Why Digital Photography Is a Boon to Camera Makers

Yet another new model? Wasn’t the latest iteration of this camera released only a few months ago? Right, that lineup’s ready for another upgrade… What number eh name again? Improvements? Take Nikon, serving the high end, midrange, upper entry and entry level market with a plethora of similar names. It takes a mathematician’s analytical skills to distinguish between a D3200, D5200, D5300 and D7100, all released within one year. From D600 to D610 barely a year. Back in the film days? Nikon produced fewer cameras. The era spanned half a century with Nikon delivering 35mm rangefinders and film SLRs without and with autofocus. Digital? Just started at the turn of the millennium. But while in the film days a camera was redesigned on average every three to five years, digital consumer cameras get an (often cosmetic) overhaul every one to two years.

Prices? Going up up up, yet all camera manufacturers face difficult times. We all know that phones that became cameras eat into the once profitable business. Still, something is fundamentally wrong with the camera industry. While technology and sensors become cheaper, camera makers jump on the bandwagon of incremental improvements and pricier finishings by promising photographic nirvana which in turn leads to painful inflation in the price of camera gear.

Next step: gold cameras? The Pentax LX Special Gold Edition, 1981 | Michael S. Ready
Next step: gold cameras? The Pentax LX Special Gold Edition, 1981 | Michael S. Ready
Olympus now wants $1,399 for it’s OM-D E-M1. Well, it’s the new number one! Remember the E-M5, announced 17 months before? $100 less at launch. You say only $100, but in economic terms that’s an inflation of nearly 10%. Leica at least keeps its M prices stable… And photographers get confused, torn between what they think is good enough gear and the bold marketing promises of camera makers.

Any good photographer will tell you, “Doesn’t depend a thing on the camera, photography is all about you, the photographer!”

Hmmm… it makes photography so much more pleasant and inspiring to work with a pleasant, inspiring tool, the more so as the industry rolls out tempting candy after candy…

Sure thing a new camera can improve ones photography, but even more so does learning how to properly use that camera and how to anticipate and really see.

And somewhere in this vicious upgrade circle a pain threshold is reached where it just doesn’t make sense anymore to let go of perfectly good, slightly older gear.

These musings actually relate to the not-too-cheap Nikon Df and a reader comment I want to highlight here. Andy Umbo writes:

As a pro, nobody I know is complaining about the camera, we all want one… everybody’s complaining about the price! Almost three grand for a D610 is just not going to make it for us. Digital photography has, for better or worse (and most of us say it’s worse) become the upgrade cash cow of the century for most of these companies.

I was using the same equipment shooting film for over 25 years until the day my clients forced me to go digital; and now I have to replace stuff every two to three years because the client wants a higher pixel rate, different feature or the stuff just breaks and is too costly to fix vs. buying a new one. For most photographers in most markets, digital upgrades are eating their retirement funds and making them live hand to mouth.

The idea that camera companies are building these “almost got it” cameras that need replacement too often is why no one can stay in business anymore. Someone who’s actually been shooting for years could sit down with a camera company and design a camera we all want with the features we all want; but then they’d sell us only one every 15 years instead of every three years. When the Nikon appeared at this price point I just said: “That’s it, I’m done…”.

And Andy adds:

I think the big problem for most of us “pros” is that the modern digital camera industry never gave us a camera we wanted anyway. It’s hard for people to understand, but I tell “amateurs” and “pro-ams” (and “pretenders”) all the time that “back-in-the-day”, the feud between Canon and Nikon, and in a smaller part Pentax and Leica, and their use by professionals, was just all advertising garbage. The amateurs’ only understanding of what pros used was based on what they read in the press, and the press covered their own.

In any given year, any town over half a million had far more professional commercial photographers and wedding photographers than photojournalists, and those professional photographers couldn’t sell anything done on a 35mm format camera to save their souls. There was ten times the amount of pros using 120, mostly Hasselblad, and view camera, in my area mostly Deardorf and Cambo, all manual.

To this day, all I want for the work I do is a manual camera, that you can actually focus on a ground glass viewfinder (instead of the fibre optics viewfinder most cameras have that are unfocusable), and a nice set of F2.8 primes. I can go on and on about this for pages, since I was there and managing a large photography department for a retailer at the dawn of digital; but you get the picture…

So back in the days 35mm was belittled. You could say digital 35mm is the new medium format… To make things worse, add the fast depreciation of digital gear. Holy camera cycle of life.

Right, blame the camera.

Or you still want that “one more lens”?

What’s the better wider angle lens?

Take a step backward.

If you have no talent, it doesn’t matter how much you spend. Your work will still be uninspired.

It may sound like an oxymoron to some but in the right hands a 5MP camera phone takes better pictures than the latest 20 something megapixel DSLR.

The best camera can get the worst pictures.

Get over it.

You make the photo. Not the camera.

It’s as simple as that.

Amen.

Still, Nikon knows that Df is hardly resistible…



  • Fiddlergene

    I gave up on the Nikon FF treadmill after I realized the Fuji XP1 can give me all I want/ need and more, and not break my back or bank account. So glad to have bailed on Nikon. When I feel that the camera/lens combo gives me what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye, I have no need to upgrade. A newer camera with more technology than I’ll ever need is not going to make my work better.

    • callibrator

      Good for you. You should stick to your Fuji X-P1 and leave other FF users alone. Use what works for you the best, no need to brag about or trying to justify your purchase or decision in public.

      • Paul Stevenson

        It’s also funny how many of the Fuji brigade hat jumped ship from full frame to X-series are feeling they might have made a mistake. I organize weekly city-scape walkabouts and landscape tours and the number of those “I wish I haven’t sold my Canon/Nikon DSLR” astounds me.
        Don’t get me wrong, Fujifilm X are great cameras, but the transition isn’t as simple or straightforward as statements found on the Web would lead you to believe.

        The happiest crowd among those I found are the fortunate ones that have enough means to be able to keep the both systems in their arsenal, however a 95% people’s financial reality paints a different picture.

        • The main reasons, Paul, for the regrets having sold CaNikon?

          • Andy Umbo

            Just thought I’d pop in here with an aside, but I love the look and feel of the Fuji stuff, 100 years of camera design gave us some beautiful cameras before the modern electronics era started making cameras look like they were carved out of plastic blocks. Fuji harkens back to the era of being proud to have a piece of machine-art in your hand.

            BUT, and this is a big BUT, I have yet to see anything out of their chip that looks sharp. Much of the advertising I see for them has marginal photo’s in them that don’t look all that sharp, and certainly not as sharp as images I’ve seen out of an APS-C 24 megapixel Nikon. I can’t find anyone with a copy to get a file to see if that’s true, or just bad advertising. No matter how beautiful the camera, if the sharpness just isn’t there…well…

            BTW, that’s a comment for another time: What’s up with this terrible advertising for camera and lens companies? Lens companies are the worst, too. Can’t anyone hire a professional to take a decent shot, or find a real professional who uses their stuff, to buy a picture? In a way, it’s like a microcosm of what’s happening in the industry. bad amateurs getting a share of the professional photography market from end users that either don’t care, can’t recognize quality, or buy what they can at an unrealistic low price!

  • Passageways

    “It takes a mathematician’s analytical skills to distinguish between a D3200, D5200, D5300 and D7100”

    Or common sense to know there is very little ‘applicable’ difference.

    IMO digital might as well for most purposes be shot on a P&S that costs a few hundred dollars. Post processing will make your images, in most cases, look good enough on the computer screen. And the computer screen is where most images end up, when shared online; usually considerably downsized. After a few days or weeks or months it disappears. Gone. forever. Gnada.

    It is an absurd situation where people spend huge amounts of money to upgrade to the latest digital versions they really do not need and then, buy software to help them make their images look like film photography.

    Talk about teaching a dog to chase its own tail.

    PS Granted for certain pros they have little choice but to keep up with the competition. But that’s another story altogether.

  • PWL

    Alright, I fell into the trap. I DID buy the EM-1, even though I bought the EM-5. Only excuse I can offer Is that I was disappointed with the fact that the EM-5 didn’t work that well with the 4/3 lenses I have, and the EM-1 does. So I hope I’ll be using the EM-1 for a while, and avoid temptation when Olympus comes out with the Next Big Thing.

    • Well if you bought the EM-1 for the very reason of better compatibility with Four Thirds lenses, that’s a perfectly valid buying/upgrade reason. I just hope the difference is as remarkable as marketed!

  • Andy Umbo is complaining about the digital camera upgrade mill, but conveniently forgets to mention the considerable savings in film and processing. Pro Photographers’ finances have deteriorated dramatically in the last decade, but that’s primarily driven by downward pressure on prices from amateurs, not due to an explosion in costs.

    • Andy Umbo

      Hi Fazal, FYI, as a professional, the cost of film and processing is “not-my-cost”, it’s passed on to the client. They pay all expenses on a job. The cost of half thought out cameras that get behind rapidly in tech and have to be replaced every few years, at the client’s request, not mine; IS my cost, and hard to justify with the day rates!

      • Good point. I don’t think that is the case with all pros, though. Wedding photographers don’t get to recover expenses and have to work on a project rate, for instance.

        • Andy Umbo

          Hi Fazal, just another FYI: for commercial and advertising photographers, almost everything was an ‘up-charge’, from mileage, to assistant, to film. I can say with all honesty, the ‘handling-charge’ on film alone, on a big project, could get close to equaling the day rate! Digital is not only killing me in having to repurchase non-mature technology, at the client request, every time there’s a significant up-grade, it’s also killing me in lost profit from film mark-up and storage fees.

  • fine. So why does this site – along with countless others – owe it’s lifeblood to the never ending spew of New! Improved! AWESOME! cameras ? What about writing about photography and photographers, principally ?

    Or yeah… because:

    a) it’s hard(er) work
    b) nobody’s interested

    and that’s why Digital Photography Is A Boon To Bloggers.

    • Agree with you David, I’ll have to focus more again on photography. Still, this is a Photography Daily, so the latest and greatest should be mentioned. You’ll find lots of photographer and photography topics on THEME, just search the archive.

      And it’s always nice to have reader contributions published. Why not yours?