State of play: the business of photography today

IMG_5154b copy
A less literal selfie. Selfies are a huge part of photography today: but there’s no business model here. And the underlying reason is inextricably linked to why we find photography appealing in the first place.

The game is changing, yet again – faster than ever. In today’s post I’d like to address the current state of play of the industry, and where I see it moving in the next year or two. Unlike just about every other industry, most of photography is unique in that there are no real benefits to scale anymore – even if you are a creative design house, there are good reasons to have a larger team such as specialisation. But instead we are seeing larger studios cut staff and run lean, and production houses giving way to collectives who band together as required for projects, but do not carry an aggregate P&L. Blogging has become an industry, though saturated. And the lack of regulation and standards is once again affecting all of us in the long run. Is there hope in dark corners? Perhaps, but we’re going to have to be brave, masochistic and resourceful to take advantage of it. I’ve broken it down by category for ease of analysis; usually multiple categories apply.

Camera manufacturers
Canikon et. al., I’m looking at you. Innovate or die: that’s basically it. You probably have a few more years of momentum sustained by the existing user base that you can probably string along with one or two more minor refreshes and some lenses every year, but this isn’t going to be enough in the long run. In fact, the only things saving you now are embedded users and fortunately ultimate image quality in small formats still goes to the DSLR, but the latter is a small market. Sony is starting to cannibalise your market by being price-agressive, and then once people are locked in, things are going to get expensive. It’s a shame, because my recent experience with the low end products shows (specifically, the D5500) that it’s possible to both innovate and get the ergonomic and photographic parts of the camera right in a small, cheap, light body. But if marketing then fails to follow through, it’s all wasted. The disruptive manufacturers like Sony and Fuji need to sustain the momentum: being aggressive isn’t enough. Proper quality control and after-sales support will be key to long term staying power and building brand loyalty.

Lens manufacturers
Of all the hardware companies, these are in the strongest positions – Zeiss and Sigma specifically – because they have much lower margin pressure than the camera makers, much higher barriers to entry of competition, and can serve a large user base with the same design simply by offering different mounts. The abundance of mounts helps too, since the camera makers are scrambling to fill holes or keep up with demand or deliver consistency. It’s a good thing that these companies are doing their best to keep up with the performance potential of the current generation of cameras and accommodate future resolution increases; the camera makers themselves have skewed focus far too much towards the bodies, which are more complex and expensive to develop but have a shorter shelf life. If I was in the camera business, I’d want to be here.

Hardware startups
Much the same as last year: access to crowdfunding has lead to many little projects being announced (Konost, TinyMos, etc.) that never really took off. Even access to large funding is no guarantee of success (Lytro). Being disruptive or niche is one thing; not properly engaging the photographic community to help them understand why they’d want to buy one is quite another. There’s no point in making something so different it no longer feels or works like a camera, or requires so many compromises that they land up outweighing any potential benefits. I think there’s certainly interesting technology afoot – Lytro and Light being the two leaders here – but I don’t see these going mainstream with an independent product because the support infrastructure isn’t there. I also don’t see them going mainstream because the main manufacturers are simply too conservative. The innovation needs to continue; we are reaching the end of the line in the current design/usage paradigm, and incremental improvements aren’t going to sustains sales in a broader market (beyond hardcore enthusiasts and pros) that’s getting both increasingly saturated and not necessarily needing or wanting any ‘more’.

Adobe needs competition, desperately. Their subscription model is something I initially opposed, but feel makes sense now given it is a) no longer that expensive if you don’t need the whole Creative Suite, and b) should theoretically give them more resources for more frequent updates if they did their math correctly. However, it also puts them under pressure to push updates at the expense of stability; the last Lightroom fiasco, for instance. Broken workflow is a massive pain for pros, and a frustration for amateurs. It is not the way to build customer loyalty. It’s also clear that dedicated small teams can do a much better job with certain things – Kolor/AutoPano for stitching, for instance – than tools that may not be given much in the way of resources or priority at a larger company. The Kalpanika Sigma to DNG batch converter is another good example – it leaves me wondering why Sigma did not at least offer something similar (or buy up that code) to make their product more attractive to a wider audience.

The standard stuff has long been saturated; when was the last time we saw any innovation in say the tripod or head market? The customisation market is booming, on the other hand – straps, cases, covers, buttons, whatever – the total cost of which can be significant even in proportion to the original camera. And then there’s the adaptor market: it’s going to get even more crowded as more mirrorless cameras are released and market share grows further. We recently saw the launch of the first AF Nikon to Sony E adaptor; I’m sure others will follow for other mounts. Quality control with adaptors is still suspect though sooner or later one of the big boys will realise there’s money here and tolerances that can only be achieved with more expensive production equipment. If anything, a lens maker should be the first in line to offer compatible adaptors to other mounts because it would broaden the market for their own product. Better to cannibalise your own sales and recover something in the process than lose it completely to the competition.

Photographers – still
The only segments here that aren’t experiencing a serious contraction are the wedding, aerial and VR shooters. Even then, price pressure is starting to build as the market gets more competitive with increasing hardware saturation. Commercial studios are finding they no longer have the production budgets to support large operations; the lone ranger with partners seems to be the only long term model, and even then, profitability is mostly thinning too. There will always remain room at the high end, but nothing has changed: it’s hard fought and heavily defended. As for news and documentary, with the exception of some agencies like Magnum and VII, we’re probably witnessing the start of what has already occurred for stock photography: it’s going to be crowdsourced and mostly unprofitable. Even Magnum’s coverage of the Paris attacks seemed, well, hurried, and not really up to their usual standards. Between axed photojournalists, a reader/consumer base who doesn’t care about quality but only wants instant gratification, and a higher chance of somebody in the crowd getting a shot – the golden days are over. The general trend is more content, faster, and quality takes a back seat. I still find this ironic considering proliferation of images should theoretically also raise awareness of good/bad…

In the next year or so, video production is likely to follow the same path as stills: the lag is because it’s taken the barriers of entry some time to catch up with photography, but it will happen. Price pressure, quality sacrifices, etc. If you are in this market: prepare now. And make sure you have a contingency plan if you’re an aerial specialist and drones suddenly become much less easy to operate, which is only an accident or a matter of time away.

An increasing interest in photography over the last few years has also brought an increasing demand for education, though it still remains a very small portion of the overall pie. It will continue to do so because education requires effort, and that’s much harder work than just buying something. I have noticed an increasing number of photographers offering some form of education or switching over to education entirely; the problem is once again a lack of quality control; good photographers are not necessarily good teachers and vice versa. I’ve heard no end of complaints form my own students about other workshops in which the teachers did not actually photograph – possibly out of fear or being upstaged by their students – or just acted as tour guides; that’s not education! You cannot ask a student to do something you yourself cannot do; you do not deserve to teach if that is the case. Personally, I’ve cut down on the number of workshops I do simply because I don’t have the time to plan and execute them to the level I would like.

I’ve left this one til last, because it’s a bit of a minefield. There seems to be little differentiation by the audience between bloggers, photographers, reviewers, and otherwise. Good photographers who don’t write well get marginalised, but try to stay in the game anyway. Reviewers mostly cannot photograph and therefore produce opinions that are not valid because they do not represent actual-use scenarios. Furthermore, there is an overlapping group who are paid mouthpieces and not at all objective; I know this because offers have been made more than once to me (which I rejected out of editorial integrity, and because I don’t earn my living from this site or doing reviews) and other names were mentioned during the conversation. Yet the internet is such that it you shout loud enough, whatever is being shouted is believed to be true. This is dangerous.

I find myself in a tricky situation with this site. Every other site which has anything approaching my traffic is monetized and pretty much the sole means of income for the proprietor/owner. Sites are increasingly advertising-heavy, or subscription-only. The latter change comes whens the proprietors realise that the time and effort being expended is net-negative or not paying the bills. I am fortunate to have other work to allow me to write because I enjoy it and because I wish to say the difficult things that have to be said – but the internet is also so increasingly entitled and full of unpleasant individuals that remaining free and fully independent is an intellectually unsustainable model, too. My catch 22 is that the only stakeholder deriving value is the readership: I’m certainly not doing any of the manufacturers favours when I find flaws in their product. Yet if I make this subscription-only, there goes any hope of sufficient visibility that things might change. See the challenge?

At a higher level, there’s a disturbing trend going on which doesn’t make much sense. In every case, the price to the consumer is increasing – yet the price paid to the supplier is decreasing. Cameras cost more, lenses cost more, actual gains are smaller, development cycles are shorter, products are released with known flaws. Professionals are being paid less, dealer margins are being squeezed. So where is the money going? It’s not into R&D, because innovation is honestly pretty thin on the ground compared to other industries. It isn’t into manufacturer profits, because those are pretty thin compared to other industries, too. It may well be into shareholders’ pockets for clients; savings on advertising budgets go back to the bottom line. However, you have to spend money to make money: customers won’t buy something they don’t know about or don’t find attractive.

This has probably progressed far beyond the initial scope of the discussion, but as the income distribution gap continues to increase, professional photographers and dealers are going to become an increasingly endangered species. If I sound more negative now than during my previous assessment of affairs, it’s because I really feel that photography as a whole needs a massive systemic change in innovation and education to value content at a wider level. In my own small way I will continue to try to defend the fort for as long as I possible. MT


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  1. Fareed Rashad says:

    This article is a very scary reality for me. Because I spent the last 19 years learning this profession first film and in the last ten years working with digital. Started with Minolta then Nikon canon and now Sony mirror less. And after being in the barbering industry for 38 years, at 50 years old. I feel ready to do photography full time and I’m worried that there is a sense of a dying profession. Your article was a eye opening reality check. Which left me to question my future in this business. My passion drive me this far. And after shooting medium format I felt ready but now I am unsure and worried at the same time. Any advice on my dilemma.

    • No, sorry. Other than finding a niche and working it for all you’re worth, there’s no shortcuts. Luck and contacts matter far more than skill, sadly. Equipment no longer matters other than whether you can get the job done or not. There are plenty of really bad photographers who seem to get all the work, and equal numbers of very good ones going out of business. It seems there’s a very low (unsustainable) end, and a very high (inaccessible) end to the business, and the middle is being smeared thin.

      • Fareed Rashad says:

        Thank you for a very straight forward and honest reply. With that said l will continue to move forward toward my goal of offering good work and if you don’t mind following your blog and looking for more informative content. I found a mentor in you. Thanks again.

  2. ‘I still find this ironic considering proliferation of images should theoretically also raise awareness of good/bad…’

    Spot on, and I’ve often wondered about this. Guess it goes to show that there’s no correlation between quality and quantity, and maybe prove that having an eye is something you’re born with (personally I wasn’t – I’m a lifetime amateur who’s still trying to take a picture that I actually like).

    Reckon maybe the biggest thing is that developing an appreciation for quality in anything – food or wine or classic cars or photography – takes effort. I don’t mean that in a snobby or pretentious way. The more you learn, the more passionate you get, the more you begin to appreciate what’s really good.

    Unfortunately in a time of short attention spans, endless distractions and instant gratification, effort is thin on the ground.

  3. I wonder how many K-1’s Pentax Ricoh will sell? Will it be make or break?

    • That’s a good question, actually. Given how many 645Zs they sold, they’re still not exactly mainstream and out of the woods; I think make or break is more likely to be the rest of the system and lenses for that camera. Not to mention availability: the largest dealer in my country isn’t getting any because he’s not convinced they can sell. (To put things into perspective, he’s the kind of dealer that usually has a long pre order list for new stuff that far exceeds allocation. K1? Nada. Zip. Zilch.)

      • Pentax have rebadged the Tamron 15-30 and 24-70. Now for other mounts as Tamron lenses these retail for £850 and £650, repectively. As Pentax? £1499 and £1149! Killed it right there, regardless of the camera body price of £1599.

    • Some anecdotes, observations, and musings…

      I just pre-ordered a Pentax K-1 at B&H (via Ming’s affiliate link, a friendly nudge for those of us who’ve enjoyed a free lunch here the last few years). Also plan on purchasing a Sigma SDQ-H this autumn/fall when it’s released.

      I sold my Nikon D750 as I wasn’t that deep into glass yet. And while the Pentax lineup is underwhelming (and confusing for beginners with rebranding), it seems solid enough to build up a small collection of primes, a tele and a zoom. To be honest though, I wouldn’t have pulled the trigger on the K-1 had the Sigma 35 Art not been available in K mount. The 35 Art will be my first K lens, and I hope Sigma releases more.

      A funny thing happened last year when I bought my D750. I took it into my local church to test the low light focusing. The church was very dark, and I found some beautiful iconography tucked away in a corner. Perfect subject, and it helped me develop my post-processing skills in lightroom (pulling shadows, noise handling, etc). I was really amazed by the Nikon’s ability to deliver outstanding results, and shooting iconography/art in general became a bit monomaniacal for me. The more my skills improved, the more I sensed I was backing into bayer/aa filter limitations. This led me to buy a Sigma DP2Q, which opened up some avenues yet introduced its own set of limitations. And now onto the Pentax K-1. Pretty gutsy (or foolish), not having ever touched one, but I can always buy a D850 or 900 or whatever iteration Nikon regurgitates at CES/NAB/Photokina in the upcoming year.

      And that’s the word, regurgitates… this ties into Ming’s innovate or die comment. Since the D3 generation (what was that, 2007?), it seems as though every new generation is an incremental iteration. There’s something refreshingly ballsy about Pentax and Sigma. Too radical and impractical for seasoned pros that need to justify cost vs. the market, I understand that. As an enthusiast? The only client I need to satisfy is myself.

      There seems to be quite a bit of frothing about the K-1 on the various Pentax fora, but that’s understandable. Red-headed step children and all that. How that translates in the ‘real world’ (CaNikon), I have no idea. It’s interesting, I heard a lot of chatter about Sony mirrorless the last few years among my friends (mostly younger than me), but all have now reeled back their enthusiasm, with many switching back to Nikon and one considering the K-1.

      I trawled the usual photography blogs and news sites after ordering my K-1 today, and stumbled into a video titled ‘Why Photographers Use Medium Format Cameras’ by Karl Taylor (Hasselblad ambassador, no less). Quite a nice video, knew most of the content Karl delivered, but I amused myself for 9 minutes, daydreaming of a Hasselblad (the dream/holy grail/golden fleece/Loch Ness camera). Toward the end, Karl said something to the effect of, yes, Hasselblad carries a premium price tag, but you may be surprised at the affordability of the HD 40.

      Thinking he was inebriated, I went back to B&H, expecting to see a 30/40k price tag. Instead, I found a H5D-40 with lens for $9995. That’s actually $5 shy of my girlfriend having me committed to the local mental ward. Doing the math and looking at the glass lineup of the 645Z, the H5D-40 may actually make more sense for me.

      I’m not wealthy (I know an actual Leica trust fund kid!). $10k is about a quarter of my yearly salary. But shooting is all I do, other than eat, sleep, work, basic hygiene and lots of relaxing with my better half.

      There’s a $200 1996 Subaru sitting outside my house. So many choices in life. 🙂

      • re: wealth — upon re-reading this, I’m struck by the scope of my first world problems. Regardless of the state of the industry, we photographers have it pretty good, I think. 😉

      • Thanks for the support 🙂

        Pentax has the Limiteds, which you can’t get in any other mount. Small, metal, sensible speed AF primes? Yes please!

        You probably get the best of both worlds with the K1: if you have a tripod and patience, the RGB stack results look incredible. If not, you’ve got a stabiliser and the same sensor as the D810.

        As for affordability, I’d say skip the H5D-40 – that’s the older CCD. For the same amount, you can get the current 50MP CMOS back (CFV-50c) and a V body and lens off ebay. I’ve done the math here – and the results may be surprising…

        FYI, the CFVs also seem to hold their value much better than the full H system cameras. No idea why.

        • Yes, the Pentax 71 Limited is on my radar! And I enjoy tripod shooting unlike many of my friends… something about the deliberate act seems to quiet the urge to ‘chimp.’ And like you said, sans tripod, there’s always SR/IBIS.

          Regardless, I need to cool my jets: the K1 is still weeks away, and I have this feeling you may be posting something Hasselblad-related after April 15. 😀

          • Hold off on the Hassy until you see the results of Pentax pixel-shift. It’ll likely be way good enough.

            On the Limited’s, I have the 31/43/77. The 31 needed work out of the box, had QC issues. But now great. 43, very soft and terrible purple fringing wide open but all fine stopping down, not that great a lens, can’t understand the hype. My copy of the 77 is flawless.

            Make sure you get the FA Limited lenses from a vendor with a solid returns policy, there are QC issues, although not as bad as Sony’s FE junk.

            I’m disappointed by the price of the 15-30, 24-70 and 70-200 f/2.8 zooms. I think they’re price gouged considering the first two are Tamrons’ with the stabilisation ripped out.

            • Pixel shift only works on static subjects 🙂

              • It’s no good for stuff that moves fast, but Pentax have a new pixel shift algorithm, bit like an automatic HDR ghost removal tool that replaces the motion blurred bits.

                • Ah! Would be interesting to see how this works in practice…

                  • Bill Faulkner says:

                    I went to a Pentax K1 demo. The pixel shift only works up to 1/2000. Caught me by surprise.

                    • Can’t imagine why that would be, but I also can’t imagine that to be a serious limitation since whatever you’re shooting can’t move anyway – so there won’t be motion that needs to be stopped.

                    • Bill Faulkner says:

                      We will wait for your review, but there is a suggestion from Pentax that you can use pixel shift with motion (see Mike above), in some limited way. It would seem that the faster the shutter speed, the better this would work, but apparently the limit is 1/2000. As you say, probably not significant for the application. Unless Pentax made a fast FF prime, which they haven’t for this release… I am deferring to your review to come.

                    • It is highly unlikely I will review this – not for want of interest, but there is simply no way to get hold of one or meaningful lenses for a comparison here…

                    • Keep an eye on Lloyd Chambers’ blog, he’s been commenting on the K-1 since it’s announcement… He acquired a Pentax K-3 and tested it’s pixel shift in anticipation of the K-1 (which, admittedly, will probably be different between the two models). He also has some interesting takes on bayer vs pixel shift re: luminance, color accuracy, b/w conversion, etc.

                      Ming had a lengthy convo/article/interview with Lloyd not too long back… along with Ming, I consider him one of the ‘good’ guys. He’s definitely passionate about particulars, which I like. I won’t hawk his URL as much of his content is paid subscription (his bayer vs. pixel shift re: Pentax articles are not), but he’s definitely one to keep an eye on for future Pentax articles (along with Zeiss mania and other goodies, too).

                      Some Lloyd/Ming stuff:


                    • Seconded – being in the US, he has much easier access to test/loan gear. B&H can’t even ship certain things to me because of battery and FCC restrictions. Principals in Malaysia are still only interested in non-objective crony sycophants and/or print media.

  4. For not being innovative, almost five years ago Nikon introduced a mirrorless camera with an autofocus speed capability competitors in the mirrorless space are still struggling to match today; with a battery life that’s arguably superior to any other mirrorless camera today; introduced a format (1″) that has since become a standard, and offered a well built camera with an unprecedented (among ILCs) Apple-like ease of use interface that offered the mere appliance operator an opportunity to take great pictures.

    The internet echo chamber panned the product, punishing Nikon for the innovation.

    (True, it was vastly overpriced, where it should have instead innovatively sought to seize market share.)

  5. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    Fujifilm is disruptive? To whom?? Fujifilm’s market share is all of 2% globally! I dont care how “innovative” your cameras are, if you are next to dead last in market share and have been for a decade, then I really dont call that disruptive at all.

    Fujifilm has lost over tens of millions of dollars making cameras the past decade. This is a disruptive company?

    Compare that to Apple, which has obliterated the compact camera market, making billions of dollars. THAT is disruptive.

    I seriously doubt Canon, Nikon, or Sony care what Fujifilm does. Fuji is such a bit player, beyond notice.

    • I’m not sure from where you get your market data re Fujifilm, but according to Toshihisa Iida and Makoto Oishi of Fujifilm Corporation’s Optical Devices & Electronic Imaging Products Division in an interview with Imaging-Resource their market share based on the official CIPA assessment of the mirrorless market is around 14% to 15% globally. And in Thailand it is a massive 40%. It seems Ming is more aware of this.

    • You may want to check your numbers. And also don’t forget that Fujifilm OEMs for quite a number of other larger brands.

      • L. Ron Hubbard says:

        Thom Hogan calculated Fujfiilm’s market share from the sales data from CIPA as well as revenue numbers published by Fujifilm.
        Their global market share is at most, 2%. That’s it. TWO percent. Fujifilm’s marketing sock puppets (you know, the ones who force you to have a GOOD review before you get a sample copy), can spin that number anyway that they want, but the fact remains that they have almost no significant market share. Their mirrorless market share is higher than 2%, but it is laughable, simply laughable to suggest it’s 15%. Only the most rabid fan boy would believe what the marketing droids say. Where’s the data from them? Answer: They’re aint any! Fujifilm has 100% market share selling cameras with the name Fuji written on the camera! See how easy that is to inflate the numbers?

        Fujifilm OEM’s for Hasselblad. Who else?

        • I’m not at liberty to disclose who. And I would probably be the last person on the planet anybody would ascribe to being a Fuji fanboy.

          • L. Ron Hubbard says:

            It would be next to impossible for Fujifilm to OEM for another company and it remain a secret within the industry. There are enough people who tear down gear and publish the results. I have seen Fuji gear torn down to the sensor level, revealing that both Sony and Toshiba are there main suppliers.

            There simply is no way that Fujifilm could hide the fact that they made a camera and/or lens for another company. Their manufacturing techniques and internal labeling requirements would give them away easily. Very easy.

            • Perhaps you have better sources in the industry than I do…but given the number of NDAs I’ve signed, I can’t say more without probably violating one of them. 🙂

        • I have been unable to find Thom Hogan’s credentials as a financial analyst but as both he and Fuji are apparently using CIPA data something isn’t right here. The variation in their conclusions is simply too great to be meaningful. Fuji would appear to have the latest data from CIPA to work on. Could it be Hogan’s work is not up to date? Just a thought.

          Whatever, assuming that the 2% figure is correct, it is clear that Fuji is punching well above its weight when it comes to its presence in the market place.

          • L. Ron Hubbard says:

            Thom’s commentaries are all on line so rather than make a personal attack, as fan boys do, you can take issue with his calculations and offer up your own for criticism. I wont hold my breath waiting for that.

            Fujifilm’s dismal market share shows how little punch that they have. After all the hype of the past 5 years since the X cameras were released, they have almost nothing to show for it sales wise. Were cameras Fujifilm’s primary business, they would have boarded up shop by now. Thankfully, cameras are a hobby for them, representing less than 5% of revenue, and less than 1% of profits (if there are any) so Fujifilm can maintain this loss leader.

  6. Richard Bach says:

    I think there is one quality that is destroying the pro photo market and photography in general: lack of taste.

    When clients, readers, and other photographers lack the proper taste to discern good work from bad, the art as a whole will suffer. This is a function of education, hard work, experience, and just a good old fashioned creative eye that few people seem actually interested in. Unfortunately those who HAVE taste are now in a small monitory, and don’t get to call any of the shots. And those who don’t are put on a pedestal because no one makes money by selling to the small monitory. Hence the current state of affairs in photography…

    • Taste is surely a consequence of education, no?

      And actually, you can make money selling to a small minority. That, and being (supposedly) an arbiter of taste: that is the entire foundation of the modern luxury goods industry…

  7. I always wondered how people make a living from photography.

    • There are still a decent number of clients willing to pay for good images to portray their products and services in a positive light and commensurate with their desired image – that isn’t easy to do casually or without experience. And to do those jobs, you have to offer something different from everybody else.

  8. Kenny Younger says:

    I think the money is going to the Apples, Samsungs, and Microsofts. I’m constantly amazed by the image quality that comes from my Nexus 6P. They are also solving problems for the masses that Canon’s and Nikons never did solve: image management. For most, it’s a better value proposition overall.

    • This ties in with Ming’s notion of sufficiency as I understand it. I think the majority is satisfied with the images and workflow available on their phones. So what do you do as a dedicated camera company when alternative technology hijacks demand for your product? You can only compete based on image quality and broader shooting envelope. That is a hard sell and I agree hope lies in illustrating that better is worthwhile and available. Even so I am not optimistic about converting large numbers of phone photographers to DSLRs, etc. If correct then companies must survive by competing for the “already convinced” by offering worthwhile improvements, not gimmicks, and excellent customer service. This ends of meaning education, R&D and service are the keys to survival. All three are very expensive and in an era of decreasing revenue it would require extraordinary courage and leadership to push this line at the board level.

      • Kenny Younger says:

        I think the nature of the market dictates that companies like Canon or Nikon radically change, or die. Creating great professional cameras and lenses is hard work, but so is creating a new car, or playing Go with a computer mind. These are hard problems, but not impossible for outside company to solve. Just look at how quickly Samsung was able to step into the market.

        • L. Ron Hubbard says:

          I dont see today’s equipment from Canon and Nikon being the bottleneck to getting excellent images that people will pay money for.

          • NO equipment today is really a bottleneck compared to what we managed with even five years ago. But if you have the choice between an enabler and ‘make do’, why pay for make do?

      • Bingo.

        • There is no shortage of brilliant engineers and scientists who would relish the challenge of taking on these difficult problems. Their funding however depends solely on their manager’s view of the timeline and likelihood of payback. This is why I said above what is required and seemingly lacking is leadership and courage.

          • You’re right there. Most senior management is on a 2-3 year contract whose bonus clauses and renewals are dependant on production of financial returns; spending R&D dollars on something that might not show returns until your next term and leave a gaping hole in the budget is bad for one’s personal business. So, conservativism tends to be the order of the day. It’s almost always the smaller (and family-owned) companies that tend to be the ones who take risks – Sigma, for instance.

    • I’m not sure about the image management part, but there’s no question they’re making much bigger progress with image processing. Given a choice, I’d rather not have to spend time in front of a computer for every image taken – and given the choice, I think few would. But at the same time, the OOC JPEGs are pretty dire from most camera. We’re now getting a computer with a camera attached – instead of the other way around. Perhaps that’s the fundamental paradigm shift…

  9. Interesting read. I took issue with the workshop comments. Specifically the one where students took issue with the photographer not photographing. In my experience students benefited greatly from my comments on their compositions in the viewfinder. You might want to try moving to the right or left, the foreground is blending in with the back ground, the contrast is going to be a problem….In other words basic composition and seeing from three dimensions to two was what most folks needed help with. My goal with a workshop was to improve student skill level. I know that a whole lot of workshops are geared toward taking the next great photograph but “craft facility liberates expression” is a basic and unavoidable process.
    With that said, I could move from student to student offering advise only if I wasn’t off trying to take an image that proved my ability. That said, I always presented a portfolio of my prints at every workshop.
    Which brings me to bloggers/reviewers. I very much appreciate your reviews and Lloyd’s. A face shot with a one hundred percent crop of eyelashes is close to worthless. It tells nothing about across the frame performance at various distances. It’s a sucker punch to use that sort of point and shoot as a real test.
    Thanks Ming
    Claude Fiddler

    • I think you might be misinterpreting what I meant: yes, the role of the instructor is always to improve the skill level of the student. At the same time, you as the instructor should be able to do what you ask of your students; pulling out an example image isn’t the same as actually making one at the same time and place.

      The 100% crop of eyelashes also doesn’t tell you anything about how the camera handles and operates under actual shooting conditions, either 🙂

  10. Hi Ming,
    Very interesting article. I didn’t quite follow this bit: “At a higher level, there’s a disturbing trend going on which doesn’t make much sense.”

    If I understand correctly you posit: The cost and release rate of gear is increasing while generational improvement and quality is decreasing. The resulting increased revenue isn’t going to R&D, profits or to dealers.

    If true then gross revenue must be increasing and the companies must be paying shareholder dividends and or increase costs for sales/marketing, manufacturing (labor, taxes, legal compliance), distribution and transactions.

    My guess is dividends are not the problem which suggests there is diminishing resources for all activities including education.
    While education can lead to increased sales its benefits are not exclusive to one manufacturer and in an era of declining resources this but one aspect of a multi-objective optimization problem. Does this model explains your observations? Thank you.

    • No, it doesn’t. Basically: things cost more, we’re not seeing the benefits in the form of R&D gains, and in order to sell/explain/justify the ever-diminishing returns, education is the only way. Yet there is no investment here. That’s the disconnect.

      • Education to what end? Teach people to appreciate fine photography and inspire them to try their hand at it? The idea is this would drive equipment sales?

        • No. In this case, something as simple as say ‘dynamic range matters for every image because it creates natural looking highlights’ for instance.

          • John Brady says:

            I see your point. Or “camera phone selfies make your nose look big – buy a portrait lens instead”. There’s a complete failure to educate potential customers about the fundamentals, or what differentiates their products from the latest iPhone.

            When I got into photography a few years ago I couldn’t make head nor tail of the product positioning. Product naming is nonsensical. Take Canon for example; how is a newbie supposed to know that a 1300D is less advanced than a 700D, or how a 7D Mark II relates a 5D Mark III? Reading spec sheets doesn’t really help. These things are marketed to people who already know what they need. It’s really interesting to compare this with the marketing by the likes of Apple. “Focus Pixels” makes intuitive sense. “PDAF” does not.

            • Exactly – but why the nose looks big (explaining perspective etc.) requires the education. Apple is doing this well; Sony, Canikon et al are not.

  11. Hello Ming! All the best to you and to your family. It is a long weekend here, and I am working! 🙂 I am going to comment on some of your recent essays.
    “Film noir”: I share the opinion with others that the title was a bit of a miss. I am only mentioning this, as it is the syndrome you write about often. Visual expectations distorting the actual values of image making.
    Nobody is listening to LP’s with off key music or reading badly written prose. Yet, we are flooded with either images that are all in Technicolour fantasies or blatantly meaningless, as the current NORM. What the visual base for individuals, photographers, clients, will be like in a few years?
    For me, the 0604,0644,0596 and 0582 are the strongest images. What makes them stand out from the set is that the images are engaging my visual references. These images are allowing me to look at them first as a blank sheet of paper, and then slowly “painting in” the presented details and even allowing for, or demanding the next image, chapter in the story! The, “Just one more!”
    – What brings me back to your site is the opportunity to continue to learn about the language, the structure of image making. And how others view and value these definable elements. I firmly believe that there are Bad images and there are Good images! We need to dispense with the invented blurred boundaries. Your exemplary gift of teaching is indeed valued for this, the world over. Thank you!
    – While in general discussions, it is easy to get lost in disclaimers associated with personal preferences. With portraiture and other subjects as well, it is THE challenge of the photographer to create a GOOD image all the time! That allows for the sitter/viewer and the client to choose.
    Anybody, who suffered lovingly through the days and months of their child learning to play the violin, seem to get lost in “objecting” to an off key image. … 0636 is one of those images where I feel that there is a missed note, it is a bit off key! A slight tilt of her head changed dramatically the complementary lighting, to one that is, well, off key.
    ” Aizu night”- As I love night photography, I really got lost in the mood of the images.
    ” Window seat” … 3611 very special image, no comment necessary about 6452, just silence… on the 1228, – I did not know that in business class, you can roll the window down! 🙂
    ” State of Play”… the biggest and only disruptive technology in photography was the displacement of the roll film with a digital sensor for the general public. The two related side effect of this dramatic change was the emergence of marketing vs. innovation. And marketing vs. quality. The sad part is that the demand of the digital technology as it is implemented, slowly purging out those who actually can not afford to overcome technical/quality boundaries. It is one of the greatest misconception of our time, that digital capture democratized photography. Having lived through the change as a working pro at the time, quite the opposite is true! What disturbs me about all this is the instability of the pro market. Cost vs. technology is well and good, but the demonstrated diminishing return in the face of huge up front investment is scary. Along with potential clients indifference towards the value represented by the individual photographer.
    I am also budgeting for a Profoto B1 and/or B2 kit. Even with the Nikon system, the long term practicality of it is more promising than the speedlight set. Not to mention the fact that with the new speedlights here, the cost is more prohibitive for less power. It is on par with a B2 head, that has five or so times the power rating. (45ish w/s vs. 250 w/s)
    All the best, Tony

  12. Interesting piece, Ming. Just one thought about your own situation, you might want to have a middle ground between the free information you provide (reviews, essays etc) and your paid workshops and videos, such as a membership for a nominal fee (given the high volume of site visitors) that allows access to some exclusive behind the scenes material or content, or for example 20 minutes worth of a 2 hour video tutorial. Alternatively ads from certain manufacturers wouldn’t bug me as long as they don’t take over as on some sites.

    • The administrative and production overhead isn’t worth the small amount of incremental revenue. There’s already the weekly workflow, which is the halfway bridge – and honestly isn’t really justifying the time required…

      • John Brady says:

        I’ll be honest, I subscribe to your weekly workflow but hardly have time to watch them: I’m doing so largely as a way of supporting this site! Your blog itself is a great resource and I’d happily pay for it, so I’m paying for the workflow videos instead…

  13. As far as Canon/Nikon falling behind Sony…I’m not sure there’s really a race anymore. I think all of these guys are doomed in the future. The vast majority of professionals are not going to need cameras with interchangeable lenses. Already we see these so-called bridge cameras being embraced by many pros. And these cameras only have a one-inch sensor.

    Sure, you’ll always have a need for razor thin DOF and high speed sports shooting, but it’s becoming more evident by the day that general reportage and general photography can be handled with even an iphone. And with the line blurring between video & stills shooting, these so-called bridge cameras become more useful.

    I think Nikon is smart to introduce their line of DL cameras…especially that DL-18-50.

    Personally, for me, Sony is going in the wrong direction. Full-frame sensors with gigantic lenses…those are so last century.

    Should be interesting.

    • It’s going to be a while (if ever) before smaller sensors can deliver the same color accuracy and dynamic range, though. It’s that and not so much resolution which is the cause of the gap.

      • I might agree with you on d-range to a point, but I don’t believe in color accuracy. There’s just too many viewing options to make a judgement on this. Film was never very good at this either.

  14. Simply brilliant. It is no accident that you and your site are among the very small number of respected photographer/blog/review sites on the Internet. Keep up the great work. (And, I’d pay for this, but appreciate your desire to be accessible to as many people as possible.) Dean

  15. Brett Patching says:

    Thanks very much for sharing these insights Ming. Your website is one of only a few learning spaces online with such a high quality level. (And I think your reviews are very important because there aren’t many with your level of experience who assess cameras objectively and independently).

    I’m really curious how your Weekly PS Workflow Classroom is doing (you don’t have to answer). I just think it’s a wonderful concept. I find it easier to commit to watching a shorter lesson compared to getting stuck into, say, a Making Outstanding Images episode if I’m very busy. I think it was a great way to introduce a subscription model to the website.

    • That’s the double-edged-sword of the reviews: people like and hate them because it might disagree with their opinion, and I get a lot of bricks in return for a lot of work 🙂

      The Weekly Workflow is doing okay I’d say – it takes a bit longer to produce than I’d initially envisioned, and lands up being a very good deal because the videos are usually 1-1.5h anyway 🙂

  16. Chris Huff says:

    As a person with a web site that generates both traffic and a healthy income, I can tell you what you are doing with this site is mostly what you should be doing. In short, articles build trust and when people trust you, they buy from you – in this case your videos and in-person stuff. So you write a review that puts a particular camera in a negative light – that’s honestly and that’s what readers want from you. Again, honestly builds trust. Trust leads people to trust you enough to make a purchase. I’m an amateur photographer who occasionally shoots for magazines – photos needed for my freelance articles. And from reading your excellent honest articles, I built up trust in you and bought the expensive 5-video package you recently offered. For my site, I could sell advertising space to major manufacturers in my niche. But those sidebar ads don’t generate much traffic and when people click on those links, they are leaving my site and not buying my products. Obviously, I’ve hit the coffee a bit too much this afternoon. Feel free to email me if you want to pick my brain about your site and what I’ve done with mine. I do have a couple of ideas that could help you but I’ll leave it up to you if you’re interested. (No, I’m not going to sell you my services or anything – I’m just willing to offer my free time if you’re interested)

    • Thanks Chris. I figured it was about the same – after looking at hundreds of sites in various genres/categories, I’m quite content to leave it as it is. I’m just noting that the business model in general employed by somebody in any one photographic area – shooting for pay, video, reviews, education etc – no longer seems to be workable long term. It’s a bit of everything or nothing, I think…and no, I can’t see any materially different way to do things. So, status quo 🙂

  17. Ever see the film ” Nightcrawler “? It has to do with modern TV news stations and the ratings. The main character kind of reminds me of you Ming. Not his bad traits but his ability to analyse his and other people’s barganing power. A worth see for photographers trying to earn a living……..

  18. I don’t see innovation as being the silver bullet for either Nikon or Canon. The real problem, which you hinted at, is the struggle for decent income in the job market. Camera manufactures, like all other consumer goods industries, are having to work with the reality that today consumers have less “real money” than we did 30 years ago. The reason phone cameras are so popular is not only because of their simplicity, but also because having one helps save money. No matter how often we innovate, if there is less money to spend the only way for a camera manufacturer to grow is to cannibalize, which seems to be a cyclical reality.

    I have both DSLR and mirror-less cameras, and frankly see the pluses and minuses of both cancelling any perceived advantage of either. I think the photography realm is just as susceptible to marketing as any other consumer field. The discarding of old for new based solely on illusion is a time worn phenomenon that many industries have exploited.

    • Omer, I suspect that there is more to it than saving money, which I don’t believe they do.

      For what we need from a mobile phone, I doubt anyone really needs to spend more than £100. At this price point a smart phone will do everything the top of the range phones will do, albeit perhaps a little more slowly accessing the web and they won’t be able to run multiple open apps at the same time. And they definitely won’t be premium build, but here I am considering functionality over design. The most expensive iPhone 6 Plus sells in the UK for £789 (!!!!!) and with 128GB of storage. And for this you get a fixed lens camera that on purely technical grounds and sheer versatility cannot compete with a decent compact. Deduct £100 and one has £689 to spend on a camera with unlimited storage using SD cards and for which the market supplies superb examples to choose from. Work on any combination of phone price/camera price and it is clear that the camera will win as a photographic tool. The but, and there is a big but, most are more interested in social media use than photography. And they only want to carry one device that they can keep in a pocket or small bag. However, they also play music and videos and with which no camera can compete.

      But Apple has managed to grab buyers by the short and curlies (UK slang, you may guess what it means) and they are hooked. No other product I can think of has buyers queuing round the block to be the first to get hold of the very latest model. This must be a form of insanity. It is just that for them, they simply must have the latest and are prepared to spend to get it, even though they know they will do the same at the next iteration. So I fail to see where they save.

      • @TerryB: While expensive smartphones get a lot of media attention, I believe it is the lower cost cell phones that sell in truly high numbers (world wide.) Perhaps too, folks are making a choice to forgo a stand alone camera believing their camera phone is enough, irregardless of their phone choice. However, it still comes down to an added expense for a separate camera, a cost that obviously many people are unwilling to consider.

        Sony is getting attention for having sold a whole bunch of a6000 cameras, but in the DPreview forums, some of those owners continually complain about lens prices, which suggests that discretionary spending is difficult even for those willing to buy stand alone cameras.

        • I think it’s also because they’ve priced the cameras low as a deliberate hook, but then have you locked in with glass…though there are many third party options.

        • Omer, yes, you are probably correct. In volume terms the mid- to low end models are likely to be in the majority. I wasn’t explicit enough about the target audience when I posted above, but which I thought was relatively clear from instancing the top end Apple phone. There are those who will pay this price and be satisfied with the camera. So I suppose it basically means most are not that interested in photographic IQ and versatility but like the idea of the the model “one fits all” and the phone is sufficient.

        • @Omer and Ming. Does this mean Sony knows its target audience too well? Idiots who buy a camera body without first assessing its true cost by taking into account the additional cost of lenses they will need? And they complain only after they’ve purchased the body. Surely, a sensible person does this first. And ARE Sony lenses, in the main, more expensive than those from Olympus, Panasonic et al? Discounting Zeiss in this question.

          • Without being cynical, I’d actually say yes: how many owners have bought each subsequent iteration? That shouldn’t be necessary if the original hardware worked the way it was supposed to. As for pricing, yes also: the 24-70/2.8s are $2200 and 1700 for Sony and Nikon (non VR). The 85/1.4s are $1800 and $1500, again with the Nikon cheaper. As for the 70-200/2.8s – a whopping $3000 vs $1900…

      • > No other product I can think of has buyers queuing round the block to be the first to get hold of the very latest model. This must be a form of insanity.
        Actually I get a new iPhone every year, but it’s a very easy rationalisation: it’s a device I use daily, and I appreciate the year-over-year improvements — the speed (most obvious when you have to use an older device after some time with a new one: you notice all sorts of slowness all over place), the improved cameras, faster Touch ID, 3d touch (which opens some handy shortcuts I use all the time now), improved taptic feedback (the dynamic range of the latest one in iPhone 7 is great).

        If you don’t see the difference or don’t appreciate the improvements it makes parting with money seem like it’s a silly thing to do. But if you do, and have the money to spare — you only live once 😉

        • That, and the old one usually holds 70+% of its value because apple controls pricing pretty tightly, so incremental upgrades are actually not that expensive.

    • That’s an overarching problem for every industry. Prices for cameras have come down for a while, in both absolute and real terms, and only increased again very recently; even then, medium format for instance is a LOT cheaper than it used to be.

      Photography is if anything more susceptible to marketing: look at how many are willing to jump on the latest trends on the basis of marketing numbers 🙂

  19. Ming,

    A thought about the subscription model: Have you considered making all the educational/philosophical articles free, but gear reviews and “less educational” stuff subscription? Might this be a compromise that solves your moral dilemma?

    As always, great content!

  20. Michiel953 says:

    Hi Ming! Interesting, thought provoking read. To snatch just one thread out of that bunch: you seem to be hellbent on innovation. Why, I ask myself?

    Take your example of tripods and heads. I visited my darkroom man earlier today (negatives, wet prints, that sort of thing), and he has this dark (obviously) workplace littered with old cameras, enlargers, tripods, proof prints of the famous pinned to walls, etc etc. There was a Rolleicord with a prism finder grafted (crudely, old), sitting on an old (no idea of the maker) tripod. Sturdy, everything you want in a tripod. No reason to innovate imho…

    • Because it’s the only way to remain competitive. Think of it as a philosophy: pushing the possible in everything, both creative and technical (since they aren’t really independent anyway). And if you’re not competitive, then with the shifting market, you might as well not do this for a living.

  21. I think that most of us who are regular visitors to your site have come to know and admire you — and want to see you happy and prosperous. Rather than paying for a subscription, please accept my donation.

  22. Interesting post, as usual, Ming, although I’m not sure I understand your comment about Fuji and Sony being “disruptive”. What do you mean by this? If anything could be said to have disrupted the camera market, surely it has to be the smartphone and which one might say single handedly virtually wiped out entry level compact cameras.

    • They made products the status quo didn’t, and in turn built market share very quickly. There are single disruptive products in both makers’ stables – the X100 and A7; the death of compacts is more like a sea change or paradigm shift following the maturation of small sensors and increased processing power in phones, and can’t be pinned on a single product.

      • Sorry, Ming, but I simply can’t agree with you and accept that a single product can be disruptive, especially how can Fuji, with such a small market share, be disruptive by producing the camera you single out? This does smack of prejudice to my way of thinking, or at least the view of one person blowing in the wind, as we say. I simply can’t fathom your reasoning here.

        I also believe your view about the impact of smart phones is quite personal. The iPhone had a lot to do with it, and then all the Android models following suit. So, not one single, product, OK, if you discount iPhones, but one category certainly. I note that those bemoaning the demise of the entry level compacts, by this I mean the manufacturers who saw their manufacturing base disappear in a relatively short time, don’t ascribe it to one make, but to the category. And maturation of small sensors was the response to demand, not the cause.

        • I meant to add that the loss of the bottom end has ultimately benefited the manufacturers who now have move up market, both in quality and, significantly, in price. This in itself is likely to widen the gap between acceptable performance, for those using camera phones, and those willing to part cash for these higher priced items. You’ve only got to see the prices some of these models command. Charge more for less production seems to be the mantra now.

          • Ooops. I take back my comments about your use of the word “disruptive”. Wondering if there was a Malay use of this word that had a different meaning to UK usage, I simply googled it and up popped “disruptive technology” with a full explanation of what this means. So disruptive used in this sense doesn’t carry with it any negative connotations, but simply a change in the market from the status quo. Or simply put, IMO. Please accept my implied criticism. :D)

        • Because they proved that by putting something in a different (to that point) physical form factor would/could sell. Ditto Sony, except they also went aggressive on pricing. Both strategies worked – look at how many are now using Sony, and the X100 pretty much launched the large sensor compact product category. Since then we’ve had a whole raft of similar models, and the X100 itself is in the third iteration. Looking at (and knowing) sales numbers – it was one of the few products that far outdid projections…and even the Leica Q has been the same story for a good six months or so after launch – despite being priced at a hefty $4,500…

  23. Per Kylberg says:

    About industry:
    Transition from film to digital was golden years for the industry. Customers were trained/manipulated to switch between cameras and systems several times per year as IQ and other things improved.
    But do us photographers really need that? NO! As the digital concept is now mature, IQ is there, different conceptual designs exist, there is the right gear for you no matter what you need. Reinvest every 5th year instead of every single year is economically desirable for professionals as well as amateurs. Get rid of your “gear acquisition syndrome” and make more photo!
    In a stabilized market, industry will have to change and not all will survive. Who cares? Not me.
    Photo profession:
    Journalism has strong competition from “those who happened to be there” amateurs. And from free photos/videos on the web. Yes, number of professionals will decrease. The segment to increase are the enthusiasts, some of us takes work from professionals
    On the web:
    Quality of writing and lack of integrity varies a lot – not just in photo.. Something we will have to live with and learn who to trust. I pay for LL and Reid reviews. I trust sites like Admiring light, Dear Susan, Mirror lessons, Lens tips, Ming Thein. Does not mean I take everything they write as the truth – they are worth taking into consideration. Many sites are jokes, makes me laugh! The most sites are in between – worth looking at, but very limited as base for decision. Many sites makes significant profit from shopping links and advertising – and asking for contributions from readers. I prefer financing methods that are open to readers.
    On the web you can find anything, good and bad. It is the price for lack of censorship. To me it is worth it!

    • You’re probably right – day rates peaked, and there was some value in being on the cutting edge. That said, equipment shifts were expensive – much more so than today, for much less potential and reliability.

      I don’t make ANY gear investments unless there is some justifiable return – be it five years or five days. So long as that stays positive, business still makes sense.

      As for integrity vs. cost: we have to keep the business going somehow. I make little from the referral links, had and have zero advertising (for a reason) – and am fortunate enough that paid commissions cover the costs of everything else. But I suspect few are in this position; it would be nice if there were more. I don’t see it as competition – I see it as being far easier to sell something a wider audience understands 🙂

      • David Babsky says:

        “..I don’t make ANY gear investments unless there is some justifiable return..”

        Nikon F2 Titan?

        • Investment. At the time, currency and availability meant the price was good. I could sell it now for more than I paid (and I also expected that going in, given there are a finite and decreasing number of these things in that condition). Turned out to be better than the stock market…

  24. Hi Ming, Interesting piece however I would challenge you on your concluding words “photography as a whole needs a massive systemic change in innovation and education to value content at a wider level”. I would argue that photography is actually going through a systemic change (or more precisely disruption) and that innovation (in technology) and education are not going to help people value content. For the vast majority of people they do not care about whether a photograph is good or not. They are just skim viewing whether it be in a magazine or, far more likely, on the web. Sure some images will catch their eye and they may pause a little longer but most just disappear from their consciousness in milliseconds. There is a far smaller community (e.g. photographers, art-lovers, curators etc) who do value quality however they are not enough to sustain the industry as a whole. Like you say the only people who seem to actually make money out of photography are those who shoot weddings (and that’s because of tradition, “we must have something to look back on”) or those experimenting with new stuff (i.e. drones). The new status quo is an age of plenty where 99.999% of images are rubbish but who cares if 0.001 actually still amounts to a very large number. Pre-digital and internet we had fewer photographers who were able to invest their time in learning how to create great shots but now we have lots of people who, even though inexperience/untalented etc, will occasionally create a great image. Does that matter? Clearly it does if you are trying to earn a living from being a photographer but maybe the new norm is the more democratised model we are moving towards? The challenge of course if how to sort the wheat from the chaff and find the 0.001%. Here is where some innovation could be used. Better AI algorithms that recognise a “good” image are surely not far off which means we will no longer need to rely on useless tagging of images. Also the adoption of a good micro-payments system (possibly using the blockchain model) so that people do get compensation, not enough to make a living from but enough to at least motivate them to take more. So, not very rosy if you want to make a living out of this game but not entirely bleak for photography as a whole.

    • I think we’re saying the same thing: yes, there is a big systemic change, but as a whole, the online ecosystem will collapse if it continues to be financially unsustainable: it costs money to write and test and video and shoot and whatever. I’ve always been chasing the 0.01%, and I have no problem with that – it’s far easier to sell something to the knowledgeable than start from scratch. But if there’s something relatively low-cost but high impact that can be done to set some of the 99.99% on the right path, why not?

  25. Hi Ming,

    I am sure you have considered a subscription model for your site. I don’t know your reasons for not doing it. But if your individual readers are high (as you hint and I assume they are) then a subscription model is almost obligatory: for our sake as well as yours. A lot of us have a stake in your staying in the education business.

    The Luminous Landscape $1 per month subscription seems to me like a good idea (I buy it). But your essays leave most of Kevin R’s stuff (amiable though he is) in the deep shadows.

    He is an ‘ambassador’ (unacknowledged) for an even more expensive camera system than Hasselblad. But I’m guessing that your readers are no more price sensitive than you his. So why not go for a $2 per month subscription? (BTW: just ate my own dog food!).

    Best wishes,


    • Thanks for the subscription, Peter 🙂

      But seriously: I still want the content to be free; I can’t defend the position of photographers needing more education if I make that inaccessible. Yes, if you’re spending thousands on a camera it makes no sense to cheap out on a few bucks to maximise its potential, but people think strangely that way…

  26. stephen li says:

    hi Ming,

    thank you for the genuine report. really gain prospective industry wide.


  27. jknikman says:

    well thought and well written. Thanks!

  28. Great article, though your section on blogging/reviews really hit the nail on the head. I cannot count beyond 5 fingers the number of good photographers who write on the subject well and with an insightful, independent mind. Thank goodness for you and your site.

    • There are probably more than 5, but they either get drowned out by the noise or join the dark side 🙂

      • I would love some recommendations for blogs/websites by those who are good photographers AND writers. I subscribe to Reid, used to read LL, and this site, but more would be welcome!

        • That makes two of us. There’s The Online Photographer, too – though he writes more than he shoots. I can think of a few that are gear related, but pretty much none that deal with the art/creative part.

          • Michael Sanders says:

            Peter, I’d like to recommend to you Patrick Laroque and his Kage collective of photographers who all use Fuji cameras-great photography and Fuji-centric reviews as well as other photographic insights and musings all for free.


            Also Diglloyd is one of the best reviewers of gear, and like Sean Reid really takes the time and effort to test things thoroughly in the field. He’s definitely opinionated and honest in a rather “I know best” fashion and he and Ming seem to have mutual respect for one another. Free blog with different Zeiss/Leica/Mirrorless/Photo technique subscription packages that are more expensive than Reid but worth the money if you can afford them at $59-$89 a pop!

  29. G’Day Ming, I have been reading your posts on and off for a few months now having recently discovered your photography-writings whilst my family and I are travelling/photographing/blogging our travels around Australia for a year.

    You make mention to a couple of points I have often wondered &/or arrived to a similar conclusion myself.


    1. Lightroom: “Broken workflow is a massive pain for pros, and a frustration for amateurs. It is not the way to build customer loyalty”. Agree, Adobe need some worthy and comparable competition or expect the “status quo” likely to remain …but whom, CaptureOne, someone else?

    2. Blogging/Reviews; This space is definitely a minefield and separating out reviews that are accurate, useful and honest to those that might otherwise have been created as a specific paid piece and therefore potentially a conflict of interest, is a difficult and time consuming situation to wade through as a “consumer on the outside” of the industry. And it’s getting worse all the time.

    And Finally, free blog readership over paid subscriptions; this can be a bit of quandary.
    There is no straightforward answer that I can see, however it makes me think about when Luminous Landscapes went to a subscription model for their bit’s and pieces. Has this worked out for them as just one example of many? From what I have seen on the web that offers the type of information, a detailed explanation and rational used as you do, I would pay a reasonable fee for a subscription to your blog if it were to continue as is. I make explicit mention of this last point in case you are (subtly) looking for feedback on this possible direction?

    All the best…

    Geoff Hunter (Currently in Alice Springs, Australia)

    • 1. I wish I knew the answer to this – each update brings new stability problems, some fixes for old ones, but generally we’re getting bloat but no more efficiency. Until the non-PS products gain some sort of retouching capability – even basic distort tools – you’re still going to have to use PS anyway. So I see those as a non-starter because it’s just another piece of software and save-open cycle you have to go through for each image – slowing the whole workflow down. 15s an image may not sound like much, but if we’re talking thousands of images – that adds up fast.

      2. Time to exit or severely limit the reviews – I have more profitable things to do with my time 🙂

      3. I have no idea whether this is the way forward or not – it defeats the original purpose for me, which was to create an easily accessible source of photographic education for all. I’m just noticing paywalls going up more and more often as a) advertising revenue dries up, b) content demands increase, and c) production costs rise commensurately. Something has to give somewhere: free is not a sustainable business model if it is your only business.

  30. Not the first time you have written an article on this Ming, and it’s quite sad that the situation hasn’t improved since then. With regards to the conundrum as to why more content isn’t generating better content, it may be that those who are the quickest to share or post the most pictures are also the ones who have the poorest judgement and least able to curate, thus flooding the internet with mediocre pictures while good ones get drowned out. (I should know, I pretty much started out the same way when every picture taken with a DSLR was amazing, and Lighting and Composition? Don’t start acting like some stuck-up pro, it’s people and memories that count and we just want MORE of those and in any case see that detail? See that detail?)
    More importantly, thanks for at least giving your view of the situation, and good luck with all the trolls and haters who are going to interpret this post as a sort of attack on their reputation

    • It’s not, and I think this is the new normal – but we must still do what we can.

      There are people who shoot lots of good work, too – but they are often branded directionless or fickle, and the moral is we probably all need to curate a little more.

      What people need to realise is it isn’t either-or: you can have composition AND people AND lighting AND timing, and those are the ingredients for a cracker of a shot. One’s own skill level is always the restriction.

  31. This is very well written and shows, how much insight you have. Maybe it would be worthwhile, looking back into history and compare the photo-industry to its predecessor, painting, which was once the only way to make images at all. And have a look, how this industy changed and shifted. From this, one could draw conclusions toward photography.
    Another thought: people like you should go into quality control/editing. There is certainly a lack of knowledgeable personell to chose a quality image out of the trizillions of images made every day.

    • Thanks – but surely if I am in a position of determining which images are to be used, it would probably make a lot more sense to do the shooting, too?

  32. What draw me to your site repeatedly are gradually not so much about pictures, techniques and reviews than about your observations, reflections, style of writing and, yes, overall feel of the web site. The appearance of the site tells a lot about the person behind it. Afterall, how good can a photographer be if one’s blog does not present a good visual impression on the readers?

  33. richard majchrzak says:

    interesting read. very much appreciated. thanks MT

  34. Philip Brindle says:

    I agree with most of what you say, and for change is good, and that applies to so many other things like what we do in life. One thing I can tell you though is I doubt that Sony could ever make pro camera body that even comes close to a Nikon D4S. They have some very nice cameras for sure but I don’t think they are built for extreme conditions. My D4S has gone for +50 degC in Dubai to -35 degC in Canada and I’ve never had any problems, so I think Nikon is doing a great job in that respect…

    • They’re reliable, I’ll give them that. I rarely have any malfunctions (let alone outright failures) with the Nikons…

    • I don’t believe it is a question that Sony can’t, more that they haven’t (yet), but also would they want to? I doubt that this is their market. The Nikon was £5,200 upon its launch in the UK in 2014; current Sony 7 series max out around £2,600. But it isn’t only the body, the build quality and availability of lenses to match would also be crucial. These they don’t have. No, the simple answer is Sony doesn’t yet make a fully professional camera to compete with the likes of the top of the range Nikons, or Canons, come to think of it. But if, and only if, they felt they could sell a £5,200 body, who knows? But then it would have to be damn good.

      • The G master series are supposed to be those lenses. But the ergonomics just don’t work: a massive lens on a small body makes for poor balance.

        A £5,200 camera just has to work. No strange error messages, no confusing menus, no greyed out options. No, Sony isn’t there yet.


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