The Climate Change Crisis of the Photo Industry is Nigh

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If you’ve read this site for a long time, you know my feelings about the photo industry. I love cameras. I adore what’s creatively possible with them. And I believe that while the lower end has risen up, the higher end has too. But cameras and the photo industry is in a tough state. Manufacturers have blamed smartphones for their decline since 2013. They’ve adapted to work with smartphones but have also fought them in many ways. The technology world of the photo industry will undergo massive changes in the next decade out of necessity.

A reader discussed with me once that he finds that cameras are a lot like calculators. No one brings one around with them these days. But instead, they’ve become professional instruments. The Ti-83 that I used in high school is still very relevant. But I like to compare cameras more to watches. 

I like to call this the climate change crisis of the photo industry. If we don’t fix the climate soon, we’re all screwed. And the same applies to the photo industry. But we don’t have a lot of time to do so.

The watch industry went through a ton of issues. The quartz crisis was the first one, but they adapted and survived. Then in 2001, 9/11 happened. Shortly after, every parent bought their kid a cell phone. This was a precautionary measure, just in case. So no millennial back then really needed a watch anymore. Need the time? Look at a clock on the wall or check out your phone. The Razer, Nokia, and Nextel helped kill the watch for much of my generation. We’re in 2021 now. And in the past few years, the watch industry has really seen a new revival. My generation is older now and can afford nice things, sort of. So we spend money on pricey watches if we can. Or we get cool tech,

The photo industry didn’t really start to get gutted by smartphones until maybe 2012 or 2013. We’re nearly a decade out from those years. And camera manufacturers cling to the idea of their superior technology. But most people don’t care. They want simple. They want quick. They want connected devices. At least, that’s what the masses of them want. The watch industry parallels created ample space for every player to compete and be healthy. A $45 Timex watch can be your beater watch. But your Omega Seamaster can be the luxury cult product you worship because of your affinity for James Bond movies. They all have their places to play. And tons of watch brands still exist and create products today. 

But the photo industry has few players. And the next decade is really going to determine who adapts. The only way we can is to sustainably diversify while trimming the fat. Offering cameras for the low end, the professional tools, and the luxury product world are all going to be paramount. And each company is going to have to cater to those markets. 

Further, there’s the idea of long term support. And with 3D printing, I don’t know why Canon couldn’t create parts for their old QL17 camera. Sure, they won’t be the same quality as the original, but they’ll support it for a price! And there are few cameras as iconic as the Nikon F! Crafting a new top plate through 3D printing could be a cool way to support those older cameras and continue to make incremental income. I know it sounds insane. But there’s something to be said for a product that can be handed down from generation to generation with lifetime warranties.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.