Camera Industry: the trend towards “good enough” is affecting enthusiasts too

Shooting with the iPad has become common

Shooting with the iPad has become common

A lot has been written about how smartphone cameras have decimated the point and shoot market. It’s actually worse than that. Most regular people, non-enthusiasts, don’t really want to use DSLRs — they’re just too big and cumbersome. I see former DSLR owners just bag it and end up using smartphones instead. But how about people like me, the crazy, passionate photo enthusiasts. What are we doing?

Well, we are falling victim to the “good enough” mantra too.

I see two distinct groups of photo friends. Some diligently continue to use DSLRs for their serious work and then flip over to an iPhone when capturing casual snaps. I got a laugh when we go on photowalks. We all have expensive, sophisticated gear and we end up taking group pictures with an iPhone. These people are the same as the masses, documenting their world on smartphones. Except, for their serious pro or hobby work, they break out the DSLR. It’s like they have two distinct modes.

The other group, which I’m a part of, have embraced mirrorless cameras or even premium point and shoots. They may still own a DSLR but use it infrequently. These people tend to use tweener cameras (between DSLRs and smartphones) for both their serious and casual work.

Which ever group you’re in, there is no right way, of course. And I’m sure there are some people who don’t fall conveniently into either camp. The point I’m trying to make is that it’s going to get even harder for camera companies. Most cameras, especially under typical conditions, are now good enough. People know this. There is no longer a pressing need to update to the next model. The camera and sensor companies have done too well. They are perfecting themselves out of business.

So what can these companies do? There are still a few under served niches. Sony is the first to the mirrorless full frame game. Perhaps some others will follow. There is the retro camera movement that Fujifilm is leading. Nikon has followed with their Df. But ultimately, as the market saturates, these companies need to be in the aspiration business.

Leica is not really in the camera business — it’s in the aspiration business. They are selling the dream of the ultimate German pedigree, engineered and chiseled to physical perfection. People buy their cameras because they are rich enough to do so. It’s a badge of honor, like a premium automobile. Just go into one of their boutique Leica stores and you will see. Leica M is no longer the working photographer’s tool.

Fujifilm is moving into the aspiration business with their X line. They are the new Leica in spirit, with smaller, range finder like cameras that harken back to the street photographers like Cartier-Bresson. People romanticize the notion of having a simple camera with one or two lenses and perhaps use it to travel to exotic destinations. It’s also the anti-DSLR. People are proud of this and identify with it.

Olympus is also similar to Fuji and with the benefit of a rich history building smaller cameras. Both their film Pen and OM SLRs were smaller than the competition. Though not as blatant as Fuji, Olympus has also tapped into the nostalgia game. They are also anti bloated DSLR. With the E-M1, they can now tout DSLR performance in a smaller, better made package.

Panasonic suffers because they lack pedigree in the camera business.They are a consumer electronics company. Sony is similar but has done better by pushing the envelope on technological innovation and by buying Konica – Minolta. Sony is the most daring in design too. But they also seem lost, their camera lines, confusing.

Finally, the old guard, Canon and Nikon are already in the aspiration business with their DSLRs. What are they selling? The notion of the professional photographer, with the big, black DSLRs. For people who buy into this image, the bigger the better. They add battery grips to pump up their machines. Big zoom lens, especially the white variety to look even more Pro. Real professionals do use these cameras but the majority are amateurs with the aspiration. Except the wannabes have found that it takes more than equipment to become professional.

Are DSLRs enough to sustain Canon and Nikon? Are mirrorless cameras a big enough business? I suspect some downsizing is inevitable in the camera industry. These companies seem to be structured for the fast growth days when people switched from film to digital. That once in a generation trend is now over.

Let the scrambling begin.

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18 thoughts on “Camera Industry: the trend towards “good enough” is affecting enthusiasts too

  1. What I fear is — as has been the case with other electronic stuff — quality equipment will become both more scarce and more expensive. I love my little Olympus cameras … really really love them … but I see what you see and it’s very worrisome.

  2. I believe a big reason people shoot with phone cameras, apart from the obvious convenience factor, is because of the ease of connectivity with social networks. It’s not enough to capture a good enough image these days. That image needs to be posted to Facebook, Tweeted, Tumbled, Pinned, etc. and that needs to happen right freakin’ now. I believe that one of the biggest areas camera makers need to improve upon in order to remain relevant is tighter integration with social networks. In my opinion that is what the majority of the populace is after and it’s the reason the DSLR shooter pulls out his or her phone to take those group or candid shots.

    Another issue that comes to mind, more in the professional arena, is service. Canon and Nikon will retain loyal professional followers not because of aesthetics or perceived status symbolism of big lenses and camera bodies but rather because they are equipped to support those who make money with their gear. To my knowledge, none of the mirrorless camera manufacturers are pursuing this relationship. Many are quick to market as a “pro” camera but they lack support programs to keep true pros who wear out their gear in the game. This is something that bothers me. I’ve said that I’d love to ditch the big DSLR gear once mirrorless cameras can match autofocus performance. One of my concerns would be leaving the support program that Canon provides me. I’ve had to have my gear repaired recently and Canon got it done in under 3 days. I’ve had a repair done by Fuji a while back it was quite a while longer and lacking in communication during the process. It’s more than bells, whistles, and aesthetics for the working professional. The manufacturers have to be there supporting the gear after the sale. That’s something quite contrary to the typical consumer electronic mindset.

    1. Mike,

      Great point on the social angle and I think you are right. Though like you said the convenience angle plays are large factor too. This is where the camera companies are going to struggle. Even if there able add all the equivalent networking features (Wifi, Cellular) into a camera, the camera is still going to be a second device to the smartphone. A couple of companies have already tried this. The camera is too large to be a primary device so ultimately it places second fiddle to the smartphone.

      For real pros using Canon and Nikons, the DSRL hardware makes total sense. Their professional services are invaluable. My contention is, the majority of DSLR users are not Pros they are enthusiasts or regular people who thought they need a DSLR to take good pictures.

  3. We’ve allready had our fill of dslr is dead articles and i kind of agree with them. Ever since i got an e-pl5 and the lumix 20mm lens, it’s very rare for me to pick up my dslr.

    But also, i have been observing the tourist crowds for the past two summers. The Japanese with their nexes are an exception, but aside from an occasional ipad shooter a large majority of people on tours are taking their entry level canon and nikon dslrs with kit lenses to shoot.

    Sales numbers also confirm this. In everyday life, i guess the phones are doing the job just fine for most people. But when an “exotic location”, as you put it, is in play, so is the dslr.

    Does it make sense to us, the tech geeks? I’m not quite sure. If i went to a “once in a lifetime” vacation, i would probbably pack all my photo gear i could carry 😉

    1. Feri Naf, I think many of the photographers that visit this site are different than the norm. They probably care more about photography and the quality of photos than most people. I’m always quite amazed by the lack of concern for photo quality by the average person. But for these people, photography is not their passion. And I guess that’s fine. Everybody has their unique interests.

      The point I was trying to make is that all cameras, from point and shoots to mirrorless to DSLR are all being affected. The increase in quality from smartphones and its universal connectivity to social networks are putting unprecedented pressure on the camera companies.

      I’m curious where are you writing from? I know in the United States, DSLR sales are still king. In Asia, much less. I hear in Europe it’s in the middle some where.

      1. Well, of course, considering your readers, this article makes much more sense.

        What you said about the pressure social network are putting on camera makers. We sure don’t see them responding with serious effort, do we.

        If i speak for myself, deriving from my habits, i see serious photo tools becoming even more niche products. For me, even the social connectivity part isn’t a big deal. I can’t imagine i would very often want to share photos without properly cheking for sharpness on a computer screen and making a few tweaks in Lightroom.

        In Europe, where i’m writing from, i don’t know many people that use mirrorless cameras even as a secondary camera. And I already wrote about my tourist observations.

      2. I think twice in my life I mailed , not to facebook or any other social network, a photo to my family because there was a storm in progress and I didn’t know who else I could send a picture of it from my hotel room high in the white mountains. Other than that, nothing leaves my clutches without at least a quick sharpen and tweak. Pride of product?

      3. Feri Naf, I agree with you. Serious cameras will be increasing niche products for serious photographers like us. I also use social networks like you — post processed photos only on computer, except for Instagram.

        I appreciate your observations for Europe. Thanks for commenting.

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