This is bold prediction, but it’s clear to me that over the next several years, the standalone still camera will disappear from the hands of everyone – with the exception of a few high end professionals.
Professional photographers (if they still exist then… and I think many, or to be honest some will) will continue to make photographs with DSLR/ Medium format and perhaps mirrorless still cameras – but the vast majority of photographers will continue the exodus towards smartphones.
The smartphones and/or iPhones have already won.
I’ve been a photographer for 25 years now. I learned on black and white film and transferred to C-41 and then Chrome E-6. I was classically trained in a black and white darkroom and in color reversal and cibachrome printing. I was also one of the first staff photographers at The New York Times to shoot with then high-end digital cameras in 1999 – the $22,000 Canon D2000s.
Recently I’ve been working on a project called “AIR” that involves flying over cities around the world and photographing them at night from high altitude from a helicopter and I am LOVING the current cameras out there – they are AMAZING!!! We are working with the best cameras ever made today, that far exceed what film could ever have done. (Outside of 8X10 film for certain uses.)
Just two days ago, a friend (an amateur) and I went out to photograph with our still cameras and our iPhones. He had a Sony A7s, and I had a Leica M9. I also had access to a Pentax medium format 50 MP camera at the time.
Here’s what happened: my Leica M9 and his Sony A7s literally served as extremely expensive STANDS for the iPhones – to prop them up as we photographed a series of time lapses, stills, videos and slow motion videos over several hours.
The key take away here isn’t that iPhones are BETTER than still cameras. Not by a long shot. Let me repeat that again: iPhones and Smartphones are not better cameras by any stretch of the imagination to still cameras with specialized lenses.
The key is that the software on those smartphones, and the social media platforms and instant connection to the web – ARE BETTER and cannot be overcome by camera companies that fail to integrate software within their camera bodies going forward.
The software that is installed on those smartphones and iPhones and what you can do with it supersedes the advantage that any once camera system alone gives you for most of us – professionals will continue to need speciality lenses, lights, and larger megapixels to differentiate themselves from the masses. (So if you’re a professional you can breathe, this article is not necessarily aimed at you… but the truth of it is: it IS. more on that later.)
The engineering power and ideas behind the variety of photo / video and more important the social media software that can be installed on your phone is simply too powerful to ignore. Just remember to turn on airplane mode before you start your next masterpiece…
And you can’t ignore the single most important factor: you always have your phone with you.
And another HUGE factor: who wants to stick a CF/SD card in a computer, import, edit, tone, export, share / publish a website anymore – when you can do the same thing in 1-3 clicks of your thumb on a Smartphone?
The battle is over… the smartphones and iOSs have won. The quality is good enough on a smartphone/iPhone today, that when combined with software the need for a dedicated still camera can appear to be a burden to the majority of people out there: unless they have a specific technical need that only a DSLR or speciality lenses can offer.
With platforms like Twitter, FB, Storehouse, Instagram, 500 pixels, Tumblr etc etc – it’s too late to go back to the clunky way of doing things unless you are TRULY a big time hobbyist who loves the process. And I do! But not that often… and truth is: we’re in the vast minority. More pictures are taken in a short period every day than in the entire history of humanity combined… think about it. I love to shoot black and white film as well! But try to get it processed… that’s the point: the labs can’t make enough to justify staying open: because we aficionados are in the minority. Hard to admit, but true numerically. Try finding a photo lab that processes black and white film …
The technological trends and shift towards digital and now smartphones that are connected to the web, are undeniably the most important factors at play here: we’re all gotten used to having a $300-$900 mini computer on us at ALL times, and you can’t compete with a tool that is glued to your end-user… no camera company can compete with that, and they simply haven’t even tried to put editing/social media software into their cameras, which is a potentially devastating oversight long term.
And here is why it’s relevant to professional photographers:
Long story short: most companies are going to stop catering to the professional high end market. The market has changed enough in the past years so significantly, that’s it’s more likely that the average user is following a YouTube user you may never have heard of – as opposed to a highly decorated and respected professional photographer who is an “Ambassador” for a specific brand. We should all be paying attention to this trend… Brands follow the clicks and traffic – end of story. Today is all about “ROI” or “Return on Investment” or clicks that can be tracked and quantified.
Long gone are the days of the National Geographic Ads where David Doubilet did ads for Rolex… most people don’t seem to care anymore as to which publication you work for or what your long work history is: they just want to know what the coolest thing you did LAST WEEK that they can distract themselves with.
So why does this matter to the professional?
Well it all started years ago, and one example is Apple’s relation to “Pro Apps” over the past few years in many ways – although recently Apple has retraced its steps a bit, you’ll notice that there isn’t a clear focus from that company on what are termed “Pro Apps” (as I said they are putting a LOT of attention into Final Cut X for example) but you may have noticed that Aperture was laid to rest late last year – which was terribly sad for me on a number of levels.
Now Apple is focusing on the OS X “Photo” App – which they are putting a lot of work into, but not claiming should be a replacement for Aperture or necessarily a “Pro” oriented App. And frankly it makes a lot of sense for Apple to do so, they are making their money off of iOS – look at the graph below from this article, it’s fascinating. You should be seeing that “Pro Apps” income is almost non existent (obviously if they stop selling the apps… the income will naturally dwindle) but look at where it’s going! 10 BILLION in apps… pay attention.
Apple is not at all to blame here, I just point them out because they ARE the leader in the photo market space whether you know it or not. They have the most popular camera in the world (the iPhone) and they set trends that other companies follow given that they are the largest market cap company in the world and have sold half a BILLION devices…
So what does that mean for Camera manufacturers? Well simply put: they don’t make their money from “us” the “professionals.” Never have, and definitely never will. Until recently they made it from the larger portion of the pyramid of pro-ams, and amateurs who wanted to emulated the “pros” on the top of said pyramid. As people migrate towards Smartphones and new devices, there is going to be very, VERY little incentive for them to put the hundreds of millions of dollars into R&D into flagship high end DSLRs etc cameras that cater to the needs of the pros (a very small number on the “top” of that pyramid).
If you look at the latest Samsung NX1 Mirrorless DSLR for example: it’s a pretty remarkable camera on paper. I’ve played with it for all of 2 minutes and I have to admit that I was impressed. 15 frames a second. 4K with the first company to do H.265 … but is ANYONE talking about this camera? I’ve never heard of it, had a friend bring it up, or seen an ad for it. And that’s a very important detail:
This may be a great camera: but most people have already moved on in my opinion. They care more about new apps, new social media trends, new techniques and tricks with their EXISTING cameras, and the new gadget tech companies might next release on your wrist or whatever they’ll come up with next.
I and many other professionals will likely (definitely) continue to use high end professional cameras for years to come, for example there is NO OTHER TOOL than the high end cameras that could have captured the images at night that I shot for the project “AIR” from a helicopter series recently. It should be noted that those images led to very little when they were published in the magazine they were shot for… not a single call or email. But that once those images were published on a new platform called “Storehouse” it lead to thousands of e-mails, millions of views, and a year-long-worldwide project… times area a’chaning!
But some of you may have also have noticed that Apple released a patent to a camera that looked a heck of a lot like a “GoPro” a few weeks ago… and GoPro’s stock fell precipitously as a result. It may have just been one of MANY patents Apple files routinely that never lead to anything that we see for years, or never goes to market. But who knows what they are working on in the future and how they will integrate photography: you can see it’s an INTEGRAL part of who they are and what the phone does today. I have a hard time imagining an Apple camera right now: but if they were to, I can see it having a bigger impact and interesting a greater MASS of people significantly more than say: a 200 megapixel camera.
And that’s the point: it’s not necessarily about the search for the BEST camera, it’s the challenge to make the MOST POPULAR and WIDELY ADOPTED camera. And the Smartphones have already won that battle.
So as you like;y continue to see the camera market shrink in the next few years, (remember those things called “Point and Shoot” cameras that we used to buy just a few years ago that you don’t ever see anymore…) you’ll hopefully better understand that pros are going to increasingly become a niche market. Long gone will be the days of huge conventions with massive camera manufacturer booths.
To be clear, I don’t wish this at all, but it’s so clearly evident to me that I wanted to put it down in writing for others to consider. I made a similar prediction about the print industry in 2008 in a blog post called “The Cloud is Falling.” At the time I left a cozy staff photographer job at The New York Times (perhaps a little prematurely) as I saw that the model wasn’t sustainable. I had some colleagues literally call me “crazy” or “stupid” to my face. I know see them taking buyouts every quarter… and trust me I feel absolutely nothing good about having been “right.” At this point: I see the same thing happening here with cameras over the next 2-5 years unfortunately.
And this is worth repeating: the point of this article is to point out how the MAJORITY of our habits are changing… it doesn’t really matter what tools “professionals” want to use, this is not a discussion about the tools they “should be” using. The point is a larger one: as camera companies follow the market and trends, focusing on the professional market – which has been the mainstay of the business model for decades – will become harder and harder to justify. And that will end up affecting professionals both directly and indirectly: regardless of the choices that THEY make in the tools that they want to use.
Don’t forget that a company’s “raison d’être” isn’t to make you happy… it’s to stay in business and to follow the money. A mere five minutes study of the stock market should confirm that to any naysayer.
“Evolve or die” is definitely becoming the battle cry of the day. As long as you keep an open mind and see new opportunities that are popping up out there every day due to new ideas and technologies – you will be fine! And if you see opportunity instead of feeling nostalgic – you may end up doing really, really well actually.