"No Guts, No Glory" rantatorial

Started by Damon Lynch, May 19, 2015, 04:38:08 pm

Damon Lynch

Hi Michael and everyone else our community, today's rantatorial provides food for thought. My dominant response to the article is "yes there is a problem - but what is the precise problem, exactly?" It's an ancient truism that figuring out the problem is most of the battle. If we try to solve the wrong problem we've often solved nothing at all. They hypothetical camera Michael speaks of would be nice, but still rather bland and uninteresting.

A smart phone is a small powerful computer that can do many things, one of which is communicate.

A modern DSLR is a small powerful computer inside hardware that can take photos, and it does pretty much nothing else. This is the main problem: with its small powerful computer, a camera could be doing a lot more, but it doesn't.

Imagine if your DSLR could share its images with a local wireless "mesh" network without relying on any one cloud provider, and it just worked. For instance, imagine if you and your buddies could be in the middle of nowhere, or in the middle of a very busy city street, and have your photos instantly wirelessly imported to a nearby computer where a clever software program could assemble them in some interesting way in real time, e.g. 3D model, or 2D panorama, or even just a slideshow of the images that can be manipulated spatially or temporally for creative effect.

Imagine if using the camera GPS and compass you could get your camera to pull up other images from sites like Flickr or 500px that were taken from the same place but at a different time, with the ability to filter using criteria like time of day, time of year, weather conditions, focal length etc.

All of this is perfectly doable, but not by any one camera manufacturer or software provider. Just as computer manufacturers don't succeed when they tightly lock down what you can do using hardware they build, camera manufacturers should open access to the camera computer by providing a platform on which we can run an operating system of our choosing with applications of our choosing.

Even huge corporations with their fingers in many pies like GE have realized the wisdom of providing a hardware platform for people outside the company to innovate with their own software and hardware -- why can a refrigerator do cool things along the lines I'm advocating here, but our DSLRs cannot? (Pun intended ;D) Why can we not load a powerful yet lean OS onto our camera's computer, and use it to run applications that could well enhance our creativity and connection to others?


Thom Hogan and Michael Reichmann both seem to delight in explaining how to save the camera industry, by trotting out various fantastical ideas. Michael is essentially proposing Sony put out a halo product (halo products are a pure marketing move) aimed at grabbing mindshare from the tiny tiny tiny fraction of the market who are basically just like Michael. Thom's ideas are all basically the same sort of thing: "do X because that would make me and the three other chaps just like me love you. Not that we'd BUY one obviously, but we'd sure nod approvingly"

They're both quite wrong.

It's *over*. The game is up. The selling 20M DSLRs per year are gone, and they're never coming back. The correct strategy is to position your company to be the dominant player in the considerably smaller market that we'll eventually stabilize on. There may be parallel work in capturing some of the revenue from phone-based imaging, and there's a bunch of possible plays there -- but those are separate from the interchangeable lens camera market. That market is shrinking, and the weaker players are going to wash out.

In the interchangeable lens market, I see Canikon moving slowly and carefully. I think they both feel that the situation is fragile, and that they need to protect their current position. Sony might well benefit from a wild Hail Mary move, mainly because they have literally nothing to lose -- without a major change in the market, they are simply not going to be present as players in some modest number of years.

I'm pretty sure that a halo product is the wrong move, though. It's a way to spend a bunch of money to capture the love of an incredibly small number of people.

The market has divided, and very few people have picked up on the essentials of that. Pundits are still obsessed over whether phones can deliver enough quality, and such nonsense.

Market Slice One
The bigger market is people who just want pictures. They don't give a damn about depth of field or pixels or blah blah. They just want pictures of the kid making the cute face, or grandma holding the baby, of the bunch of flowers, of their lunch. They mainly want pictures for the purpose of sharing and forgetting these days, but sometimes they want pictures to stick in a Shutterfly book or whatever. They Just. Want. Pictures.

5-10 years ago if you Just Wanted Pictures you bought a Canon Rebel. Now you use your iPhone and it is objectively a FAR SUPERIOR tool in EVERY IMPORTANT WAY.

That's why the DSLR market as we knew it is OVER. The people who want pictures don't want a DSLR. They don't want a DSLR with WiFi, they don't want a DSLR with whatever feature you suggest. What they want is a cell phone with a camera. It is literally the perfect tool for their needs.

Market Slice Two

Everyone else. Sometimes it's the same people on a different day. They do want some sort of control. They're making pictures for the sake of the picture, not to simply record something. They might want control of DoF, they might want instagram style filters, they might want darn near anything. Some of these people will use iPhones by preference. They share online, they print, they *do* everything the first bunch does, and more besides, but they do it for different reasons.

This is where Canon, Nikon, Fuji, Sony are fooling around. This is the slice of the market that is shrinking inexorably, down to.. I don't know. A few million units a year, most likely. 1 million? 5 million? I don't know. Somewhere in there though.

This is the market Canikons are moving to dominate. They need to figure out how to scale their businesses back without destroying them (and that's an internal business matter) while simultaneously positioning for, first, profitability and, second, eventual dominance.

How do you dominate this market?

Well, you have to segment it first, because "everyone else" covers a ton of territory. If you're in the interchangeable lens camera biz, you need to not worry about those Photographers who want to use a cell phone or similar. They you need to figure out:

- what problems the ILC-using Photographer types have, and solve them
- who the influencers in those communities (if any) are, and influence them

I don't know what problems exist for the ILS-using photographers. There are methods for figuring this out, and they do not include sitting in front of your computer guessing.

Certainly Michael and Thom are, to a degree, influencers. But so are Eric Kim, Ming Thein, Michael Johnston, Daniel Milnor, and and and and the list goes on. And every one of them wants something different. I'm not sure, honestly, that influencers exist in the ways that they used to, so quite a few of the tools in the traditional marketing toolbox become unavailable.

Anyways. Wishing very hard won't work, and neither will trying to woo the cell phone users back.


All interesting ideas.

The problem is that the engineers and planners at major manufacturers live in a silo called "cameras". They are not in the imaging business, they think that they are in the camera business. Self imposed blinders.

This happened to the railroads 100+ years ago. They thought that they were in the train business. In fact, they were in the transportation business.

Worse yet, many of the engineers that I've met from camera companies aren't even photographers.



Well, yeah. The "transportation" business has been taken over by cell phones, and they are the perfect tool for "transportation" as we see it today.

There's no space for Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji in there, except possibly as OEMs? There's a "Nikon Inside" play that's possible, maybe.

But separate from that, they need to figure out how (if) they can make money in the "train" business. There's no law that says there's any way at all to make money there, but the indicators are very clear that at best there is a great deal less money to be made.

There is a separate angle, which is to try to predict what "transportation" (imaging) will look like in ten years, and try to get out in front of cell phones. That's a longer term play, and extremely high risk. But there's probably no choice.

Peter McLennan

Cameras have become commodities.  Like many other products of the digital age, they've disappeared into the woodwork. 
The always-handy phone does everything most people want and it's more than good enough for them. 

Dedicated users like us will continue to demand and enjoy more capability, but we're a dwindling minority. Nobody else cares. They're just out there enjoying the camera that's with them.  Like Michael on his walk today.


My thought is that the DSLR/ILC market will shrink to, roughly, 1980s level SLR sales levels, but there's a lot pf variables.

There's a LOT more affluent humanity around that can afford to play (-> more sales of ILCs). There's a LOT more options for people who want to be amateur photographers (-> fewer sales of ILCs). I am confident that some sort of market will remain, probably something similar to the 1980s era of SLR sales, which was the domain of the "serious amateur". The only substantial photographic technology that has ever disappeared (as far as I know) is dry plate.

But if there's only 1/10 the money available, this means that the pace of innovation is going to drop off. It's not clear how much innovation is actually required at this point. What problems, really, can be usefully addressed? Obviously there are incremental improvements that can be churned out everywhere, but what is there that's both "mainstream" in the sense of "is interesting enough to >10% of whatever the market winds up at to generate a sale in the next 2 years" say.

Peter McLennan

Quote from: amolitor on May 19, 2015, 07:09:59 pm
It's not clear how much innovation is actually required at this point.

Exactly.  That's Hogan's point.  High end cameras are already good enough.  Better than most of us, in fact.

Of course, we could always do with a little more exposure latitude...


A Honda Civic produces good transportation, but that doesn't mean that there's no market for high end cars, SUVs, minivans, sports models and the rest.

Sophisticated cameras will always have a market. The mass market is long gone to smartphones. The question is who will dominate the high ground, and how will they accomplish this as its size diminishes?

It just isn't clear yet who will make and sell enthusiast and pro cameras in the years ahead. But it's clear that a number of brain dead companies are going to drop by the wayside and the death march won't be a pretty one.



I worked for a guy who referred to products reaching "black telephone" stage. The stage of the standard ATT black telephone. It was "done", it was perfect. It did the job it was designed for, and which everyone wanted it for, perfectly.

It was only replaced when the world was disrupted and the job it was perfect for was no longer relevant.

DSLRs may not be quite there, but they're close. And, simultaneously, the world disrupted, and here we are. There is generally no road to success from this position. Check and mate.


All these phones are making for more photographers, and over time, many will want more than what their phone can provide.  Physics will make it tough for the phones to equal the type of images from much larger ICL cameras.  To me, the logical approach for the camera companies is to build a logical bridge for the phone user that wants to "upgrade".  Perhaps a camera that uses the same OS and is tightly integrated with their phone.  One thing that makes phones so desirable is the large developer community continuously adding functionality.  No reason why this could not happen for DSLRs too if the companies opened up their firmware with hooks and an SDK.  I sure would like a custom app that allowed me to create intelligent focus stacks.


But phones make better pictures than purpose built cameras, much of the time. The small sensor means the whole picture is 'clear'.

This idea that people will upgrade to a DSLR is just demonstrably false on so many fronts.

I'll say it again: the iPhone is literally the perfect device for many people's picture making needs. There is no up from there.


I covered a lot of what I had to say about what is wrong with the cam biz in my post on my blog entitled What is the best camera in the world.

Just as the world is flooded with photogs that market is overloaded with crappy cams. They need to get back to basics with the cams.

Peter McLennan

Quote from: Iluvmycam on May 19, 2015, 10:34:26 pm
I covered a lot of what I had to say about what is wrong with the cam biz in my post on my blog entitled What is the best camera in the world.

A link would have been useful.


Quote from: michael on May 19, 2015, 05:48:04 pm
Worse yet, many of the engineers that I've met from camera companies aren't even photographers.

This is actually very sad. Compare the camera engineers to the Camera Raw engineers. Thomas, Eric and crew are avid shooters...they eat their own dog food. If the camera makers can't find engineers who have a passion with photography, there will be no passion in their products. Users will perceive that. Mike, Kev and I know a couple of people working at Apple who are both engineers (hardware & software) as well as passionate photographers. That makes a huge difference because those engineers want to produce things that they want to use...if Nikon/Canon can't find camera engineers with a passion for photography they are lost.


Did you know that many of the people who design rockets are not astronauts?


Quote from: amolitor on May 19, 2015, 11:13:36 pm
Did you know that many of the people who design rockets are not astronauts?

We're not talking rocket science here...we're talking about a love of image making...science VS art is the age old conflict of photography. Do you are about art or science? My answer is yes...but if you don't/can't care about art then you'll never be able to create stunning images-which is what, I think, we all want to do. Right? Or do you just want to produce technically excellent images with zero heart?


What do my desires have to do with it?

The guy who's packing a faster buffer management implementation into a lower power chip doesn't have to know a thing about photography. The guy who's designing a more efficient focusing motor doesn't have to know a thing about photography.

Cameras aren't simple mechanical contrivances any more. They're complex systems of hardware and software, very little of which requires any sort of passion about photography to do well.

I want to make meaningful pictures. I'm an astronaut. I want to ride a rocket designed by people who are safety and reliability nuts, not space nuts.


Quote from: amolitor on May 19, 2015, 11:31:33 pm
I want to make meaningful pictures. I'm an astronaut. I want to ride a rocket designed by people who are safety and reliability nuts, not space nuts.

So, you are an astronaut? (cool) Are you ok riding a rocket designed by a nerd who is not concerned about getting you to land where you are pointed at? Do you care if the fellow designing your "systems" wants you to make a soft landing? Or are you ok with making a splash at the point you were aimed at?

Personally, I would be more interested in gaining that engineers "passion" for getting me where I want to go and living through the landing. Just sayin'


Huh? I don't see how you can make such remarks unless you neglected to read the last words of my previous, or are making a little joke.


Quote from: amolitor on May 19, 2015, 11:47:36 pm
Huh? I don't see how you can make such remarks unless you neglected to read the last words of my previous, or are making a little joke.

Partly a small joke, partly a comment on NASA...do you really want to launch on the lowest bid rocket? I would rather launch on a rocket made by guys passionate about going into space!

Sorry if my language ain't perfect...but I steadfastly believe "passion" is an important ingredient in everything we do.