It is a hot topic now, with the rumors circulating the closure of Olympus business, and the ambiguous Bloomberg reporting Olympus CEO “backtracking” his comments on the possibility of Olympus imaging unit being on sale (which has been DEBUNKED by the way, go here), I thought it would be a good opportunity to dive into the reasons why the overall camera market is declining. We can easily point the blame solely to the existence of smartphones, but that is not the only reason. I admit smartphone camera improving drastically over the years with the convenience of only carrying one device to do it all, there seems to be less reason to pick up a dedicated camera. I acknowledge that smartphones played a huge contributing factor to the shrinkage of the camera market overall, but in this article I want to explore several other valid reasons why less and less people are buying cameras.
If you prefer to look at an Asian guy with small eyes (yes I received several of this comment, racist much people? I thought we are in 2019 and this is behind us. But nope….) with larger than average sized body talk on and on about this topic, I made this video for you.
REASON 1 – CAMERA HAS HIT SUFFICIENCY
Let’s face it, there is not much to do with camera development left. I am not saying we have the perfect camera now, there are still kinks to work out there and here, there is always room for improvement. However, take a deep look at any camera released in the past 5 years, they are certainly more than good enough to tackle any challenging photography task thrown at it and deliver satisfactory results. The consumers will keep on driving demand for bigger, better, larger products. More megapixels, more dynamic range, cleaner high ISO images, the demand is never-ending and the chase will not stop, and honestly has become meaningless. Those who do REAL photography has no issue using a 50 year old camera and still produce work of art. The cameras we have today are sufficient for our use, our greed is killing the camera market.
I give you two examples. A successful local Malaysian wedding photographer, who has been in the wedding photography industry shooting for more than 10 years. Guess what camera is he using in 2019 to shoot wedding professionally? A Nikon D700. Yeap, that dinosaur D700, first generation full frame DSLR from Nikon. He is not using the latest D850, or the Z7, he is still making fantastic work of art with his old D700, being bruised and battered over the years, been in and out of Nikon service repairs. His clients were always happy with his delivery, and this same photographer was one of the first few who inspired me to pick up wedding photography. Be real guys, are you seriously going to deliver 61MP image files to your wedding client? Do you need ISO1,000,000 to shoot a wedding? Anything as high as ISO3200 or 6400 with the use of quality F1.4 or F1.8 optics, and creative flash boost can cover almost any scenario, delivering beautiful images that can be printed large still.
Another example, a maternity, newborn and family portrait photographer, also a close friend who is based in Kuala Lumpur. If you have seen her images you will be blown away. She uses a Canon 5D Mark II now, actively for her shoots, and she is fully booked until next year. If these two highly successful professional photographers who regularly shoot in challenging situations with cameras that are 10 years old and still able to thrive in their business, why can’t we be happy with any cameras that have come out newer than those two?
More megapixels do not make you a better photographer. Better dynamic range and cleaner high ISO images won’t elevate your photography. At first when everyone started buying cameras, there were some inadequacies, as the digital camera development was progressing, but it has come to a level where the cameras are better than 99% of the photographers out there. Those who bought cameras a few years ago have less and less reasons to upgrade their cameras, hence the sales are declining drastically.
REASON 2 – INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY IS DYING
Collectively in the world, it is quite obvious that the interest in photography is slowing down drastically over the years.
There was a time when cameras have become so accessible, entry level DSLR going for mere few hundred dollars, everyone jumped on the bandwagon quickly. A lot of people bought cameras not because they were interested in photography or wanted to get wet in the world of photography, they simply joined the cool club of owning a camera. Peer pressure is an effective tool to drive sales. There was a time almost EVERYONE has a camera.
What happens when the bandwagon is full? There is only so much new camera users the brands can target.
There are generally (simplified) two categories of camera users – group 1: photographers and group 2: camera users.
In group 1, the photographers use the camera for photography purposes. They work their craft, they want to shoot, they want to pursue art and creativity. They aim to do story-telling with their photography, they shoot with passion and clear purpose. They have no issue with self-driving themselves to go out and shoot, and they will continue to shoot even when the world is ending.
On the other hand, in group 2, the camera users are of a different breed of species altogether. These camera users bought cameras because photography seems like fun. The excitement in the beginning was real, everything was new, discovering a whole new world of photography was indeed thrilling. However, there was never any genuine interest in photography, they shoot because everyone else is shooting. Fear of losing out is real. They have a camera dangling around their neck because that was what everyone else was doing. Guess what happens when the excitement wears out, after half a year, after a year or two, when there was nothing left new to find out? if there is no inner desire to shoot, if photography is not a true passion, the interest in using the camera fades away very quickly. This is the hard truth – not everyone who has a camera is a photographer.
A photographer stands the test of time – after all your friends have quit photography and left you, if you still hold on boldly, clinging into your passion, then you belong to group 1. Else, camera users in group 2 becomes the main reason why the camera sales are declining, because they simply give up photography, they simply give up the camera. Is that not happening to the majority to camera users around you over the years?
REASON 3 – SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
Social media has changed the content of photography over the years, and shifted how the crowd perceive photography, resulting in cameras being irrelevant in this modern digital age.
Let’s take a few steps back, in the older days, how does a photographer get noticed or recognized for his art and talent? You get published, you get exhibited. Find an art gallery, do a real physical photography exhibition with prints, and you are seen as a successful photographer. Now in this digital age, all photographers can exhibit, you don’t need an art gallery, you don’t need to work with a curator, or editors, you bypass all that, from your social media platform you can reach thousands, or possibly millions if you play your card right (I obviously played mine wrong, I failed to grow my Instagram, and even my YouTube and Facebook have sad number of followings). My point is, the way people see, value and interact with photography have changed drastically, and this was because of the dominance of social media in our lives.
Here comes a big problem, social media promotes the culture of me, me, me and me. Photography has never been about the photographer (so literally), photography is about the photographer shooting the world around them. Hence the lens was pointed outward from the shooter not inward. Take a look at your Facebook friends, the Instagram accounts that you follow, any celebrities or “influencers”, the content published online was ALL about themselves and the lives that they live. Is it not the food that they eat, the places they travel to, the parties they are at, the dress that they wear, the cat or dog cute poses or that amazing car that they just bought? Photography, which was a genuinely powerful tool of art and documentation has been vilified and reduced to mere selfie tools. Photography has become selfish, self-centric adventure and is losing the core meaning of why the camera was invented in the first place.
You don’t need 61MP for your selfie photographs, you don’t need ISO100,000 to shoot that slice of cake, and certainly you don’t need a super-telephoto 600mm lens to shoot your Siamese cat licking her paws. The relevance of having a camera is eroding away so quickly, now that the purpose of photography has shifted so much. There is no longer a need for a camera to do the “modern photography” for social media.
REASON 4 – PHOTOGRAPHY IS STAGNANT
Photography as an art has remained stagnant for a long time, and is not evolving.
Take other art forms – any art forms – fashion, music, TV/Film, writing, each and every one has evolved and changed so much over time. We don’t wear the same cloths as our previous generation did in their 80s, we don’t listen to the same music on radio as it was played in the 50s, movie and TV have changed so much, we can clearly see how much art has evolved over the years. However this cannot be said for photography.
Look at the legends Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Martin Parr and Ansel Adams, they redefined what photography was during their age. They reshaped the history of photography. They challenged the norm, they dared to push boundaries, they went the distance and provoked what was deemed right. They were visionaries and they successfully made photography truly meaningful. In stark contrast, today all we do are merely imitating what has been done before over and over again, a million times. What’s new today? Look at the Instagram feed – sunrise, sunsets, long exposure photography, portraits of beautiful lady, more model shots, these are good photography yes, but they have been done to death and there is nothing new anymore. I don’t see anything truly thought provoking and revolutionary from the work of today’s photographers.
Photography is an art form, but people do not see it that way, not today in 2019 in the digital age. Therefore, it was not a surprise that the camera sales are declining, because the appreciation for true photography is significantly dying. To be fair, this critique is also valid for myself, and I am writing this article as reminder to myself not to stay complacent with my craft and dare to challenge myself, take a risk or two, to elevate my photography. I hope you are taking this in a positive manner.
So what can we all do collectively to fight the dying camera market?
Honestly, there really is nothing much we can do at this point. It is very difficult to predict the future of photography.
For me, I will ask myself why I picked up the camera in the first place? Why did I fall in love with photography? Where did the passion come from? Remember the excitement of shooting something for the first time, and that excitement can be reignited. Go back to basics, find the core of photography, and continue to push further and shoot more. After all, there is no photography without the active use of cameras.
We can do our part, to improve ourselves, be better photographers, be true to ourselves, then we can be the inspiration for others to follow. I am sure together, we can bring the joy and true meaning of photography back to this world.
Shutter therapy lives on.
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