Who’s Lobbying the Camera Companies?

One problem with many of the things that we want but are missing from cameras all derives to this: who’s the central authority/group that’s making the request? How standardized is the request? How big and influential is the group making the request? And, of course, do the Japanese even see the request?

A recent email asking why Lossless JPEG has never been implemented by the camera companies illustrates the problem. Lossless JPEG is used widely in medical applications. If I’m not mistaken this originated with the digitization of X-rays: the medical industry wanted a form of data that was lossless, but compressed. 

You can probably understand that. If you’re a doctor reading an X-ray you don’t want any visual artifacts in what you’re seeing. But a hospital, for example, is moving lots of X-rays over their network, so they also don’t want to clog their bandwidth with the full original data, either. 

Thing is, the medical business is full of standards and lobbying organizations. When a problem like this comes along—“show me the actual data but compress it so it can moved faster and more efficiently”—someone will eventually come with a solution (or solutions) and those organizations will eventually rally behind it and make it a requirement for equipment they use. That’s what happened with Lossless JPEG. 

Did the camera makers hear that request? Not really. Olympus and Nikon may have heard it through their microscope groups, but at the time the number of dedicated cameras sold into that market was a pittance compared to the huge consumer camera market. Thus, you have some oddball products, like modified D4/D5 type cameras that have a few wrinkles to them in firmware that the cameras sold on the consumer market don’t have, but the microscope group is the one doing the modifying and selling, and those alterations don’t tend to work back into the mainstream product because they’re considered niche specific.

Our pro cameras have IPTC (International Press Trade Council) data handling in them (e.g. D500, D5, 1DxII). That’s because in the early days of digital news organizations got together to solve some of their needs when images were transmitted digitally. IPTC defined some meta data that they needed in order to keep captions, tags, rights, and some other information following along with the image.

Now this group the camera companies heard loud and clear. That’s because companies in this group were buying thousands of pro bodies at a time, and wanted cameras that adhered to the standard. 

Unfortunately, IPTC still only has lukewarm support. Sure, Nikon lets us input IPTC data in the pro bodies now, but Nikon’s lame software to build IPTC presets (which the user could select in camera) is based on a deprecated product (Microsoft Silverfast). The actual IPTC data definitions are a bit cumbersome, as well, and don’t work universally for all image data, only the stuff that the press organizations were worried about. And here’s a real critical flaw: the social media sites often don’t support IPTC data. That’s a lobbying failure that makes it less likely that the camera companies spend time and effort on making better IPTC implementations. (Disclosure: the Web standard image handler I use for this site strips most EXIF and IPTC data, leaving only Copyright information.)

As you’re probably aware, the biggest users of stills in the press were newspapers. Newspapers have been undergoing contraction and profit shrinkage, and are under extreme pressure just to keep their heads above water. I wonder just how much time and effort is going into IPTC lobbying these days, even from the companies that were behind it in the first place. Obviously some, but it is clearly not enough to get things pushed much beyond the tools they use themselves. As their camera purchases go down, so does the leverage they have over the camera companies to get better implementations.

The worst enemy of the camera companies is the combination of the smartphone twins (Apple and Google) and the Silicon Valley social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, et.al.). None of these companies need to lobby the camera companies over anything. The sheer volume of images coming from smartphones to the social media sites is the driver of everything photographic these days. The companies I just listed all look directly at their user base and, for the most part, are far better at understanding the user and the problems they want solved than the camera companies. Moreover, they move fast.

Customers need to figure out what we want in our cameras. And then we need some sort of lobbying organization to get that request in front of the camera companies. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to happen.

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