At the risk of losing your customers…

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Build it and they will come…for a while, and then it becomes an antiquated and cancerous white elephant. First published in the May issue of Medium Format Magazine.

Advance doom and gloom warning: If the photographic industry continues in its current trends (turning spec sheets up to 11; increasing launch prices then decreasing them dramatically over a product’s lifecycle; being inconsistent/imbalanced with design intent – tiny bodies, enormous lenses; ever shrinking ‘incremental’ improvements between generations; poorly implemented software UI/UX; launching of what is basically beta hardware; influencers who produce rubbish images but have large numbers of “followers” “likes” etc.) – expect to see some serious contraction and consolidation soon. In fact, the hard financial numbers suggest this has already begun. The reasons why are not rocket science, but pretty much every company is acting like a paralysed ostrich hoping that if they continue as they have been and pretend it’s all okay, it will be. It won’t, and the ones who survive are going to need to find some cojones.

Putting aside today’s giant startups that seem to survive on never-ending musical chairs of debt raising, a traditional business needs only one thing to survive: a recurring income stream greater than operating and production costs. For hardware, this means selling the same or greater volume every year, and ensuring costs change proportionally. Sustainability can mean profitability but it can also mean a nice equilibrium between investor return, reinvestment into R&D for future products, and increasing value to the end customer in other ways that might not be directly product-driven: education, for instance. As a business grows, more investors are brought in or the company goes public or gets absorbed into something else. Fundamentals shift a bit: instead of having to be sustainable to the few core stakeholders, the business must now be competitive within the rest of the corporate family. The people managing and running the business often have no real interest or knowledge of the product, so marketers and consultants are hired, and frankly – they have no clue either*. The management has personal interests (read: bonuses, salary) tied to performance of the company, and with temporary contracts and little incentive to take massive risks – they do more of the same that’s maybe worked in the past. If not, push it harder and hope nobody notices that the emperor is naked.

*I was recently consulted by a famous consulting firm for a client in the imaging business, and it was exceptionally frightening not just how little the famous consulting firm knew, but how blindly slavish they were to their (completely incorrect) views – lord only knows how they came to those conclusions in the first place.

We now have risk-averse decisions being made on poor, incomplete, or worse – outright incorrect information. This translates into only incremental improvement in product: 10% more resolution, 15% more fps, maybe another stop of usable sensitivity and dynamic range. Yet technological advancement in ‘conventional’ development routes is now stagnating: we simply aren’t seeing the generational improvements that happened at the beginning of consumer digital; the kind of thing which really did justify upgrading to every generation. The jump between say a D200 and a D700 was something of the order of three or more stops of shooting envelope, and fixing fundamental limitations of the previous generation. We don’t have that anymore. Going from a D810 to a D850 is a bunch of small incremental upgrades that make a clearly better product, but unless you need all of that capability – you’re going to get more joy from your photography by spending that $3,500 elsewhere; say on an exotic trip where you actually use the camera to make pictures. (I realise this is a novel idea for many; how else can there be so much mint second hand equipment with sub-500 shutter counts?). Going from a D850 to a Z7 is a bit more of a big deal because of size and stabiliser, but even then: pair it with the wrong lenses and the first advantage goes; stabilisers don’t stop moving subjects, either.

I think you can see how the justification gets smaller and smaller. And as prices for upgrades increase, more of the consumer market will simply drop out because there are more important things to spend money on, or even if the free cash is there: the desire isn’t.

I’m going to repeat the important bit: the desire isn’t. Given how much of the industry is now driven by consumer sales, and not necessity (professional, industrial, scientific etc) – this factor continues to get underestimated again and again by every camera company. The ‘best’ we get is some sort of conferral of status by association – “I shoot with brand X and so do other known photographers/influencers/selfie-masters, therefore I must be great too”. Whilst social pressure is a great driver of desire, it isn’t going to be enough when the product itself does not have mainstream recognition or appeal. A Rolex is desirable for most watch dilettantes because other people know it’s a Rolex; you can’t say the same of say a D850 vs a 5DSR. Those products carry little to no social status value beyond “I have a car” as opposed to “I have a Ferrari”. Notice how the proper noun replaces the category noun.

What does carry some weight is a) recognisability and therefore b) difference. The former makes social value easy to confer. The latter creates a self-pull factor for the product that draws customers because the product offers a different experience to either what they’re used to or the majority of the rest of the market. This is important: when an activity is no longer a necessity – hobby photography, in this case – then you’re only going to do it if you enjoy it. Once over the initial excitement of the new, you’re going to either be the kind of person who doesn’t bother once the activity becomes boring and predictable, or you’re going to try and change things up a bit by changing subject, skill, or the process (read: hardware and beyond). We buy stuff because we’re bored.

As a hardware maker, you’re only going to keep selling stuff if you can offer something different. The tangible difference in spec-chasing is getting smaller and less tangible; the experience of using therefore has to be different. And not beta-test different: when the hardware is frustrating, the experience is frustrating, and you’ve lost the customer – in this day of instant gratification and attention deficit disorder, probably for good, too. I can’t blame Zeiss for taking their time with the new ZX1; one can only hope the shooting experience is properly resolved and the UI smooth enough not to be intrusive. But at least it’s an intelligent attempt at streamlining workflow and actually changing the way we experience the whole photographic process. Different does not have to mean difficult or frustrating; frankly, given how much computing power we have now, it should mean better, more controllable and easier to understand.

I suspect the popularity of cameraphones is not just due to convenience and being the device you most often have to hand; it’s compounded by the ‘good enough’ factor, and the actual rethinking of controls to take into account what you can change given hardware limitations and what matters photographically: tap here to focus, slide up and down to make darker or brighter is honestly genius. Leave the AI to sort out what the aperture, shutter speed and ISO should be; the device can use its accelerometers and pattern recognition of subject to determine what’s moving, by how much and how much shutter speed you need. It becomes easy to make a good image; easier still because the screen is large enough to compose well on. Yet every single touch UI on every single “proper” camera is utterly rubbish and confusing by comparison. Why? At least some companies are trying to make the experience different, even if this needs some work (Sigma).

On top of this, why does the physical form factor have to be the same? Almost everything is now a derivative of one of two types: the compact box which is a collapsing lens with a screen on the back and cramped, limited button controls on one side, or a DSLR-type. Even the things that don’t have to be; why do we need to have the EVF over the mount centreline when placing it to the left or inclined would prevent nose-focus? Why do all controls have to be hard mapped, instead of allowing the user to customise? Even more stupidly, why can some buttons only activate some custom functions and not all? This kind of thing is rife amongst all manufacturers. I’ve held senior positions within the industry and many more advisory ones. I’ve seen the inside of most photographic hardware outfits, and I’ve also seen the torn paralysis of indecision between real innovation and playing safe; inevitably playing safe tends to dominate. I also now have the benefit of being associated with no company, and the freedom to speak my mind. But if you do things that have already been done – how can you possibly expect a different (i.e. better) outcome? That’s sheer stupidity. And I know what we’re seeing now is not because it can’t technically be done: it’s because nobody has the balls to do it (or, you do, and the group above you decides to repeat history because they are afraid of an uncertain bonus outcome). So, to the camera company CEOs: remember consumers are fickle and vote with their wallets. Grow a pair, and you’ll probably be rewarded for it. MT

Coda: after writing this, I found an article online supporting my hypothesis from slightly different lines that makes me think I’m not the only one with this point of view…

First published by the author in Medium Format Magazine, May 2019.

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Comments

  1. The most interesting part about your article is that the camera companies have the text book business example staring them right in the face. Smart phone sales started to flatten in 2014 and by 2016 people were asking if this was the end of the Apple and Samsung growth period. Did the tech giants sit back and watch their market start to dry up? No. They went to the drawing board, asked themselves where the new frontiers were, and pushed forward with computational photography. Now the value of the smartphone market is up 40% and quite a bit of that is driven by them pushing the boundaries on phone photography. Alas, it seems the camera giants have no interest in learning or changing.

  2. The Japanese are hierarchical and that leads to some real dumbass ideas.
    Most manufacturers have snafus:
    Pentax with their K01 and Q series…
    Canon EOS R without IBIS
    Nikon Z7 series without functional battery grips

    Seriously, all I needed was a D750 with no AA filter and IBIS….
    Would have sold by the truckload…

    • I don’t think those were snafus…the K01 was an experiment, the Q did reasonably well in the domestic market and was never intended as an international export. The Z7 is probably the best camera Nikon has made yet – and think about it, why would you want to do small+light as a concept but then shoot yourself in the foot? The R…okay, I admit that one has me stumped.

  3. Reading your review on the XF10 made me reconsider the camera as an uncamera alternative despite what I have seen written about the camera elsewhere. And that brings me ot the point that social media / marketing is also to blame for the decline in the camera industry. Every review I’ve read or seen slams the AF of the XF10, noting that it is “unusable”. And yet you state that it is “good enough”. And you are a professional photographer. I wonder what’s really going on.

    Consider the XT100. Every reviewer slams the fact that the mic cable partially obscures the screen when it faces to the front. A random Brit photographer decides to test it as his first vlogging camera and he notes the same problem – and then points out the built-in solution. The LCD can be popped out from the main support frame allowing the cable to be threaded between the screen and the suport frame. So why did all those pro-reviwers miss that?

    I’ve seen simlar comments on the LCD of the G80. Only one teenager showed how to get around it. And again the “pros” didnt pick it up. They just regurgitate the smae talking points; over and over again, suggesting to their viewers that they only way around these “problems” is to spend more money. Or hire a teenager to show you how.

    But what if you do not always have the money to spend? Do you rue the day you ever bought your current camera, wishing you could upgrade every year because of FOMA?

    Not having the budget I would like at this point I’m forced to wait several years between upgrades. Which is a good thing as I always have a pick of used, out of date cameras to choose from. And wow – won’t the upgrade (X100 – X100F, for example) be awesome! IMO, a five-year product cycle would be worth it, but companies that chase short-term profits by hiring financiers, CEOs and Influencers, instead of engineers, do not care about their customers (Boeing, I’m looking at you).

    • I think the bottom line is hardware these days is so capable that it’s hard to buy something truly bad, only equipment that doesn’t work for the way you do. Even then…what is considered a deal breaker now would have been overlooked not that long ago.

      What’s going on is a) marketing dollars at work; b) a lack of knowledge on the part of the consumer leading to uneducated purchasing decisions – or let’s say “safe” in the opinion of “experts” – and the fear of being different. Not good all round, both for the industry and one’s own happiness – and by extension, creativity.

  4. Nice article, Ming.

    However, if I may observe that you start out identifying the problems of consumernomics and allude to the limits of the “grow or die” ethos of capitalism, then suggest that growth lies elsewhere.

    Photography has been in and around my entire life. My father gave us bellows rangefinders as kids, a Canonet when I was about 10 and I bought my first SLR (a Nikon FE) when I was 21. These were all secondhand, and used until they died. The FM2 and other cameras which followed (new) were all refinements of a mature system, bought not due to improved technology, but because my previous camera was broken or just worn out.

    Would I be happy with a digital FM2? Actually, yes.

    Digital has long reached a point of diminishing returns. What bothers me is the growing pile of useable or repairable electronic goods cast aside for the latest upgrade – it’s unnecessary. So, my reservations over your excellent analysis is not the identification of the problem, but the solution. You seem to want to fuel the consumernomics fire with fresh product and innovative thinking, when it is the capitalist model which has reached its peak and needs rethinking.

    I’m not a 1970s survivalist. The future can be bright, but not through trying to re-prime a pump which is running out of fuel. I have more cameras than I need, but I like them and hope to be using them the rest of my days. Is there a technological development that will push me to add to my embarrassing pile of lenses and bodies? No, because my photography is driven by functional need not available technology. I just hope some one will realise that my cameras are worth repairing when they need it.

    • Yes and no – what’s missing from both my article and your interpretation is a rate of change metric. The film era took 100+ years to reach peak and come down; digital is there in barely 20. 100 can be considered pretty sustainable in the grand scheme of things, and long enough to achieve a steady state as the lifetime of the users and devices is about matched.

      I don’t want to fuel consumernomics at all: I’m saying exactly the same thing as you. There are very few good reasons to upgrade; repairability and lifespan are both getting shorter on purpose because that’s not profitable. From a purely economic/ company survival point of view, you can’t keep doing the same thing and expect growth as the market saturates – that’s all. If you want to maintain and sustain your volumes – not even grow them – innovation is still going to be required.

    • A digital FM2? I think that camera ( or at least its closest likeness ) is a Fuji XT-2/3.

      I have both. Almost the same size and with the same controls and haptics.

      • I thought so, but then I bought the X-T1 and found it far too fiddly. You can’t avoid the menu system in operation, which is what makes the two control paradigms incongruous and unintuitive…

  5. Richard Bach says:

    Thanks for giving us some insider POV on this, Ming. I ponder these points often myself. My long winded thoughts on these points:

    Why do manufacturers pay so many design concessions to older designs, without taking the better points? Case in point: pretty much any camera with that stupid prism shaped hump and no prism. On that note, why are EVFs almost always centered? At least Fuji seems to merge past with present in a well thought out way…

    Why are camera releases so incredibly incremental while keeping so many of the faults from the past? Case in point: Sony A9ii. At least they aren’t making the design fundamentally worse… (Ahem, Fuji X-Pro3 concept)

    Why can’t any manufacturers outside of the Big 2 execute properly? Case in point: Sony STILL uses compressed raw in certain situations, Fujis are still frustratingly slow/wierd despite such well designed bodies. Oh and X-Trans…

    Why are manufacturers releasing so many next-to-useless showoff products before missing useful products? Case in point: Half the Canon RF lenses, that silly f0.95 Nikon lens.

    On that note, who decided that pros exclusively use fast lenses, especially big ones? Case is point: pretty much every high end Sony lens, Canon RF lenses.

    Why does the industry seem less interested in unique products that don’t fit a particular paradigm? Perhaps we have the gift of hindsight on this, but it looks like in the past manufacturers were much more on board with niche products: Mamiya’s 6×7 rangefinders, Hasselblad’s mini technical cameras, Fuji’s 6×17 rangefinders, compact cameras of all weird and strange sorts, the list goes on…). Case in point: every single compact camera looks almost EXACTLY the same.

    And, my final pet peeve that I believe is truly crippling the industry:

    Why can’t manufactures design for ONE user base rather than attempt them all at once? Why can’t something be strictly pro or strictly consumer? Case in point: The X-Pro series (NOT really a camera meant for pros, but stuffed with features that dilutes its admittedly cool initial design)

    Of course these are all rhetorical questions. It seems like manufacturers are happy with churning out the same old stuff, overthinking specs and underthinking ergonomics and user experience. If there is any positive I take way from this state of affairs is this: I feel happy with my outdated gear. If my gear works for me, keep it and don’t overthink it. The days I’m not so sure we can expect improvement on our older models. I would still be using my D700 if it had just bit more resolution…

    • I don’t have good answers for any of these things. There are enough changes that need o be made that parts amortisation can’t be the only motivation; and there probably aren’t enough people who want the bragging rights of a $8,000 MF Nikon 50/0.95 to justify the cost of developing and making it – but then again, maybe there are.

      Niche products were cheaper to develop in the past, in all fairness – film transport etc is much cheaper to develop than sensors and image processing chips. Maybe it’ll change in future when the sensors are volume-driven enough to be somewhat commoditised, and general use processors fast enough not to require FGPAs or dedicated single purpose chips. Perhaps this is a way out…

    • From the several adverse references to Fuji, I get it that you don’t like them. That’s fair enough, but there are many who do, X-Trans and all. Chacun à son goût.

      • In all fairness, I don’t like them either – but occasionally they do put out a surprising product (XF10) or a really good value one (GFX50R).

      • Richard Bach says:

        Terry: I like Fuji, I use a Fuji camera and a few lenses. But I pick on them for being the brand that always seems so close to making a truely great camera, but they always have something weird about them that make them less than a sum of their parts. Perhaps I need to vent my frustration with my own equipment somewhere too 🙂

        • Richard, that’s fair enough. I now know that your comments are validated as a Fuji user. The perfect camera doesn’t, and never will, exist, so we find the closest that matches what we want. I know that there are many Fuji users that have absolutely no problem with the X-trans sensor, and many other individuals who pixel peep and complain, and probably haven’t ever used one. I like Fuji colour rendition, especially, Hi-Neg, and they are the only camera I’ve owned where I can happily shoot jpeg in conditions where I know there will be absolutely no advantage in shooting RAW.

          • With the earlier X-trans cameras, there’s really was no advantage to shooting RAW as the shadows would have no more recovery than the jpegs – in that sense the Jorge were really excellent because they got the most out of the sensor and managed to translate that to output, but you soon ran out of recovery headroom. The new cameras are a bit better, but ironically their best cameras remain Bayer-based.

  6. “Frankly, I resent the tone and implications of this entire paragraph.”

    Interesting that you took my suggestion of taking on a new challenge as a criticism. In America, investors and markets tend to support individuals with the vision and tenacity (Steve Jobs among many others) to make change when the bell of opportunity rings. From my vantage point, if you were not an investor in Hasselblad, your perception of rejection from “idiots (my interpretation of your dialogue”) suggests you were perhaps overly committed -emotionally attached to your own perception of correct outcomes. You obviously know your own limitations in a startup to see your visions through, and you assert that you know the limitations of others.

    I would say that until you one is in the driver’s seat of an entire company and have to make appropriate decisions for a company’s future, your criticisms are akin to those of bloggers who get it into their mind that they know better than a board of trustees, investors, and managers. Perhaps you do know better, but the best way to placate the desire to assert superiority is to start your own company with your vision. I am sure there would be more pleasure in those outcomes if you take the risks and see it through, than biting at the tail of those who didn’t see things as you do.

    Unfortunately, our society tends to try to find fault and pull down leaders on a whim, as if this is part of their bill of rights. Social media makes this type of dialogue possible and fashionable- however, we spend so much time criticizing others when if we had cojones to start our own ventures, we would find how many factors must be considered to make decisions.

    I am sure you are a great designer and would be able to provide winning solutions for cameras and accessories. But unfortunately, you are not it a position to push for change in companies.

    None of the above is a criticism but my take on business after 40+ years of investing in companies.

    Thanks for your insight on other subjects.

    • 1. Investing isn’t the same as actually doing.
      2. Don’t assume somebody hasn’t done something because you don’t know about it, and in more than one industry.
      3. “In America”, your “investors and markets” a) caused the 2008 financial crash by overvaluing subprime bonds; b) elected Trump; c) and bought into worthless overvalued IPOs such as Uber and WeWork. What do I know?

      “Unfortunately, our society tends to try to find fault and pull down leaders on a whim, as if this is part of their bill of rights. Social media makes this type of dialogue possible and fashionable- however, we spend so much time criticizing others when if we had cojones to start our own ventures, we would find how many factors must be considered to make decisions.”
      Perhaps you should re-read your comments.

    • Man, as an American, I wouldn’t get on a high horse about what our “investors and markets tend to support” given that the state of our country, economy, and general quality of life for anyone but the 1% is in shambles. Our “investors and markets” (and our general unfettered-capitalism-is-amazing way of thinking) supports bloated, terrible companies and business practices like Amazon, Walmart, etc. Everything about the free market and “American dream” that everyone repeats is, frankly, bullshit. Our market and investors support underpaid, exploited labor and the idea that its fine for companies to avoid paying taxes since they “create jobs” (what they actually do is take jobs and replace them with worse ones and soak up the benefits of difference).

      Ming has not only been on the other side of the fence, unlike LITERALLY ANY OTHER CAMERA-RELATED BLOGGER ON THE INTERNET THAT I KNOW OF, but also has every right as a consumer to launch criticism. Saying “start your own venture” in reply to a critique of a major market is part of how we got where we are in America – as if anyone can start a business because of “capitalism”, or that they have no right to ask (or legislate) another one to change.

      We also literally have someone who was considered a “successful” businessman in the White House and it’s been one of the worst tenures of any president in history. Note that, in America, you can be considered successful if you actually have a net loss of billions over time and bankrupt five times over.

  7. “and the ones who survive are going to need to find some cojones”.

    Are you venturing any educated guesses as to those who will and will not survive? I for one think Leica and Olympus are both at risk, whereas Nikon, seemingly the most vulnerable – likely will have necessary support from Mitsubishi, though I see a merger of Nikon and Fuji a potential outcome. Leica has a clear following, but pressures to increase prices (as with other notable competitors) will hurt it in the long term.

    “I certainly notice that the 24MP Z6 produces more pleasing images than the Z7 at similar output sizes in very low light”.

    So are you saying that from a purely image quality standpoint, is 24MP the best choice? Having stayed with 36MP, I find it reasonable for large prints without notable loss of quality due to noise etc. Do you have any opinion of the combination of 24MP camera output and AI software results to upscale and produce top quality prints > 30″ x40″? I don’t see the Z series as having more accurate colors in any event, and the D850 seems somewhat off to me as well. Sony color is not for me either, whereas I still see the Leica Q2 as having more pleasing colors, for the most part, reds and some blues exceptions).

    “and the ones who survive are going to need to find some cojones”.

    Though you complain vociferously about what managers are unwilling to do, what will cojones get you if you are limited by technology to revolutionize camera interface and usability? Are you knowledgable of technology that would change the tide in diminishing sales? And with diminishing sales comes less in R+D allocation. Start a newco with the revolutionary technology – perhaps you or others you know have the ability to pull this off. I hear aggravation with former employers rather than a clear, defined vision of what the future could be. Rather than complain, do something about it, it seems to me.

    Here are the areas I think manufacturers have to some extent failed us (given my current and likely limited knowledge):

    1. Reasonably priced products that will replace the resolution/contrast outcomes one can obtain by 4×5/8/10 film including tilt/swing technology (assumes the best scanners). (Canon 50MP camera with their Tllt/Swing lenses (5) doesn’t quite get there.)

    2. Sleek, lighter, more compact, high tech, high MP cameras (like the Q2) that will provide a less expensive travel camera to complete with I-Phones. Fuji x100F is a piece of garbage as to functionality, lens is slightly too slow and needs a replacement to improve acuity, and I have had 2 of these with defects. Xpro-3 looks nice but is heavier and predecessor and the Fuji lenses, with a few exceptions, are not up to par with Leica or Nikon for that matter. And, these are APS-C . Where are the full frame models to get us what we are desiring.

    So I am not asking you to expose cutting edge tech, but if you have something really worth while, there are lost of investors looking for opportunities to change the world.

    • Leica will survive because there are always going to be people who want status over capability.
      Olympus will continue along until the medical division stops subsiding them.
      Nikon, ditto – replace medical with semiconductor.
      Canon – is still somewhat self-sustaining
      Sony – until their execs decide they’re bored and change tact (phones, computers, I’m sure plenty of other things, too).
      Fuji will likely survive independently for being different.

      And all are at risk of being bought for other reasons – DJI-Hasselblad branding, for instance.

      “So are you saying that from a purely image quality standpoint, is 24MP the best choice?”
      No, unless you are shooting ONLY in very low light.

      “Do you have any opinion of the combination of 24MP camera output and AI software results to upscale and produce top quality prints > 30″ x40″?”
      Upscaling is getting better, but it can’t accurately ‘see’ what was there if the information was never recorded.

      “I don’t see the Z series as having more accurate colors in any event, and the D850 seems somewhat off to me as well. Sony color is not for me either, whereas I still see the Leica Q2 as having more pleasing colors, for the most part, reds and some blues exceptions).”
      Each seems to be sticking to their ‘house’ color, though Nikon is slowly drifting towards more neutral. All need profiles to be accurate, though in Nikon’s case it’s a tonality thing, not an absolute color accuracy one. Sony blues remain cyan, Leica reds orange, and skin tones too florid.

      “Though you complain vociferously about what managers are unwilling to do, what will cojones get you if you are limited by technology to revolutionize camera interface and usability? Are you knowledgable of technology that would change the tide in diminishing sales? And with diminishing sales comes less in R+D allocation. Start a newco with the revolutionary technology – perhaps you or others you know have the ability to pull this off. I hear aggravation with former employers rather than a clear, defined vision of what the future could be. Rather than complain, do something about it, it seems to me.”

      Frankly, I resent the tone and implications of this entire paragraph. You seem to forget that I DID spend two years at Hasselblad attempting to do just this, and for all of the improvements that I pushed through I’ve received mostly ingratitude, technical support queries, complaints that it wasn’t better (as opposed to the nothing that would otherwise have happened), and worse, pushback from within the company. The limitation wasn’t technology, it was the people.

      And before that, I and several others raised funds, DID try to start a new company to do just that, but Sony refused to sell us sensors; we changed the concept, they refused again. Had they done so the first time, we’d have had a better X1D-equivalent ready in 2015, with interchangeable mounts and Zeiss glass – yes, they came to the table, too. But because they bought all of the third party sensor suppliers, there were no options remaining. You’ll excuse me if I decline to share my ideas here, given that I’ve already tried more than once – and frankly, the photography market will continue dying so long as people are too lazy to educate themselves.

      “So I am not asking you to expose cutting edge tech, but if you have something really worth while, there are lost of investors looking for opportunities to change the world.”
      My limitations weren’t investors. They were economic realities (making your own sensor is commercially unviable) and business ones (Sony won’t sell me sensors).

      • One other pitfall I can think of, regardless of any exhortation to have some kind of “can do” mentality, is that starting a company in a particularly patent-intensive industry is likely to attract all sorts of negative attention from established players and patent troll litigation outfits. Some people (the ones making money from patents) would have you believe that a bit of patenting will get you a seat at the table, but the reality is that you are at the mercy of these other players either way.

        And some investors are quite happy to see an acquisition take place as the eventual outcome, with the technology involved being absorbed into the acquirer and weaponised to deal with the next challenger. Indeed, for some kinds of investors it might be their goal all along. Obviously, none of this is going to help “change the world”, or not at least at the pace one might like to see it happen (and the pace needed to actually keep the incumbents relevant and competitive, perversely).

  8. Lovely article. I’ve always been impressed by the incredible range of subjects you shoot. I was caught up in the gear race for the last 5 years and I am hoping that that has all come to an end. It’s amazing that the industry is in throws of collapse and the keep producing more and more gear that is immediately reviewed on YouTube. Although i have a Sony A9 for studio work with a few GM lenses, I enjoy shooting street with an X Pro1 and Sony RX1. I used to scan film for fashion photographers before the collapse of film. It was swift and ruthless. I think this collapse may be even worse.

    • Thanks. All subjects are fundamentally light, shape and color – everything decomposes down into that.

      The industry is hastening its own demise by pursuing short term numbers over long term education and sustainability – this is what happens when you have execs who understand nothing about the product they’re selling, nothing about the consumer, and are on annual contracts with associated incentives…or worse, owned by people who similarly understand neither product nor use nor consumer, but make arbitrarily decisions on a whim. One can only hope the next iteration will learn from these mistakes – and there will be one, since image production isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

      • You’re spot-on with your thoughts on short-termism Ming. There’s a good reason Germany is such a manufacturing powerhouse – long-term thinking. Look in any small industrial estate on the outskirts of a German village and you’ll find one family-owned company that’s in the top ten companies in the world at whatever they do. This is because the owners are in it for the long run and invest in their businesses instead of making a quick buck and moving on. The corporate world of a new job every 2-5 years only ever encourages short-term thinking. The crazy thing is that the IoD prescribe short term contracts for senior managment as being a good thing!

        • Well, I suppose it does incentivise expediency, but at the cost of sustainability…and certainly doesn’t allow for long range planning. Government is much the same…though given what’s happening in our country, I suppose absolute power does corrupt absolutely…

  9. The problem is smartphones. Just like market for music players are gone, the market for cameras are also gone. They will need to look at the other market segments that smartphone doesn’t address. Fuji Instax addresses one such segment. Maybe there are other areas. We need to look at what do people do with photos after they capture them.

    • Mostly? Share them to social media, which smartphones are much better at doing, and more than sufficient for. Only of late though have we been offered anything more than the standard ‘social-wide’ perspective, though. Some other companies are seeing the potential by accessorising the smartphones (e.g. Profoto’s new video light) but the pricing is way off; there’s no way somebody who’s ‘serious’ won’t bother to spend even a bit of money on significantly better IQ (say, $350 for a D3500) but be willing to spend the same amount on light…that level of education just isn’t going to be there in that kind of consumer.

  10. I was waiting for some time that Olympus upgrades the M5 or M10 to the 20 MP sensor, as a backup camera to my M1II. What came was an M1x brickstone, an M10III with ‘less for more’ . I got aware that the drones now have reasonable good still quality, bought a Mavic Pro 2 this spring and had a lot of fun discovering new views, took some nice shots. The just released M5III is nothing I look at now, especially as no real step ahead (new sensor, handheld high res) is taken.

    • It’s mix and match to maximise economies of scale on components that have probably been already bought. Catch 22, though: the more this happens, the lower the risk appetite, and less budget for R&D, less profit and so on…

  11. Lovely article.
    I only have an E-M1.2 now, yet every now and again I feel blown by the quality of its output . . .

  12. Nice write-up and lots to think about!

    What will be interesting to see is if a company such as Apple decides to wade into the digital camera market, bringing their smartphone tech. with them. As you said, a good UI is a big part of the photography experience, and they already have this in spades.

    Five or ten years from now things are going to look very, very different…

    • There’s also a risk of them oversimplifying it and only addressing the consumer market; whilst most people don’t even know what flash sync is, it’s make or break for a lot of pros.

      Ten years from now, I suspect few of the current brands will still be in business – or kept in business only by ‘legacy’ and the group’s other business units’ subsidies…

    • Actually, Apple did wade into the digital camera market in 1994 with the Quick Take 100, although that was made by Kodak. I think Steve Jobs killed the camera line when he rejoined Apple.
      My start in digital photography started in 1997, when I won a Quick Take 200. From there I went to a Nikon Coolpix 995, a D70, a D300, decided that was much too heavy, so downsized to a P7000 which was a horrible camera. I then discovered Olympus OM-D, tried and bought an E-M10, found IQ similar to the D300 and sold all my Nikon stuff. When I go out photographing, I now carry an E-M10 with something wide angle on it and an E-M10 mk II with something tele on it and I am perfectly happy. The E-M5 mk III seems enticing, but I can wait, till the price drops or one of my current bodies breaks.
      Now, if somehow Apple and Olympus got together and created something with the front side of an OM-D married with the screen side and innards of an iPhone…

      • Actually, if Apple used a larger sensor on the next iPhone, or an even greater array of sensors for an effectively larger sensor – you’re already going to be past the OM-D/iPhone hybrid, I think.

        • Well, that’s an interesting thought. Sensor wise I agree, but you would still miss the ergonomics of a ‘real camera’ body. Perhaps Apple or some other party (Olympus?) could make some grip-with-real-buttons-and-dials gizmo you could slide your iPhone into, but that would not be very practical I think. Nevertheless, things would become even worse for the camera companies, Olympus especially.

          • I don’t think it would make any sense. They’ve already done a good job optimizing and simplifying the UI for the limitations and strengths of the format; why complicate things? And do users really need to have control over other format-specific parameters like how many frames to stack at what shutter speed and interval for noise reduction or HDR, when the company has already spent time researching and optimizing these parameters? Personally, even though I probably know more than most users, I’d rather not have to think about these things if I don’t have to.

            • I agree, and that’s not what I meant. It was literally the body I was talking about. I find smartphones fiddly to hold as a camera. I prefer a body with some grip, with a real shutter release button and some dials to quickly change some settings like exposure compensation (lightness) and shutter speed (motion blur). These could also be controlled from the touch interface of course, so dials are not a must. But a grippier body with a real shutter release button is, in IMHO. And I know you can use the volume control buttons on an iPhone as a shutter release, but they don’t work as nicely as a proper shutter release.

              • I believe some of the android phones actually had a proper shutter button with a half press – agree this would be good, though can largely be circumvented by tap to shoot (which admittedly the iPhone doesn’t have either).

  13. Fuji’s XF10, brought to my attention by your earlier post, strikes me as an unusual example of a company stepping back, setting aside its traditional product thinking, and objectively appraising what the larger market wants. Then providing it – a phone style camera with iPhone-like user interface, but with a 24 MP sensor and a deeply layered, fully functional conventional camera lurking just a click away on the mode dial. My original long-winded comment on this sailed off into oblivion (which sometimes happens after logging into WordPress to submit) so I’ll leave it at that and await your detailed appraisal of the FX10. It’s a lot bigger than it looks.

    • Unfortunately though it is also an example of such a product not doing very well; the GR III got simplified down from II, lost a couple of critical control points and became more ‘consumer’ – and the worse for it. Yet it appears to be doing just fine (note: appears). Neither seem to be having the widespread adoption of the earlier GRs.

      What I published was the appraisal – I’m going to shoot with it now, which should in itself say enough.

      • Seems to me the FX10 was brought to market in a rather low-key manner. Maybe a stealth approach to gauge consumer response without distracting from the main product line. If it survives I’d hope the next iteration offers 24/30 fps video. Threads on the lens surround or some other way to attach an ultra-thin ND filter for video or a polarizer for stills. Neither has to violate the concept of apparent simplicity; the person who doesn’t want them wouldn’t have to know they exist.

      • I thought I was going to use the GRIII for a street camera but in the end my iPhone 11 pro is just as good. The camera appears to be hyper sharp also, almost to the point of being unpleasant. I find no pleasure in looking for the sharpest lens or most out of focus one. It is highly overrated

  14. Thanks for a great article!

  15. You might enjoy the full article.

    Hope I haven’t had too many bad ideas.

    Larry

    L. K. Chesebro

    >

  16. Excellent article. Very thought provoking. You’re absolutely right about the importance of the consumer market. Just like in the movie industry, no-one in Corporate-ville wants to take a risk any more, so they keep on regurgitating the same old themes and content. This is what happens when accountants and financiers get to make all the creative decisions.

  17. “If you can’t see it, it doesn’t matter.” -Ctein

  18. Hi Ming,
    hat the same experiences when the Canon 1D M4 followed the 1D M3, the 40D followed the 30D or the Nikon D4 followed the D3s. I think it´s not new for the companys to make incremental steps forward.
    But if the Viewfinder is your concern, look at Fuji. X-T2 or X-Pro2, X-E3 or X-T20, soon the X-Pro 3 and so on. Always two choices how the Viewfinder and the Body works. Or the new little Sigma having more choices how to set up the FF Camera.
    Look at M4/3, thy offer options Video- or Foto Centered, Retro-Look or more DSLR-Look and so on.
    It´s just Canon and Nikon who don´t innovate and just relying on the Brand Names in my Opinion.

    • Two big differences here: The Fuji viewfinders are fiddly and not very useful in practice. Not better than pure EVF or OVF; I’ve owned several and reverted to one or the other eventually. The Sigmas have always been ergonomically poor or compromised in some other way (e.g. Merrill battery life), so those aren’t practical options either. In both cases, you’re almost forced on focusing on finding solutions to the limitations rather than using their uniqueness to work differently or more creatively, because those limitations simply cannot be ignored.

      On the other hand, the DSLRs at least have continuous and genuine improvements (ignoring rebadging at the low end). There was a significant difference and improvement in the D4’s AF over the D3 series – for the target buyer, this IS something critical and could be professionally make or break under a lot of situations.

      “Look at M4/3, thy offer options Video- or Foto Centered, Retro-Look or more DSLR-Look and so on.”
      This isn’t innovation. This is just copying and trying to fit a round peg into a variety of existing holes. A unique layout or configuration taking advantages of the format and clean-sheet design opportunity would be innovation.

  19. Hi Ming
    Why be frustrated? One can only do what is within your means. I cannot make decision for the top management of camera companies that does not know what their customers want. If the whole industry behaves this way, so be it. What we can do is vote with our wallet. If there are not much improvements in a new camera, just do not buy it. If the price is too high, just pass. We all know most current cameras are more than capable of producing great images, and what the consumer lack is truly the skills to take great pictures. If a few camera companies closed down because of this, do not lament as this is a natural cycle. I, for one is enjoying taking pictures with 5 to 10 year old digital cameras.

    • I’m not frustrated, but I am speaking my mind because I no longer have to care what any of those people think – and before somebody points out I should try and do something, I did.

      But yes, vote with your wallet; the majority of consumers are doing this now, and it’s starting to show in the sales figures.

  20. I think you are exactly right.

    I’m one of those photography hobbyists who has been supporting the photo industry for years. In retrospect my digital cameras from 8- 10 years ago were more than enough for my typical hobbyist photography goals -try and make nice photos, -remember trips, -and remember family events; especially in an age when most viewing is done on 1 or 2 Mpx screens.

    The digital cameras that I’ve bought over the last 6-8 years or so have had a marginal or minimal impact on my ability to meet my photography goals. And of course my ‘buying desire’ was probably driven by my not realizing that camera reviews are done with the sole purpose of getting people excited to buy new cameras.

    Now with increasing prices, very big manuals, convoluted menus and controls, etc. etc. I’m not sure how many new cameras are even ‘fun’ to use, yet alone affordable. This does not seem like the right approach to compete with smart phones.

    If the photo industry was a HBS case study, could they be possibly be more self destructive?

    • “And of course my ‘buying desire’ was probably driven by my not realizing that camera reviews are done with the sole purpose of getting people excited to buy new cameras.”

      This. I don’t know if the rest of the market is only now cottoning on, or they’re running out of interest or money or simply not seeing the differences – but this marketing ship has sailed long ago.

      “I’m not sure how many new cameras are even ‘fun’ to use, yet alone affordable. This does not seem like the right approach to compete with smart phones.”

      Most aren’t. And only now are the ‘review’ sites starting to realise this matters, too. But too little, too late, said by inexperienced hipsters who themselves don’t really understand it.

  21. Ming, your comments re: clueless corporate leadership are spot on. I’m retired from a 34-year career in developing and leading the development of high technology — largely communications networks in my case. In all that time, I’ve seen just one company get the UI right and do so consistently: Apple. (I did not work for Apple.) At most companies, if there is any thought given to the UI, it’s generally done by a “UI committee.” Recalling that a camel is a horse designed by committee, products end up with UIs that are smatterings of this, that and the other. Only Apple had the visionary leadership engaged enough to produce consistently elegant and easy to use interfaces. Steve Jobs had his downsides (among them failure to groom a strong bench of potential successors) but he has been almost alone among corporate leaders for his engagement and hands-on drive. I’ve long felt that much of our corporate leadership malaise is a product of the “manager is a manager is a manager” philosophy espoused by too many MBA schools.

    • I am probably one of the few people who can say something like this without fear of repercussion – I have the experience, I no longer work in the industry, and there is no crossover with what I do now. Yet if somebody doesn’t say it – the industry is pretty much doomed; without change there will be no sales and no revenue and thus – no more business. Sorry HBS, but this time your approach is 100% wrong, and the results show…

  22. Well-thought out premises, with a lot of truth to them!

    Another part of the problem beyond so-high retail prices is so-low residual prices. How can hobbyists afford to pay top buck every couple years when the high-end product they bought two years ago is now worth so little? The excuse that “this is just how electronics work” is self-serving and immaterial. It doesn’t solve the consumer’s problem. Which means each new model iteration with minor feature updates will increasingly only attract the most dedicated of the brand’s fan boys. Which means the companies punish the consumers they depend upon most, at the expense of new greenfield consumers.

    “A Rolex is desirable for most watch dilettantes because other people know it’s a Rolex” A Rolex is still a good watch. More, it retains and increases its residual value. This is a hallmark of lux items. Consumer photo products- including Leica digital- whose second hand value plummets so soon- have a hard time claiming to be luxury items, hence an increasingly hard time claiming a premium price.

    “Leave the AI to sort out what the aperture, shutter speed and ISO should be;” It’s trendy for marketing to call mere algorithms “AI,” but unless the algorithms change with usage, they’re just pre-programmed routines, not really AI.

    “Even more stupidly, why can some buttons only activate some custom functions and not all?” As an aside, hobbyists don’t always want things easy, and don’t always like buttons. Fly fisherman go out of their way to make catching fish difficult, and realize all the more reward from it.

    Finally, daring marketing out-takes like the Nikon Df or the Pen-F kind of set a tone: Putting out a bulky, too-large Df where controls are not at all within finger reach like the F’s of old, and then declaring it’s slow acceptance as the market’s not wanting the product, rather than merely as a failed design attempt by cynical product management who thought they could phone it in, nevertheless leaves the market with a gap. Similarly the Pen-F: So much going for it, but bargain bin autofocus for a premium product, and blame the market for not buying it. Many other examples are possible.

    Thank you Ming for pointing out the emperor’s new clothes, or lack thereof.

    • Residuals have been falling rapidly for reasons related to stagnation: there’s simply less drive to upgrade, both for primary and secondary purchasers. In my market we used to see strong (60-70% or more) residuals for flagship models even up to two years after launch; things only really took a hit when the replacements were released. I got back half of the value of my D800s and D810s when trading up to the new model after four years; the D850 barely gets 40-50% and it’s only two years old with no replacement on the horizon. It isn’t DSLRs, either – the Sony stuff is practically worthless the minute you open the box. This despite the internet falling over itself in praise; there is simply a lot of hot air and no real buying because there is no reason to do so!

  23. Great article. Brings to mind the recent Sony a7RIV/A9II releases. Both incremental updates at higher costs, with some things that should have been there to begin with (weather-sealing on the a9). The a7r4 with its 61MP sensor seems like a bigger upgrade, but the reality is it doesn’t really bring that much to the table beyond that increase of (the already sufficient for 99.99% of people) megapixels and some nicer AF features that will benefit 1% of photographers. I don’t shoot Sony, and this kind of stuff is one reason (along with the general unpleasantness of using them).

    Or the Fuji XH1/XT3 debacle – releasing a bigger bodied flagship camera with IBIS but the same small battery and then six months later a cheaper camera with a new sensor, superior video features, and better AF.

    I want to see more risks. I want a new Nikon Coolpix A, maybe a full-frame compact Nikon. I want a compact camera with a 40/45/50mm lens. I actually like some of the Canon compacts, at least from the little I’ve used them. I’d be awesome if they made a pocketable 28mm compact.

    As much as the Zeiss ZX1 isn’t for me at all – I prefer to do editing on a large computer screen – I absolutely admire and respect what they’re doing with it, because it’s something new and has features that would likely appeal to a lot of people who enjoy using smartphones and touchscreens. What I’d really like to see from them is a hybrid OVF/EVF rangefinder type camera (a la X-Pro or X100), but that’s just me.

    Point being: I want exciting and new designs that take chances, as opposed to constant spec sheet updates. There is plenty of exciting tech out there just waiting to be perfected (Foveon, organic sensors, global shutters). *Those* are the types of internal changes that I’d get excited about. Oddly, Sigma seems to be doing more than most in this regard – Foveon tech and their new Fp with no mechanical shutter. The Fp strikes me as rather half-baked based on some of the interviews with Sigma folk I’ve read, but at least they’re trying.

    • Except 47 -> 61MP isn’t that much of an improvement in absolute resolution, but the pixel level quality suffers as a result. Net result: except under ideal conditions, no improvement. I certainly notice that the 24MP Z6 produces more pleasing images than the Z7 at similar output sizes in very low light; oversampling doesn’t doesn’t appear to be compensating for the smaller pixels.

      I actually thought Nikon had a good idea going with the 1 series, but failed to market and implement it properly. Not a lot of IQ delta to M4/3, but significant size savings. Yet the people who would understand these limitations and find them useful aren’t the people the camera was marketed to – a crowd who barely knows how to use a smartphone camera.

      The ZX1 seems to be continuously delayed: is it Zeiss tweaking and getting things 100% right, hardware limitations, or worse, cold feet? We haven’t seen any new lenses from them lately to capitalise on the growing mirrorless market of Nikon and Canon users – even re-mounted Batises would be welcome – instead, much silence. It has been the case all along, but I suspect the board is finally noticing that the photographic division is simply a tiny drop in the bucket compared to medical, scientific and semiconductor (already it was less than 10% in 2015 when I was working with them).

      Bottom line is we all want to see new designs – stuff we might actually buy – as opposed to minor rehashes we definitely won’t. Surely that’s less of a risk than the current path?

      • You would certainly think it would be less of a risk than what most are doing now. The a7R4 is just a 15% linear increase in resolution and of course all negative properties that come with that (pixel integrity, as you mention, shutter speed restrictions, diffraction onset, storage/computing power). I’d say the greatest update of that camera is the 5.75m dot EVF (or whatever number it is) and better weather sealing that should’ve been there two generations ago.

        Something is definitely going on with the ZX1 and I’m honestly not sure what it would be exactly. The reception was not exactly enthusiastic at the size and price point of it.

        I really thought we’d at least see some rehoused Loxias from them by now. If Techart can reverse engineer the AF protocol that quickly, surely Zeiss can as well – for the Loxias they wouldn’t even have to do that much. If they said “hey we want to make entirely new designs to take advantage of the mount” that’d be cool too, but like you say, not a peep either way. At least the Nikon S lenses are so incredibly good.

  24. The recent announcement from Imaging Resource that they’re likely to be closing down the site after over 2 decades of continuous publication, and the reasons given, echo your sentiments here, Ming.

    I confess that I’m part of the equation. I reached my personal nirvana with the Fuji X-Pro 1 and X-E1. Assuredly the later Fuji models are very tempting, but I’ve got to the point of really asking myself do I really need any of them. And the answer is, no. I was an early adopter of Sony’s A7, but no longer use it and have not purchased any new camera since. Perhaps perversely, what I do now is expand my film camera collection, although I no longer shoot film!

    • So long as we recognise these things for what they are – collectibles vs tools – that’s fine. But the internet vitriol that’s spilled fighting over a feature that does not matter to a skilled creative professional is shocking…and the fact that marketing ‘professionals’ and brands actually believe these differences sell cameras is even more shocking.

  25. Kristian Wannebo says:

    I just stumbled (coincidence?).over this quote in an other blog:

    „Die reinste Form des Wahnsinns ist es, alles beim alten zu lassen und zu hoffen, das sich etwas ändert.“
    Albert Einstein

    [ “The purest form of madness is, to leave everything as it is and to hope that something will change.”
    (my translation)]

  26. This ist a perfect analysis in my opinion. I remember the announcement of the Nikon Df, and especially that I was SURE, they would implement a proper screen for manual focusing. They could even have LEFT AF completely – I would have been sold and I am pretty sure the Df would’ve become a “legend”.
    I am still sure that someone at Nikon suggested MF only, but that others in CEO area just didn’t have “the balls”.
    The popularity of film nowadays isn’t just a hipster thing, well, IMHO, it’s also a desire for slowing down and letting things happen most of us cannot control completely while taking the shot. Being able to save nearly every bad picture in post made me finally return to my Minolta x300 and a digital Fuji compact (x20).
    And by the way, to me it is obvious, that social media is feeding the industry, otherwise many companies would’ve taken the “Minolta road”.
    Thanks for this superb article.

    • And the thing with the Df is a small, reversible, low risk change (interchangeable or aftermarket focusing screens) could have been a way to test that idea without killing the demand for that product completely if it turned out to be wrong. The aftermarket stepped in to fill this gap because there was clearly a demand. It didn’t even have to be MF only.

      It’s entirely possible to shoot a digital camera slowly, too – but that requires a lot of discipline not to get distracted by all the bells and whistles…

      • You are certainly right. I made such an experience when I had a Sigma DP3 Merrill. I enjoyed it very much. Unfortunately, my discipline.., well, I am even still smoking…

  27. As a person who helped to build some technology start-ups from ground up, it never stops to astonish me how little many senior executives know what they are managing, both internally about the people, business or externally about the market. When these people come onboard, the companies lose their soul and become mediocre

    • Often the exes are either dumped in by investors for the purpose of oversight, but either get their brief changed or that oversight becomes mandatory rather than recommended.

  28. GD Morris says:

    You seem a little angry. I don’t think the people who make decisions about – in this case cameras – are doing the things they do to make people angry. They are just as stuck and at a loss for new ideas as you believe they are. There’s a reason for this.
    I bought a new car this past summer (USA summer) for the first time in 10 years. The old car was OK-enough (a 2010 Ford Escape) that I did not feel compelled to spend the money. But the old thing broke down and we had a loaner car that was brand new. What a difference 9 model years made! So after careful research and watching a few YouTube videos I ordered a Subaru CrossTrek (I don’t know what it’s called in the rest of the world). It’s a nice enough car with lots of tech (which I have no idea how to work since the manual is larger than a bible and at nearly 68 my attention span isn’t what it used to be).
    So a month after getting the car the wife is driving us to the Grand Canyon for a getaway and she’s complaining about the traffic not moving particularly fast (we’re driving up Interstate 17 north out of Phoenix where we live). I point out that despite all the lovely new tech stuff packed into this little car we’re still going from point A to point B in much the same manner as the Romans went from point A to point B… on a dumb roadway. The Romans had no sensors to control car movement and 2000 years later, we don’t either (there’s sensors that tell a highway agency computer where slowing is and you can see that on your phone but the trip will not be accelerated; just better informed).
    Today’s trip on a highway is not unlike a trip 2000 years ago. All the tech now built into cars is handicapped by – in this case – by an infrastructure that has not kept pace. In the camera world it seems that apart from the tremendous leap forward from film to silicon, there really isn’t too many more leaps to be had. What are you expecting? It took Edwin Land 10-20 years to get a photo to appear 60 seconds after being taken. Today you can see the image BEFORE it’s taken via a mirrorless camera with a decent EVF. You can capture that image and with the right image capture device, in under 60 seconds, you can transmit that image around the world. That’s pretty heady stuff.
    It’s easy to get bogged down about cameras. There’s literally thousands of camera savants arrayed across YouTube dissecting every nuance of every new product. Dynamic Range. EVF Resolution. Single vs. Multiple Card Slots. Frames Per Second. What else do they have to take about (they’re actually an entertaining bunch… hair the size of tumble weeds, in comfortable living rooms, at Brexit marches, etc.)? Not one of these savants has ever posited a NEW IDEA. They haven’t figured out that for all the tech in their new car, they’re still riding on roads similar to the Romans. They’re so savant, they have forgotten Edwin Land.
    For my money, the best new tech that I’ve used this year has to be spell check and MRIs. Camera’s are pretty low on the totem pole. Point. Shoot. Share. What’s there to get angry over.

    • I’m frustrated that we’re increasingly being forced to pay more for things that often don’t work as well, or last as long, and often because of the obsolescence built into the things we bought previously. Paying more for better is perfectly fine, and I’ll be the first advocate of investing in something that genuinely gives you the ability to do something different (be it quantitatively, qualitatively or creatively). The lack of innovation is not for want of suggestions, it’s for fear of being wrong.

      • You’re not “being forced”. There’s no gun to your head making you buy a Sony camera (I pick on Sony because they seem to have the most frequent new product cycle). I like my nearly 3 year old M10 and frankly don’t expect to ever buy another M camera (apart from mildly entertaining buying an M film camera). The only thing I miss in my M10 is the touch screen of the M10P but the trade in value and extra $3KUS after trade in is too expensive for the minor benefit. Ditto for my Leica SL. When the new and mostly assuredly higher pixel SL2.0 arrives, I can assure you I won’t feel forced to update. It will be a choice.

        As for obsolescence that’s been going on since the earliest human days. I’m sure if the internet were available 3000 years ago, there would have been lively discussion and copious reviews by YouTube savants on the benefits of Bronze Age vs. Iron Age axes. The Sony of the day would have introduced a new handle design and the faithful would have gone wild.

        I don’t advocate anyone having cancer. However one of the things it did to me mentally was to slow myself down and detach from some of the self-inflicted pressures of modern life. A lot of things that were so important just aren’t any more. That which is important gets a lot more attention now. I can say with 110% conviction the latest function button on a new camera doesn’t even come close.

        • You’re forced to buy a replacement when the cost-cutting substandard parts put into the old one break, precisely because by that time – the company knows it’ll have a ‘new’ one to buy instead.

          The difference is between “build the best product we can do with the knowledge and technology we have now” vs “build a product that will last until the next one is ready”.

          • I’ll agree with that assessment.
            When I bought a Leica M9 in 2010 which cost $7KUS I asked before hand how long that camera was expected to last. I did not want to spend that kind of money and when it breaks in 2-5 years be expected to buy a new body due to low quality manufacturing. I was told by a Leica representative that they keep parts available for a minimum of 25 years. OK. Since I was about 58 at the time I figured my kids could deal with this since I’d likely be gone by then. The M bodies are pretty sturdy; I’ve only had one break and Leica fixed that promptly under warranty.
            I would not expect that kind of life span from a Canon or Nikon or Sony.

            • Except…they’re now out of spare parts (sensors) for the M9 because they all have corrosion problems; it’s not a question of if, but when. And my experience with Leica has been one of very slow service and repeat visits…no, the Japanese cameras aren’t built with the same materials, but you could buy several for the same price. And they tend not to fail, either.

              • You are 110% correct about Leica service. As for the M9 sensors, they did have a large batch of replacement CCD sensors manufactured by a company other than Kodak (not sure who). They did offer a generous trade in program but that generosity has been reduced in value over the past year or so.
                Good point on the Japanese cameras… if you loved a particular model you could by 3 or just budget a new model every 2 years (except the Sony “A” mirrorless models which seem to be a little more expensive than Canon and Nikon).

                • I was also told by several that the replacement sensor stock is pretty much done, and when those go – that’s the end of it.

                  A D750 has better image quality than an M10, and the ratio is more like 5:1 or 6:1 – admittedly it’s nowhere near as nice in materials, but I’d feel a lot less bad about having to replace it, too.

              • Ming, Leica had the same problem with the M8 sensor. Some years ago a UK user also reported this issue when Leica couldn’t repair his M8. The solution: buy an M9 at a discount. I wonder how he got on if he took up the offer? Did he end up with a corroded sensor?
                No digital camera I’ve ever purchased has had any form of failure, from my first one, a Canon G2 at the end of 2002 and which I kept and is still going strong when I give an occasional outing. Perhaps I’ve been lucky with my cameras as my film GR1, which I purchased when it first came out, has no LCD issues and still works perfectly. But there again, I do look after my gear. They cost money.

                • Well, you’ll get the rights to buy another new one at a discount – which knowing cost structures for these things, you can be sure will still be profitable for them…

                  • Seems like a great business model, doesn’t it? Don’t plan to repair a duff product, just get the gullible owner to buy another. This is not the Leica of old.

  29. Bharat Varma says:

    “Putting aside today’s giant startups that seem to survive on never-ending musical chairs of debt raising, a traditional business needs only one thing to survive: a recurring income stream greater than operating and production costs”

    This ought to be the anthem for all businesses, investors and customers.

    A pleasure to read someone with such clarity of thought. Thank you.

    • I can’t claim to have anything particularly unique in my thinking process – in order for a business To justify its existence, it just needs to add value. How much that value is is down to what the market is willing to pay, and how well the business can explain itself to those potential customers – nothing more, nothing less. This is not to say there is no value in companies like Uber etc – it’s just how they go about quantifying that and building both customer and operational bases that probably could use some work…

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