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

Amateur Photographer - - Nigel Atherton - Nigel Ather­ton is Editor of Am­a­teur Pho­tog­ra­pher.

‘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

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