Thursday, December 3, 2009

The SLR Market and Photography Part 2

A Rock in a Wet Place



Today I am going to continue a topic that I started to discuss earlier this week, SLR cameras and their place in the present and future.  Last time I talked more about the past, and how far SLR cameras have come, and now I'm going to look at where they might be headed. I'll start off with a few thoughts from this past week, and then get onto the matter of cameras.

This last week has been such a shift from the last four weeks, with sunshine and cool, dry weather. I was out shooting again yesterday, and even though it was rather cool (6 Degrees Celsius), I rather enjoyed being outside. I wore gloves all afternoon, and I really came to appreciate the bigger buttons on the D300. Last winter I found my D80 to be very hard to operate with gloves on, making changing to settings challenging at times, but the D300 seems to alleviate those problems thanks to larger buttons. I guess that is just another plus for a semi-pro level camera body, being able to use it quickly and easily in a wider range of conditions.

Now onto thoughts about SLR cameras and the future roll of such cameras in the world of armature and professional photographers.

The SLR Market and Photography Part 2
There are as many viewpoints on the future of SLR cameras as there are photographers out there. I'm not here to say that I have an inside track of what camera makers are going to do, more what I would like to see happen, along with some thoughts on what is likely.

As I noted in my first entry on this subject, there have been a great deal of changes to SLR cameras in the last 20 years, and even more so in the last 10 years with the introduction of digital cameras to the mass market. Today there is a big divide between those who want small, light weight, compact cameras that fit in your pocket and those who are after image quality. Right now there seems to be only two real choices, a small camera that fits in your pocket, with decent daylight performance (ISO 80-400 range), or larger SLR cameras with the ability to capture images in lower light, and quality images in the ISO 100-1600 range. Of course there are the even bigger and heavier full frame cameras, that have amazing performance, but to be honest those are out of reach for the average person.

So, who does the SLR market target? The answer is simple, those who need the cleanest images in terms of noise, and print quality. Then there are people who just feel that a point and shoot camera does not allow them to photograph in the way they want. Then there is another group, people like myself, who moved to an SLR system because of disappointment with the flexibility of my point and shoot cameras. I found compact cameras far to slow to respond, and produced images of lower quality than I felt were acceptable. For an amateur photographer, the DSLR offers are lot of flexibility, and a big improvement in overall image clarity and quality, but not without cost. There is of course the financial cost of the camera body and lenses, but also portability and weight.

Then there is the professional market, where image quality is king. Professional photographers do not just want the flexibility of SLR cameras, in many cases they need to have the flexibility. I could not imagine trying to make a living as a wedding or fashion photographer without an SLR system. The low light performance, and the range of lenses for SLR cameras open the door for creativity and in some cases the only way to get the shot. Landscape photographers might also suffer with an SLR system, because the ability to control depth of field can have a big impact on how a landscape appears to the viewer.

Those points make SLR systems important to both professional and amateur  photographers today, but what about the future? If the last 10 years are any indication, the high ISO abilities of digital SLR cameras will only continue to improve, along with the addition of more mega pixels. As things stand right now, compact cameras seem to have hit a wall at around 12MP sensors, there is a big increase in noise with larger sensors in anything, but the best lighting conditions. With DSLR cameras, we have seen a big leap to 18MP CMOS sensor, in the Canon EOS 7D this year, and the results are not that bad at all, comparable to the Nikon D300s, which has 12MP CMOS sensor, at the same ISO levels. We have also seen the leap to 21MP and 24MP full frame sensors from Canon, Sony and Nikon, the later of which may just be using a modified Sony sensor.

Then there was the addition of video to DSLRs last year, first with the Nikon D90, and then moving down the line, with just about every new DSLR introduced having the same capability, excluding some entry level cameras and Sony's high end models. In the future, having video in an DSLR may make or break an professional worker, after all, if you are shooting a wedding for example, and you can shoot the video as well, that saves the couple from paying for a separate camera operator to capture video. I still believe there is a vital roll for still photography, which I do not see fading any time soon, but it is important not to ignore video in DSLRs and the roll of such abilities improving in the future.

As for the still photography side, I can see 35mm (full frame) DSLRs becoming smaller, lighter and more affordable. At some point I believe they will replace the crop sensor cameras from Nikon and Canon, but that may be a while down the road yet, maybe as much as 10 years from now. I believe that because I can see amateurs moving towards the mirrorless, interchangeable lens cameras, like those from Olympus and Panasonic. As the high ISO abilities of the 4/3 standard sensors improve and can see a shift away from the DX/EF-S (1.5x/1.6x) crop cameras, or at least mirror based SLR based DX/EF-S cameras, simply because the 4/3 based cameras and lenses are smaller and lighter. You might still see cameras in the same fashion of the D300s and EOS-7D, but I think cameras like the D3000, D5000, D90, Rebel XS, XSi, and T1i will fade as the mirrorless cameras and electronic viewfinders improve.

Well, that is all for today, I'll post Part 3 of my thoughts on this subject sometime in the next week.