It has been easy to call the death of photography, in its short history this has happened many times yet photography is still standing strong. The death of a camera is a different matter.
Some pundits have called time on point and shoots, Micro Four Thirds have been making some headway. DSLRs however have sat safe because they are the big boys in the big league, yet with recent news DSLRs could be knocked of their safe perch. For 2013 there has been a recorded 10-15% decline in shipments of DSLRs worldwide.
It is quite easy to say that the IPhone and smartphone photography has been killing conventional cameras. With smartphones kicking out good quality images for basic consumer needs and is nearly always at hand, why do you need a point and shoot when you have a camera on your phone? You don’t. For an Iphone to be comparable to a DSLR is a harder argument to make as the image quality is a bigger gap to bridge. The majority of people don’t need a DSLR as they consume photographic images no longer in print form but through social media and the internet. Think honestly when was the last time you printed out you holiday snaps to show your friends and family? Mostly we share our images on facebook and social media or display them on a computer or tablet. My summer vacation photos were shared with my in-laws via the cloud and showed to them on my tablet.
What has happened to DSLRs?
Well a lot has happened and one issue, as I see it, is that the megapixel race has come to its peak. The first digital cameras, back in 2001, had on average 4 megapixels on a sensor about half the size of the current full frame 36 megapixel siblings. If you look at the number of pixels per model, the amount of pixels is starting to plateau with early models having a difference of two megapixels between them and their predecessor , now the difference can be as little as none. The distinction between models is now in their features, there has been an improvement in ISO, noise and low light capabilities and this puts a major gap between the cameras of the early noughties. Just as we had the Mega pixel race before I feel that there is now an ISO race to get the most light sensitive cameras with the least amount of noise. Frame rates are increasing and so is the power of the processors.
The number of pixels doesn’t make the camera, with the marketing of the past heavily pushing this as a key reason to buy a camera, we still look at this as a major purchasing point. As there is sometimes little to no difference between models a buyer could be put off.
For most people the camera they have produces good quality images for their needs. Upgrading to a newer camera with only a marginal improvement in some areas will not be enough to force open their wallet and their money maybe better spent buying new lenses.
There is also a lot of cameras to choose from in the DLSR market. Canon has 11 models in its lineup and Nikon has 18. Choice is good because you can find the camera for you. Yet too much choice is bad for the uninformed, it becomes too bewildering when there are such trivial differences between models and this could be off putting. Line ups used to be a lot simpler with; entry level, prosumer, and professional models. When there was a smaller range with obvious differences between models it was easy for a buyer to know which was best for them. With a wider range of cameras it is harder to tell the difference between models, except that one has more pixels than the other and can take better video, unless I really start reading the technical specs. For someone transitioning to a DSLR or getting more interested in photography this can be confusing. It is this confusion that can lead to people not upgrading or moving away from their phone or point and shoot camera.
People are becoming more savvy consumers and slowly the understanding that just by having a DSLR camera doesn’t mean images are going to be good . I am sure we all know someone who bought a DSLR and have never used it because it is too heavy, cumbersome or maybe have no idea how to use it. I have heard of people holding a DSLR and asking how to turn on the view screen to take pictures. The person is then shocked that normally users use the viewfinder.
Photography has never been cheap with the pioneers being wealthy enough to afford to partake in the activity, the democratisation of photography through cheaper film, then digital and now smartphones has made taking pictures more accessible but if you want to create good quality images you still need money. At present in America and Europe, the affordability of a new camera is out of reach for some. Photography is not just about the pros but also about the enthusiasts and amateurs. The cost of good lenses, flash units and even editing software is making photography for some a costly hobby. If moving to Micro Four Thirds or maybe a mirror less camera is cheaper people may move.
It is important to remember that it is not the pros that keep the photography industry alive but the larger group of hobbyists and enthusiasts spending their disposable income on cameras and accessories and gadgets whereas professionals reinvest their profits on gear they need not gear they want.
What Do We Want From Our Cameras?
A question most people should ask before buying a camera. Most people ( I generalize and mean me) want a camera that is;
- Sturdy and strong in their hand. I have been really put off by the entry level cameras that have such small bodies they don’t fit in my hand comfortably, when adding a larger than kit lens to the camera may make the camera a bit lens heavy.
- I would say that we want good quality sensors, yet i understand we cannot have the same sensor in the pro cameras as the entry level cameras. All sensors need to create good quality images or why else do we buy them.
- Quick and sharp focusing, of course the lens plays a role in this with some lenses being extremely sharp, yet the cameras auto focus needs to be sharp as well. I have heard complaints from Nikon users that recent models have been soft when it comes to focusing and this is the decision for many to move to Canon, not say Canon didn’t have its own problem with focusing in the past.
- For me video has never been a big pull but for many modern users a good video option with HD 720p video mode needs to be standard now.
- Easy to use dials and menus. The reason why I went from shooting Nikon cameras with film to Canon with digital is because I hated the menu and button set up on the Nikon D100.
Why have I not gone back to Nikon? Because I have invested in Canon gear and it would make little to no sense to go back. A simplistic dial and menu saves time when shooting and allows you to concentrate on what you are photographing.
- Dual card slots, this is a small matter though with double the memory in camera means less time worrying about how many shots are left.
Are DSLRs Dying?
Not really this is the first fall in output in over 10 years in which the DSLR market has been growing in double digits year on year. I also believe the camera industry is not in trouble as most companies are running in profit even if they have had to lower their forecasted estimates. The compact market maybe suffering but this is because of complacence in market and smartphones have been a wake up call
I believe this is a time of realism for manufactures, the market may be slowing and it could be a good time to look at what their core users want instead of trying to appeal to new users. This being the same for Compact, Mirrorless, Micro Four Thirds and DSLR makers. People use these cameras for a reason, why?
You could say that the Nikon DF was trying to do this giving a camera for photographers, did it work we will have to see. My Nikon shooting friends want an upgrade for the D700 (2008) and the D300s (2009), and were not impressed with the Nikon DF. For Canon shooters there have been some nice upgrades to the 60D with the 70D and 5D has recently got the mark three to add to its family, as well as a lot of lower than entry level cameras as with the D1000.
The slowdown in output is a mixture of consumers’ disposable income being squeezed, a better understanding of what cameras can offer consumers and smaller technical leaps between models.
For camera manufacturers the answer has been given, Nikon is going to be pushing the higher end cameras where there is a greater profit margin in the coming year.