Do you ever wonder how hard it must be for camera manufacturers to entice us to buy new products? After all, cameras are already so incredibly good. This does of course assume your primary interest is photos and not fondling (which we all partake in every now and again).
CP+ is almost upon us (25th to 28th Feb) and new products are being announced, tricked and teased! We have already had the two big flagships from Nikon and Canon, with the D5 and 1DX Mk II, but how many people are swinging from the rafters over these two? To be frank, dramatically improving the D4S and 1DX was nigh on impossible. We have therefore had a little more resolution, a bit more speed, better video, a few more focus points and a sprinkling of touch screens. What I am not doing is belittling these improvement – they all add up to more refined and better top-end products – but how meaningful are they to most photographers? Not very, I’d say. But these are the flagships I hear you say…. but what about the Sony A6300? OK, so it does 4K video and has more focus points than the venerable A6000, but to a stills photographer, has there been much of an improvement? I’d say ‘not really’. About the only camera I can think of in the last slew of releases/announcements that feels like a good leap is the Fuji X-Pro 2, which has a little more resolution but is much faster in every way that matters. However, in this case the X-Pro 1 has seemingly been around for an eternity, so I am not quite sure this counts.
I’d say the most exciting releases (for me personally) have been the Sony A7R II (much better camera overall than its predecessor) and the Leica M262 (because it is a bit cheaper, a bit lighter and a little more refined than the M240 and I am a sucker for Leicas). The M262 builds upon a platform I love (and which has worked beautifully for 60+ years), while the Sony A7R II shows the rapid maturing of a promising new camera platform (full-frame mirrorless, interchangeable lenses). Lets also remember that the best that Ricoh could do to upgrade the Ricoh GR with the Mk II was to add WiFi and ‘near field whatsit’, essentially leaving the rest of the camera unchanged. Perhaps one of the bigger drum rolls came with the Leica Q? This showed Leica could make a very fast, truly up to date, well-made electronics heavy camera to a less than typically insane (for Leica) price point. Perhaps Leica claimed the biggest splash with the Leica ‘SL’, which tried so hard to be unique and to carve out a new niche that I wonder if it carved its own coffin at the same time.
The bottom line I am seeing is that camera manufacturers are struggling, more than ever, to step beyond the refinement of products which are already spectacularly good. OK, so the Sony A7R goes ‘cla-clak’, but its bought and paid for (along with the A7) and still takes phenomenal photographs. Now the new lenses (Zeiss Batis and Sony G and latterly ‘GM’ series) are making things more interesting, but the cameras themselves, well, I’m just not getting excited. The A7S II came along with In Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS) and the new MK II chassis, but no significant other changes (and the same 12 MP sensor). I was prepared to be thrilled by 16-18MP and perhaps a backlit sensor, but essentially passed out from lack of excitement somewhere along the way.
Heaven knows the manufacturers are trying, but the phenomenal innovation of the last few years has brought about a kind of self-initiated market interest extinction (maybe it’s just me!?). Phase one now has a 100MP sensor courtesy of Sony. But we already had 80MP…. and the 51MP Pentax 645Z at a fraction of the price, satisfying most pixel lust for those outside of the 0.1% who could possibly have a real need for more.
How many photographers even use 50% of the features of their cameras? I know I don’t and half the time the instructions might as well be written in ancient Greek things are getting so complicated…. because we’re dealing with hand-held computers that take photos. We photography fanatics may understand what IBIS will really do for us, or have an application for a genuinely good ISO 12,800, but this is just jibberish to most people and it is ‘most people’ who drive camera sales. How do you convince a buyer to understand ‘the upgrade’ when he or she may not have understood what their last camera was or could do, beyond a series of numbers? I can hear it now:
‘Yes, its a big improvement on the old model, Sir! You are getting eighty focus points, which is 30 more than the last model and the focus is now a full 0.07 seconds faster, with a buffer of 17 RAW files, whereas the old model could only manage 17 JPEGs, or 11 RAW files.’ Uh-huh.
It must be hell for every camera manufacturer. It must be doubly-hot in hell for Nikon and Canon, which are so unfathomably late to the mirrorless party. After all, the Sony FE lens mount already feels ‘old hat’ – my A7 is sitting in a smoke-filled gentleman’s club somewhere in London smoking cigars with the other old boys!
What would it take to excite you about new releases? Are you still itching for a particular something? is there a technology being rolled out that is rocking your photographic universe? If so, please let me know! What do you think of rumors that Fuji is playing around with medium format sensors? Would a 51MP medium format digital mirrorless equivalent of the old Mamiya 7 really rock your world, or would it seem like an extravagance in light of the 42MP A7R II? My personal view would depend entirely upon the quality of the wide angle optics (this being a weak spot for the Sony FE system, even now – although an 18mm Zeiss Batis will round off things nicely there). Will my Pentax 645Z make any sense in five years, when better performance can be had in a package a third of the wight? No. Will it matter entirely, seeing as I have other cameras as light as I need them? I doubt it.
The upside of this situation is simple: you can buy killer cameras for a fraction of what it used to cost. Technology is trickling down, allowing us to buy for $800 what would have cost $8000 ten years ago and weighed four to five times as much! Perhaps something to look at is what top shooters are using now. Magnum photographers are criss-crossing the world with their Fuji X100, Sony A7, Sony A6000, Nikon D600 cameras and enrapturing the public with their photographs as they go, which should tell us something. And this is where my interest is. One of the most exciting cameras for me was the (at the time of purchase) 18+ month old design Ricoh GR (Mk I). I am excited by the legacy lenses I have been picking up for my Pentax 645Z. A 21mm Zeiss Loxia sounds nice and may find its way onto my Sony A7 or A7R. Maybe. I can tote my scratched up Sony A7 camera to the next dusty and dirty place without fear. They are not worth much now, but produce world-class photos. Why would I want to spend £4000 replacing them with Mk II versions? The newer models are better, but I’m sure they are better enough for me to care; I think they will need to break or get stolen first. If either of those two scenarios should come to pass, may it be somewhere exciting, with wonderful photographs to show for it! Even then, I’m not sure that an second hand A7 for £400 wouldn’t be the perfect replacement…