As a keen amateur photographer I am interested in new kit and the current/recent bi annual exhibition in Germany called Photokina is where the camera manufacturers display their current products. There are also several on line photographic sites I read and a particular favourite is Digitalrev. One of their journalists, Steve Law summarizing the current exhibition wrote an interesting article which is worth reading, if you are interested in such things:
However, it sets all kinds of thoughts in motion for me and I thought that I might share them for what this is worth…
Obviously for journalists who live off the new stuff, they need kit that is constantly new with lots of previously unseen bells and whistles, that is what keeps them in a job. This kind of journalism also appeals to the “hardware fanboys” who seem more interested in commenting positively or negatively on the latest announcements rather than taking pictures. In fact these readers comments sections often betray all the worst aspects of social media, with insults and totally erroneous comments being made simply because one person favours one camera brand over another.
However my main reason in writing this post concerns the pace of innovation and frankly posing the question that amounts to; “Does it really matter, does any of it matter ?”
How It Matters
It all matters to journalists who write about these things and obviously it matters greatly to the companies who make and market the products, they are keen to keep existing customers happy and engaged in the upgrade paths they are mapping out plus, attracting new ones but the real question is probably: “How often does an individual consumer buy a new camera ?” Obviously one would exclude professional photographers who might have to upgrade what are the tools of their trade quite frequently so, it is genuine consumers whether keen photographers like myself or occasional picture takers we are focusing on, no pun intended.
The first thing to take out of the equation is the spontaneous ‘happy snappers’ who by now and probably long since have become reliant on their mobile phones for photography and that makes sense. The quality of the included cameras in mobiles have improved greatly but also the ‘end use’ for displaying any pictures being either on the phone itself or on social media means that end quality doesn’t have to be that great, these pictures will rarely be enlarged. Additionally there are plenty of ‘fun apps’ to enhance them with minimum fuss and maximum simplicity plus lots of on line storage/back up options so you don’t accidentally lose your ‘memories. Frankly, I would think that the mass market has pretty much gone that way by now.
Whilst using a phone camera may encourage some people to try more serious involvement in photography, we are mainly left with people like me and in that case, I would imagine that we might be looking at a 3 to 4 year cycle for camera upgrades on average but depending on the cost of the kit and the individual, it could be longer.
Because there is little trade in value for old cameras, I have tended to keep hold of cameras even after I have replaced them with new kit the consequence is that I have quite a number to play with and this has led to a series of revelations concerning hardware. Among my DSLRs I have a Canon 40D I bought some 9 years ago and a Canon 7D bought 3 years ago. Whilst there are obvious technical differences under the hood like the former having 10 megapixels against the latter’s 18 in terms of handling and functions, there is little difference between them, in fact I still use the older one today for selected shoots. On top of these, I have a whole range of other cameras which by physical size, specification and capability I use for a number of other situations when I shoot pictures or video.
Now I am not saying that there aren’t better cameras out there, there most certainly are in one way or another but generally for all the kit I have, I also have the lenses and additional gizmos to deliver maximum output from them all so it is never as simple as just buying a new camera as you might a new car. However there is something else too and the best way of describing this is to refer to my desktop PC workstations of which I have a number. They are not the latest and the greatest but they are capable of the work I currently do on them, if because of rendering or processing data they become a bottle neck, then I will upgrade them but not before, what’s the point ?
It is this point that I want to expand upon in the context of using cameras and from there, the relevance of all this proposed upgrading to the “latest and greatest”.
How I Work and a Canon Launch
As a stills photographer I always shoot in the RAW format which means that my pictures then need to be processed on a computer using software like Adobe’s Lightroom or equivalent RAW processing software by the camera manufacturer or other software companies. On top of this I often use other software tools, yes it could be Photoshop or Nik or On10 to further manipulate images to achieve my desired end result. If as I often do, I shoot time lapse sequences of many hundreds of frames, these too need processing in post production software on a computer. Now whilst this may seem highly complicated to a ‘happy snapper’ the next thing I want to look at is video which is a lot more involved.
At Photokina, Canon launched their latest mirrorless camera the M5 which is quite interesting, not necessarily so much for what it is but for what it may portend in later models by them. To explain, Canon have put out mirrorless cameras previously but they weren’t in anyway as ‘serious’ as the equivalent cameras put out by companies such as Olympus, Panasonic/Lumix or Sony nor as technically proficient. It seemed that they were just putting out a model to say that they had covered and had an offering in every market sector, they weren’t truly competitive and being small, required a different lens system to the mainstream Canon DSLR ranges so what were they all about ?
Perhaps there were signs in their last model before this, the M3 which was an improvement on the previous models though not greatly but included an economical adapter mount to take other non ‘M’ Canon lenses. The problem was that considering the amazing range of Canon manufactured lenses, from when they first launched the M series, there were very few lenses and no sign of them being added to so I don’t think the enthusiast market took the model seriously and neither did the third party lens manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron or Tokina.
Now to the M5 itself. Given my current financial circumstances, if I were to buy a new camera body today it would most likely be the Canon 80D because it would give me the best value for money package which would give me clear technical advantages especially in the autofocus system over my existing kit and allow me to use my existing collection of a dozen Canon fit lenses. Now I don’t intend to discuss the ins and outs of this particular model except to say that it is technically good, the best ? No there will always be ‘better’ for one reason or another but it depends what you want or need.
The reason I’m writing about the 80D is simply that for all intents and purposes, Canon have poured all that technical goodness into the far smaller body of the M5 and added a couple of additional bells and whistles. However, commentators have bemoaned the fact that it doesn’t offer the 4k video option that all the competing mirrorless cameras do, oh tragedy and therefore for them it makes the M5 not worth considering which to me is total nuts.
Pretty much every stills camera over the past 5 years has offered, with various degrees of sophistication, HD video capabilities. With each new camera I have played or experimented a bit with the video but I am primarily a stills photographer so really, just haven’t bothered too much with it. However for a number of reasons, about a year ago I started to become interested in the potential of video and sat down to look at what it takes to do it properly and that was interesting.
Without going into great detail because obviously if all you want to do is video family events, that is a whole lot simpler than trying to tackle full blown ‘storytelling’ which is pretty complex and involves lots of pre and post production. Unlike stills photography where mastering your whole process is a given, video requires a complex skill set of scripting, storyboarding, directing, camera man, lighting technician, sound engineer, perhaps even casting people for the production and once in the can… colour editing, sound and music editing, ‘directors cut’ and final output.
Now some mobile phones can do high quality video and like stills photography, there are quite a number of ‘apps’ to help people put together videos pretty simply. I have seen high quality videos shot entirely on smartphones so that is a way to go for some people which leads me to question just what people who moan about a camera not being 4k capable are on about. On a personal level I find myself working on learning the skills I need to produce the short stories I have in mind and in this context, whether the result is HD or 4k is irrelevant at this time because I am still learning my craft but there is something else too.
Last Christmas because of getting a double discount I picked up a Lumix G7 for just over £300, it is the type of mirrorless camera the Canon M5 is in competition with and yes, it does 4k and true, it is being replaced with an upgraded model announced at Photokina. As a camera the G7 is fine, it has some neat tricks and capabilities but I am not impressed with it as far as autofocus is concerned and there is a time lag between the viewfinder and what is happening so it isn’t an action camera unless you use it as a video camera, my DSLRs are better for most of my photography. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trashing the G7, on my current US trip because it is small and light plus it is a trip to spend time with family rather than a photographic one, this is the stills camera I took with me along with a small Panasonic HD video camera.
My experiences of shooting and playing with 4k are that it mainly just eats up hard disk space and requires a lot of computer grunt to process so for me at this time, it is largely a waste of time. Looking ahead when I have reached the stage of technical and artistic excellence that I’m aiming for, I might well decide to shoot exclusively in 4k but at that stage I suspect that my main cameras would be video cameras rather than something like the G7, a stills camera that does 4k video. I can understand the kind of professional jobbing photographer who uses top end Canon or Nikon kit wanting a 4k capability which, if they in the right place at the right time might double or triple their earnings on a shoot but the average enthusiast ? Hardly.
Obviously this is all a very personal view based upon my own circumstances and others may have a totally different perspective but bemoaning the lack of 4k in what is essentially a stills camera seems like a total waste of time.