There have been some interesting debates lately about what’s ‘wrong’ with the digital camera market as people try to understand the rather dramatic decline in unit sales that has been happening over the past 4 or 5 years, with volumes down by half from their peak. I let my old, porous brain muse on this for a while and have some perspectives to share. One way to look at this situation is to simply accept that there is nothing fundamentally ‘wrong’ with the camera market at all in terms of sales volumes. From a macro-economic perspective we could view the digital camera market as functioning exactly as every other market has done when a breakthrough technology burst onto its stage. If we look at the history of various product markets the basic rise and fall of market volumes are predictable when they have been impacted by fundamental technological shifts – in the case of cameras it was of seismic proportions going from film to digital. When any kind of ‘game changing’ technology takes hold in any market there are initial and dramatic volume surges as consumers leave their current technology and adopt the new one. That huge upward spike in initial demand then declines quickly as soon as the initial ‘change-over’ market demand for the new technology has been met. Product life-cycle planning is based on these fundamentals.
If you haven’t noticed, camera sales are down. I mean, they’re way down. Unsurprisingly, everyone’s scrambling to find a reason why. There’s a video floating around from Mayflower Concepts that, at the very least, explains what is not the cause for the camera sales drop. If you don’t have 50 minutes to watch it for yourself, here’s the “TL;DR” version: It’s not due to the rise of phones with cameras – at least, not in the way you think. It’s not because the economy is in the tank, as most camera manufacturers claim on their financial reports. There’s simply no strong correlation between any of the global financial crises, or the simple existence of cameras on phones, to have any reason to believe either is the cause for a huge drop in sales.
If there was a 100 MP DSLR announced tomorrow, I would pre-order it, then spend many sleepless nights waiting for it to arrive. I’d suffer nightmares where Imatest monsters would kick Zeiss Otus’s around and laugh at their feeble attempts at keeping up with my high resolution camera. It would get even worse when I put a second mortgage on my house so I could afford the new supercomputer to crunch those images. I’d pace the halls of my house, past my favorite matted and framed 24”x36” lens chart prints, while wondering if I needed a car with a bigger trunk that could carry enough CF cards for a day’s shooting.
Each year camera manufacturers are pushing the limits of sensor technology and the latest trend has been to increase sensor resolution to numbers that were considered unfathomable before. With full-frame cameras reaching 50 megapixels (MP) and medium format cameras pushing beyond 80 MP, we now know that the megapixel race won’t stop there and we will most likely be seeing cameras with even more resolution in the future. But the big question remains – how much resolution does one truly need today? Is 12 MP too little? Is 50 MP too much? While it is a subject that can be open to endless debates, I have been working on a methodology to determine the ideal megapixel range for one’s needs. In this article, I will share what I came up with and it will hopefully serve as a good guide for our readers in deciding how to address the megapixel quench. I highly recommend to read my camera resolution explained article as a pre-requisite to understand the relationship of resolution to printing, cropping, display size and to understand such terms as down-sampling in more detail.
Although the megapixel race has been going on since digital cameras had been invented, the last few years in particular have seen a huge increase in resolution – we have seen everything from 41 megapixel camera phones to now 50.6 megapixel full-frame DSLR cameras. It seems like we have already reached the theoretical maximum for handling noise at high ISOs with the current generation sensor technology, so the manufacturers are now focusing their efforts in packing more resolution, while keeping sensor sizes the same in order to lure more customers to upgrade to the latest and greatest. In this article, I will try to explain some basic terminology in regards to resolution and hopefully help our readers in understanding camera resolution better.
If you are wondering about how images look from the newly announced Canon 5DS and 5DS R DSLR cameras, below you will find the official image samples from Canon USA for both cameras. Let’s take a look at the 5DS images first (apologies for wrong orientation on vertical images – our system could not properly handle orientation on such large files):
The ever-raging Canon vs Nikon debate might have you believing users of those particular systems are the most loyal to their brands. From what I’ve seen, though, neither Canon nor Nikon shooters have anything on those who shoot Pentax and swear by it. It’s a very niche system, that. No other DSLR manufacturer has such an array of competitive products priced so aggressively, that are also so compact and, when it comes to high-end models, so brilliantly rugged. No other DSLR manufacturer has such a great lineup of tiny, high quality autofocus prime lenses. And no other DSLR manufacturer has had so much trouble trying to find its identity. For a while now, Pentax has been experimenting with the narrowest of niches, launching boldly styled cameras, or boldly tiny interchangeable lens cameras with even smaller sensors. And yet those loyal to the brand always stuck by it. How happy they must be now that those who always ridiculed the brand will have their most valuable argument brushed away – “Pentax has no FF camera”. It’s true, there is no full-frame Pentax camera. But there will be, and rather soon. And for those who would rather avoid the pointless which-system-is-better debates, it means a new alternative to the best DSLR cameras on the market is soon to present itself.
When Canon announced the 7D Mark II in September of 2014, I got quite intrigued by the camera and really wanted to try it out. Like many others, I have been getting pretty tired of waiting for Nikon’s “Pro DX” refresh to replace the D300S, which came out back in 2009 (almost 6 years ago!), so I wanted to see whether such a tool would still make sense for Nikon to release based on specifications, performance and price. Sporting a high-end autofocus system with 65 cross-type focus points, insanely fast 10 fps continuous shooting speed, dual image processors, -3 EV light sensitivity, magnesium alloy construction and weather sealing, the Canon 7D Mark II is specifically tailored at sports and wildlife photographers. And with its price tag of $1799 MSRP, the 7D Mark II sounds much more appealing to budget-conscious photographers who do not want to pay close to 4x more for the much heavier and bulkier EOS-1D X.
DSLR customers have had a nagging sense that manufacturers were far more interested in having them upgrade their cameras than providing additional capabilities to the customers that already purchased DSLRs. Back in the days of mechanical film cameras, it would have been a challenge for OEMs to deliver upgraded capabilities to existing customers. Customers would have had to bring their equipment into a local shop or send it to the camera manufacturer to be retrofitted with new capabilities – a prospect not very practical or financially attractive for manufacturers or customers. In a digital world, however, enhancing just about any product has become a simple software download and installation process. Thus the idea that any digital product (particularly a sophisticated and expensive one) should remain relatively static over its lifetime has become obsolete. It appears that Nikon may be ready to acknowledge and address this growing concern.
In September of 2014, my wife and I had the great fortune to take the trip of a lifetime to South Africa, Botswana and Zambia. The trip was more than a year in the planning which gave me the chance to think about what camera equipment I wanted to take along. Our itinerary was not one of the ones designed specifically for photographers however I had no doubt we would have plenty of opportunity to take pictures!