For the past few years now, the digital photography camera market has been on a steady decline. Some people blame it on smartphones taking over the big chunk of camera sales, while others have related other factors to the decreased camera sales. While we have written a number of articles on this topic, I personally don’t think that there is only one factor that can be singled out as the root cause – I believe there are a number of different factors contributing to the shrinking sales. One of such factors could be “Last Camera Syndrome”, which many photographers seem to be experiencing lately. With image sensors pretty much hitting the innovation wall, we have only seen camera manufacturers pushing more resolution and feature upgrades lately, which does not seem to sit well with potential buyers. And if we take a look at the entry-level cameras, they all seem to only contribute to the camera pollution, with nothing new and exciting, just refreshed model numbers for the sake of grabbing news headlines. We no longer see big leaps in image quality as we had previously seen in the past, with more photographers settling on one camera – their last camera.
Perhaps one of the biggest spikes in camera gear interest was experienced at the time Nikon debuted the D800 and D800E cameras and Canon released its 5D Mark III in 2012. It was a huge year. The Canon 5D Mark III transformed the movie recording industry, whereas every Nikon shooter was pixel-peeping 36 MP images from the D800 / D800E and realizing how big of a jump it was from the previous-generation 12 MP sensor. It took Nikon months to fulfill all the pre-orders, because the demand was just too high. Nikon was also busy rehashing its prime lens line-up, releasing more and more superb f/1.8 lenses for the mass market. And Canon was busy selling the 5D Mark III and a boatload of lenses to a whole new market segment. Without a doubt, 2012 was the golden year for the big two.
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Lack of Innovation
Fast forward five years. Neither Nikon nor Canon have been able to bring anything as innovative to the market. The Nikon D810 was a very marginal, but functional upgrade – arguably the camera the Nikon D800/D800E should have been when it was released. While interest in the D810 was definitely there, it was nowhere close to the hype the D800 and D800E generated. After the D600 fiasco, Nikon brought out the very balanced Nikon D750, but it also failed to generate huge sales. Canon pushed hard on its 50 MP 5DS and 5DSR cameras, but neither really took off and the 5D Mark IV was an utter disappointment for folks interested in video features.
Meanwhile, other camera manufacturers have been rolling out mirrorless technology as fast as they can. Although mirrorless cameras are definitely gaining market share, they have not fully caught up with DSLRs for capturing fast action and have their own set of disadvantages (see DSLR vs mirrorless). Despite the technological appeal of mirrorless cameras, their market penetration and resulting sales have been fairly low.
More Resolution, Features and Bigger Sensors
The push for more resolution has not resulted in immediate market recovery (see How Much Resolution Do You Really Need?) and adding extra features does not seem to be helping either, so now we see companies attempting to go for the good old “bigger is better” or “smaller and lighter” tactics. Full-frame cameras have never been cheaper, and Fuji with Hasselblad are opening up the “affordable” medium format territory for professional and enthusiast photographers wanting bigger sensors. Unfortunately, with the very marginal improvements over full-frame cameras and the high barrier of entry for the masses, medium format will most likely stay in a very small niche, so its role won’t affect the big picture. At the end of the day though, all camera systems produce very similar image quality for a given sensor size and even smaller 1″ sensors can be excellent choices for most photographers out there.
Buying Cameras is No Longer an Investment
With so many different cameras, the market is now flooded with way too many options. If in the past I used the word “invest” when talking about cameras, I can no longer call any camera purchase an investment, since they depreciate in value faster than ever – very similar to what happened to the computer and TV industries. Because of this, the cost of changing camera systems and upgrading has become prohibitively high for many.
In short, it seems like we have already hit the innovation wall when it comes to sensor technology, and most photographers don’t feel the urge to upgrade to the latest and greatest as they have done in the past. Now you might be wondering, what does the “Last Camera Syndrome” have to do with all this?
What is Last Camera Syndrome?
Last Camera Syndrome is experienced when one intends to purchase a camera that they are not willing to upgrade in the future (until it dies or gets stolen). The intent is to find a camera that has good enough resolution, shooting speed, ISO performance and features for their needs, so that they don’t have to crave for more later. The first person to coin the term “Last Camera Syndrome” is Thom Hogan, who wrote an article back in 2013, describing the state of mind of those who experience it.
Now personally, I don’t like the word “syndrome” to describe this, since the word has negativity attached to it, similar to a disease. I can see why “Gear Acquisition Syndrome” makes sense. But not willing to buy another camera for many years in my opinion is not a bad thing, so I suggest we change the term to something friendlier, like “Last Camera State”.
Last Camera State – Good For Photographers, Bad for Camera Manufacturers
If sensors are not going to get any better, choosing not to upgrade cameras for many years is definitely good for us photographers. Why spend money if we don’t have to? Less gear lust and reduction in resulting purchases also translate to better long-term use and value of camera gear. If cameras are bought less often, the used market won’t be as flooded as it currently is. And perhaps one day, buying a camera will again be considered an investment.
At the same time, less volume will also negatively impact the bottom line of camera manufacturers. Dropping sales will result in camera manufacturers shrinking their marketing and R&D budgets, which will not only decrease the number of camera models launched in a given period (good for us), but also potentially increase camera prices in the long run (bad for us) – in a way, it is a catch 22 situation. And if sales really go sour, smaller players might quit the race altogether, which is definitely not good for everyone.
The Best “Last Camera”?
If you were to pick the best last camera for your needs, what would it be? I personally cannot single out one particular camera, because the answer is going to depend on one’s needs. However, here is a quick summary of what I would personally pick for different types of photography:
- Everyday Needs: Fuji X-T2 with a set of Fujinon primes and zooms, or equivalent Micro Four Thirds camera and lenses. The Nikon D750 coupled with a set of lightweight Nikkor f/1.8 primes would also be a great choice for the best image quality.
- Landscape / Architecture Photography: Nikon D810 with the holy trinity (14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm)
- Sports / Wildlife Photography: Nikon D500 with 200-500mm VR and super telephoto lenses
- Portrait Photography: Any APS-C or full-frame mirrorless camera with good subject / face tracking (Fuji X-T2, Sony A7-series, etc)
Do you have the Last Camera State? If the answer is yes, please share what your last camera purchase is in the comments section below!