Two cents off the soapbox

Alternative title: what’s actually new?

Following the recent hyped launches of the Panasonic S1R, Canon RF, Fuji GFX100, genuine pet eye smile AF tracking etc. – I’m finding myself looking at things from a fairly objective standpoint and asking how the industry is going to survive, let alone grow, in the long term. The simple reason is there has been fundamentally almost nothing in the ‘conventional’ camera market that allows us to do anything different from a creative standpoint. Before people take up their pitchforks, let me clarify several things…

1. ‘More’ may or may not be better, depending on your specific application. But most of the time, the circumstances under which ‘more’ can be deployed and the difference actually seen in a way that improves or changes the overall impression is diminishing. If you however have a very specific application, then the new hardware may very well make the difference between executability or not – it’s just that there are fewer and few applications that don’t yet have solutions.

2. Because there are fewer unconquered situations, the justification for buying new hardware is also diminishing. It’s even harder given costs of said hardware are continually increasing – we’re now in the realm of $3,000 35mm zooms being normal; small format lenses pushing $1500 or more, and let’s not even talk about branded medium format. Yes, technology is improving and measurable performance is once again better than ever – but the economics of the situation are such that as prices increase the market shrinks, which increases prices further since R&D and initial production tooling etc. must be offset over a smaller number of units, which shrinks the market further and so on…

3. It actually gets worse because more resolving sensors require better lenses and so on – one upgrade triggers a cascade to have the whole system able to deliver optimum performance; this is often several times more expensive than just the body. And forget the illusion of future proofing – most of the time another resolution or AF speed upgrade requires new optics or new motors. It doesn’t help that the secondary market as a whole is extremely depressed of late; I put this down to the people who want it already having it – and those having to buy second or third hand not really having anywhere to dispose of their old equipment in turn, limiting spending power.

4. The level of common interest in photography and image making is higher than ever: the but level of interest in the technical parts required to achieve that is lower than ever thanks to today’s instant gratification social media environment; people want a perfect image to post now, not after a day of post processing. There is no patience amongst the vast majority of consumers to learn the skills required to get the most out of increasingly specialised tools. We see this in the cameraphone market: smartphone battles are won on and lost on the imaging side alone with ever more cameras and computational photographic capabilities; the phone part is pretty much taken for granted at this point. There is genuine innovation here because there is both financial motivation due to absolute market size (far more smartphone buyers than camera buyers); because the average user has little to no skill; and because the manufacturers know that if they don’t do it, somebody else will. On top of that, there’s significantly more processing power to play with in your typical high end smartphone than your typical high end camera.

5. Most of the money is now in the consumer market: the pro market has long been suffering from the same disposable image syndrome, in turn causing a massive decay in rates and thus equipment spending power. We are seeing the same wealth gap: the high end pros make serious money but there are very few; the masses are amongst the lowest earning of any profession. This again supports the shift in focus towards consumers. However, the pros are benefitting from increased volumes and consequently lower prices in equipment that used to be unobtainum – but at the same time, your justification for charging X rates often goes out the window when the client’s brother now has the same camera.

6. Trickle down technology is real: what we can get now for very little money at the entry level of hardware is much better than the top end from not that long ago. And not that long ago, we were still able to make interesting images.

7. In theory, this should bring us back to one of two differentiating factors for hardware (and pros): a creative edge and shooting experience (or customer service experience). Shooting experience is simple: do you enjoy using it? Does new hardware Y bring more pleasure (and thus more usage, and thus images that wouldn’t otherwise have been gotten) than hardware X? The simplest way to explain ‘creative edge’ is by asking what new hardware Y can do that old hardware X cannot: if the answer is not really tangible or the scenarios are so unlikely, you should probably save the money for your kid’s college fund instead. A material improvement in shooting envelope – e.g. going from a non-IBIS camera to an IBIS one, everything else being equal – would be a good example. Three stops lower ISO for static subjects or the ability to handhold for longer shutter speeds is non-trivial: this opens up both visible improvements in image quality and creative opportunities. A usable JPEG engine vs none is liberating for different reasons: you can spend more time shooting (or doing other things) instead of in front of the computer post processing. But increasing resolution from say 50MP to 100MP is a much more limited application: you need to have the technique, the lenses, the computing power to handle the files, and most importantly, the output method to be able to actually see the difference. And increasing aperture from f1.4 to f1.2 is only useful if the optics hold up wide open and you need to shoot wide open.

The trouble is, camera companies are not objectively asking either question. If they were, we wouldn’t have almost negligible changes from D3400 to D3500 or Mark V to Mark VI. A much better way of doing things is not releasing anything until there is a tangible improvement over the predecessor – going from a D850 to a Z7 is significant because suddenly everything gains 3-4 stops of stabilisation, and you can do handheld camera movements with accurate focusing.

But marketing does not talk to engineering, so they ask for things they think consumers want (but don’t know for sure, since there are almost never any actual photographers in management or marketing, and ambassadors etc. are seldom listened to) – and engineering just keeps trying to make larger numbers because 47 is better than 36, right? This is how we land up with small sensor mirrorless (or any mirrorless) that’s larger than FF DSLR, or tiny mirrorless and enormously imbalanced lenses. There are only so many technical niches that need to be filled, and not all of them are profitable. What we haven’t seen much of is any thorough reconsideration of form factors, for instance – everything from small sensor bridge to mirrorless to medium format cameras are converging on the stereotypical DSLR-type shape, even if they don’t have viewfinders! This makes no sense given that the central ‘prism’ hump is hard to pack and results in plenty of nose smears on your screen – or worse, nose-activated AF points. There is by and large a level of risk averseness in this industry that is perplexing as hell – even though we’ve seen that small gambles often pay off disproportionately because there is no competition.

I realise all of this is seemingly ironic coming from me, chaser of the bleeding edge and pathological upgrader – at least to public impression. But what isn’t said is I know exactly what each hardware change is giving me, and if a trial shows it doesn’t, or the results aren’t visible through the intended output media, then I don’t do it. If my creative intent changes, so does the hardware – it’s simply about finding the right tools for the job. ‘Right tools’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘more’ or ‘better’ or ‘more expensive’ – a medium format camera is the right tool for fine art work and large prints or color-demadning commercial clients; it isn’t the right tool for spontaneous social photos or somebody with a back injury. There is liberation in knowing this, believing this, and being confident enough to pick up the phone or D3500 instead of the Hasselblad and knowing I can get the image I want.

The only way this is going to change – and we get interesting hardware that provokes a real want factor – is by asking with every new launch: what kinds of images can I make with this new piece of hardware that I couldn’t do with the one you tried to sell me last year?

__________________

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Comments

  1. You’re a busy guy Ming… but reading this post and its plentiful comments, I’m reminded of an old plan of yours to come up with an alternative camera of your own design.

    I wish that one day you’ll find the time/energy/money to make it a reality, and show us how a camera fit for the 21st century can be done.

    • Sony didn’t want to sell us sensors, and they’d bought all of the credible competitors 😞 That, and the bottom has fallen so far out of the camera market that the economics just don’t work anymore…

  2. PatrickG says:

    There is only one camera I am interested in – the 2020 Foveon sensor camera from Sigma. It is a return to the 1:1:1 pixel sensor format of the DP1, DP2, DP3 Merrills. I recently picked up the DP1 and DP3 and have been shooting with them – they are “digital Kodachrome” for me and I love shooting with them. What I assume will be a better sensor (with better high ISO performance) with a greater shooting envelope, in the 2020 Sigma camera, is all I want. Aside from that, a kit of DP1 (28mm) and DP3 (75mm) and the RX10mkIII bridge/superzoom to fill in everything else, is perfectly sufficient for me.

  3. Holy pixels BatMing!
    You are the wonder photo man. I simply cannot believe you responding to all of us. Are you in some kind of timewarp so that, for you, the clock stops? What’s the Japanese term for ” burnout?” Stay with us but you probably will have to pace yourself. Life is ( usually ) a marathon and not a 100 meter dash………..You have too many irons in the fire. Time to take a few out my friend.

    • You’re probably thinking of the national phenomenon known as karoshi, or death by overwork. I think it was more of a problem in the 80s and 90s and less so today – the younger generation of Japanese stay in the office for long hours, but that’s as much because going home to a tiny apartment 2h (or more) away isn’t really very appealing compared to horseplay with your colleagues.

      I’ve been marathoning for as long as I can remember, just a bit faster/ more intensely than most…

  4. Gordon Moat says:

    Lots to unpack in where the industry is headed. I will note that Fujifilm Instax is selling 900k units a month now. To me, this is delivering what people want. It’s amazing in that quite a few highly technical cameras don’t sell in numbers even approaching that.

    GoPro sales volumes are near 18 million units annually. That may be getting near a peak, though it’s been growing impressively over the last five years. As with Instax, pros and serious amateurs are often dismissive of the simplicity of these cameras. While GoPro are more video biased, I’ve been seeing more stills being shot on GoPro over the last few years.

    I think one big negative trend is slowing computer sales. To get the most out of a modern digital camera, a fairly up-to-date computer, or laptop, is a necessity. This model was pushed on the idea of best printed quality. Unfortunately, fewer images are being printed. Enthusiasts and pros want RAW processing, yet consumers just want images they can share. The camera manufacturers still live in the world of printed images. Sharing software largely sucks. SnapBridge is a bit better than a year or two ago, yet it still disconnects, and it’s way more complicated than getting a GoPro to connect to a smartphone or tablet.

    I think you’re completely spot on about the JPEG engines. A faster way to results. After years of nothing other than RAW images, I’m finally playing around with it. The idea that I can decrease or avoid lenghty post-processing time is enticing.

    On a personal/professional level, I took a look at my (too many) Lowepro bags of gear, and decided I needed to simplify. Sold a ton of heavy cameras and lenses on the used market recently. Went towards the Nikon Z6 and the 50mm f1,8 Nikkor-S (awesome lens). I probably still have too much gear, though I now have a smaller two camera set-up to take anywhere, and not be (as much of) a strain carrying through airports.

    • Actually, I’m not surprised – most people don’t want technical; for something that isn’t work, they want fun. And instax are fun – or at very least, hipster novelty. They let people show off socially.

      Same thing with GoPros and the like – they’re simple, fun, and not particularly demanding. They’re small and not fragile. And again: they let people show off socially. So much of what product works – in cameras, in watches, in cars – any consumer goods – is about what lets people reap maximum social kudos with minimum effort…

      The JPEG engines are much better than they used to be. I think we (and others) carried a lot of preconceptions about how ‘bad’ and unusable they were, but fortunately at some point in the last few years, things flipped. This is very much in the consumer’s favour (or may even be consumer driven) – but as usual, the camera companies are doing a terrible job of marketing it all.

  5. This is an interesting take on the winner take all pattern that seems to be dominating many creative professions.

    PS I have a new carbon fiber pitchfork with S30V steel Cerakoted tines coming from RRS but it is on back order. Maybe a better fork will up my snarkiness.

    • I don’t think it’s winner take all, because that implies some sort of competition – meritorious or otherwise. We don’t even have that; it’s just whoever shouts the loudest. Wall of noise…forget the pitchfork, get a megaphone instead.

  6. Ming do you prefer optical viewfinders? Is that part of the reason you use a dslr in this example?

    “A much better way of doing things is not releasing anything until there is a tangible improvement over the predecessor ” – Ming Thein
    Perhaps forced by circumstances Pentax seems to be working in this vein. It’s not a well received strategy if you want to appear alive… but I actually like their choices. IBIS (for years), pixelshift (great implementation, makes a difference for architecture etc.), decent viewfinders, build in gps, good haptics if a bit heavy.

    I follow the gear development lazily but have not really seen improvements worthy of upgrade since 2015. I’m mostly a low iso guy with very basic AF requirements and there is basically nothing for people like me.

    • No, I prefer good viewfinders – optical or otherwise. It isn’t just size, but also representation of the final image. A large but poor DR or poor resolution EVF is useless, but a small but finely gradated one is still workable. I have no problems with the EVF in the Z7, E-M1 II, Q or X1D for example – and in the Z7’s case, don’t miss the optical finder at all. I can’t get my exposure as precise or nail focus manually with the same hit rate on the D850.

  7. Mike Gannon says:

    Since you lighten your camera load,do you still have the hasselblad CFV 50c and use it. I have a lot of hasselblad gear, am I’m trying to determine if the cfv 50c is still worth perusing, I have a nikon d700, d850, 4×5. A friend and I are thinking about shooting film again,but digital is more convenient in some ways

    • I sold that a long time ago after getting the H5D. The back itself makes great images, but the whole V system is really not set up to be shot in portrait orientation – and a 33x33mm square makes a mess of the lens selections.

  8. Nick C. says:

    Spot on. I think the only thing you got wrong in your original post was the concern for pitchforks…..

    Reading through the post and subsequent comments, I found myself agreeing with almost everything. And that’s the problem the legacy manufacturers face – a multi-faceted “problem” with no easy answers. Loss of art/gain of consumer electronics and resulting marketing cycles. Sufficiency. Convenience of alternatives. Diminishing returns. Cost. All of us can add to the list…..

    Photography has always been some mix of art and science. And there’s the rub – science/technology and art advance, not always in step and not always in ways that seem to support the other. If we invest too much sentiment and emotion into what we believe represents synergy of both dynamics, we’ll come away disappointed given the nature of human change and progress. The rise of the cell phone and social media infrastructure that supports sharing sufficiently (there’s that word) capable photos with millions. Compare that with the advancement of something like a D40 to D3500….. (and to be clear, I’m sure the D3500 is a very capable camera, but to the intended audience, I think we here would have a hard time trying to explain to a non-photographic centric potential customer why one is better than the other. Hell, I think Nikon has a hard time trying to explain the difference…… )

    I don’t envy the legacy mfg’s but I don’t feel I have the obligation to blindly support them either. Make a compelling product that serves a real need at a fair price and I’ll pay attention. Absent that…. I’m mostly happy with what I have. And guilty as charged. If I took the time thoughtfully critique my technique and then take steps to address, I would no doubt see consistent improvement in output. Sufficiency – there’s that word again.

    So, for Nikon, Canon, Sony, Oly, etc to survive, they need to find answers to sufficiency – something needs to come down the pipe that clearly shoots our collective sufficiency to bits.

    Thanks for taking the time and continued best wishes for you and yours.

    • Oh, the pitchforks often come out of dark shadows wielded by hooded industry figures – it wouldn’t be the first time 🙂

      Human nature and consumerism has driven one thing home: we expect more, better, cheaper, faster, with less effort from ourselves. This is fundamentally unsustainable, and doesn’t just lead to waste, but also disappointment and a population with very weak minds that in turn feeds the problem. The more consumers you have (or want to have to increase your market size), the fewer creators are left; in turn there’s a smaller pool of ideas to begin with and even more limited progress. The cycle decays.

      The D40 vs D3500 problem you highlight is a good example of this: If everybody had say five year product cycles (or longer, as was normal in the film days) – then a) advances are tangible, and thus justify purchase, and b) there is no feeling of upgradeitis or GAS since there is nothing to upgrade to – the existing models continue to sell. Look at Sony’s A7 series vs Nikon: the A7R, A7RII and A7RIII overlapped the D810. Sony had three products, rounds of price cuts, and probably the total project yield was less than the D810. The D810 still sold, and at the end of it, the secondary market value of a D810 bought in the A7R days was about the same as an A7RIII. More cycles wasn’t better. The D850 is a tangible improvement over the D810 in all ways; most D810 owners landed up upgrading, and I’ve yet to read a single objective bad word about that camera. I used to think Nikon were being slow, but now I’m wondering if their long game is a better strategy since yields are likely similar, for a lot less effort and risk.

  9. Bruce McL says:

    Item 4: “There is no patience amongst the vast majority of consumers to learn the skills required to get the most out of increasingly specialised tools.”

    There is no urgency among camera makers to provide tools that are easier to use in a wider variety of situations. There is tremendous urgency among phone manufacturers to do so with their cameras.

    • Because those industries are born of opposite approaches, and the devices reflect that: phones sell on simplicity to the mass market. Cameras have sold on complexity, esotericity and the more features, the better. UI/UX has been secondary to the point that none of them seem to know what it is anymore. But with far more people using phones to photograph than cameras, those who do want more capable hardware inevitably find themselves disappointed because the jump in knowledge/ ability required to reach the same level of results as a phone is much higher than expected – and improvements are harder still.

  10. Yves Simon says:

    An easy, cheap real innovation would be to make cameras with a 4″, or even 5″ LCD screen. The large display of smart phones is a major reason they are so attractive for the large public. A large display allows to check your photos on-site more easily, show them to people, and maybe would make on-site editing more feasible.

  11. Fantastic article and some interesting points to consider. I lost all of my motivation for photography about two years ago, having been a very enthusiastic amateur since the beginning of the digital age. Purchasing a Minolta XG-M got my mojo back as I suddenly had to re-engage with the process, rather than just snap 100 shots and rely on statistics to achieve some good images. I absolutely love the process of shooting with film and have tried to adopt the same rituals with digital, using only ISO, aperture and exposure compensation on my XE-3.

    Prior to losing my motivation, I had literally become photo fatigued by the sheer number of photos I had taken and a fear that I would delete an important photo.

    Film led me back to digital.

    I am still a sucker for gear acquisition syndrome, sadly. I try to tell myself, as mentioned above, that I would be better off investing in education than more gear though, but I fall for marketing all the time where cameras are concerned.

    I am very sceptical of phone cameras though and find that if I view images taken by my iPhone 8 Plus on anything bigger than an iPad, they look artificial and noisy.

    Best wishes and thanks for a great site.

    • It seems many people need to go around in a big circle to reinforce the basics and not just understand but really believe and practice the fundamentals being hardware agnostic (myself included). I still find it funny though that the limitations enforced by film are seen as positive; if the same were true of a digital camera – let’s say a fixed memory of 36 shots, no instant review/preview and only one sensitivity setting – I very much doubt it would sell, much less be a cult thing…

      It isn’t the specific Minolta model you purchased that got you thinking a certain way. It was the willingness to accept and work around the limitations of that hardware; as you point out, it’s possible to do the same with a digital camera. Our collective mistake is attributing too much of that process to a certain camera or lens or brand…

  12. Steve G says:

    I’ve just got back from a three week holiday in Thailand with family.
    I had all my Canon kit laid out, ready to go… everything I thought I’d need and one or two “just-in-case’s”.

    I looked at it and looked at it. I thought about transport, protection, weight, customs. I sighed quietly and put it all away.
    I used my phone. I got the shots I wanted/needed. I was unobtrusive.

    Sometimes you pick the best tool for the job; sometimes the tools for the job are too much, so you go with what you can make work.

    After the three weeks I soon gathered what the tool I needed would be: small, fixed lens and full frame if possible. So now I have to try to trade my broken and bruised soul for something like a Leica Q or similar rangefinder-esque style, small camera.

    • Would you have enjoyed the holiday more with all of that equipment? Did you feel you missed anything because you only had your phone? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, then consider a halfway experiment: one body, one lightweight lens. Buying a Q is…an expensive experiment when chances are, you’ve already got what you need but must just find the discipline to use it.

      • Steve G says:

        “Would you have enjoyed the holiday more with all of that equipment?”
        – Very doubtful. No.

        “Did you feel you missed anything because you only had your phone?”
        – Unfortunately yes.

        You’re absolutely right; a Q is insanely priced… I guess something close to what that is. I could run my 6D with a 50mm 1.4 but is that really a lightweight setup? In comparison to the convenience of a phone, absolutely not. I don’t know on this one, it’s a difficult choice.

        I did just buy a new iPhone Xs Max after not having an iPhone since the 3rd gen model, so perhaps I’ll be happy with that if I can find some appropriate editing software on it.

        • Let me rephrase: did you miss because you were expecting your phone to be like a DSLR, or because you didn’t creatively work around the limitations it brings?

          6D and 40 STM pancake. Bigger shooting envelope than your phone, about the same weight as a Q. I used this combination all the time with the 5DSR.

          • Steve G says:

            “did you miss because you were expecting your phone to be like a DSLR, or because you didn’t creatively work around the limitations it brings?”
            – the second one, for sure.

            “6D and 40 STM pancake”
            – ahh! I didn’t think about the pancakes; thanks for the advice!

          • A 6d with the 40mm has become my favorite combination lately, and after years of shooting mirrorless, I enjoy the relative simplicity (and comparatively incredible battery life) of this “old” body.

  13. John Yutzey says:

    I did very much like this post, which is why I write. Confirmation bias, I assume. When I think back over some 50 years as an enthusiastic amateur photographer, what stands out to me in terms of new gear acquisition is leaps in technology. I used my first 35mm SLR, a Mamiya, for over 20 years (complemented by a Nikon 35mm automatic compact during the ’80s, an L35AF). I bought a Nikon SLR sometime in the ’90’s because of autofocus given my experience with the L35AF. My next big change was to digital, first point and shoots for travel, then a Nikon DSLR in late 200X. On a lark, I purchased a used Panasonic G1, the first M43 camera, in early 201X, and became committed to the compactness and light weight of the M43 format, which I shoot probably 75% of the time now, but still shoot Nikon APS-C and 35mm film (although less and less) as well. Some shoots that I do really argue for the APS-C tools, but otherwise, I just enjoy shooting them, and the film gear as well. I think of camera technology sort of like the evolution of personal computers: there were substantial gains in technology early on, but the technology matured pretty quickly over, say the last 10 years for digital cameras, to the point that new camera models don’t offer me anything substantial in terms of image quality that I can’t get with a camera that I already own and have been using for some time. Wi-fi/Bluetooth (for example)? Don’t care. The M43 cameras I use now are 3-5 years old or older, and there are no newer models that interest me. I am now more focused on glass, prime glass in particular, as next steps in improving the quality of my images. So I am very much in agreement with your propositions. I am, however, also quite curious to see how well the FF mirrorless offerings will be adopted, and what this may indicate for digital photography in the future. Time will tell.

    • There’s always going to be confirmation bias in our compositions and selections – that’s the nature of pretty much any human endeavour, especially a creative one.

      As for FF – Sony has done quite well taking on market share, but I think they aren’t doing enough innovation to retain it. Nikon and Canon are late to the game and surviving on inertia and momentum alone. Had either one been first I suspect the impact would have been even larger than Sony – there were far too many ‘beta bugs’ in even second generation cameras, but when you have no other options and are equipment-desperate – you deal. If all we’re going to see is more DSLR-alike things, I doubt there’ll be much shift. IBIS has been the most significant practical change thus far, but it’s going to take more than that to spur the next buying wave.

  14. Michael says:

    The one upward move in cameras that had a major impact on me was changing from a twin-lens Yashica Mat to a Pentax Spotmatic. Suddenly being inside the camera rather than outside-looking-in was astounding! Oddly enough, the single best image I’ve ever made was achieved with the 2 1/4 square Yashica.

    • The change in method also forces a change in perspective, which might explain the difference in composition. I also found the waist level Hasselblads produce quite different compositions to eye-level and vice versa; the latter is familiar, the former, less so. Makes me think of what children see given their difference in height…

  15. Pavel P. says:

    I loved your statement “do nothing but shoot for myself and show images to nobody”. I have been thinking about this question for a very long time. A couple of years. And I found out that ….showing to nobody and shoot only for my self is something I am not capable of. I feel necessity to show to other people. Thought I have minimized the sharing I still “have to” show to somebody at least.

    So I found out that lots of enjoyment comes from social interaction online, enjoyment from feedback, which is disappointing to realize.

    Recently I had discussion – what is more important in photography. The result or the process of image making? I was saying that the result is the most import – what we se on the photo. The other guy said, that he values the process of photography making more than the actual resulting photo.

    Sure, 99,9 % of us are non professionals, so why we should put some much emphasis on photo excellence/perfection?

    • There is definitely a lot of enjoyment to be had through the social interaction part – I have made countless friends through this site and other photographic-related activities. But that friendship grows when you can discuss other things besides – photography is merely a common interest and not the entire glue 🙂

      I believe in both of your examples the result is still more important: both if you value the end image, and if you value the process. Without an intended result – no matter how vague – there cannot be a process, because how do you know what to do if you don’t know what you want to produce? Even an experiment is a desired outcome, and has an associated process. Therefore the process is always subservient to the result; the only question is how clear one’s idea of the result is.

  16. John Lee says:

    Like most ppl here I have more camera gear than you could shake a stick at. But as I am getting older like the majority of of old school hobbyist photographers, I am getting weary of lugging bagfuls of gear around. For a trip I’m taking in a few days time I have been through that regular anxiety mind meld of deciding what gear to take. On a recent trip I took two cameras and four lenses. But at the end of the day, the photos made by the cameras were not decernably much or if any better than those taken using my camera phone. Indeed some of the shots taken by the phone were better – especially low light shots. If used with care the modern day phone camera is a phenomenally capable tool. Furthermore, you can have more fun with it by instantly editing it using Snapchat etc and sharing shots in social media. Instant gratification that you cannot get with any dedicated camera. For those who are wondering how I can consider a phone camera over a dedicated camera, the latest phones can produce amazing image quality, are much more portable and without having to worry about your gear you feel freer to enjoy your holiday. Its sacrilegious to think a camera phone may be able to replace a dedicated camera and I wouldn’t be saying this even a year ago. But for 90% of us the latest phones are all we will ever need.
    So, I guess my mind is made up about what gear to take on my trip.
    BTW, the phone I’m using is the Huawei P20 Pro. Amazing camera phone that has changed my perception of phone photography. Used with care, it can cover over 80%, maybe more, of the shots I want to take with it – it’s just missing a really wide lens options (which the new one has).
    I feel the period we are in is a game changing period for photography. When camera phones image quality has improved to a level acceptable to or even surpasses the requirements of a majority of consumers.
    Dedicated cameras are getting better but the improvements in camera phones have/will make them obsolete for most people.
    I still love my dedicated cameras but do accept the reality that I am probably a dying breed. There are many that don’t. Yes, it doesn’t provide the same experience of using a dedicated camera and lenses, but it’s a different experience. One, for holiday/travel photography, might even provide a more liberating, enjoyable experience.
    Now where did I put my Dp1m😂

    • I agree: it comes back to one thing again: enjoyment. The minute it becomes not fun – or there is something more fun which requires less effort – then we switch…

  17. Dear Ming,
    Thank you for your above article in which you make many valuable and valid points. Despite of this I would like to comment as follows: you must know Bucherer, a Swiss company with shops selling expensive watches and jewellery. They admit themselves that they are probabely the most useless company in the world, the exact time you can find on any mobile phone these days, and jewellery itself is useless anyway. Yet their turnover is enormous – why? What they are selling seems to make people happy.
    Now, it made me happy changing from DSLR to an E-M1.2 – its autofocus is much more reliable and the camera is much smaller. And it is a challenge I love to take pics at high ISO without people realising it.
    I own several lenses, yet about 2/3 of all photographs I take using the 12-100/4. I own a 17/1.2 and a 45/1.2. I use them very rarely, yet each time I am thrilled by the quality and beauty of their output which make me happy.

    Another example: I was talking to my BMW dealer the other day. They told me (its a fairly large dealer) in the last year they did not sell a single car for technical needs, but all of the cars were sold simply because the owners felt they would like a more recent model.

    Now, if there was an E-M1.3 with an even more reliable focusing I think I would spend a considerable amout of money to buy it. . .

    With kindest regards,

    Felix

    • What they are selling seems to make people happy.
      This is a very, very important point for all consumer companies, including camera makers. They seem to forget the vast majority of their market is consumer – it is no longer professional – and so long as they they keep making things that are not doing the happy thing, ongoing survival is questionable.

      You know why you’re buying: because you enjoy the new something more than the previous something is solid since it means you’re also likely to use it more, and both derive more joy an a higher chance of images. It isn’t the same as “because marketing says its better…”

      • Ha! Ha! The Marie Kondo method. I’m going to take all of my cameras out of the cupboard, hug them a little, take a few sample shots, then make some notes about which ones still make me happy. They’ll be the keepers.
        I suspect that the customers think “what they are selling” will make them happy, but of course some people will not be happy after buying the product and won’t know until it’s too late. We always think we know what we like, want and is good for us, but are misled by shiny things and advertising promises. That’s why I sold my Rolex a few months after buying it. So disappointed as it fell short of my expectations in so many ways, but I should point out, still more than happy with my 17.01.
        For cameras I have finally learned to ignore the brand name, look for a great viewfinder, controls and/or menus as simple as possible and top optical quality from the lens. Most other things don’t really bring me happiness.

        • All down to expectations and either being self-aware enough to distill down what you really need to make you happy, or trusting the person making he latter judgement for you…

  18. Richard Bach says:

    While photography has always had the gear-geek element to it, I believe theres been a bit of a paradigm shift as to how gear is viewed recently. Cameras are for geeks first, not photographers. Even on the higher end where one would assume to be specifically a photographer’s realm.

    Sometimes I feel like the marketing departments have won. Ask on a gear forum as to why, say, the SR1 is a desirable camera. You’ll get a longwinded answer as to how 8K 4:2:2 10-bit 4K 30p/25p VLOG without an external recorder is not only relevant, but a photographic breakthrough. Talk about the expense and size of the lenses and you’ll get a lesson on adapter compatibility and the new Sigma Art line. (Let’s not even talk about the multi-animal eye recognition thing…)There isn’t much talk on shooting style or how this camera actually helps one get shots that they wouldn’t have before. Ask someone to produce an image that needs this new tech, you’ll get very little.

    Unfortunately a the majority of users nowadays seem more interested in that complicated nexus of specs/gear/adapters/testing than actual photography. A great majority of camera users are NOT in it for real artistic pursuit, and cameras are made for that majority. Its a sad state of affairs but doesn’t surprise me much.

    • Internet forums are big echoey caves – there isn’t actually any content there. Yes, people can recite specs but the few actually using all of that don’t have the time to play troll war; they’re out trying to make a living with it. Does it sell? I honestly don’t know; I suspect a lot of the keyboard warriors don’t put their money where their mouth is.

      Companies are forgetting this audience has a low investment and is therefore fickle – what you can acquire simply by buying today, you can get bored of and dump tomorrow when you’re no longer the Latest Thing.

  19. I’m one of those aging male hobbyists who started with film and who have been supporting the camera industry for years by upgrading.
    It’s taken me a long time but I finally understand what you (and a couple of other thoughtful people) have been saying. i.e.:
    – Photography is not really fun anymore. The button and dial studded cameras, the long, poorly written manuals, the complexity, the terrible menus, the push to upgrade, and the whole concept of ‘post processing’- all not fun.
    -The planet is swamped with photographs. There nothing special anymore about producing yet another one and the people I know seem to be getting tired of looking at them.
    -People don’t want to see prints anymore. How many pixels and how big of a sensor do you need for someone to glance at a computer or cell phone screen?
    -I’m a hobbyist. I really like photography but I’m never going to be a particularly good photographer. I don’t need to keep spending a lot of money on the latest and greatest equipment.
    -I have an old E-M 10 for trips and a D7200 for family events (in lower light). I probably understand 20% of their features. The thought of spending a weekend reading the dummies guide to the D7200 leaves me totally cold- again, not fun. If I was still using my ancient EPL1 I would probably be a much better photographer now plus I’d have spent a lot less money (and that camera was a lot more fun to use than my newer ones).
    So sorry Nikon/Canon/Fuji/Sony/Olympus/etc but I’m not going to be buying a full frame camera and I’m going to help you out in your current slump.

    • Nor do I think you or I should be helping them out. There is no obligation to buy something you don’t want/need/use just because it exists; not buying is also an option. The whole industry is missing the point of how they got there in the first place, and trying to evolve to a place where they’re going to Darwin themselves out of existence, and they have nobody but themselves to blame. I’ve tried to help more than one camera company but nobody seems to be listening (yet wondering why sales are tanking).

      • raticus says:

        Agreed. I feel I’m going full circle with Nikon. Since 2009: D40 to D5100 to D7100 to D750 to D7500. I see a future with the D3500 with a 35mm 1.8G DX lens permanently attached. My modern version of the Nikon FG with a 50mm 1.8 series E lens.

        • I think you might enjoy the lack of weight…

          • raticus says:

            I believe you may be correct!

            : )

          • Pavel P. says:

            Isn’t OMD line better option?

            • Been there, done that, and on paper, it should be – but in practice I prefer the D3500. A good example of where too much isn’t necessarily better. (Don’t get me wrong, they’re good cameras but I found something I like better, for less money.)

              • Endy Muhardin says:

                Why not D5600? About the same weight/size to D3500, with flip screen. More flexible perspective. And wifi transfer for quickly move full-res image to smartphone.

                • There’s wifi transfer on the D3500 too, which I’ve never used (and not used on the D850 or Z7, either). Also, I found a deal on the D3500 where the kit was $290 – D5600s were at least double…

                  • endymuhardin says:

                    Well, $290 is surely hard to beat 😀
                    Just check the price, in my place D3500 kit retails for at least $380, while D5600 at around $505.

                • raticus says:

                  D3500 is $400. D5600 is $550. Both with 18-55. At least here at B&H USA. I’ve owned a D5100 and my wife has D5300, and they are really nice cameras. For me personally, since I already have D7500 I don’t really need the “step down” to D5600 for going smaller and lighter and simpler. The D3500 loses 100g from the D5600 and I do not need the extra features for the way I’d plan to use D3500. This is great question though, it is nice to have these choices, and the value for both D3500 and D5600 is in my opinion excellent. I wish I would have dragged my feet longer on my D7500 purchase, the current pricing is amazing at $800. With the advent of FF Mirrorless….might be a nice time to be an old dawg DSLR guy or gal.

            • raticus says:

              Perhaps, but not for $400. If I was going with a single system I’d consider M43 and Fuji because of lack of Nikon DX prime lenses, but I’m currently a longtime Nikon guy and not ready to take the plunge on the learning curve of another system. I shall see how it shakes out with D3500/35mmDX….I’m on a nostalgia run, trying to emulate carrying the old Nikon FG and 50mm series E. Amazingly, the D3500 weighs less than the FG, its dimensions are somewhat, but not a lot, larger.

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        You couldn’t have said it better, Ming.
        And I fully agree with Jeff.
        A while back, I decided to re-equip. I do shoot HF and FF. And reading all the reviews and propaganda that hit with the release of the Canikon mirrorless offerings, I ended up with a thought that came in sideways. Why not Nik’s D500 and D850? – they twin well, they both use the same card systems, all the lenses are interchangeable. One’s more suited to birding and wildlife and sports photography, the other perhaps for “slower” subjects – but both have tilt screens (tick!), great AF (tick!), good sensors (tick!) and high shutter click counts (tick!). And they can do practically everything I want – or given the shutter click ratings, all I’m ever likely to want at my age (they’ll undoubtedly outlive me!)
        And being “twins”, not so much crap with manuals etc. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander – learn anything on one of them, and you can almost invariably use it on the other one.
        So despite the “weight” – which I’m quite OK with anyway – and the lack of red paint on burned out highlights in the ELV, and the ability to make movies with what I bought as a still camera, they do everything I want. And photography has become fun, again.

        • A sensible choice – for me it’s D850/Z7 for work, and either D3500 or Z7 for pleasure (though mostly D3500 these days; the control placements between the two are surprisingly similar especially on the back panel under your right thumb).

          The one thing I can’t figure out is why D500 and D850? The D850 yields the same resolution in DX crop, with just slightly less FPS. And I don’t think the weight difference is that much?

  20. joel manes says:

    I think you nailed it. I have been doing this for sooo long, ~ 45 years, and am definitely at the “fulfills my needs, good enough for me” stage. I have noticed this as well with other hobbies in my life the last few years.

    • There is only so much ‘serious’ one can get before the effort outweighs the enjoyment…and when it comes to professional work, one wants to be as efficient and consistent as possible…

  21. Neal Spero says:

    The same question always.You are at a family outing. What camera would you like to a family member or friend to take a photo or two of you and your family?

    • Highest chance of maximizing potential of the camera: iPhone. Best balance between something I want to use and they can’t mess up: D3500, turn dial to no flash auto.

      That said, I do have some pretty photo-savvy family members and friends, and they’d probably prefer to use their own hardware…

  22. jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Couldn’t agree more. Actually, I might be able to do that, if I knew as much as you do, but I don’t.
    What I DO know is that there’s a lens I want, that I can’t buy, because Nikon have their head in the sand and aren’t making it – they’ve already introduced it for their Z7, but I’m shooting with their DSLR’s and have no interest in their mirrorless range – it seems they’re prepared to overlook their DSLR customers in the naive belief that mirrorless is their future, and ignore the fact that most of their market is, still, DSLR.
    A simple example – and a purely personal one – I admit. Well actually not really just a personal example – because I am quite sure there are thousands of other Nikon customers who would also like the lens in question.
    And it serves a purpose to mention it. Which I’ve done repeatedly, in recent months, in various forums.
    Because it points to a lack of interest on the part of major camera manufacturers in what their customers want – what they would like to buy – so that the manufacturers can actually make more sales.
    If that is supposed to be a good way to run a business, then Heaven help the lot of them!

    • There are exceptions to the whole thing when it comes to lenses – you can’t use something else to substitute say a 20mm FOV or a 400mm one – you need the right optics; there are no shortcuts. But whether one is skilled enough to deploy all the potential an Otus 55 holds over a Chinese clone 50/1.8 – that’s another matter entirely.

      The only lenses for the Z7 that have been announced that doesn’t have an equivalent for F mount are the 50/0.95 and the 14-30/4 – arguably, we don’t have a really good 50/1.8 to the same level as the Z version either (to the point you can shoot the Z 50 at any aperture quite happily, but I’d need f2.8-4 on the AF-S version which looks very different indeed).

      That said, the 14-24 is pretty close FOV-wise, and unless you plan to shoot the 50/0.95 wide open all the time, you might as well save your wallet and back and buy Something slower.

      But I fully agree that the manufacturers simply aren’t making what people want – they’re making what their marketing people think they people want, and there’s a massive amount of petty personal arrogance that prevents any of the executives from admitting they made a mistake. Sadly I’ve seen this from the inside, too – and been completely powerless to stop it since the attitude seems to be very much top-down. 😦

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        The only attraction the Z7 holds for me, at the moment, is that larger hole in the front – enabling the development of a whole new range of lenses. I don’t like ELVs – I’m totally used to “proper” viewfinders and live view, and while ELVs can have features we apparently won’t be allowed to get on DSLRs (like the highlight warning, for example), ELVs fall flat, as far as I’m concerned. And I’m also used to the weight of my cams – hell, I shot with Zeiss’s Contarex for half a century! – modern DSLRs are no problem!
        And my photography doesn’t need any lenses faster than F/1.4, which is readily available in a whole heap of decent glass, these days.
        I also don’t think it would be a good idea for me to trial a Chinese clone 50/1.8 of the Otus 55mm – after I spent all that money on the 28 and the 55, I think my wife might be rather cross if she ever found out I can’t use them to advantage!
        Ming, I take photos for fun – not for a living – because I’ve been mad about photography since I was a young kid. A friend of mine & I got serious once, and produced a book of our photos (which to our astonishment sold out in 3 weeks flat – but we were too inexperienced and too terrified to try our luck with a second impression – LOL). But apart from that, I’ve always taken photos for my own amusement, and to share with close friends – or with the people the photos related to (shots like other people’s pets or children or weddings, for example).
        So to be honest, I’m more concerned with enjoying the experience – producing acceptable images – doing my own colour processing and printing (for the first time in my life – always did my own B&W stuff, but a home colour printing lab in analogue days was beyond ridiculous). And instead of wading through too much techo stuff, as pro’s need to, I’d prefer to continue down the path of enjoying it. More than just a “hobby” – it’s “serious amateur” (one shop even told me to stop using their retail shop and use their trade shop, where they serviced the pros, instead). With the freedom to do whatever I want. A freedom pro’s are generally denied, because they must satisfy the demands of customers.
        And rather than going mirrorless, just because it’s the latest thing – or for whatever other reason – I’d prefer to kick sideways, and maybe try out some other stuff, like SIGMA’s Foveon sensor cameras, for example, to see what they can do.
        I also don’t “get” why so many people “have” to do this, or “have” to do that. Example – all the sneering you see, about anything less than 60MP, or anything smaller than FF. Till my wife pinches the smallest one (a pocket Nikon), I shoot with 4 cams – a Nikon 9700, a Canon PowerShot GX Mark II, a D500 and a D850. I use them for different things. I rarely print larger than A4 – but I do print my photos, rather than just relying on digital storage – and also because I enjoy creating my albums. I do appreciate and do love the quality of the FF shots. But I don’t howl at the others – they’re ALL “good”, even if some are “better”.
        All of it is so much better these days, anyway, than it was way back when I started, that I don’t understand the fuss so many people make over nothing. Life’s too short. Carpe diem!

        • “I also don’t “get” why so many people “have” to do this, or “have” to do that. Example – all the sneering you see, about anything less than 60MP, or anything smaller than FF.”

          Most of the time I don’t either – but there are rare exceptions when the person really does need Capability X and can put it to good creative use. This is extremely rare, though. However, if those statements were modified to “I don’t collect cameras less than X”, then we’d probably all just shrug and move on. 🙂

  23. For me it’s a shame that the phone is often just so much more convenient than a dedicated camera. Not because of size but due to connectivity. I want to have much less friction between the images on my SD card and me accessing/editing/sharing them.
    Also, I want to see what all the computational stuff my phone can do would look like with a larger sensor. Smart HDR and night modes, etc.
    I think the next steps are about adding these smartphone developments also into bigger cameras.

    • I find it easier to transfer images off the cards than all this wireless malarkey – if you’ve ever tried to use say Nikon’s wireless transfer utilities, you’ll find yourself tearing your hair out. It’s almost as bad as the days of Windows 3.1 printers. Putting a card into a slot and copy-paste is much better (unless like me, your Leica once corrupted a card so badly it crashed any computer it was inserted into).

      Even if we can’t get the sensor and associated optics into the phone – I understand practical size restrictions – at least let us apply the same computational processing retroactively to a raw file shot with a larger camera – and perhaps some truly universal wireless mass storage protocols while we’re at it…

  24. Spot on.

    I invested in the Sony A7R II/III because it’s much bigger shooting envelope allows me to take shots my Hasselblad did not. (IBIS, f/1.4 lenses, better dynamic range, 24-240mm lens for a small and light kit in the mountains). The Hasselblad still shines at the things it is good at, and I still use it a lot despite it being very old (H3D-31 II)- leaf shutters and general colour purity.

    No camera body released since has significantly expanded the shooting envelope for the sorts of photography I do. The A9 would be a shoo-in if I needed sports speed, but I don’t, really. I’ve bought a ton of lenses for the Sony, but none of the new systems tempt me even a little. I’d buy a Pentax if I wanted astrotracking, but hardly anyone else has a significant upgrade to offer.

    What puzzles me is why camera companies are so slow to embrace the sort of UI changes needed to make computational photography techniques easy.

    Make it easy, trivial to do a focus stack series. A timelapse series. HDR, with some initial combo in camera. Sweep panoramas. Multiple image stacking for noise reduction, or blurring details without resorting to the insane use of filters throwing away 99% of the light! All of these things have some implementations in modern cameras, but they need to move up to being first-rank citizens, not something thrown in deep in a menu or by downloading an app.

    Make it possible to do these and fix it in photoshop with a day of manual work. Come up with metadata structures that properly facilitate it, so that opening a focus stack is no more work than opening a RAW. Make the default handling good enough for 90% of cases, and make the procedure easier to handle for the remaining 10% of cases.

    A good starting point would be to put the computing power of a phone into a camera and really see what you can do with it.

    • Ironically, in 2014 I wanted to do just that. We had the funding and the computational power – but Sony wouldn’t sell us the sensors (any sensors, actually) – and there was nobody left at that point because they’d bought all the established players.

      • That is fascinating Ming. Too bad your company died like that. That would have been fascinating.

        • Actually, I’m not sad that it did. It would probably have been far too much effort to explain to the gear-obsessed majority who need bigger numbers for direct comparisons to motivate purchases…better is only better if you can stay in business with it.

          • I’d forgotten about that project! That would have been great – the idea seems even more relevant in 2019 than 2014. A pity. Has Sony really sewn it up that tight?

            • They certainly did then, and I don’t think it’s a good financial risk to take right now. We have seen Sony developed quasi-closed proprietary ecosystems and then proceed to dump those businesses very quickly when it no longer interests them (betamax, computers, phones…)

      • Ming, I just stumbled on this reply, after I had sent my earlier comment. It’s both fascinating and sad.

        I’m thinking that some workarounds and de-risking approaches could be :

        1) Hardware approach :
        – Shop around with other sensor makers such as STMicroelectronics / Towerjazz / Aptina / Samsung. Surely they’d be more willing to sell you a batch of sensors.

        – You could also offer prospective customers to cannibalise their cameras. Eh. That’s kinda hardcore, but it’s also a way to get your hands on sensors and possible lower the acquisition cost for the customers : if they have a second camera which they seldom use, why not recycle it for an acceptable price in order to get a radically new photographic experience ?

        – Crowdfunding : work on the camera would only start after having received the advance money from the customers. In exchange you’d deliver the goods only after a year or two (dev + manufacturing time). You’re offloading much of the risk to customers, which for a small start-up, is completely ethical and acceptable in my book.

        2) Software approach :
        Be a firmware-only vendor. You’d provide an operating system for major OEM cameras, kind of like what Magic Lantern does for Canon. This is much less capital-intensive than producing hardware, hence less risky. On the other hand it’s also less “clean” and satisfying than starting with a blank slate, though, and comes with its own set of difficulties. But it could ultimately serve as a springboard (first work on the soft, then possibly crowdfund a camera for maximum potential).

        3) Open-source approach :
        Can apply to both software and hardware. There’s still money to be made, so it could appeal to the VCs (cf. https://opensource.com/article/17/12/open-source-business-models ). One upside is that you’re less reliant on your own workforce to develop an ecosystem – people do that for you and for free.
        It’s also a great way to diffuse your philosophy amongst the community ; look at how Linux flourished and how many derivatives have come to life (one could opine that it’s gotten off hand, but in reality the offering is still centred around a handful of major distributions such as Red Hat and Ubuntu).

        Here also crowdfunding could be a good de-risking tool. The process would be the same as a normal crowdfunding, but in addition you’d also release the software code and camera CAD files for anyone to tinker with. There are several open-source licences, including some that restrict the re-use to not-for-profit projects.

  25. Pierre Wachholder says:

    so (desperately, from a pro photog’s standpoint) right and to the point .
    Regards, Pierre

    • If it sounds desperate, it’s because the situation really feels desperate – most people who take up a camera want to make pictures they are happy with – whatever the motivations might be. But the way the camera companies are going right now, they’re going to kill that – and themselves in the process. I personally am quite happy to walk away and do nothing but shoot for myself and show images to nobody; how many can say that with any confidence?

      • Kristian Wannebo says:

        > “I personally am quite happy to walk away and do nothing but shoot for myself and show images to nobody; how many can say that with any confidence?”

        Just so!
        ( Me too.)
        A good description of a photo amateur (in the good sense of the word)!

  26. There’s an interesting book called “Rework” by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, which talks about alternative approaches to business. One of their ideas is to offer FEWER options than the competition rather than trying to one-up them with function upon function upon function. I think this is one reason why the early iPhones made such a splash, camera-wise : they had very few functions indeed. Set, point, shoot (and many people don’t even do the “set”). Now the camera phone market is going the other way : ISO ten quadzillion, 30x zooms, DOF trickery indistinguishable from a full frame camera, seven different lenses so you can flood social media with more pictures of your face…

    It probably takes a particular kind of mindset to trim away everything except the essentials, and it looks like most camera companies aren’t up for the challenge; the mantra seems to be “more, more, more”. More MP, more steps of stabilisation, more options for video, instant transfer of photos to tablet/cloud, etc…As you said, most of these are simply attempts to out-spec the competition. Leica, with the M range at least, seems the obvious exception, and they still seem to be doing OK. I thought Sony showed some cojones when they launched the A7s series with 12MP, but that seemed a rare exception to the rule. I’d be interested to know of the A7, A7s and A7r cameras, which sell the best.

    I’m going the other way, but as an amateur (in the true meaning of the word) I can allow myself to. I just found a real old classic in Shinjuku : a Panasonic DMC-LC1 (aka their version of the Digilux 2 without the red dot tax). I used to have, and love, the Digilux 2, so there was absolutely no way I could pass this up, especially as they were all but giving it away and it is in really good condition. Talk about limitations…5MP, ISO 100 to 400 (and most people will recommend you stay at 100), one lens, 28-90 equivalent, autofocus that makes a Sigma Merrill look like a Sony A9, and an EVF which…well, if you’ve shot with one, you’ll know. And I’m having a blast with it. And when I’m not using that, I’m using an Olympus OMD EM5 (mark 1! Shock! Horror!) with adapted Canon FD (manual focus only! Shock! Horror!) lenses. And guess what? It’s fun.

    • The iPhones had few functions but I still think were the only mainstream photographic devices to really rethink the whole UI in light of modern technology – and that resulting simplicity is what made them so successful as popular cameras. (That, and the whole social media thing and addiction to people looking for third party validation.)

      Even Leica’s M is getting bloated and the controls are messy; they did a good job with the first Q, and presumably a bit better with the Q2 – that’s probably the next step up in terms of control and simplicity. Everybody else is just cramming more features in that either conflict with each other or don’t work as expected and land up missing you the shot – Sony is especially guilty of this. Best seller? Easy – the regular A7; the A7s was premium priced and video focused, and the masses don’t buy ‘only’ 12MP when their phones already have that. The A7R is too much extra cost and other operational overhead (storage, processing) for most – especially when they’re heavily discounting previous generation A7s in most markets to the point that they’re almost cheaper than iPhones.

      I detox with my phone or D3500 and enjoy the lack of weight; I work with whatever tool gets the job done. Sometimes they’re one and the same thing especially when opportunity happens in front of you and in situations you did not anticipate to photograph…

  27. Kristian Wannebo says:

    > “..the right tools for the job”
    Exactly!
    Ming, I still remember when a few years ago you wrote about making a shipyard client happy with photos by a Small Sensor Compact Zoom – for the needed DOF!

    Now there are phone cameras with progressive artificial distance blur!
    It seems it can look so OK, that one may forgive some artifacts.
    ( Some examples on:
    https://www.dearsusan.net/2019/05/22/has-huawei-made-an-otus/ )
    – – –

    I’m quite happy with my Canon M5, no mirror slap or shutter shock, plenty good enough and with good ergonomics and haptics plus a wide choice (including EF) of lower cost good enough lenses.
    ( But *all* metering modes are somewhat biased to the focus point which makes me use it only in manual mode.)

    I can live with missing some things.
    But what might really tempt me is IBIS + built in Sensor Tilt in a crop sensor camera.

    Canon has a patent for that.
    I wonder if that’s the reason for the somewhat longer flange distance of the R mount – which also made the M mount incompatible.?

    • Admittedly the absolute possible bar was lower then, but again – the idea came first, then the composition, then the execution – nothing more, nothing less. I’d probably do it with M4/3 today or compose differently.

      Tilt + IBIS: I’d love to have this together with shift; I suspect it would require a much larger mount to support larger image circles to be viable.

  28. Michael Fleischer says:

    Ups…left out the last sentence. So as you suggest – no real daring innovations but important (in my case) improvements! Now, if only it had ibis and…. 😉

  29. Michael Fleischer says:

    A great sobering writing as always with many a strong pointers; for one – know what I really need to achieve my ongoing goals rather than falling into the “address my latest self-assumptive ego swellings” mostly triggered by the advertising department! Lately I upgraded from DX D7100 to D7500 (instant cashback) because of several improvements important to me; Autofocus speed/reliability, visibly improved image quality (multiple), independent of orientation focuspoint memory, tilting touchscreen for ease/speed and freedom in shooting style since I now can compose with camera at hip level, better handgrip ergonomic for my hands. Thus mostly improving confidence in system leaving me to concentrate on making the picture with greater ease and now my wife’s got the D7100, we can also explore photography together! 😉

    • But after all that – do you compose any differently? Nothing wrong with changing hardware to something you enjoy using more; I’d actually encourage this. But if the images aren’t making you happier, then something got lost along the way. I know I compose the same whether I’m using my phone or a Hasselblad – the files from the latter are of course infinitely nicer, but they sholdn’t affect my ability to see and translate an idea.

  30. It’s telling that I get more and more jobs despite being “limited” by 16 megapixels and although the guidelines request “at least a 20- megapixel-camera”.

    • That means your clients are seeing the image first and the pixels second – which is how it should be. Ideally, you deliver both, but a big file of a blurry idea is meaningless…

  31. Regarding #3 and #7… any increase in sensor density provides a benefit in resolution irrespective of the lens (see below). That said, better and more expensive lens are being released but are not necessarily needed for higher density sensors.

    This doesn’t seem intuitive but I don’t have the maths or optic knowledge to disprove this. This assertion has been made a few times in technical forums without debate. I’d be interested in feedback though 🙂
    ***********
    System resolution can be broadly shorthanded down to this equation, it isn’t perfect but pretty close.
    tsr = 1/sqrt((1/lsr) ² + (1/ssr) ² )
    Where tsr is total system resolution, lsr is lens spatial resolution, and ssr is sensor spatial resolution.

    So if, for example, we have a sensor that can resolve 100 lppmm, and a lens that can resolve 100 lppmm we get this
    1/sqrt((1/100) ² + (1/100) ² ) = tsr of 71 lppmm

    Leave the same lens on, good or bad, and double the sensor resolution to 200 lppmm

    1/sqrt((1/100) ² + (1/200) ² ) = tsr of 89 lppmm

    You will notice that the system resolution, even in this simplified form, can never resolve 100% of the lowest performing portion of that system, so if a 24MP sensor is returning 80% of the potential of a lens then a 50MP sensor might return 90%, how useful that is in real life is a moot point, but it does illustrate that even the most modest lens will show increased resolution when put in front of a higher resolving sensor.

    • If nothing else – you will see more tonal gradation/ “steps” even if you aren’t getting increased high frequency spatial resolution.

      • Disagree. Higher density sensors require lenses to be optimized for resolution (sharpness) which requires more lens elements to correct for corner sharpness and aberration. These elements basically degrade the light passing through them which diminishes their ability to separate small tonal differences. So even if there are more pixels, these pixels are essentially more “posterized” in terms of color than they are with lower density sensors using simpler lens.

        • I have oversimplified things a bit.

          For a given sensor size:
          – Smaller pixels mean less dynamic range and yes, potentially more posterisation
          – More sampling locations mean potentially higher spatial resolution and tonal gradation
          – Yes, higher pixel density means better lens corrections are required
          – BUT all of this may be offset in improvements brought about in sensor or lens design (complex asphericals, BSI architecture etc)

  32. I jumped from a Canon 5D MKII to a Nikon Z6. This past weekend, my family and I went to a railroad museum. It was relatively dark. The challenge was will have decent results of I only use the 24-70/4 Z and not touch the 35/1.8 Z? All I did was set it on auto ISO (1/25th) and let the IBIS do its magic. During lunch break, I checked (magnified) each photo and all of them are in focus and have zero blur. My mind is blown! BTW, The latest firmware made a whole a lot of difference especially for people shooters. The Z6 is a serious tool! I probably will never buy another camera. BTW, loving your SOOC JPEG Picture Profile!

    • Thanks. As I said though: not many real improvements that result in a change in shooting envelope that actually let you make images that were previously impossible…

  33. The current R&D direction has been optimized to the point of diminishing return. I believe true game changing advances in the technical aspects of photography will come from advances in materials science (for lens and sensor design), in computational capability (e.g. aberration and motion correction and color management) and in methods of presentation and sharing (the prime motivation for the activity). The artistic aspects of photography will largely remain the same.

    • Of all the things you’ve mentioned, presentation and sharing are the only real creative motivators – having a little bit less CA isn’t suddenly going to make a more interesting composition (or motivate me to go out and make said more interesting composition)…

  34. It’s already a few years since you made the joint case here on this site –
    1. that we passed ‘sufficiency’ a long time ago with gear – albeit some innovations are more valuable than others, so some will make a practical difference.
    2. most people would do better to invest in education rather than better/more gear.
    I’m going to guess though that the page view stats for your website show the biggest spikes when you do gear reviews however.

    • Correct on all fronts. It just annoys me that I keep having to say it because people keep asking me when I’m going to review X.

      We can sum up such reviews as:

      1. it’s not bad, but whether it’s good will depend on your personal preferences
      2. all that said, it’s almost certainly got more potential than the operator
      3. no, you don’t need it. 🙂

      • Actually, you should just cut and paste that for each new camera. ;

        • I’ve stopped replying those emails, and there’s even a prominent warning on the contact me page – yet I still get them. In this day and age, how do such illiterate and oblivious people manage to get jobs that allow them the kind of disposable income to buy some of this stuff? The mind boggles…

      • …of course I’m a hypocrite. I ordered the GFX 100 on 23rd May. Will hopefully get it not too long after the launch date. Should be fun. Will get a hi res reminder of my shortcomings, and stronger arms! 😉

  35. raticus says:

    Nikon D3500 and Photolemur. Nice fun factor that. Talking JPEGS.

    • Photolemur?

      • raticus says:
        • raticus says:

          I use Photolemur as an extension on Apple Photos for super easy JPEG editing. Photolemur is owned by Skylum, the makers of Luminar, and it uses Sklylum’s “AI” technology to magically edit the photo. You can use a nice big slider to change the amount applied to the image. Works great, easy, and fun.

          • Personally I prefer something a bit more quantified/consistent, but I can see the appeal…

            • raticus says:

              Agreed, but for snapshots it really does the trick, just gotta use the slider. I also have Luminar, and I get virtually the same result as Photolemur for snaps. The appeal is to just chill on processing and have fun of course. I think all Photolemur does is use the Luminar AI Auto Enhancer Pre-Set and provide the slider to make adjustments, which is good enough for casual shots most the time. For JPEG processing, Apple Photos is nice in the regard you can use multiple extensions. So, if Photolemur is not up to snuff, I can use Luminar or Affinity instead, one stop shopping. That said, this is a JPEG environment (in my opinion). For RAW conversion, gotta go elsewhere, and for that I use DxO Photo Lab. But I’m not doing much RAW converting these days. The JPEGS are in the “good enough” range for me. (But I don’t make a living at this, I’m just an old dawg hobbyist).

              • Personally I’d rather just have one piece of software that can do everything if needed – rather than trying to figure out slider equivalency (especially for things like sharpening etc).

                • raticus says:

                  I agree in regards to RAW processing. For JPEGS I’m much less discerning, and actually hope to not do much processing at all, or very minor adjustments. With Luminar or Photolemur I’m basically just moving the slider around until I like the way the JPEG looks, and then pretty much over it, and even better if I don’t have do any editing at all. For RAW files, at least for Nikon, I really like DxO Photo Lab, the lens modules do a nice job in regards to distortion, vignetting, sharpness, etc. I know for a lot of people, DxO is not a one piece of software solution though. I end up exporting from DxO as a JPEG to Apple Photos for “fine-tuning” where I have all those apps available as extensions. My mission in life lately has been to spend the minimal amount of time processing to get an image I’m happy with, there must be a ratio or definition for this, lol. But…don’t you think the processing aspect is just as bad as the cameras? Just re-reading this post makes me feel embarrassed to hit the Post Comment button….

                  • I’m firmly in the no-editing-JPEG camp – it’s either good enough or far off enough that you’re going to need to go back to the raw file anyway…

                    • raticus says:

                      + 1

                    • The first OOC JPEGs that really impressed me were the ones from my Sony RX100 II and later my RX10.

                      That said, the technology in smartphone cameras is getting so good their image quality is right there with a lot of 1″ sensor models. I feel like some of my smartphone images are even beginning to nip at the heels of m43 purely in terms of technical quality.

                      Note that in the above statement I’m referring to very late-model smartphones like the Samsung Galaxy 8 or newer models. The Xiaomi Mi Mix 2S is also shockingly good.

                    • Smartphone output is very carefully optimised within parameters that are quite different from dedicated cameras: the images need to look good at typical social media sizes, for viewing on other mobile devices simply because this is how the vast majority of images are consumed. It is highly unlikely that people are going to process those images at 100% on a computer; that’s sort of the antithesis of the whole convenience argument. Effectively, there’s a lot of oversampling going on in normal output – and coupled with computational photography, there’s an advantage M4/3 and 1″ can’t touch. However – if you look at phone files at 100% – it’s not even close; even if you compare the best phone output with the ropiest M4/3 stuff. 1″ is much closer, but there’s still a difference the minute you move away from good light. Color accuracy especially leaves a lot to be desired, as does pixel-level acuity. But notice how both don’t really matter if you’re viewing a 12MP image at 1-2MP size, and on a device with unknown or limited gamut and a file that’s already been lossily compressed.

                      The bigger question however is – is the phone good enough? I’d say yes, under a lot of circumstances but not all. Who’d have thought the sufficiency threshold would move this far downwards?

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