Viewpoint Nigel Atherton
Nigel Atherton explains why 2018 will go down as a turning point in the camera industry, and why we should be glad
‘If the camera trade doesn’t fight back... there simply won’t be an industry in ten years’
The year 2003 was a significant milestone in camera history. Although digital cameras had been around for years, they were mostly chunky point-and-shoot affairs because DSLRs were unaffordable for the average Joe. Film was still king.
But in 2003 Canon announced the EOS 300D – the first DSLR for under £1,000, and although it was a flawed camera (and an ugly one in its garish silver livery) it rapidly accelerated the switch to digital photography, and the demise of film.
The DSLR has ruled the photographic roost ever since, but not for much longer. Mirrorless cameras made their debut ten years ago, but once again they have taken a while to gain traction and seriously challenge the existing order. Frankly they just weren’t good enough. But technology doesn’t stand still, and while camera designers had taken DSLR innovation about as far as it could go, the mirrorless format has been improving in leaps and bounds with every generation.
The mirrorless movement
This last year, 2018, will be to the DSLR what 2003 was to the 35mm SLR. With Nikon, Canon, Panasonic and Sigma all announcing a move into full-frame mirrorless cameras in the last three months, the momentum for these smaller, lighter, cleverer cameras has now become unstoppable. The R&D resources of every brand will be focused on creating the most compelling mirrorless systems as quickly as possible to persuade DSLR switchers to join their camp. This is already happening. It’s telling that only four new DSLRs were launched in 2018: three were minor updates and the third was an unappealing, stripped down, bargain basement camera aimed mostly at the Asian market.
Photographers on tight budgets will also benefi t from this mirrorless mass migration, because all those unwanted DSLRs will swamp the second- hand market, at knockdown prices. There was a time when film cameras were almost worthless before they came back into fashion with young hipsters. You might now finally be able to afford that once top- of-the- line pro DSLR.
It’s easy to be cynical about the camera trade and say ‘it’s all just about making money’. Well, of course it is. Duh. It’s a business, after all. Or, to be more precise, thousands of businesses employing hundreds of thousands of people. But this sudden acceleration in investment in new cameras, lenses and accessories may be the salvation of the photographic industry, because for the past few years it has been taking a right kicking from the likes of Apple, Samsung and Huawei. The latest generation of camera phones, with their multiple lenses and artificial intelligence (AI), are so good that millions of people are asking why they need a camera at all.
Computational photography is the phone manufacturers’ secret weapon and it’s the photography equivalent of a bunker full of nukes. If the camera trade doesn’t fight back with attractive high-tech products that offer compelling reasons to buy them, there simply won’t be a camera industry in ten years’ time.
The Panasonic LUMIX S series was revealed at this year’s Photokina in Cologne