Market challenges and predictions, late-2018 edition

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Construction images, because, well, we’re building something here…

As with every industry, the cycle time for major changes is getting shorter and shorter for photography. I would argue that we’re now late into the second phase of digital (first phase: early digital at the cutting edge for pros, scientific applications etc.; second phase: consumer) and on the verge of the third phase. What does this mean in real terms? Why is the overall enthusiast photographic market softer? What remains to get excited about as a hobbyist? At the risk of inciting every troll between here and DPR, I break out the crystal ball…

Firstly, we need to examine the premise of why we photograph again. Fortunately, there are really only two reasons; either because you need to, or because you want to. They can be somewhat overlapping, but basically: is it for work, or for pleasure? Motivations behind the former can be driven by passion, but eventually – for those who survive – still have to be grounded in some sort of business rationale. And the simple reality is that we spend what we need to spend to stay competitive and get the job done – but nothing more.

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What’s happening at this end of the market is consolidation: at the low end, a lot of the stuff that was only available to big dollar pros (drones, gimbals, studio lighting, motion rigs etc) is now open to beginners, hobbyists and individuals – and if you take some time to learn it, can produce results very close to a serious money production. This has become a quasi-commodity game: pricing is driven almost by unitization and less by intangibles ascribed to creativity. This is for several reasons: costs of entry are lower; market access is better/wider thanks to the internet and social media, and thresholds of ‘good enough’ image quality are almost universally accessible for very low cost. However, this also works against you: everybody can have the same potential opportunities, and customers eventually get desensitized to social media and opt for price or convenience; hence commoditisation and averaging down. This is the territory that was formally the midrange, but is rapidly disappearing.

At the high end, there’s a lot more you can do with ever increasing technological capabilities for the same or lesser budgets than previously; however, high value clients also have to create ever more spectacular productions to attract client attention for precisely the same reasons previously ascribed to social media. This means throwing more money at a commission to achieve an even more different-looking and unique result. What we are of course seeing is the wealth gap, but in the photographic world: either you’re trying to keep your calendar full and buy the cheapest thing you can that does the job, or you’re at the sub-1% end.

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The enthusiast market mirrors this: notice how compacts have largely died out; there’s no market for them both because you can get very nearly pro level results from large-sensor interchangeable lens things and not have to pay that much money; and ‘good enough’ from your cellphone (which you have to carry and buy anyway – so why spend more on a separate dedicated device?). Net effect: you either have what you need already, or for the new consumer, you’re going to buy once and probably not buy again for some time, unless you break something or get the bug and feel the desire to move up. Note: this is the same at the low end of the pro market: you either have what you need, or you’ll buy it once and only upgrade when you need to – assuming you want to stay profitable and in business. The business implication is of course we’re now exiting an period of high volume growth, but for low margin and low price products (which in itself has driven production costs of everything down, thanks to volume). I don’t see growth in either volume or technological capabilities here; if anything, the opposite.

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The wealthy enthusiast and high end pro market is similarly converging, but to the very high end: everybody wants the best to set them apart from everybody else. Though the individual ticket amounts are high, the totals are not; this is not a big volume market by any means simply because of the prices involved. But this end of the market is almost price insensitive – it is difficult to place a premium on uniqueness/ specialness, which means that differentiation of any sort here is disproportionately rewarded. The production and R&D budgets exist to do something different, be it in raw capabilities or design or overall UX. It is why companies like Leica do well (and why Hasselblad needs to shift priorities a bit).

I believe we are hitting many limits right now: firstly, more resolution is going to be usefully deployable to an increasingly small subset of people. Secondly, we have the output/viewing problem: even if you can reliably extract and capture the difference, how are you going to view it? We don’t have 100MP monitors, and there aren’t that many printers or print methods commonly available that can faithfully reproduce such files. Thirdly, there are user interface limits on features; it is possible to cram in too much stuff to the point you forget how to use/access it even if you use the camera every day – and worse in the case of casual users. This is not a good thing because it simply results in operational confusion and not the kind of positive emotions you want when ostensibly doing something purely for pleasure. Camera makers need to focus on the experience, and devices that just work. Those with operationally seamless devices – as opposed to just highly specced ones – will do better in the long run.

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Finally, we have what I think of as ‘the meat sack problem’: emerging tech is limited by engineering and hardware limits initially, then eventually operator capability. A camera is a now a very complex device that requires an operator to be both technically savvy as well as creatively skilled; sufficient to be able to master a set of tools, imagine what can be done with them, and then execute – and practice enough to do it consistently so that they aren’t self-disappointed. Good photography requires imagination; and that by definition cannot be automated. Net effect: frustration after spending a silly amount of money, move on to the next thing that delivers instant gratification.

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All is not lost, however, as I haven’t addressed the largest elephant in the room: the non-creative, non-consumer markets. There has been an increasing explosion of camera-embedded devices in the last ten year as the hardware modules have dropped in price; the more modules, the lower the unit cost, the more the manufacturers are willing to spend on R&D. Almost everything now has a camera embedded in it, for various reasons – subject recognition, security, surveillance, motion guidance, environment adaptation, augmented reality. Two cameras allow for stereoscopic vision, 3D understanding of a device’s surroundings and more operational possibilities, especially now that computational power is not really a limitation. This market – machine learning, AI and associated capabilities and targeted marketing possibilities – probably holds the key to the survival of the core technology players, whether they make consumer devices or components. And we haven’t even talked about industrial or medical applications, which are even larger.

The consumer photography market is going to undergo some large shifts in the next few years. What’s left, and where it goes is going to be the result of outside applications and influences; technology will flow in the opposite direction from where it has done over the last decade or so. In fact, we could argue that it’s already happening: what we need to do is choose where to put our dollars and which side to support… MT

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Comments

  1. Zeiss ZX1 though I suppose the Leica T was the first move in that direction. Every future camera needs to interact in some way with a smartphone, because all our other devices can do exactly that.

    • Asside from what Sony has done to impact a studgy industry over the last five years ( staggering what Sony has pulled off when you think about it logically), I believe the Zeiss ZX1 is probably the next shift toward reality and modern processes. Interesting a company renown for premium image quality was the first to make a bold move toward introducing a camera that prioritizes modern technology and current image distribution techniques. If ZX1’s image quality turns out to be what we expect from Zeiss, the ZX1 could truly be another major shift in what is to come.

      • What as Sony actually done that is staggering? They built small cameras without a mirror & took five years to catch up to what a DSLR could do years ago. Removing a mirror is not an advance in technology. I can take the same picture with a D750 (2014) as someone can with a A7III.

        • Well, they’ve managed to release a ‘revolutionary’ yet marginally incremental improvement every year and sell it at a very high price, have solutions that are kludgy, ergonomically poor and often technically compromised. Not to mention indirectly breed the culture of trolling and equipment masturbation that has nothing to do with photography and is just socially unpleasant…you have to hand it to them. It takes some doing to breed this kind of blind fanboyism and denial (“but your lenses are huge!” Then “our lenses are the best thing since the second coming of…” following the even larger than Otus-size GM series…”)

  2. Hi Ming,
    I think the digicam market is really mature, and will go through the same one-way revolution as many industries (arcade -> computer console -> casual gaming -> smartphone gaming etc), which causes a large part of the “new product” market to vanish, because of the saturated second-hand market AND consumer’s focus switched to a disrupting technology (smartphone + computational machine-learning imaging).

    As Thom Hogan, the mirrorless “revolution” is barely a transition. It will not create a dramatic amount of new sales, or system conversions :
    http://dslrbodies.com/newsviews/nikon-2018-news/august-2018-nikon-news/dslrs-dead-in-transition-or.html

    To survive, I think camera companies need to do like Sony, in a even more aggressive manner : break the consensus, harm the competition, and deliver pro-grade technologies at cheaper price.
    Every companies will need to be disruptive : for example, APSC or FF sensors in affordable compact cameras, or full-featured 4K/IBIS devices in a small body. Mild products (such as Fuji XF10) will certainly find fewer and fewer echo in the public, below the break-even threshold.

    • Pretty much: except not changing for the sake of it; we still need to enjoy/ want to use the hardware. Photography, unlike computing and communication, is really entertainment for 99% of consumers…

  3. Ming, I always enjoy these posts. Like you, I have a background in M&A and PE. Prior to that, I worked for auto OEMs (and worked on automotive transactions while on the buy-side). I see some parallels between the photographic equipment and autos: capital intensive, low margin, with a high degree of commodification and blurred lines between “mainstream” and “premium” (arguably more prevalent in autos, when even a Hyundai Elantra has features that were only accessible on an S-Class a decade ago). On the other hand, I am a bit of a contrarian with respect to the disruptive element in autos. Based on my own experience, I think the projections about legacy OEMs being displaced by autonomy and car sharing are quite premature, but I am not knowledgeable enough regarding the camera business to really comment. So long as Ricoh can survive and keep making the GR, I am happy.

    • There’s a big difference, though: cars are mostly a necessity and functional, and entertainment is secondary; with cameras it’s the reverse. This in theory should encourage diversity, but that is not always the case… 🙂

      • People are used that a car will break for this or that reason after N years, and will blindly buy a new car without really going through the full reflection of why they need to keep feeding the same vicious cycle.

        On the opposite to autos, I am not sure people will continue feeding the industry forever. Nor will they accept to have disposible, short-life, cameras.

        • The former behavior has triggered a lack of obsolescence: a 1960s Hasselblad or Leica will work just fine today. Sometimes my cameras don’t even make it a year, let alone 50.

  4. L. Ron Hubbard says:

    5 years since I have spent a dollar on a new camera. Best thing ever happened to me, getting off the GAS train. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of dollars spent over the years on cameras; never finding anything that seemed good enough to stop. Then I just stopped. Lots more money in the bank.

    • I went a different way – I went to work for a camera company 😛

      • “I went to work for a camera company” and what has happened since? I’ve been following the company very closely and from what I can tell products, services and whatever the strategy is still seems to be moving along very slowly and quietly.

        • Firstly, product development cycles are quite long. Secondly, large organisations carry a lot of inertia, and they aren’t democratic – it’s the ones guy at the top who ultimately makes the decisions, and he has to be convinced. Thirdly, if you ask any Hasselblad user, the’ll agree there are quite a lot of things that wouldn’t have happened if I was’t involved – some of the new lenses, for instance, especially the fast 80; electronic shutter and quick standby firmware; color calibration on the Mavic 2 etc.

  5. Curtis Polk says:

    There are two obvious features that would change the game were a manufacturer to step out: encryption and an app platform. I doubt if encryption would be successful as a mass consumer item, but it would be a major asset to professionals, and would command a high margin.
    Making the camera accessible to app developers would be a big deal. Last night I made an in-camera panorama at my granddaughter’s middle-school band performance. I used a Nikkor 85mm D lens at f/1.8 adapted to my Panasonic G6 at ISO 1600, with a pleasing result. But I had to wait until I got back to my computer to share it. Having to wait, or to pair my camera with a smart phone is way obsolete.

  6. Ming,
    Ming,

    I find it difficult to put a finger on what “creativity” means in a photographic context (and you use it somewhat interchangeably with what a pro brings to the customer it seems). First and foremost, photography is usefully illustrative, and as such brings the highlights of reality to us. The pro is the ultimate technician who outputs material for the customer sufficient to address their vision/needs. Not to digress into a different genre, but I find Joe McNally and several other Nikon Ambassadors to exhibit the vision output for their customers to perhaps an ultimate degree. Much of it is their experimentation to see what will work, their willingness to take risks. At times they create the vision for their customers. Is this creative? Well in contrast to actual artwork, where one has to output every centimeter of the final image, I would say not.

    Digital output tends to enhance the “true to life” experience with its tidiness and better color fidelity (though manipulation in post may be the actual venue for creative extensions = many Hasselblad Ambassadors its seems), whereas film with its severe limitations notwithstanding, at times (with K25 in particular) actually allowed the imager some sense of seeing within the limits of the medium in a way which I find difficult with digital. Having said that, I have no intention to resort to 4×5 film at this point given the cost of each image, and I am not generally a fan of 35mm film due to the limitations of enlargement.

    If I were to guess, and setting aside incremental technological improvements including software which are a given, I would think that AI becomes the next step for many manufacturers if they can incorporate it into the software. I have stated in a NR forum, that Nikon needs to incorporate additional filters into their software to include ND, GND, Polarizer etc, and to allow for “interpretation” of how a photographer works, and the camera defaults to a setting based upon a known set of “experiences” and data inputs. In fact, with the larger mount size in the Z7, why can’t they provide T/S simulation as if you had a TS lens on your camera? Take the old P or Program mode, and the low end cameras use of Landscape and other modes with default settings. I see AI taking this to a new level but based upon the way one actually works (= keepers).

    In fact with the use of the “hovercrafts” now in vogue with amateurs and pros alike, why can’t we “allow” the machine to choose what images to take based upon the aforementioned criteria? Does that take photography out of the realm of the photographer? Yes and no.

    As to Leica, I cannot understand the need/desire for these instruments any more than anyone else. The Leica envy disorder is rampant and I am equally at fault. So why? I guess because of the experience. I cannot discern enough difference in images, particularly compared to higher end DSLR and mirrorless, to warrant such an investment. And yes their breakdown and repair history is well known. Yet some are converts who do not deviate notwithstanding the sizable initial and breakdown expense (for some at least prioritize using Leica over others).

    For instance, in comparing the M Monochrome 246 to the D850 outputs at low ISO, I think the latter wins hands down (tell me if you disagree). Ming you compared the D800e to the 246 and found the latter smoother in translating gray tones, less harsh. So I would think the D850 (which I have used extensively for monochrome) is a step above.

    So why can’t others beat Leica at their own game but at a more reasonable price point and much better reliability? Why can’t they provide a comparable experience? or is it too late for that competitive game?

    …just some intellectual bs to wind down the day.

    • Michael Hanson says:

      > So why can’t others beat Leica at their own game but at a more reasonable price point and much better reliability?

      This is something I keep asking too. Tons of photographers would love to use a digital rangefinder with manual controls, but few people can afford (or justify) a Leica M system. I would even strongly argue that almost all Fuji X100_ and X-Pro_ users bought them because they’re the closest option to a digital Leica. Just think if someone like Fuji came out with a genuine manual focus rangefinder for under $2,000. I’ll bet there would be a surprisingly large market for such a product.

      • Because the perception is that it would still be a Fuji, or a poor Leica substitute. It is a brand and psychology problem, not a hardware one – there’s a lot of much better hardware that does not have a red dot. To supplant Leica would require a completely different hardware configuration.

        • Ming, what would you suggest for someone that has enjoyed the film M experience but finds the X100T to be limiting (I prefer a longer focal length than 35mm) and does not have the desire to invest in a digital M camera?

          • I’m afraid it doesn’t exist at a lower price…if you want simplicity and that same kind of tactility of the hardware, it’s digital M or Hasselblad X1D/ V series + digital back.

            • Martin Fritter says:

              Does “doesn’t exist at a lower price” mean it can’t be done (because of technical limitations) or it’s just not done (because of market limitations, lack of imagination, etc…)?

      • Owning a digital rangefinder with manual controls is like owning a mechanical watch. It’s not as functional as quartz watch. People buy mechanical watch because they like the experience of wind the spring, reset the time, and watch the parts moving. They like the feeling of owning a piece of history.

    • Intellectual BS is always welcome: we must think before we progress…

      Creativity isn’t interchangeable. A true pro needs to bring deliverability and consistency but also something more – if there isn’t any sense of uniqueness injected then he is not really a pro but instead a photocopier. There are a lot of people making a living doing this, and yes, they are ‘professionals’ by the strictest definition, but they will never be able to reach the highest tiers. That said: often customers are also not willing to accept risks or different/ new expressions; there’s a lot of this in immature markets such as Malaysia. I spent a lot of my career trying to fight it instead of simply saying no and saving both sides the headache.

      Not a big fan of digital manipulation personally – you see me going on and on about ‘transparency’ for a reason – but yes, it seems to be the easiest way to create a vision of something that might not physically exist otherwise, but with the believable flaws of a photograph that signal reality. I believe with digital we need to include not the flaws in the medium so much as the flaws in the subject.

      It isn’t possible to do ND/GND/Polarizer in software. The former two require longer exposures which reflect external subject motion; you can have a less sensitive sensor, but you can’t do this without a tripod unless you want streaks. Polarization is a fully optical effect and definitely cannot be simulated – you need to split the light and measure the output components then blend them in the correct proportions.

      It also isn’t possible to do TS simulation because a shift shows an area outside the image circle of a normal lens. How can the camera guess what’s there?

      Let’s not even start with Leica. There are some things they offer that are unique/different such as the UI/UX, hardware haptics and lens size/combinations (M), but others that are pure branding premium. Their sensors – at least in the current generation – are not even close to the D850 etc. But there’s one important difference here: they’ve managed to make you feel good when you hold one; and thus be willing to pay over intrinsic value. More revenue means more expansion and market share and a self-reinforcing prophecy. The other brands have not been able to do this yet…

      • I’m surprised no one’s made a true digital rangefinder yet…

        Ie one that works just like an M, but instead of the mechanical gubbins that moves the split image in the VF, turning the focus ring communicates to the camera where the focus is and a motor in the camera aligns the VF. This would still work with manual focus lenses, the lens need only communicate the position of the focus ring

        I think a lot of the attraction with the Leica M is the cachet, but I think they also have a pretty robust ‘walled garden’ where OEM M glass really does perform at its best on an M body (even better than when you put it on an SL/TL/CL and certainly better than when you put it on a Sony) which gives a perceived realism to the “Leica look” factoid

        The Fuji isn’t really trying to be an M (remember kids, at one time many, many cameras looked like that, even Fuji have their own history with rangefinders), I see the Fuji a bit like Seiko spring drive watches… fairly derivative designs, with something technically clever and unique going on inside (ie hybrid VF on the fuji)

        Incidentally Fuji sell approximately ten times more pseudo SLR styled bodies than they do pseudo rangefinder ones

        I GUESS ultimately Leica (much like Rolex, Ferrari and Coca-Cola) have managed to occupy a position of brand strength that’s effectively unassailable to the Jonny-come-latelys, who manage to outperform and undercut them in all measurable variables except the one that captures hearts – attribute

        (Incidentally I own both the Fuji X-Pros and the M9, and the 9 is by far the biggest PITA to change the ISO on, and whoever -not me- took the depreciation hit on the 9 new to what I paid, could have bought the Fujis several times over. Yet still we see time and time again, “the M is so simple and you never lose money on a Leica”! Claptrap)

        • Perhaps I’m missing something, but why would an electric-driven/coupled RF be better or easier to focus than a normal EVF with peaking and/or magnification?

          • It wouldn’t. But (clip on EVFs of modern Ms aside) some people still seem to enjoy the rangefinder way of working, and that solution would be cheaper to manufacture and less prone to drifting out of calibration

  7. Great article and some very interesting points raised. Firstly, I do actually have a need for 100MP. A lot of my work is cropped down to square and a 100MP file is a great boost. Especially when the client wants to crop it down further.

    Secondly, though, what Im seeing more and more is the greater emergence and return of film. It’s getting to the point that in some sectors (fashion in particular) your work looks odd if it’s digital because a very large percentage are now shooting film. And in relative terms the digital files look harsh and unrefined unless you are retouching them to look like film and then even then the majority of such manipulations are done poorly by people who know not how to treat them and the subtleties involved.. It is best done with a experienced retoucher.

    Finally, I see the rise of computational photography as also significant. I’m actually amazed at how quick it has come on already. although it will be such time that a phone is something I consider usable – but for the future….well, who knows.

    • I wish the comments had an edit function 🙂 Just to add that I can’t underline enough the way film is continually gaining momentum. Not only is it really taking hold but it’s what the younger generation are really grabbing on to, more so than technology in my opinion.

    • Not many people actually do have a) a real use for more resolution and b) the ability to actually deploy it visibly. But yes, I acknowledge there are some of us, but it’s a small group.

      Film/digital: I still think it’s in the tonal transitions, and if you know what you’re doing – digital offers way more flexibility. Plus no risk of the lab messing up then only copy…

      • There is the technical side, deeper colour resolution, organic colour v bayer array and de-mosaicing, and more organic and intricate transitions but also the process side – it’s you taking the pictures rather than being plugged into a motor with 30 people shouting their opinions over your shoot. Shooting film is a much different process and there is a lot more room for interesting things rather than ironing out every fault which is what happens in digital. Of course, the shooting is completely different too, much more considered.

        It’s lots of different things for lots of different people

        • Agreed – the less work on a computer the better!

        • With all due respect, the color in film is not more “organic”. It is the decision of chemical engineers and product planners working within the limitations of the chemistry they have. I have no idea whether you shot film or not but I have done so since the late 60’s and I have little romantic illusion about film.
          We were is a constant battle with the medium to generate images that did not call attention to the film itself. We were aided by the engineers who were also working to make the medium transparent ( no pun intended) to the viewer. We would filter our transparency film and run quick tests all the time to ensure our work was consistent and accurate for our clients. Snip tests, reciprocity compensation, refrigerated film and emulsion testing were a all a part of the “glamor” of photography.
          Digital delivers on the promise only hinted at and yearned for by film.

          • I advise taking a look at Tim Ashley’s extremely comprehensive comparisons between 10×8 film and 80MP Phase One (amongst others). The film just has a whole lot more colour detail. They bayer array eats up fine colour, it does not produce natural organic results and if you want to reproduce something like skin then film is a step closer to a natural rendition of it and it myriad of tone, colour and texture. in some senses the digital image is better, but in ways that are important to me, film is just on another level. I have tired of digital sharpness as some kind of bench mark. The characteristics of film are far more interesting to my work, and yes I have been shooting film for decades.

            • I’ve seen this. Firstly, I wasn’t comparing 10×8 but 4×5, and secondly, the 80MP uses a CCD sensor, which is lacking considerably in dynamic range which in turn affects color accuracy considerably, too. On top of that you’re limited to the film manufacturer’s intended palette; you can’t have your own color. I agree whether an image works or not is not necessarily about sharpness, but spatial resolution is inseparable from color differentiation/ gradation.

              • It is relatively lacking in dynamic range by todays standards, true, but it still has more than is needed and compared with film, even greater. I have shot with both Phase One 60 and 80MP backs for many years and know their strengths and weaknesses very well. Even when you are working with a very controlled situation with studio lighting, where dynamic range isn’t a consideration, then you still see this difference in colour that Tim has displayed in his tests. The Bayer array just eats up colour. It can’t physically reproduce in the same way as film which is a far more natural mixing of tone and hue, grain stacked on top of each other in various sizes and mixing with far greater level or randomness. The Bayer array, which obviously gets better with higher resolution is still quite a crude representation.

                • It’s not going to be the same as true RGB sampling at every spatial location, because it simply is not. That said, in the quantitative measurements we did at Hasselblad there was definitely a difference between all of the different MF manufacturers’ ‘house’ color balance (and CFAs)…

  8. Operational confusion. Nice term. I’m a victim (or the perpetrator, depending on how one looks at it). It may be a byproduct pf ageing. Few of us realize we’ve lost it until someone insists on taking away the car keys. Dumb it down, I say. Let me change my role from camera operator to director. Put interesting stuff in front of the lens, control conditions to the extent possible, then let the camera do the work. “i-auto” may be the wave of the future.

    • Actually, it makes perfect sense: there’s so much focus now on the concert hall and instruments that the conductor has forgotten entirely about the music…

  9. AZIZI SAID says:

    The smartphones are killing the camera industry as we know it and I think it’s an overall good thing. This aside, I’ve been through your Flickr and I saw that you use an iPhone 8 plus, how often do you use the portrait mode and what do you think of it ? Perhaps an upgrade to a new one is undergoing ?

    Thank you for the write-up, I was waiting for it !

    • Portrait mode: actually, never. It’s still obviously too fake around the edges; anyway I prefer to work within the strengths of my equipment – in this case, all in focus, all the time!

      Unlikely to upgrade, it’s just too expensive for too little gain. Plus I must be one of the few who still like the home button – it’s hard to unlock the X models when on a desk.

  10. Thank you Ming, I enjoyed reading this. I have read several prognostications recently here on the photographic internet, no doubt, brought about in part by the recent full frame mirrrorless camera explosion. We went from 1 manufacturer to 4 in a span of months. Most, if not all, predictions are safely derived from known facts and data. But what about the unknowns which I find more interesting to juxtapose. For example, will Olympus join the FF frenzy in 2019? …and if they do will it be with a new mount or existing E or L? Both Canon and Nikon did pretty well with their first generation offerings but I’m left feeling like the next generation of both will be more satisfying for the money as they sort battery life, card slots and lens support. The Pansiglica consortium seems very promising if they can capitalize on all that horsepower without infighting. But the one that would really peak my interest is Olympus. The thought of a full frame version of the E-M1 II has me giddy … can it happen? … will it happen? Should it happen? I VOTE YES! 😉

    • We can always dream of an ideal combination of factors, but it seldom happens no matter who is making it or their previous product portfolio. The reduction in control points for the new GR is a good example of this. Basically: no point in speculating. Change what we can (I tried) or do the best you can with whatever is available at present (I do). As for battery life – it really isn’t an issue on the Z7; I’m seeing close to 800-900 images/charge, which is basically a day of use and does not give me power anxiety.

      • I’m sure you have gotten the most out of the Z7’s battery … but start using it more with live view and video and I’m sure things will change quickly 😉

        • It’s always working in live view – all mirrorless cameras do this. For stills, there isn’t that much difference in power consumption between EVF and LCD; the big thing is power on time. Switching off between shots makes a huge difference. I agree video is a completely different ball game…

          • What I meant was using the LCD (live view) for video. For stills, I turn my LCD off so that live view in the viewfinder only comes on when the camera is brought to the face … this make stills shooting battery life superb. Even so, the A7III’s video battery life is outstanding 😉

  11. Hi Ming
    I guess the largest recent growth at the consumer photographic industry was/is Fujifilm Instax, and it includes ongoing consumables sales. I have no idea how that compares for market size to entry level camera only devices, but it shows that small and different market segments can work. It also shows that use experience is important as you discussed; this gear is not small so contrary to one of the current market force allegedly driving the consumers from mass markets.

    It seems that the manufactures are all aiming at only big, only expensive, only middle of the road. From my position it looks like the photographic industry thought it safer to only follow market trends by projection, rather than try to create new markets or at least niches, least of all try to understand underlying motivations in the market changes. Everyone has put all their eggs into one small basket. I fear eggs will break and we will not be eating omelette. The big boys and wannabees are all trying to recreate the good old days by mimicking the products that were produced to feed a market in growth with realisable technical development that had a film based expectation, not a mature slowing market brought up in integrated devices and usable tech. If there is a winner in the FF mirrorless war that the internet pundidiots have declared and love to talk about, it could easily be a company that just did not bother to join.
    Regards Noel

    • Precisely. There was a binary risk on their part: either you gobble up market share, or you will crash and burn. Few companies have the capacity or cojones to take this risk.

  12. Egmont Bonomi says:

    WARNING, here comes the first troll….
    Ming, I agree with most of what you say concerning the professional market; how there seems to be an ever growing divide between 99% of commercial photographers and the <1% who manage to get the right clients with jobs that allow them to operate with higher budgets and greater creative freedom (not that these two are necessarily linked). On the other hand, the rest of the market is experiencing massive pressure to cut costs any way they can or go out of business since no one is going to pay above-market prices for work that viewers simply won't pay too much attention to since they are already inundated with images (thank you social media).
    However, I don't agree with your comments concerning the consumer market. Yes, the market is consolidating towards the higher-end with manufacturers more inclined to develop and bring to market high-value-added products instead of relying on simple volume to turn a profit (Canon however does still seem to make that model work for them). Nevertheless, the high-end market is very much alive and well, or dare I say it is flourishing. Despite the undeniable trickle-up effect in sensor technology, which in my opinion is ideal considering differences in scale between the smartphone market and ILC market, the rest of the really important bits that make up a great camera are very much being developed in-house by each market participant. You don't have to look far to see this; when both Canon and Nikon released their newest mirrorless cameras a few weeks ago, their different interpretation of the UI was undeniable. In this regard I must say I really liked how forward-thinking Canon was. Deciding to release a camera with a future-oriented UI (which clearly went through rigorous in-house development) and three very high performance lenses, at the expense of developing a new sensor (very likely a tactical decision, my guess is they just don't have any new tech to bring to the table that would justify developing a whole new sensor for their new flagship mirrorless system). Canon knows that sensors come and go but the glass tends to stick around a lot longer…
    It's a pity that we don't see such forward-thinking daring in the MF market. If you go back just 10-15 years, there was a lot more experimentation going on. Despite 44*33 being a far cry from true MF (645, 66, 67, 69, 617), Fujifilm deserves some credit for pushing the boundaries with their mirrorless GFX. The new GFX100s, being the second generation, is the first camera in the lineup where we can truly begin to see their vision for the lineup come to light. The first generation was probably a bag of compromises to cut costs and allow the system to start paying for itself, hence the 2012 m/y sensor and lack of in-body stabilization. Now with the GFX100s we see IBIS, PDAF and multishot* technology (*according to some sources); all this with a 100mp sensor in a D5 or 1DX size weather-sealed body.
    You did mention manufacturers over-complicating cameras with features being a negative aspect of the market. I must disagree with you on this. Manufacturers should pack in as much tech as possible, then sit back and let the market decide what is worth having and what isn't. After all, how can a group of non-photographers in a boardroom in Tokyo, Stockholm or Shenzhen know what we photographers need/want and what we don't need/want. Heck, I'm not really sure even we know until we try it and live with it for a while. Only then can we honestly say that new tech improves our photography (output and/or process). We must realize that each one of us is different, each of us has his/her way of capturing images. Therefore it seems quite clear to me that we need cameras that are highly feature-rich as well as highly customizable, so that each of us, with our different tastes and requirements, can extract the most out of these pieces of equipment we lovingly call our cameras!

    • I think you might have it back to front – Nikon developed the new sensor for mirrorless, Canon is recycling the one from the 5DIV. As for innovation – I have come to one simple conclusion. All of the changes are driven by short term gain and management motivated by immediate bonuses. If you can sell three steps from A to B instead of going straight to B, you would do that because it’s more profitable and less work. Innovation, or lack of, is purely commercial. The lack of innovation in MF is driven by the lack of market size – now that the market is getting larger with a reduction in cost of entry, we may well start seeing more money being thrown at it to innovate/capture market share.

      “After all, how can a group of non-photographers in a boardroom in Tokyo, Stockholm or Shenzhen know what we photographers need/want and what we don’t need/want.”
      This is precisely what happens. Remember, I’ve probably got more knowledge on this than most: sometimes they listen to people who have lived with it and used the product, most of the time, they do whatever they *think* is best without any information – or worse, whatever marketing thinks is the flavour of the day. Frightening, but true.

      • Egmont Bonomi says:

        What I meant by “…at the expense of a new sensor” was that they recycled the 5DIV sensor to save money and engineering time which they could then turn around and invest in developing lenses and the UI. Honestly both Nikon and Canon recycled sensors, which is understandable. I would rather them use a proven sensor and invest more time and money in the lenses than try to do everything at once; the likelihood of success is much higher. Remember, photographers (read youtube reviewers) like to complain about anything they can, so no matter how good these two mirrorless offerings were, they would still have plenty to complain about.
        Funny how the computer industry has visionaries that help consumers rethink the way they use their computer products by simply introducing revolutionary products (just think of the late Steve Jobs and the trifecta iPod iPad iPhone). The camera market has too many fat-cat management “experts” that make big salaries and in return all they do is follow the minimax principle to position their company in a comfortable spot with the least downside risk of THEIR shareholders losing market share to the competition. INSTEAD, they should be operating under the maximin principle and developing the best product possible to maximize OUR user experience, in which case their shareholders would surely win in the long run since, over time, their products would dominate the market. Very simple, instead of protecting yourself from loses, you should instead concentrate on opening up new profit opportunities by taking risks and thinking outside the box.
        Just look at that beautiful little concept Hasselblad teased us with back at photokina in 2016, the V1D. If it was further refined and perfected I am certain it would have found its way into consumers’ hearts. Instead, management decided to play it safe and stick to releasing only the necessary products to fend off the competition (X1D vs. GFX and H6D vs. XF). If you ask me that was a mistake…

        • Actually, photographers are too busy making images to write reviews, but then sometimes it’s easier to just do it than reply everybody who demands it saying no… 😉

          I’m not disagreeing with you on product development – far from it – but it’s clear that there is a big disconnect between customers/users/owners and the manufacturers; they don’t care to change this because we are buying anyway, so why bother if there is still money to be made? In the end – things only change if the people signing the cheques want them to. So long as we do not vote with our wallets and so long as the corporate decision makers want to stick to their stubbornness, status quo. Unlike most complaining reviewers, I did try to change things; in the end all I got was stress and complaints as appreciation.

        • I share your affection for the V1D, but I think it would have been premature for the X1D and H-series to declare: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Consider the teething of the X1D.

          One question is: Will Hasselblad bring mirrorless to the full-frame 53x40mm sensor? If so, then they could do so with a redesigned H-series body: retaining the flange distance and adding wide-angle lenses that extend into the body like unto the Zeiss Biogon 60mm f/5.6.

          Part of my immediate response to Hasselblad in 2016 regarding the V1D was: If you decide against developing the V1D, then consider supporting square image capture in an X system camera. (This could be via a square sensor, or a cropped rectangular sensor). When I first glimpsed the X1D I presumed that it was outfitted with a square sensor.

          Being able shoot vertical rectangles without turning the camera would be a distinctive feature, and the inability one of the reasons I thought the strategy of the H system was disastrous.

          • The X1D already supports multiple aspect ratios – crop tag, saves whole file. I made sure that was implemented in an earlier FW.

            As for 54×40 in mirrorless – prefaced with me no longer working for the company – I certainly suggested it…

            “Being able shoot vertical rectangles without turning the camera would be a distinctive feature, and the inability one of the reasons I thought the strategy of the H system was disastrous.”
            The only backs that can do this are some of the Leafs. You still have to turn the camera in every other situation – a rotating sensor requires far too much internal volume and challenges bulk and ergonomics.

            • If you are not bound by NDA , Can you tell why Hasselblad didnt do 54×40 mirrorless ?
              And based on your understanding of the industry , Do you think 54×40 is possible in mirrorless with out so many sacrifices (like battery) ? and Would the size of the body/lenses be to big (handholdable for a long day) ?

      • MT: “I have come to one simple conclusion. All of the changes are driven by short term gain and management motivated by immediate bonuses.”

        In my experience, this is how major decisions are *actually* made.

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