Where the Photo Industry is Going in Five Years: A Talk With Manufacturers About How They Envision the Future

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 7D MK II review product images (10 of 10)ISO 4001-25 sec at f - 4.0

“The industry and the state of technology is evolving or developing so quickly I frankly cannot guess what will be five years from now. I am not certain if you’d asked me this during January 2014 I could have predicted the state of affairs today, Dec 1, 2014, just one year later.” stated Henry Posner, Director of Corporate Communications at B&H Photo Video Pro Audio in NYC.

Indeed, technology these days moves so fast that we’re not sure anyone would be able to tell. Not many could have expected that a product from Apple introduced around five years ago would have improved to the point where many use it as their main camera every day. Nor did we think that it would spur the creation of an app that allows a new breed of photographers to make a decent living off of shooting photos for advertisers.

However, it is the job of manufacturers to have some sort of foresight into the future and be able to predict how the industry will evolve and technology will progress. But that’s a tough job–and one that is much easier said than done given the viral nature of the internet and social media.

To get an idea of how the industry may change, we talked to the representatives of many leading manufacturers. What they had to say may be quite understandable.

Mirrorless is the Future

In general, manufacturers have the notion that we should all think smaller. In fact, they all are mostly thinking this way to begin with and mainly believe that mirrorless cameras are very much the future in collaboration with mobile technology.

“More people have photo access than ever before…people are relying on imaging for stories, daily life…” stated Sony’s Mark Weir, Senior Manager for Technology in a phone call with the Phoblographer. “Imaging will become a far greater part of people’s lives than any of us can imagine.” Mark even believes that fixed lens cameras also still have a place in the market and that in some ways they have a leg up on interchangeable lens cameras. Instead, he believes that ILC cameras provide a different set of benefits to a different type of consumer.

“Everyone understands how (phones) have transformed people’s habits when it comes to image capture, so camera manufacturers are left with the challenge of creating communication devices that provide benefits to consumers.” He continued to state that many camera manufacturers have been struggling with a way to do that in a compelling way and that this will be a challenge going forward. Indeed, the camera industry overall has taken a hit to the mobile phone market.

Kevin-Lee The Phoblographer Samsung NX Mini Product Images (3 of 7)

 

“The biggest change I envision in the photo industry is the broader adoption of mirrorless cameras. The advantages are becoming and will continue to become even more apparent (EVF, portability, ease-of-use, affordability, connectivity).” says Julien Sauvagnargues, Group Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Olympus Imaging America Inc. “I don’t say this because this is a business in which we pioneered and continue to innovate and excel, but because this is the reality of where the market is heading, in general.”

Mr. Sauvagnargues’ statement can be backed up by the fact that this year alone the number of mirrorless cameras released was more than double the number of DSLRs. The mirrorless camera division started around five years ago and is continuing to grow.

Olympus isn’t alone in seeing the growth of mirrorless cameras as Samsung believes that growth is also apparent and a market that they want to dominate even further. “Over the past several years, the mirrorless camera category has proven to be the strongest growth segment in all of cameras. It has gained significant traction in the U.S. market, just as it had previously done globally,” states Jay Kelbley, Senior Marketing Manager for Digital Imaging at Samsung USA. He continued to say that the recent jumps in camera performance should continue to drive growth.

Mr. Kelbley believes that the rapid pace of technology evolving will put an emphasis on elegant and seamless connectivity blended with continued advancement in core photographic features.

“Advances in core camera technologies like sensor design allow for higher-resolution images with continually improving low light performance. Integrating new sensor AF technologies directly onto the sensor are enabling new mirrorless platforms to jump way beyond previous cameras in AF accuracy and speed. Enhanced video capture – like UHD/4K in the new Samsung NX1 – will become standard features, helping to empower a new era of content creators. Customers now expect a seamless connected camera experience, like what is offered from Samsung’s SMART Camera line up. Connected cameras offer a compelling workflow for photographers of all skill levels…”

“I remember six years ago sitting with a Nat Geo photographer after he’d switched over to 5D’s from EOS-1D’s, and realizing there would be no move back to the full-size pro bodies. A Micro 4/3 camera with a 600mm lens, in a rolling case, would fit under the seat of a turbo-prop airplane, let alone in the overhead. That’s the future for a lot of people.”

Indeed, every manufacturer now has connected cameras, and it will only be a matter of time until WiFi integration is a standard feature on even the most affordable of point and shoot cameras. Samsung even tried the idea of a data plan with a camera with their Galaxy NX camera. But the idea didn’t seem to catch on with other manufacturers.

“The notion that a camera requires a data plan has certainly been tested (not by us) and the market response was not positive.” states Mr. Weier. “The notion of relying on the phone for the data plan…is the more likely direction.” However, Mr. Weir states that this isn’t necessarily Sony’s direction. He also stressed that technology will most likely stay the course of letting phones be phones and cameras be cameras.

Tenba DNA Messenger Bag 11

 

As a result of the mirrorless market growth, other manufacturers that provide support to the camera brands have also had to adapt. For example, Tenba has been creating sleeker and more fashion-conscious camera bags that are designed to carry smaller cameras and lenses. “I think people will continue to go smaller with their gear. Once the cropped-sensor cameras get the equivalents of 600mm f4.0, 300mmf 2.8, 85mm f1.2 and lenses like that, then people will not even think twice about going to a smaller camera.” says Peter Waisnor: Product Manager for Tenba. “I remember six years ago sitting with a Nat Geo photographer after he’d switched over to 5D’s from EOS-1D’s, and realizing there would be no move back to the full-size pro bodies. A Micro 4/3 camera with a 600mm lens, in a rolling case, would fit under the seat of a turbo-prop airplane, let alone in the overhead. That’s the future for a lot of people.”

On Video and Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Panasonic GH4 product images for review (1 of 8)ISO 4001-80 sec at f - 2.8

While one can argue that photographers will always be photographers and videographers will always be videographers, there are some that state that video is the future. Yes, video has become a big part of the camera market in the past couple of years since Nikon released the D90 and Canon released the 5D Mk II. That was back in 2009–the year is 2014 and an entire video market has come from those two cameras. Blockbuster films have been shot on Canon DSLRs and the formation of the Cinema EOS line came about.

Cinemagraphs like this one combine both photography and videography into a moving GIF file.

Cinemagraphs like this one combine both photography and videography into a moving GIF file.

Panasonic believes that video will continue to make a further impact in the photography world though–and they aren’t necessarily wrong with the formation of Cinemagraphs and the technology being made simple by Flixel. “With the speed that camera advancements are being made a five year prediction is not easy to make. However, sensor, lens, software and video technology will clearly put additional horsepower in the hands of the photographer, allowing them to capture more imagery in ways not yet imagined. The use of video in photography when shared in social networks has increased and LUMIX has positioned itself as the leader in this new form of Hybrid Photography.” states Darin Pepple, Sr. Consumer Marketing Manager – Imaging at Panasonic North America. “Panasonic LUMIX now offers the widest selection of 4K video enabled consumer cameras at an affordable price. Plus the companies new easy to use in-camera 4K Photo Mode capture from 4K video has photographers now pressing the video button before the shutter button to record once in a lifetime photos and videos at the same time.”

“People are passionate about their photography and if they know exactly what today’s modern dedicated digital cameras can do to help them take the best pictures and video possible, consumers will migrate towards products that feature technology that is relevant to their needs.”

While Panasonic is pushing the innovation of moving images while combining them with stills, Canon believes that focusing on image quality is the key. “While it’s difficult to predict what major changes will take place in the next five years for the imaging industry, what is obvious is that our industry will need to innovate, grow and adapt.” states Eliott Peck, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Imaging Technologies & Communications Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc. “…Canon strives to offer imaging products with the advanced sensor and optical technologies that benefit those that already deeply appreciate high quality photography and videography. Our direction as a company is to keep pushing the limits of image quality and expand technology to deliver whatever the market demands. It has always been and will always be our goal to provide excellent imaging products, from input to output, to consumers.”

Mr. Peck continued to states that a big challenge is to educate consumers and “evangelize” the benefits of cameras with larger sensors, low light capabilities, high quality optics, Wi-Fi and NFC, etc. He also believes that selling the idea of a printed image can be a challenge.

“People are passionate about their photography and if they know exactly what today’s modern dedicated digital cameras can do to help them take the best pictures and video possible, consumers will migrate towards products that feature technology that is relevant to their needs.”

Customer Support

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Fujifilm 56mm f1.2 first impressions product photos (6 of 7)ISO 8001-60 sec at f - 2.8

While many companies talk about pushing innovation, others believe that building customer loyalty and a dedicated army of fans may help them win the day. Since the earliest days of the Fujifilm X series cameras, we have seen photographers stricken with nostalgia like a plague and a fervor almost like that of the most dedicated cult in the world.

“The photo industry continues to evolve, and right now photographers are looking for a brand that champions their craft. The changes going forward will be which brands best listen to their customers’ needs, and develop the photographic tools that not only perform well, but exceed their expectations in form and function.” states Justin Stailey, Sr. Product Manager, Fujifilm. “This is an area that Fujifilm takes very seriously, and is committed to delivering the image quality, design, and continued improvement that users expect today and in the future.”

Indeed, Fujifilm has demonstrated much support for their customers with firmware updates for discontinued cameras, consistent firmware updates for their current lineup of products (at times adding in completely new features) and an aggressive lineup of lenses.