Join 3,497 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Has the camera bubble burst?
August 12, 2013 12:13 PM   Subscribe

On his excellent blog The Visual Science Lab professional photographer and author Kirk Tuck give his theory for why camera sales are down almost 43% year over year.
posted by lattiboy (77 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
The most interesting part of the article to me was that he didn't just say "smartphones" and call it a day. Yes, they've certainly replaced a LOT of point and shoot cheapo cameras, but the decline in SLRs and mirrorless cameras was also steep.

This bit was by far the most interesting to me:

What's more, the feedback loop of learning about photography from your fellow followers on the web became, more or less, nearly 100% efficient so that any unique and singular vision is copied, disseminated, learned and re-shared in veritable milliseconds. The very hunger for approval fueling the next wave of homogeneous vision in a cruel and immediate way.

This is an excellent explanation for complaints about the abundance of cliché in photography. Something I've been trying to verbalize for a long time.
posted by lattiboy at 12:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


His explanation seems to be that it's because photography as an artform is dying. But I seriously doubt even 10% of photos taken are for art purposes anyway. It's mostly documentation. Looking at this cool thing I'm doing/eating/buying/experiencing.

I have to agree with the first paragraph: It's the smartphones. That is, that's why camera sales are down. But it's also why camera sales can go back up. Smartphones make terrible cameras. You don't need a very fancy camera to take a much better picture than a smartphone.
posted by DU at 12:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


DU, I would generally agree with you, but what Nokia is doing these days changes everything. Check out some samples from the Nokia 1020. Also, a photo-centric review.
posted by lattiboy at 12:21 PM on August 12, 2013


A 41-megapixel sensor doesn't mean a lot if it's still attached to terrible optics.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


Trust me, as a new Fuji X-system owner, the one-upsman pixel peeper is alive and well and telling other people how wrong they're doing it. The focus has just moved on to lenses, CA correction and latitude, and there's a ton of tech yet to be hammered out there. It's just that none of this has trickled down to the entry level. It's all soggy toast down there.

Once they fix autofocus and exposure and flash so it's more reliable than a cell phone, the customers will come back to the P&S and entry-level DSLR fold. Maybe. The entire industry has been rusting on its laurels, and has been eaten by cell phones. The mid-range and low-end cameras have been... unconvincing and awkward to use. They need to make the gizmo quick, one-button fast and friendly. AF and AE is still a sick joke, even after smartphones have it largely figured out.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Okay, so yeah, smartphones, obviously. But I think that doesn't entirely get at the heart of the problem, which I think he touched on and then glossed over in the midst of all his overthinking of a plate of beans:

new understanding that maybe, just maybe, 16 megapixels currently represents a sweet spot. Good enough for big photos and small enough to be manageable.

That's it, right there. The camera market for years had been built on getting camera enthusiasts to upgrade from 2 megapixels to 3 megapixels to 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels and on and on. They had survived the addition of cameras to cellphones, simply by staying a couple megapixels ahead of cellphones.

But that's the problem. Once you get past 16 or so megapixels, you get very steeply into diminishing returns in terms of quality of photograph that people are actually going to be able to appreciate. So your perpetual-upgrade model collapses once you hit the ceiling of megapixels that anyone cares about. It collapses even harder once cellphone cameras catch up to you because that margin of an extra megapixel or two that you'd maintained is now irrelevant and phone cameras take pictures that aren't appreciably worse (for most peoples' purposes) than a real camera's.

There's still lots of room for cameras to be better at being cameras than smartphones, as Slap*Happy gets at, but a lot of that is harder to quantify and market than just "This camera's Important Shiny Number is a Bigger Number than Your Camera's Important Shiny Number!"

Also, what is going on with that guy's use of italics?
posted by mstokes650 at 12:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The number of pixels is misleading, a better measure is the size of the sensor.
posted by stbalbach at 12:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


DU: Smartphones make terrible cameras. You don't need a very fancy camera to take a much better picture than a smartphone.

Yeah, but you need to have it in your pocket. I have two cameras that take better pictures than my iPhone (at least, in low light they do), but they are gathering dust because, for what I am doing -- snapshots of my daughter, documentation of activities, places, things -- my smartphone is more than good enough. I'll never buy another camera, though my daughter is making noise about asking for a DSLR for Christmas, so maybe she'll get one (or some sort of mirrorless thingy) someday to see if art photography clicks as a hobby for her.
posted by Rock Steady at 12:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


i'm amazed light field cameras have not gotten more traction. it's crazy (to me) that the science of taking a picture is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago.
posted by rude.boy at 12:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Also, what is going on with that guy's use of italics?"

And what's the deal with corn nuts?

posted by zippy at 12:35 PM on August 12, 2013


His point, to me, seems to be more focused on kind of a hedonic treadmill problem. Cameras have progressed to the point where spending almost any money at all on a DSLR or high-end point-and-shoot renders one able, with a decent amount of practice, to make pictures that are as capable on a technical level as nearly anything that a professional can produce. With the personal drive to be a "better" photographer short-circuited by this hard ceiling, all that's left to fall back on for the hobbyist is art: subject, personal technique, idiosyncrasies and so on, stuff that you can't exactly package and sell, and stuff that not everyone has or feels. Without the sense of reward or progress, interest wanes and sales drop because there are no more mountains to conquer - at least not without some kind of way to sell artistic drive and inspiration in a box. His larger, implied critique is that most hobbyist photography is not driven by much else other than getting the best high score on a Photography Technique test, or in mastering the technique without concern for what that technique allows you to do.
posted by Punkey at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


The camera in my cellphone is about 4 years old now (yikes!) and I have stuff in print where the source was a drawing that was digitized via a cellphone picture.

This is a convergence of technological advances and laziness.
posted by hellojed at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think he's right about gentle erosion from the smart phone bottom (taking out point n shoots), and the "good enough" technical point at low price points (which we've hit in lots of tech, computer upgrade cycle slowdown, etc).

I think one of the factors of the DSLR drop off is that part of the boom was the videographer take up of DSLRs. Newsrooms wanted HD video at variable frame rates in these things, for cost-cutting purposes, and the quality took people by surprise when they came out, kicking off an enthusiastic boom of video/film people using them for both cost and aesthetics (depth of field/lens) for the tv/film/doc/indiefilm world.

Now, tv camera tech is moving down the price scale and adopting some of the aesthetic traits of DSLRs, they are taking back some of the market from the DSLRs.

Canon DSLR division was cannibalising the tv divisions revenues for a while.
posted by C.A.S. at 12:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Probably the least surprising story of the year.
posted by Halogenhat at 12:37 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also today Sony just released some pics of their hybrid cell phone / bodyless lens camera thing.
posted by Mr Mister at 12:38 PM on August 12, 2013


i'm amazed light field cameras have not gotten more traction. it's crazy (to me) that the science of taking a picture is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago.

I'm not amazed. I'm also not much of a photographer, but the lytro always struck me as a cool technology looking for a problem to solve. Focus-after-the-fact has never struck me as a huge need for which people would drop, what, $500 on a not-otherwise-amazing camera.
posted by gauche at 12:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I carry a digital point and shoot everywhere I go. It's too convenient not to, and photo ops can be any time and any place.

I used to spend hundreds of dollars on film and processing. Now that is essentially free. The price of the newest generation of point and shoot, and I am now on my fourth, is a drop in the photo bucket compared to what photography used to cost me. These little things wear out a lot quicker than my now 30-year old SLR, so I might as well replace them rather than fix them. Thanks to the declining market, I just upgraded to the next generation for half the price of the previous upgrade.
posted by Repack Rider at 12:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I also carry a digital point-and-shoot everywhere I go, but I pull it out of my bag maybe once a month these days. If I need a low-light shot and that's basically it. My cellphone takes photos as good as 90% of my P&S photos, and I don't have to wait until I can plug into a PC to process and upload them.
posted by Jairus at 12:46 PM on August 12, 2013


Before a vacation earlier this year, I finally bit the bullet, and upgraded my 8-year old DSLR. There wasn't anything particularly wrong with it, but it was getting hard to find batteries for the thing that hadn't also been sitting on a shelf for 8 years.

Yeah, the new camera is awesome, but I honestly didn't need to replace it. A few months later, I now feel silly for having spent money on it, as I find myself taking fewer and fewer photos every year. Maybe it's the cliche feedback loop mentioned upthread, or perhaps I just got tired of being "that guy with the camera," but.... meh. Something along the way sucked the fun out of photography for me.
posted by schmod at 12:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I upgraded my point-and-shoot camera a few years ago, I considered DSLR, but decided instead to follow the adage, "the camera you have with you is the one you take pictures with." and frankly, the form factor of a DSLR was enough disincentive to carry the camera. Right now, I have my cell (HTC Incredible) with me all the time and it takes craptactular pictures most of the time. I make a point of bringing my Canon G12 with me when I go out to events with family.
posted by plinth at 12:55 PM on August 12, 2013


but the lytro always struck me as a cool technology looking for a problem to solve.

The fundamental problem with a phone camera is the physics of single lens optics. If light-field technology can be adapted to that size of package, it could improve phone imaging. Nokia is apparently trying to create a LF phone next year.
posted by bonehead at 12:58 PM on August 12, 2013


I think he's using italics to indicate double entendre, as in "There's no real cheese at the end of the imaging tunnel."
posted by hyperizer at 1:04 PM on August 12, 2013


i like the hobby ennui argument quite a bit. Instagram, Photoshop, etc. - the art of photography is in major flux.
posted by mrgrimm at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2013


Yeah, I've been willing to take a hit in quality for extreme convenience with still photography and with audio field recording, and for that matter with document capture and increasingly video.

Not quite. The DSLR still comes with me into the field when I'm in wilderness and you know you're looking for once in a lifetime shots under often brutal conditions. It's a fricking pain in the ass, though. But for documentary purposes, both personal and professional, with *people,* the iPhone has been a life-changer not only for its convenience relative to quality but -- and this is more subtle perhaps -- because *everyone* has a fricking iPhone and you stand out much less as a "photographer" now, so if like me you also take a lot of pictures of people whom you hope are acting naturally, it helps to be using the same instrument everyone else is also using. It has transformed my ability to shoot truly candid pictures as well as to share images in co-creative ways (where people I'm photographing can take immediate possession of their own copy of the image, the camera also becomes less of an outside intruder).

Same technology, of course, enables surveillance, documenting police actions, harassment, and many other things. There's a fine line between candid documentary work (I wasn't aware you were taking my picture just then but I know you and you've been taking pictures around here a long time and I trust you) and intrusive or unwelcome surveillance. We have a whole new universe of rules and principles to figure out now. I am very specifically talking about how the smartphone camera has made "everyone" a photographer in a way that has made being a (serious) photographer a less marked social category. You can use this to make better art. It's not all about filters or megapixels or mirror dimensions. It's often about how the camera relates to the scene.
posted by spitbull at 1:07 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


One major issue is that, anything I'm interesting in documenting, I'm also interested in experiencing. Lugging around the DSLR, spare battery, lenses, tripod, and associated other kit... well, it's a thing in itself. I have to make a Photograph Taking Trip. Problem is, other people already did that, and there are thousands of photos of exactly the same thing I wanted to take a picture of, right there on flickr.

By contrast, my phone is with me at all times, weighs a couple of ounces, and takes a picture which, while low quality in technical terms, serves perfectly as a document of the event... which is the purpose of most photos.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


And yes, "hobby ennui" is a great argument. It's true in music production, fiction writing, and other creative fields as well, to my experience. There is so much to choose from that the old ways of curating have become impossible. I can't listen to all my friends' or students' music even once anymore. And I'm not done with Motown yet.
posted by spitbull at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


This article has made me think about my photo-a-week project I did for my last 101 in 1001 list, and why I decided to do it again, and whether I should bother (even with my little crappy smartphone).
posted by immlass at 1:11 PM on August 12, 2013


I pretty much want to echo what schmod said, that's the same boat I find myself in.

Wife bought a Nikon D40 when they came out, I was unimpressed but quickly changed my mind and became a photography buff. Upgrade a couple years ago to the d7000, find myself using it less and less.

Went to an airshow yesterday, while walking around, (with five pound mill stone around my neck) I was wondering why? Every second person also had a DSLR, and it occured to me there was not a single picture available for taking that 100 people hadn't already captured. So why bother. I also see so many people living life through a viewfinder. I'm almost done with that.

Considering the fact that a good P&S takes basically as good of pictures, except in extreme circumstances as a DSLR, why bother with it?
posted by Keith Talent at 1:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Photography is the art of standing in the right place and pointing the camera in the right direction. There used to be a lot of technical expensive stuff but that has now largely been taken care of. So when everyones got a camera, and the art-i-ness of it comes down to where you stood and which direction you pointed it, of course the willingness of people to pursue it as an expensive hobby or possible career is going to decline.

But compared to say, painting pictures or drawing or performing music or dance, photography was always much more about the external than the abilities of the 'artist'.

But like he says, now the exclusivity of the expense and equipment has been removed, those that are interested can really focus on the art bit - "And now we can get back to work and make images that reflect our tastes and our styles and our engagement with life."

But maybe dont bother with that 3 year photography degree.
posted by memebake at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2013


Here's my problem with cameras. I just went to Alaska. I have a decent (older) camera. I realized the day before I flew out that I was low on battery juice. I went to 3 places looking for a battery that had previously been ubiquitous. Apparently it is no longer being made. I can get them on eBay for a decent fortune or my first born son. I went without a good camera. Sad face.

For the last 3 weeks I have been researching new cameras and apparently if I get the Samsung Galaxy S4, I can not only have everything I'm looking for but I can also use the stupid geolocators I purchased from Kickstarter. So it looks like I'm not buying a camera anytime soon, I'm upgrading my smartphone and I don't have to spend twice.
posted by Sophie1 at 1:19 PM on August 12, 2013


Keith Talent: Every second person also had a DSLR, and it occured to me there was not a single picture available for taking that 100 people hadn't already captured. So why bother. I also see so many people living life through a viewfinder. I'm almost done with that.

Back in High School (in the 90s) I took my film SLR on a trip to Germany. When we visited Neuschwanstein Castle, I couldn't get the vantage point for the photo I really wanted, so I just took a picture of a poster on display in a gift shop. When I got my film back some weeks later, I was amazed at the quality of that one picture I took, until I noticed the price tag in the corner of the image. That was the first time I realized that, aside from really unique, important experiences -- usually because of the people I am with -- it's better to let others take my photos for me. Even when I am with friends, if one of them is a good photographer, I pretty much just let them take the pictures and grab what I want later from their Facebook feed.
posted by Rock Steady at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am sure I am not the only one with the persistent fantasy of going back to shooting with 35mm film and a classic SLR (if not further back than that) because of the furious rush of images and "living through the viewfinder" (yes, holy shit, that is a serious thing that is happening all around me) as a conventional way of being social in the world. It's almost titillating just to remember the way you had to really judge whether you had a shot, whether the shot was worth the film, whether you should shoot it twice, how many other shots you were giving up by taking this shot . . . Completely, ridiculously impractical and inefficient, like writing with a fountain pen or starting a fire with a flint or navigating with a compass.

What's amazing is to see shooting with a DSLR, something that evolved into the state of the art over not much more just these last 15 years really, start to acquire the patina of obsolescence. Grandpa, you really changed the lenses on your camera?
posted by spitbull at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I still think that the main camera killer has something to do with the capabilities of the average smartphone.
posted by Renoroc at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2013


I feel like the author glosses over what could also be contributing to the trend: lack of real innovation.

Camera makers invested so heavily into the megapixel (and to a lesser extend CCD size) race that when peak MP was reached and people realized that 24 was too many, there were no real reasons to upgrade anymore.
posted by sparklemotion at 1:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love my DSLR and would not get rid of it—but on the other hand, I just vacationed for ten days without it (just a P&S and a phone camera) and it was just fine.
posted by jepler at 1:26 PM on August 12, 2013


My now rather dated SLR is still completely adequate for the kind of photos I take. For my purposes, camera technology has been good enough for five years or more.
posted by sfred at 1:27 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Others have pointed out earlier that since quality of image is now leveling off once you buy a great camera you don't have to upgrade very two years. I was doing that and the camera I have now I have had for over four years. It does what I need and I don't need to upgrade.
posted by zzazazz at 1:30 PM on August 12, 2013


Or remember when you had to carry more than one SLR in order to shoot the same scene with different kinds of film?

We have a classic example of a good-enough digital technology triumphing for reasons of portability over audibly better technology that was insufficiently portable for the conditions under which people needed access to it, in the rise of the .mp3. Everyone knows (most) .mp3s sound like crap compared to lossless formats or uncompressed audio. But people were willing to accept that in exchange for having access to more music in total back when bandwidth was more expensive.
posted by spitbull at 1:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally, a mefi post where no one has an opinion!

I don't have one, either. It's basically this... i can take a decent enough pix with 5MP, because a huge chunk of 'good' is lighting, composition, post-processing, and a rather small amount of settings tweak at the camera. So years ago when I bought my mediocre PS, I bought a busted one on eBay to use for parts and double my accessory count for nearly nothing. So far, so good. I'm no pro, but what I do is consumed at 72 DPI and/or inside a .pdf. If given a DSLR, I'd take it, but it is not a must-have device. These days, few things are.

Can't believe the velocity of LatestGreatest to HasBeen. It was decades when I was young and is now down to a few years.
posted by FauxScot at 1:46 PM on August 12, 2013


There are a couple of areas where DSLR's still rule:

1) Must-have moments (which I use here to encompass sports and wildlife, where there's no substitute for big, fast glass - yet).

2) Created moments (which typically take advantage of flashes and light modifiers, so fashion and product photography as well as wedding and portraiture).

Where 5 years ago, many parents roamed the sidelines at their children's sporting activities and fought over the best spot at school band concerts, many or most of those people now settle for phone (or iPad) video shot while holding their mobile device overhead like a lighter at a Kansas show. It's super-hard to get good quality still photos in many of these environments (cafetorium, basketball in a school gym, night football), but you can generally get pretty good video, and at a fraction of the cost of an f/2.8 lens.

That's taken the bottom out of the "must-have moments", and apps go part-way to addressing "created moments", but I would love to see more integration of smart phones/point-and-shoots with external flashes. Some of my favorite people pictures were shot with a Nikon P7000 (fairly nice point-and-shoot) paired with Nikon's SB-600 flash used off-camera with a LumiQuest Softbox III. All three pieces of that taken together probably weigh less than two pounds, and shove easily into the corners of whatever bag I'm carrying.

There's no contest with the on-phone flash available from any smartphone I've seen, largely because you can't get the light off-axis, where you need it. Maybe these new Sony "lens-cams" will integrate with external flashes to make a dent in the creative lighting side of the DSLR market.
posted by SubterraneanRedStateBlues at 1:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am sure I am not the only one with the persistent fantasy of going back to shooting with 35mm film and a classic SLR

Go further back: shoot medium-format. You can get a decent twin-lens reflex camera for $100-$200. It's an utterly bare-bones photographic experience: you walk around and move the camera until you have framed the shot you want, you set the shutter speed and aperture, you set the focus, you snap the picture. It's simple and beautiful and really stimulates your creativity. You only get twelve shots per roll and it costs a few bucks each.

I will happily blast away with my DSLR and take dozens of exposures trying to get one shot, and you know, it works pretty well. Shoot, check, fix, shoot, check, fix, and I can iterate down on the shot I really want pretty quickly. But with the medium format, well, you just.... think about it a lot, and then you snap it, and that's it. Maybe you got it, maybe you didn't, but it's done and now you move on to the next thing.

Also, the film looks gorgeous. There's no substitute for sensor size, and medium-format film is enormous.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Aw man, I love my iphone camera for taking quick pictures of things I want to be reminded of later, but I don't think I have put my DSLR away since I got it a year and a half ago. I got this lens and it makes me want to take a million pictures of one object at a time, and it is fun to take to restaurants to document particularly delicious things I ate. The kinds of pictures I tend to take with it are probably douchily samey, but it is a joy to focus on one sliver of distance from the lens at a time.

(The iphone camera frustrates me because I want it to take a picture of one leaf, no, not all of them, just this one with bugs on it, and it doesn't want to... my life is not very eventful so I don't have a lot of candid events to capture, though; maybe our lifestyles just don't match up.)
posted by bewilderbeast at 2:06 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I have a Canon S95 P&S and it takes better photos than I have capability to take, it fits in a pocket and is unobtrusive. But I still mostly carry around my phone and take photos with it. But my android phone suffers from a couple of camera-related issues:

* The low-light is crap
* The phone app itself is total crap, and slow to boot
* Every app you install which does anything with photos seems to make their own copies, which makes file management an issue
* The android provider's crap bloatware often intereferes

When the phone has the same capabilities as my S95 I will truly be done with any bespoke cameras at all. But I don't want to be, or pretend to be, an artist in this realm.
posted by maxwelton at 2:13 PM on August 12, 2013


lack of real innovation

You must be looking at a different camera market, because I'm seeing tons of innovation lately. Granted the majors have sometimes had to be dragged along, but they get there. The megapixel race petered out years ago. People realized that crazy dense sensors were giving them huge but very noisy images, so manufacturers started improving sensitivity, and you got things like the Nikon D300, which was leaps and bounds above anyone else for a while. Now you can get great high ISO performance from startlingly small cameras, and the D800 is capable of amazing things at ISOs that weren't even theoretical back in the film days.

But people still wanted more low-light performance, so the manufacturers started putting money into faster lenses. You can get compact cameras with f/1.8 max aperture now, which was unthinkable not that long ago.

There's the whole mirrorless segment, which is doing amazing things. You can get nearly all the advantages of a DSLR in something that's one half to one third the size. Panasonic's made tons of indie films happen, Olympus is making excellent tiny prime lenses, and Fuji is being everything that Leica could have been but never managed to be, at a quarter the price.

And there's lots of other things that existed before but are much more useful now. Image stabilization is pretty much taken for granted, but it used to be almost useless. Now we've got the almost magical stabilization in the Olympus OM-D. Contrast detection autofocus (what most compacts use) has gotten much faster, so compacts are much more responsive than they used to be. And that's improving even more now that they're putting phase detection right onto the chip. Pretty soon mirrorless cameras will be able to focus like the big guns, leaving creamy soft backgrounds the only reason to go to a big chip.
posted by echo target at 2:15 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


decent cameras: expensive. point and click: not so expensive. cell phones: you always have them with you and they cost no more that the cost of your phone, which you use for many other things.
And easier to carry about.
with photos: everyone an "artist" and post the crap on FaceLift

want art? go go photo shows/museums
posted by Postroad at 2:24 PM on August 12, 2013


Mars Saxman, I learned to shoot on a dual lens medium format Argoflex. I shot pictures when I was a kid that I am still proud of as an adult with that thing.
posted by spitbull at 2:53 PM on August 12, 2013


You don't need a very fancy camera to take a much better picture than a smartphone.

Yes, but at the moment you need a very fancy camera to be able to take a picture and email it immediately to family and friends or slap it on Facebook or back it up to DropBox or any of the things that people do with pictures. I know this is changing, but damn, it's taken long enough.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 3:07 PM on August 12, 2013


Part of the premise of the article that we aren't really discussing is whether people are actually taking less photos. I'm not sure that I am, although I'm caring a lot less about the quality. I've bridged the gap between my phone and my DSLR with a Sony RX100 and it has really cut down on my need to carry a DSLR for high quality casual shots. Nothing replaces the DSLR for the highest, most interesting, photography.

So, I shoot fewer high quality photos and I can't justify the upgrade costs for my highest quality equipment.

I also do not have the time to properly deal with photos post-production. There is a freedom to a camera phone shot in that nobody expects it to be too terribly great. I don't feel guilty when I don't scrub it through Lightroom.

Still, through it all, I really miss those high quality shots I got when I lugged the DSLR around, and, before that, my 35mm. Even more, I miss the totally manual aspect of my old Spotmatic II. And yes, I miss when people used to look at those old shots and really be impressed with the quality over their point and shoot. However, whatever the reason, most of my recent photos are a lot less interesting than they used to be, and for that I find that what I need to do is make time for the hobby using the really good equipment.

What some of us suffer from is just a lack of time.
posted by Muddler at 3:08 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Most people taking pictures (and in the past, buying cameras) are NOT camera enthusiasts. We just want a record of an event. And smart phones are good enough. There is almost no technology you could add, or price point you could put a camera at, that would make me buy one if my phone has one, and the pictures are OK. Yes, I have a better camera....that I never take with me and has not been charged in years.
posted by greermahoney at 3:43 PM on August 12, 2013


My background: film, some studio product work, television, digital, some photo contests, many photography classes, dSLR, various compacts, iphones.

My .02 is that phones have pretty much taken over the small compacts for quality (except in low light as noted many times above). Even so, many of the Apps for phones greatly improve the ability of the phone cameras that already take decent photos. HDR apps work great in most cases. There are post-processing apps that replace many of the Photoshop-type programs right on the phone if you want to take a few seconds to tweak.

I sold my $$$$$ dSLR gear and got a Sony APS-C sensor camera (RX100). The photos from that Sony are 98% just as good as anything I ever took with the big camera and $$$$$ lenses they require. And it fits nicely in a jeans pocket.

Another aspect: I recently advised a niece going to spend the summer in Europe to *not* get a small compact camera and just get an iPhone and pay for a plan. She will always have the iPhone with her...and she can immediately upload any travel photo to family, friends, or the ubiquitous photo sharing/social sites. Shoot, push a button to send it off, done. There is no need to download all the photos to a computer later, sort, process, trash those not wanted, send out to various places, etc. Camera phones are immediate and instant gratification. Of course, some are much better than others...just like dedicated cameras.

And I know I'd sure rather get an instant, recent update photo from a friend doing something interesting right now, rather than a big glob of "here's what I did on my vacation" photos (slide show!) much later.

Gist: it's about immediate gratification and "good enough" quality.
posted by CrowGoat at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2013


lattiboy: "DU, I would generally agree with you, but what Nokia is doing these days changes everything. Check out some samples from the Nokia 1020. Also, a photo-centric review."

It changes everything, but changes nothing. Nokia has been selling smartphones that rival or exceed the image quality of low-to-mid-range point and shoot cameras since the N95, which was released 6 or 8 years ago now. They were rather popular at the time, and marked a revolution in what one could expect out of a phone camera, which they have continued to evolve with a long line of imaging-oriented phones, which have always used much larger sensors than normally found on smartphones or even low end P&S.

Then they went crazy and chose to anchor themselves to Microsoft's continually-failing mobile ecosystem and doomed any chance they had of that sweet sweet hardware seeing widespread acceptance in the market. Thus, it changes nothing.
posted by wierdo at 3:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Gist: it's about immediate gratification and "good enough" quality.

I'd simplify this even further and say it's about the person and the scene, not the photo. I only need an SLR if I care about the photo itself.
posted by kiltedtaco at 3:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Look at what I just bought for $200
posted by JohnR at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You got ALL THAT for $200??
posted by starscream at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2013


"Photography is the art of standing in the right place and pointing the camera in the right direction. There used to be a lot of technical expensive stuff but that has now largely been taken care of. So when everyones got a camera, and the art-i-ness of it comes down to where you stood and which direction you pointed it, of course the willingness of people to pursue it as an expensive hobby or possible career is going to decline.

lol wut

the way this argument makes the most sense is if you think that the current decline is because morons are buying fewer cameras

But compared to say, painting pictures or drawing or performing music or dance, photography was always much more about the external than the abilities of the 'artist'.

double-lolwut

that's like saying that playing guitar is much more about the external than the abilities of the 'artist.'

which, again, is the morons-aint-buyin argument, so congrats on your embodying
posted by klangklangston at 4:20 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am happy with the digital cameras I can now afford. But I am watching (and watching and watching) the price of digital camera backs for my dad's Linhof Super Technika (4" x 5" negative size) drift slowly downward.

After all, the place I work didn't have to buy all-new portable xray machines to go digital, because various outfits manufacture 11" x 14" digital xray sensors the exact size and shape of the old 11" x 14" xray film holders. Pop one of these into the same slot as the old kind and bang, you're digital. Sure you have to haul it back to the main department for processing but that's not new. And "processing" now means shove the sensor holder into a plate reader and scan it and upload the image, where "processing" for film meant haul it beck to the department, take it into a darkroom, wet-develop it and hang it up to dry.

So yeah, they also make digital backs to replace the Super Technika's film holder back. Is the (breathtaking, coronary-inducing) price coming down? Not so's you'd notice. I certainly won't have one in my lifetime, and none of my kids will either either, unless one of 'em becomes a neurosurgeon or hits Powerball big (about equally likely). One of the grandkids, though, maybe they'll be able to haul the Super Technika out of its box and give it a whole new digital career. Given its build quality the camera itself will still be around, just the way Everest and K2 will still be around.
posted by jfuller at 4:20 PM on August 12, 2013


For everyone clamoring that "smartphones take just about as good pictures as DSLRs," I invite you to google the phrase "portrait with bokeh," and you'll see some major differences that smartphones (and most point & shoots) can't duplicate.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Canon DSLR division was cannibalising the tv divisions revenues for a while.

Wut? Do you mind explaining that?

Or remember when you had to carry more than one SLR in order to shoot the same scene with different kinds of film?

Yeah, I remember that time, it was never. Any pro photographer knows how to precisely load their 35mm film leader so that you can position the first frame fairly accurately. Then you can shoot say, 10 frames on a 36 pic roll, then rewind it until the leader is not quite into the cassette, remove it, load some other film, shoot that roll and remove it, then re-insert the old cassette and then advance the film (in this case) past the 11th frame (shooting frames with the lens cap on) so you can resume shooting on the same roll, with maybe only a loss of a single frame. There is actually a little tool, a shim with a hook on it, to fish out a leader that you accidentally rolled into the cassette, without opening up the cassette and exposing it to light.

This was an especially useful technique for anyone who used the Zone System, which often required picking the speed of film only after taking light meter readings. I changed films so often that I bought a Hasselblad which has interchangeable backs, you can switch backs with different films in them. And then I discovered it was so expensive, I couldn't afford to buy multiple film backs. Oh well, just buy the 12 shot 120 film and load whichever you need, then shoot it all. Alas you can't reload 120 film, it goes spool to spool and no rewinding. Or just get used to shooting everything on Plus X. Oh holy crap, I just checked, Kodak discontinued Plus X film! Oh well, how long has it been since I owned a film camera?

Anyway, to get back on topic, I have a permanently curved spine due to years of carrying my camera bag everywhere. So I am really glad to have an iPhone 5 to take pics. I wish it was a bit higher rez so I could take more detailed photos of text pages to turn them into PDFs.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


serves perfectly as a document of the event... which is the purpose of most photos.

Exactly, like those amazing photos of the shoe store the other day!! I could've looked at those for decades they were so absorbing, focused and artistically satisfying.
posted by ReeMonster at 5:37 PM on August 12, 2013


I sold my $$$$$ dSLR gear and got a Sony APS-C sensor camera (RX100)

The RX100 has a 1" sensor, not an APS-C sensor. Still very good considering the size, but you'll notice the difference when it comes to depth of field and, to a certain extent, low light shooting (especially with the relatively slow zoom lens the RX100 has).

I tried going back to a compact camera. I bought a Fuji X10, which at the time was the last word in low-light compacts. Even compared to the mirrorless camera I'd bought at a fraction of the price (the Samsung NX100), the X10 was not only noisier by a fair bit, with much coarser grain; its autofocus speed was atrocious in anything below direct sunlight, its manual focus interface was even worse, and the depth of field was huge despite the f/2-2.8 lens. I realized then that for the stuff I like to shoot (mainly concerts), depth of field made an even bigger difference than I thought, and I already knew creamy backgrounds were the key to making laypeople think photos were a million bucks. I bought a Sony NEX-6 and never looked back.

If that makes me part of a shrinking niche audience, I'm okay with that. Unless and until smartphones improve their photographic abilities substantially, you will never convince me that a smartphone will equal any decent camera in anything that isn't broad daylight.
posted by chrominance at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2013


Or remember when you had to carry more than one SLR in order to shoot the same scene with different kinds of film?

I had a couple of Zeiss Contarex systems, which had exchangeable backs, which were handy for switching between black & white or color.

But the need to change film speeds on the fly was rare. Most outings had pretty consistent light conditions, and of course studio shoots are always consistent. That being said, the instant option on digital cameras is very nice.
posted by ShutterBun at 5:50 PM on August 12, 2013


Or remember when you had to carry more than one SLR in order to shoot the same scene with different kinds of film?

Not because of different film, but because of different lenses... which is still true today, with digital cameras. In certain situations, you may want to carry two - or more - cameras with different lenses, because time is of the essence, and you don't have the time to change lenses. One situation where this happens fairly often, is weddings, for example. Or have you ever taken a look at how sports photographers are equipped? You'll see plenty of cameras. Event photography in general promotes the collection of lots of cam-related gear
posted by VikingSword at 6:03 PM on August 12, 2013


Well, the thing where being a photographer means a macho dickwaving expression of your technical superiority to anyone else is still alive in the digital age anyway.
posted by spitbull at 6:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


No doubt phones have cut out the knees of the low end camera market. People are constantly asking me why I carry a camera instead of a phone and most of my reasons aren't very convincing to them. The real lack with camera phones is the standby time which I guess doesn't matter if you are never more than 10 feet from an outlet but that doesn't describe a lot of my photo taking.

I can't imagine shooting both slide and print film or colour and B&W (Or both) and having to futz around with a leader retriever. Especially in the case of slide film if you weren't mounting your own slides. Mechanical slide processing had enough trouble finding the edges of images without introducing variable spacing.

Bodies were always pretty cheap anyways, especially for any kind of widely supported system. One could have an F4 for the heavy lifting and something like a EM2 for that special film without much extra cost.

I really wish camera manufacturers would get their heads out of there asses on software restrictions. The CHDK project still has to reverse engineer the firm ware of new cameras. Canon should be delivering that data on a silver platter and Nikon should be encouraging a similar project.
posted by Mitheral at 6:32 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Not because of different film, but because of different lenses... which is still true today, with digital cameras. In certain situations, you may want to carry two - or more - cameras with different lenses, because time is of the essence, and you don't have the time to change lenses. One situation where this happens fairly often, is weddings, for example. Or have you ever taken a look at how sports photographers are equipped? You'll see plenty of cameras. Event photography in general promotes the collection of lots of cam-related gear"

Even the same film, sometimes. I knew a freelancer for one of the mags that I worked for who had a couple of 35 cameras that he'd load up before taking an assignment so that he could keep shooting without having to reload. I know there are those preload backs for a lot of 35s, but he had his system.

But I do the majority of photography for my non-profit, and it's not even a question of being able to use a phone — we've gotta print a lot of this stuff, or blow it up, and the sharpness just isn't there. I've got DaShiv's old Pentax, and outside of needing some maintenance on the lenses (AF got a bit wobbly), it's been a fantastic workhorse. For my "hobby" shots (c'mon, I've shown and sold!) I tend toward Holgas and other toy cameras anyway, so I'm just not the market for new DSLRs.
posted by klangklangston at 7:22 PM on August 12, 2013


rude.boy: "i'm amazed light field cameras have not gotten more traction. it's crazy (to me) that the science of taking a picture is essentially the same as it was 100 years ago."

I'd guess you haven't tried using a Lytro. I rented one for a few days because I, too, was amazed by the niftiness of this new technology, and I had ideas about how the "3D photos" could maybe revolutionize photos of archaeological artifacts.

And sure, sometimes some of the photos come out a little bit neat, but more often than not, unless you're taking a photo in bright daylight with absolutely rock-steady hands aimed at a scene with three distinct planes of possible focus -- 1 foot away/6 feet away/infinity, preferably -- the photos don't work. The camera has worse results in low light than an old Nokia candybar camera, and it can't handle motion of any kind. The device itself is a literal box and is completely non-ergonomic, and the only controls you have are a tiny (1 inch square, max) touchscreen, a pad for zoom, and a button for shooting. The touchscreen is completely unsuitable for telling if your photos came out properly, and instead you have to wait until you've gone through a tedious and slow conversion process on your computer before you can see what screwed up. Sometimes when the stars align you can make a nice macro photo, and the effect of wiggling it around looks neat, but this is the exception and not the rule.

Not to mention that we just don't have a good set-up for sharing "wiggle pics". It turns the act of viewing into something requiring action and input from the user and for most photos I just don't think people care. Show me what you're going to show me so I can close the tab quickly, thanks. Next!

When I returned it after my rental weekend the guy at the camera shop asked what I thought. I told him it was fun as a toy, but that it was still clearly a toy. Maybe in five years I'd try the latest model out, but there's no way I would justify paying the current price for the current model. He laughed and told me "Ahh, you seem to have come to the same conclusion as everyone working here."

So, yeah, Lytro. If you could pick one up for $50, I'd say go for it. And set your expectations very, very, very low, so that you won't be disappointed by the results.
posted by barnacles at 8:16 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The article's observation about artistic photography fatigue is valid for a certain cohort. A large group of people got into photography in the digital age and the population of people producing great pictures skyrocketed.

But I'd guess that is a very small part of the downturn in camera sales. The smart phone hitting a decent snapshot bar and sensor quality stabilizing for the more serious cameras means no one is buying point-and-shoots and others aren't upgrading their higher end cameras.
posted by stp123 at 9:27 PM on August 12, 2013


I'm with you, barnacles; I pre-ordered the Lytro camera and used it exclusively for several months after I got it. I really wanted it to be awesome, but it just wasn't. I liked the square format and the sleek minimal interface, but there's just no getting around the fact that its pictures basically suck. You'd think a camera with a lens that big would have better low-light performance. It was also really hard to get a sharply focused image out of it, which I found really ironic given the ability to adjust focus in software was the whole point of the project.
posted by Mars Saxman at 10:19 PM on August 12, 2013


Canon DSLR division was cannibalising the tv divisions revenues for a while.

Wut? Do you mind explaining that?


Sure. Canon has a line of professional camcorders marketed to the broadcast industry, and a Broadcast Division responsible for this business. They were successful early with the handheld form factor with the XL 1 in the late 90s/early00s.

Professional photography was another corporate unit, though both are under the Consumer Products division.

I'm pretty sure that when the DSLR videography thing took off, it was a surprise to even Canon. The 5D mark II kicked off a craze, along with a load of third party accessories and firmware hacks, that made it one of the most popular video cameras for a while. At some expense to the existing professional camcorder line

I don't think there was much coordination to manage the shift in broadcast business to this product. One possible reason why a few tweaks, such as xlr audio outputs, were not added to the 5Ds was so that this increasingly arbitrary distinction between the broadcast products and the stills line could be maintained.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:28 AM on August 13, 2013


Leader retrievers lolwut?

Remember when photographers were so manly they'd carry their own silver solution onto the battlefield and take three bullets to get one good picture?
posted by spitbull at 4:19 AM on August 13, 2013


I'm still shooting on my 2009 era 5D mark II* for one reason -- software. Once I figured out how to "jail break" it to run my own code on the camera, my DSLR switched from a disposable product with planned obsolescence and artificial market segmentation into a real tool that keeps getting better. So now, over four years later, it is still getting new features. Full manual control of audio and video settings? First thing I added. RAW video with 14 stops? Check. HDR video? Done. Simultaneous dual ISO? It's there now.

And it isn't just me. There are now hundreds of other devs outside of Canon writing code for these cameras and thousands of users running their code.

(* I have bought many of the following models as well, but only to port code to them)
posted by autopilot at 4:34 AM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


Wow, autopilot—that sounds great.

I've always had a hard-on for the 5D MK*, but have never been able to pull the trigger. Downsized to a Fujifilm X100 back in 2011 and haven't looked back.

But, something with all the trimmings has always appealed to me.
posted by flippant at 4:53 AM on August 13, 2013


Camera makers invested so heavily into the megapixel (and to a lesser extend CCD size) race that when peak MP was reached and people realized that 24 was too many, there were no real reasons to upgrade anymore.

Dynamic range is where it's at. When I was buying my DSLR last year, I couldn't understand why the cheapest one out there took the nicest looking pictures. The brand new $699 model's sample pictures were bright and wonderful. The $999 next step up just looked blah. The sensor has good dynamic range, it turns out. It doesn't have built in HDR, because it doesn't need it. I think that's where Nikon is going, not sure about Canon.

The pictures from the top shelf smartphones are nice enough, but they still look flat and gross to me.

I bought a DSLR because I was sick of taking shit photos of events that I wanted to preserve on film. Nothing was more frustrating to me than to look at my photos and see that they were terribly exposed, not quite focused, and jittery because f/2.8 on an awful sensor still isn't enough light. When for a couple hundred more, I can have a real live big boy camera that practically reads my mind in auto mode, and can do whatever I tell it in manual mode.

But I fully admit that I'm in a minority.
posted by gjc at 5:57 AM on August 13, 2013


I have a (really really nice) Canon dslr that I love, mostly for shooting studio-ish stuff, but also for street photos as well. I've found that I spend half my time with the Canon in my hand and the other half rushing to rip my phone out of my pocket. My lady friend is gorgeous, and I can take some stunning shots of her with the dslr, but most of them are phone shots because they're good enough and can be blown up to a decent size or displayed online with no problems whatsoever. Or I'll be alternating between the dlsr and the phone to shoot things I want with whatever lens I have and then quickies to put on Instagram. The look, in that case, is secondary to the ability to throw it up on a website.
posted by nevercalm at 1:23 PM on August 13, 2013


Leader retrievers lolwut?

Yeah, and I have a 35mm bulk film loader too, it appears to have about a third of a 100 foot roll of Tri X in it. Or maybe Plus X. I don't remember. Anyone want to buy it?

Remember when photographers were so manly they'd carry their own silver solution onto the battlefield and take three bullets to get one good picture?

Yeah, I did that a few days ago. Not the battlefield and bullets, just the handmade photo emulsion. That is what I do.

As long as there are lenses, or even pinholes, there will always be somebody making their own photo emulsions and taking pictures on it.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:23 PM on August 13, 2013


What's the cost like on something like that? I've always wanted to do a pinhole shot where the "camera" is the inside of a van or something equally huge.
posted by Mitheral at 6:30 PM on August 13, 2013


How huge do you want to get?

The World's Largest Pinhole Photograph, about 108 x 38 feet.

You can get "alt photo process" kits from suppliers like Photographer's Formulary, they're my regular supplier. Some chems cost pennies, some cost hundreds per print. Warning: some chemical purchases may require registration with the Department of Homeland Security.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2013


« Older The BBC broadcast a great deal of socially-aware d...  |  On the fifty-eighth anniversar... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments