some potential buyers will succumb to the charm of the new machine, and others not. There is one key factor I would like to add.
Most gear reviews treat features, attributes, strong or weak points, on a scale, explicitly or implicitly, that ranges from “miserable” to “admirable”. And again, most summarize their reviews with a list of pros and cons, each with a degreee of intensity as per the previous scale.
This is absolutely not how it works for me, or, I surmise, for most buyers. If a camera, for example, has no tilt screen, I cannot shoot from the waist, and not through the LCD. That is 80%+ of my shooting. So, for me, no tilt screen means no go. It is not a gradual scale, and it cannot be offset by other positive features and benefits. This just one issue on which I operate on a binary, go/no-go scale, and not a linear one.
It also applies to positive features. I will not buy a camera, unless my present one dies on me, if it does not generate better IQ than my present one. Though how much better and across what percentage of my production can be quantified on a linear scale.
The epitomy of this “cumulative score based on linear functions” is the DXO camera score, where all adds up to a given score. Would I buy a camera based on that score? Hardly.
Therefore, I posit that “progress” in cameras -and in other desirable goods and services- are much more governed by step functions, like “go/no-go” and “deal-breakers” and “game-changers” than by evolutionary change. Evolutionary change, which can easily be charted along the cumulative linear functions discussed above, is fine if one needs a certain piece of kit, and they are good at letting you know which one to buy. But step functions are the ones that matter for non-forced replacement. For example, think of cars. For years, only evolutionary change. Then came new formats: minivans, SUVs…. and massive change ensued, essentially killing off the sedans that had reigned unchallenged for decades. And now electric vehicles. Massive step function.
Are you going to turn away from buying an EV because you don’t like the ergonomics? or the colour of the interior? Hardly.
So I assign part of the epic fall in camera sales to the lack of step function progress. There has been some. for example, for certain types of shooting (wedding, sports, b.i.f.), recent AF and frames per second releases by Sony and Canon have been major step functions. But resolution? Climbing from 42Mp (A7RII) to 50Mp (A1), or even 60MP (A7RIV)? Hardly. Others are trying for such step-function change, and should be commended for it, like Pixii. Of course, for professionals, it doesn’t work like that. Anything that increases their probability of getting the “money shot” matters big time. So they dig increments, as long as they help them along.
Interestingly, the same can apply to our images. Are we interested in making images that are “just a little bit better” than the previous iteration, or are we looking for step functions? In this respect, there seems to me that there is no “right” and no “wrong” answer. Some of us will ceaselessly and tirelessly burrow the same furrow. Thus they are given to incremental change. Lest anyone thinks that this is, somehow, inferior, let us remember that Leonardo brought incremental improvements to the Mona Lisa for years, until his death. Others will seek step changes, by trying “new things”, and that is fine too.
But, when considering a potential gear purchase, give some thought to what you are after, step change, or incremental change(s). And try to visualize how much improvement it would bring to your images and your shooting experience. There is however a last point that combines incremental and step change. There are times when we are in a time of funk, in a rut. The been there, done that, got the mug and the T-shirt” syndrome, and shooting isn’t fun any more. A new camera would then force us to be in learning more once again, to be attentive, open to -hopefully- good vibes and pleasant surprises from our new toy. And it may well be that a camera that is only increntally better than its predecessor can kick start your enthusiasm again, which would be a step function of progress.
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