Photography’s fate is blurry8/31/2016
Every two minutes, camera-strapped humans take more photos than existed the previous 150 years. Approximately 1.8 billion of our images are uploaded daily to the Internet, which means more than 650 billion photos are uploaded every year. Considering that when Joseph Niepce invented the camera in the early 1800s it took eight hours to capture a single image, the photocentric world we’re currently living in is completely absurd. Not only is the number of pictures taken ridiculous, the number of instruments with the capacity to take pictures is nearly as farcical. Between smartphones, DSLRs, point-and-shoot digital cameras, webcams, camcorders, security cameras and every other device equipped with a lens and sensor, we are living in a bloated image-capturing age. Interestingly enough, it’s only going to get worse.
Fifteen years ago, if you went on a family vacation and wanted to take a group picture, chances are you had to wrangle the singular camera available, double check that it had enough exposures left, bother a stranger and hope the film would be developed correctly. Not only is that gone today, but the entire process has been scrapped and replaced with dually camera-equipped smartphones, instant image gratification of review, re-shoots and sharing. No future generation will know the struggle of film cameras, nor will those in it be concerned with blurry photos. Their only worry will be what to do with the billion photos they accrue over the course of their life.
To film purists, these advances are a travesty. But for the average consumer, these changes are heaven sent. The photography marketplace can now satisfy photographers of every experience level. Smartphones offer incredible quick grab images, point-and-shoot digital cameras run circles around mid-’90s film cameras, and DSLRs are so powerful you can shoot feature films on them. The marketplace has become a consumer’s paradise. However, with the surplus of options, historically low prices and an arms race of device production, camera manufacturers are living in a figurative hell.
The golden age for camera manufacturers was the 20th century. Cameras were mechanical devices that required maintenance and a constant supply of film, and consumer demand seemed endless. The 21st century has seen smartphones devour low-end point-and-shoot camera sales. Throughout the entire industry, digital camera sales are down nearly 50 percent through the first half of 2016. Making matters worse, Canon and Nikon, two companies that have prided themselves the Cadillac and BMW of camera manufacturers, have seen their market share fall due to undercut powerhouse devices from former also-rans Sony and Panasonic.
Samsung, a recent rising star in the camera manufacturing game, recently ceased production of its DSLR line, citing weak demand. Could Sony or Panasonic also be in trouble? Three years ago, an internal review of Sony’s expenses found the smartest profit-saving move would be to kill off all of its electronics manufacturing. Only Japanese pride and loyalty kept its camera, audio and home entertainment lines in production. Logic dictates the safest consumer choice would be to purchase the most popular brand, but who’s to say Canon or Nikon won’t be the next Kodak and disappear in rapid fashion?
While the immediate fate of the camera industry is in serious turmoil, chances are DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras will still be on store shelves in 10 years. For now, if you are only a casual photographer and concerned about throwing your money away on a product that may be on the manufacturer chopping block, just stick with your smartphone. There’s no need to drop a couple of thousand dollars when all you’re really looking for are selfies.■
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.