January 2020 Camera Talk: The Number One Thing That Happened To The Camera Industry Since The Last Decade

Good January morn you happy war torn camera loving people and a belated Happy New Year! The New Year is always a good time for reflection but it’s also a time for moving forward.

Well, I was getting a little misty about the end of 2019 and the end of that decade but this year I resolve to be less nostalgic (if that’s possible!) so let’s dive right in…

THE NUMBER ONE MOST SIGNIFICANT THING TO HAPPEN TO THE CAMERA WORLD IN THE LAST DECADE

Perhaps the most significant thing I have seen in the photography world as we end the years from 2010-2019 and enter the new decade of the 2020’s is this:

Smartphone and the cameras in them have taken over as the most popular means of taking pictures. It seems that Steve Jobs vision of doing everything with our phones has more wide ranging implications than anyone ever thought possible! From shopping to dating to photography, we can do it all on our phones.

It’s something you probably already know but perhaps had not thought deeply about its implications and effects. Here’s the first effect:

“REAL CAMERAS” ARE BECOMING PASSE!

Now some might even say that “real cameras” are not just becoming but are passe! And what do I mean by “real cameras?”

I saw a report on a major NYC  television station about this a few months ago. The reporter spoke of how “traditional cameras” as they called it, are disappearing in light of the capable smartphone cameras. First thing I thought of when I saw the report was, oh this must be a slow news day 🙂

But secondly, I thought the reporter was just stating the obvious. Even when walking around a big city like New York, I see less and less of what I call “real cameras.”

Well, first off I’m not even talking about film cameras at this point. To the vast majority of the general public, film photography and film cameras truly are a thing of the past and so far out of their train of thought that it’s not even a consideration. It’s really only relevant to us hardcore camera geeks and their importance to us shows that we just live in our own little world.

Cameras like the Sony A7 series or Canon 5D series are awesome but to the general public, “real cameras” such as these are becoming passe as smartphone cameras get more capable.

When I speak of “real cameras” I mean anything that could be perceived as a real camera vs a cell phone camera. It could be a DSLR, a mirrorless, a digital point and shoot. Basically anything that can be viewed as a real camera is becoming passe.

“Snap Shooter” 2005. Canon EOS-20D, EF-S 18-55mm. In 2005 I posted this photo to one of the photo sharing sites and joked that one day the cell phone camera may take over the world of photography. Fifteen years later, it’s not a joke any more! 🙂

This is not just my observation, I think anyone can see that the cell phone cameras have taken over the world. They are the reason for the decline in camera sales worldwide. They just keep getting better and better and to a large majority of the world the best cell phone cameras have gotten to the point where it’s “good enough.”

THE “GOOD ENOUGH” ERA

Friends we are living in the “Good Enough” era. Just like someone told me how much better the vinyl record is versus the compact disc and I told the next person how much better the cd is from their mp3 and it went in one ear and out the other, a large majority can get by on “good enough” because of one factor: Convenience.

Just like streaming music and movies have become so popular because of their convenience so too has mobile photography. And I’m not trying to sell the people short. People are smart. They still want quality but unlike true camera fanatics the general public can stop obsessing at a certain point. Camera fanatics cannot.

The fact is, just like streaming movies and music, the quality is “good enough” for most consumers. The convenience tradeoffs between having to physically put a vinyl record on the turntable and having to sit down and listen to it, versus just downloading it and listening to your music anywhere is too great for a large majority. However I firmly believe, if the quality of the downloads really sucked it wouldn’t be as popular. But to the contrary, the quality of the downloaded movies or music are extremely good. Certainly better than anything we had in the VHS days 🙂

In 2005 or 2007 or even 2012, cell phone cameras were nowhere near good enough. That’s why cameras like the Canon EOS 7D or Nikon D7000 we’re so popular and seen often on the streets and everywhere in the real world. But today, for many people, they don’t feel the need for “big ass” (excuse my language!) cameras. The best of the cell phone cameras have gotten good enough.

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The rest of us mere mortals could probably get by on the hot new and way more affordable Canon EOS 6D MKII!

In 2016, I wrote an article on how good the cell phone cameras have become. I mentioned that I have already recommended to anyone who asked to just keep their point and shoot digital home because I felt the cell phone cameras even then could get the job done. I said it was “getting close.”

With last year’s release of phones such as the iPhone 11 and Google’s Pixel 4, it’s gotten even closer. You can now shoot low light with these phones the way a few years before people would be looking at an APS-C point and shoot like the Ricoh GR series. Plus you can now do even more with these phones, 4k video, slow motion, time lapse, etc, etc. Plus you can with some simple steps process the images or even make whole movies on the phone then upload them very quickly to your favorite social media platform. The “real cameras” are still quite clumsy in this way.

“Pine” 2020. Take a look at this night exposure from an “old” 2015 model iPhone 6s Plus. It used to be that you had to use big “serious” cameras to get this! Sure the faces are dark, but it was dark outside. I could have easily lifted it post process but that would take away from the night mood.

Now I’m not saying these phones will beat the best from Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc. Of course, if you blow up the photos, print them large or pixel peep you are going to see a difference. But a large majority of the world are not doing that.

They like what they see from their phones. They are not printing. Or if they do, it’s primarily 4×6 greeting cards. They don’t care if the bokeh is fake, they just like that they can now (in the latest phones) blur the background using some clever processing that the phones can do automatically. They like that they can use a myriad of filters on their phones to give the images are different look and feel. And they love that they can share this within minutes or seconds.

“Fire & Brimstone” 2019. Apple iPhone 6s Plus and some in camera processing made for an easy and dramatic photo.

I’m not just saying all this stuff from a generalized view of things. I see this in the real world with friends, family, coworkers etc. People I know who used to be big time DSLR shooters. You are probably seeing the same things.

And in all honesty, the phones have gotten good enough where in small prints you will not see a lot of differences. A good example, recently a friend showed me an 8×10 print from a Nikon D3300 with the 18-55mm Nikkor kit lens vs an 8×10 from an iPhone 11 of the same subject. It was really hard to spot the difference. Now if  it was one of Nikon’s better lenses, maybe the differences would be more obvious but as it is I can see why to a lot of people out there, the phones have gotten “good enough.” The scary thing is that this is just beginning. The smartphone cameras will get even better!

Of course, the phone cameras still cannot compete for wildlife or sports but these are specialty segments. For a broad range of shooting, ie, street, portraits, parties, even product shots, a modern cell phone camera in the hands of a skilled photographer can get the job done.

So this explains why we see less and less people carrying around big camera gear or even little mirrorless camera gear. Especially with a big DSLR and big lens, you will look like a fossil from 2005! 🙂

I admit that I myself am guilty of not bringing out my serious gear as often these days. I’m more selective on where and when to bring them. If I’m going to a wedding or important event, I’ll bring it. For a house party with friends, I keep it home.

And the second and sad byproduct of the rise of the cell phone camera is something most other bloggers won’t tell you.

Shhh…Can you keep a secret? If yes, ok then, come closer. Let me whisper in your ear:

CAMERA REVIEWING IS PASSE!

Ok, I said it, now let’s keep it a secret ok?! Alright, in all seriousness, I’m being serious. I mean, it’s hard for me to say such a thing because this is a camera review site after all and yes from time to time I do review cameras and even more so, I’m just a camera and lens fanatic.

Even if I’m not posting as often, cameras and lenses are my passion, other than my family or music. And I’m an old school camera guy to boot.

That said, I’m realistic and I’m on with the times. I see what’s going on. The camera review thing is just getting outdated. It’s overdone, over saturated, and just too much these days.

Every day a new kid on the block is reviewing cameras and lenses. I’ve lost track and everyone begins to look and sound the same. Talking about the same cameras, same lenses. I should know. Five years ago I was the new kid on the block! A new old kid I should say 🙂

When I first showed up on YouTube in 2018 I’m sure people felt the same way about me. Like, who is this guy? Who is this jerk? 🙂

The “Night Stalker?” The “Midnight Rider?” Who is this jerk? 🙂

Funny thing is this is actually not new to me. In the mid 90s I was leaving comments which were basically like “mini reviews” on sites like photo.net because in those early days of the internet, it was something new and I found it really engaging to interact with people who had the same interests.

Photo.net was one of the original “Granddaddy” photography sites and some great reviewers like Thom Hogan come out of that site. I remember when he was just posting his opinions there! I then started sharing pictures and reviewing cameras and lenses on sites like Pbase in the early 2000s where I remember guys like Steve Huff and Sylvain Halgand starting what would eventually lead them to their current blogs or websites right now, so I’ve been around. I just haven’t gotten as famous or successful as those guys 🙂

But that’s ok. I’ve never been driven by the need to make money out of this. But in 2020, camera reviews to me seem passe. I’m not saying it’s over. I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it. I’m just saying I don’t see it as something all that interesting any more in its current state. I mean, how many reviews of the Canon R or Nikon Z do we need? Similarly, how many times can we read or look at a review of the Canon AE-1? Leica M6? Contax T2? It’s all been done folks!

The truth of the matter is the majority of the world shoots with their phone cameras or mobile devices. And if I review a relatively uncommon camera, say a Polaroid 110B or Speed Graphic who is going to be reading or watching? Two, maybe three people max? Needless to say, it doesn’t give me a lot of motivation to put the work into it, especially when I have family and other businesses to tend to.

GOING FORWARD

So if camera reviews are passé what will I do going forward. Well, for one I’m always going to try and give you guys a different perspective on things. I mean, it’s not going to be any better than any one else, but I want to use my experiences to give you a somewhat different take on things. For example, the one time I spoke of the Canon AE-1, I didn’t dwell on what a great camera it is. Everyone it’s a good (if not great) camera. Instead, I spoke of how the prices were going up because as I said…You guys are buying them up! 🙂

Same for the Contax T2. I didn’t review it in the traditional sense. I spoke of five reasons why you don’t need it. And I’m going to keep on doing it like this whenever applicable! I don’t need to repeat what all the other great reviewers have already said.

In the same token, I’d love to learn from YOU. I read a lot of blogs but don’t necessarily comment on them. I should really comment more than I do but despite looking like a guy with the gift of gab, I’m painfully shy. The great Lou Mendes, the famous NYC street photographer with the trademark Speed Graphic, once gave me his phone number and said call him and we can go out shooting. I never called. Not because I didn’t want to, of course I do! But what would I do in the presence of a true Camera Legend? I still bump into Lou every now and then so we’re good 🙂

This year I plan on going back to the roots of this blog, going back to the Camera Legends that this blog is built upon. More Contax, more Rolleis, more Leicas, more Olympus more Nikons, more Pentax, etc, etc. Plus more oddball cameras that you never knew!

Cameras and lenses like the Olympus Pen-F and the 42mm f/1.2 Zuiko are still high on my review list.

And more rare cameras. In the early days, this site was built upon cameras not many have reviewed such as the Contax N Digital and the Minolta XK Motor for example. There’s not many rarities left in my stash but there might be one or two 😊

I also plan on reviewing or spotlighting more digital cameras too. I have been neglecting them as I concentrated on film cameras, but I’ve never been a digital hater. I grew up on film but was young enough to appreciate digital when it came around. I also plan to do more lens reviews.

And speaking of YouTube, I hope to continue growing the channel. Hopefully, better production, more content. But honestly, while I love watching YouTube, I don’t necessarily enjoy producing content for it.

And lastly, above anything else, I plan on doing more personal shooting. I enjoy photography, I love photography! But I have learned over the past few years that the thought of producing content for this blog and for YouTube gets in the way sometimes. If I’m out shooting, I’m now always thinking…maybe I should write an article about this. Or maybe I can turn this into a video. With that frame of mind, I find that some of the joy of photography gets lost and that is a sad thing.

My main goal for 2020 is back to roots shooting, and maybe get more sleep 🙂

What do you think? What are your plans for 2020? I would love to hear from you! Leave a comment if you wish. Many thanks for your support and I wish every one of you a Happy Healthy and Prosperous New Year!

The Instagram Society And The Age Of The Ugly

Did you take a perfectly good photo or even a bad photo and “funk it up” using one of those cool Instagram filters? Come on, admit it…Yes, we’ve all done it! 🙂

In the past few years, there has been a resurgence of what I’d like to call “ugly” photographs. No disrespect intended to any one photographer, I myself have posted many “ugly” photos!

DianaCam1

The Diana F+ “Toy Camera” by Lomography. Worn out and missing its plastic lens.

So what do I mean by “ugly” photos? Well, I’m talking about photos that are blurry, have lots of digital grain or noise, vignetting, fake scratches, funky colors, HDR, and a myriad of other things that try to accentuate the actual photograph.

When I started taking an interest in photography in the early 80’s, we’d always send out our film for developing and prints. The “good” photos were sharp, clear, and well exposed. The “ugly” photos were blurred, under/over exposed, and the colors were funky. The ugly photos were relegated to the trash bin, or for me, the bottom of the stack since I never throw away photos.

MinoltaJoeDadC

“Family Classic 1985” Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. What a “real” vintage print from nearly thirty years ago looks like. Dirty, scratchy, colors getting funky, but wonderfully nostalgic…to me anyway 🙂

In the film days, I don’t remember many people looking at a blurry print with wonky colors and thinking it was beautiful. Yes, you had the occasional odd print that was technically horrible, but looked pleasing to the eyes. However, there weren’t many of them.

Today though, people relish in these things! Why? Well, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with today’s Instagram society. Of course, Instagram provided an easy way to “funk up” your photos by making them look old, faded, blurred, etc, etc, basically all the stuff I listed above.

YashicaC

The Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga” Toy Camera.

The main reason I believe for today’s interest in “ugly” photos and probably one of the reasons why Instagram and “Instagram-like” filters are so popular these days is simply due to one fact…

As digital cameras get better and better, the images look cleaner and cleaner. They look “perfect” at times, and as such the images begin to look homogenized, pasteurized, and sterilized. A technically perfect image begins to look bland because of how clean it is.

YashicaHydrant

“The Hydrant” Yashica EZ F521. A perfectly bland, unremarkable image from the Yashica digital toy camera. Something that could only be appreciated by the “Age Of The Ugly” society 🙂

And with so many people into photography these days, some try to stay above the crowd by using these filters or techniques that will give that extra “oomph” to their images.

There’s also a bit of nostalgia for that film-like look. Many youngsters today are actually shooting film. Some actually love it, and some are hipsters riding on what they believe is retro cool. I suspect most are in between.

I ran into a teenager recently in Central Park shooting with a Polaroid One Step, and I thought “Dude, seriously?!” 🙂

Anyway, I was happy to see such a young person with a Polaroid, it can only be a good thing.

SX

The iconic Polaroid SX-70. Apologies for the poor quality of this photo. It was a quickie done for my Instagram stream.

Speaking of Polaroids, this is probably where it all began. Let’s face it, Polaroids were never about high technical quality. They were originally intended for quick prints and proofs. The resolution was never really high on small Polaroid prints, except for some of the oldest instant films which have not been made in years.

The Polaroid’s best distinction was the ability to give a unique “look” due to the soft prints, the unpredictable color shifts, and the best of user error. And each and every Polaroid instant print is unique because each print represents that very moment the shot was taken.

SpeedGraphicCam

“Speed Graphic” 2011. A Polaroid print, shot with the Polaroid SX-70 and Impossible instant color film.

The most ironic thing to all of this “ugliness?” Well, since I started shooting film in the 80’s I have seen 35mm film improve year after year with super-sharp films like Fuji Velvia, Kodak Ektar, and a few others. Then you needed to step up to medium format to get even better, sharper images with even less noise. And then, if you wanted to take it further, you had large format film with its superior sharpness, detail, resolution and lack of grain.

All of a sudden, digital photography comes of age in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The cameras and lenses got progressively better and sharper. The images had less and less digital noise, distortion, and we get to cameras and lenses that can take near perfect images in almost any situation, which is where we are at today.

So as a “backlash” to all this progress, we are back to wanting “ugly” 🙂

SamC

“Underdog” 2011. Shot with the Yashica EZ F521 “Digital Holga.” Toy cameras with all their “ugliness” can be lots of fun to use and can produce unique images.

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? It can be neither or both. It can be a good thing for creativity, for something different. However, it can be a bad thing because it gives everyone a perfectly good excuse to be a sloppy photographer.

Again, I’m not knocking anybody, but trying to understand the evolution of what I’m seeing in photography today. I’m guilty as sin of posting many, many ugly photos! Personally, if an “ugly” photo is done well, it can be a beautiful thing. Some people do it really well. I am not one of them though, but I try 🙂

Butterfly

“GPS” 2010. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

But to understand why people would throw all this photographic and technical progress away and funk up their photos with beautiful ugliness, there is no answer. All I can think of is that line of the Michael Jackson song…”If they say why, why? Tell ’em that it’s human nature” 🙂

GinSmok1

“Smoke Daddy” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

SXCam

“SX” 2011. Shot with the original 2mp iPhone and Hipstamatic.

Note: This is just one man’s view and commentary. I do realize that art is highly subjective. In fact, I used to say myself, “One man’s art is another man’s junk.” 🙂

However, this is about photography more so than art and when “art” begins taking over your photographs, then you’ve got something different from photography. Thanks for stopping by! I do appreciate the time you spent. Thank you.