Every Choice is a Problem

(commentary)

A reader sent me a response to one of my articles yesterday, and I was struck by a line in it: “all [choices] have some nearly disqualifying problem.” That pretty much sums up the state of the camera business. Nine makers of mainstream cameras, most with multiple lines of cameras, but the photographer is always making compromise choices picking any of them. In fact, may be not making the choice to buy any, because they can find disqualifying traits in every choice.

The example I’ve been hammering on for several years that demonstrates this is Nikon DX. The disqualifying problem there is lack of DX lenses. Sure, the D7100 could use a bigger buffer, it would be nice to have the swivel LCD on all models starting at the D5300, the missing D300s replacement is a drag. Yet the thing that gives everyone pause about committing to a serious DX system is the lack of lenses, particularly wide angle primes and fast zooms. Can they grow into a DX system, or is it a dead end? Nikon says dead end.

Okay, so then the serious shooter considers Nikon FX. For awhile, the D600 dust and D800 focus problems made quality the disqualifying problem. But for the most part, it’s price that starts to keep a lot of folk out of the Nikon FX world. By the time you buy a body and the lenses you need to get full performance out of them, you’re talking a lot of cash. That said, I’ve written for some time now that the best all-around DSLR is the Nikon D800, and I’ll probably change that to the D810 shortly. It’s probably the “least disqualifying” of the DSLR-type choices out there right now, though as I write this the D810’s disqualification is lack of workflow. Capture NX-D doesn’t fit into any workflow at the moment, and Adobe’s preliminary support is as most preliminary support is: sub-optimal.

Nikon’s CX system (Nikon 1) is disqualified by many because of the small sensor: lack of dynamic range and poor high ISO performance. Others dismiss it because of design issues. Still others because of price. And yet others because of lack of some key lenses, though this isn’t as bad as it used to be. CX doesn’t sell well for one simple reason: Nikon’s given the customers too many reasons to disqualify it from their consideration.

Canon is not any better than Nikon. Canon’s crop sensor problems are the same as Nikon’s. Their mirrorless option has limited lenses and limited focus performance and limited availability. Like Nikon, their full frame DSLRs come closest to not having disqualifying factors, though if you’re a stickler for examination, you can find them.

Virtually everywhere you look you find the same problem. No one has developed a broad, open, usable camera ecosystem with well considered, high-quality choices. Everyone leaves gaps in their products, everyone is too proprietary, and everyone is too busy chasing technology and missing usefulness as a result. 

I’ll repeat and expand a bit on what I wrote over five years ago. Any new, complete, desirable system must have:

  • Communication — The ability to control and be controlled by other devices, to openly and conveniently move data between camera and your other workflow tools, and to keep up with new and evolving communications technologies over time.
  • Programability — The ability to run developed programs in camera, the ability for users to customize their camera to just what they need, and a full set of user and development tools, plus developer support to enable those things.
  • Lenses — A complete set of primes from at least 24 to 85mm (equivalent), preferably in two forms: small, light, and compact (pancakes), and fast aperture and high quality. A complete set of zooms that cover the range from 15-300mm (equivalent) in two or three lenses, again in two forms: small, light, and compact (variable aperture), and constant aperture with highest possible quality. This needs to then be supplemented with additional options as soon as possible (extreme wide, macro, extreme telephoto, tilt/shift, etc.). It is acceptable that lenses come from third parties, but only if the camera maker works with the third parties to ensure that not only do such lenses come about, but that they’re fully compatible.
  • Accessories — Virtually no camera maker’s flash, remote control, GPS, or other current accessory is truly “modern,” and virtually all have all sorts of limitations, liabilities, and issues that photographers have to work around. For example, flash needs to be wireless, radio controlled, and fully controlled from the camera; plus it needs to report what it sees, how it is set, and what it did during exposure back to the camera as well. 
  • Workflow — DCF needs to die and be reborn for the modern, cloud-capable OS world. But beyond that, cameras need to be a part of a complete workflow. If the camera makers aren’t going to provide an adequate one—and currently not a single one comes even remotely close—then they must work with the software vendors that do, including providing information about things that are important, like spectral capabilities, camera settings, and all EXIF tag information. 


Right now every choice on the market fails four of those five requirements, and many fail all five. 

It’s the difference between selling boxes and creating customers for life. Right now, the camera makers are all selling boxes. Worse still, they’re selling fewer boxes as time passes, and selling each box is getting tougher and tougher to do. 

The camera companies aren’t generating customers for life any more. Even the so-called legacy lens locks are breaking as people discover that just having access to lenses isn’t enough to solve all their problems. Why Nikon thinks that a DX owner will only move to FX is one of the most suspect logical assumptions I’ve seen in a business. They’re moving to mirrorless, Nikon, and not Nikon’s mirrorless! Why? Well, there’s the size/weight thing, but some of the mirrorless systems are solving the lens issue, above. Wow. Solving just one of the five things I mention is moving people out of an established leader in the market. What would happen if you solved all five? ;~)


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