Pardon Me While I Yawn

On top of all its other problems, the camera industry has gotten boring. 

We're getting ready to start into another round of new camera introductions, and I suspect that most of what we'll see is going to be "more of the same." Yawn. Hard to get excited.

With Canon and Nikon now firmly planted in mirrorless, the real question you have to ask yourself is this: what would it really take to get you excited about a new camera announcement? Even more important is this: can you really see the difference in some small gain in resolution or dynamic range? Can you really tell two lenses—one older, one newer—apart when you're stopped down to f/4 or f/5.6? 

Those latter questions are ones I grapple with every day. In comes the latest and greatest, and I find myself deep in the bowels trying to suss out small differences. At this point it's starting to become a real fight between my aging eyes and the minor improvements. Better or worse? Better or worse? Better or worse? Seems like I'm spending a lot more time trying to figure that out these days than I used to, because the actual differences are becoming quite nuanced and miniscule. 

Moreover, I'm finding more and more people these days preferring the "old" to the new, particularly with lenses. This is similar to the issue on the non-still side of the camera, where we're still running 24 fps with slow shutter speeds—180°+ shutter, so 1/48 or slower if you can achieve it—because we collectively have a century worth of seeing intraframe and interframe blur as meaning "movie", whereas 30 fps (or worse, 60i or higher) is seen as distinctly "video." 

Thus, many people are also "rejecting" the latest and greatest lenses because they're not used to complete linearity with edge-to-edge sharpness. It feels too "gritty" to them, doesn't operate the way their eyes do (!), and the old center-sharp-edge-blur designs thus get their preference.

Sometime in 2020, all Canon and Nikon DSLR users are going to be faced with an existential set of options:

  1. Upgrade to the latest DSLR in your model line, which really is just a pile of features and performance that have built up over the years, with not a heck of a lot to distinguish Version Y from Version X. Maybe you'll see something you haven't before, like sensor-based IS, but frankly, that's still something from the feature/performance pile that's just lifted from mirrorless now instead of top-end DSLRs.
  2. Transition to mirrorless, which means also rethinking your lens set, at least in the wide to near telephoto realm (the advantages in the long telephoto realm for mirrorless are small, if any, at least if you're staying with a big sensor).
  3. Stick with what you've got, which probably means you're not in the buying mood, and new product announcements are just going to irritate you because you're not getting what you'd really want (some new, compelling, and easily seen photographically important feature or performance change). 

Canon and Nikon really want you to do #2, but only if you stick within the brand, as it means more sales for them, keeps you from becoming a Sony Fanatic, and sets you up for a whole new future of upgrading. They'll be happy if you choose #1, because at least you stayed in the family; hopefully you also will pick up some new DSLR lenses, too. 

#3, of course, is what they should dread. Thus, I suspect that we'll get a pretty full kitchen sink worth of features and performance in many DSLR updates that happen in 2020 and later. Indeed, the rumors are strong enough that the D6 and 1DX m3 are just that: kitchen sink filled to the brim. 

There's actually a lot that Canon and Nikon can do with a new DSLR design: (a) use mirrorless sensors so that Live View and video get mirrorless autofocus performance; (b) add sensor-based IS, so all your lenses are stabilized; (c) up the sensor resolution; (d) throw more internal horsepower at everything (imaging SoC, which you know as Digic and EXPEED); and (e) adding in any feature they've ever put in a camera (e.g. adding focus stack shooting to a D750 update). 

The problem I—and probably you—have with that "stuff the DSLR" approach is that it really only gets you parity with what's happening in mirrorless. Thus, the only folk that truly would opt for that #1 upgraded DSLR are those who are going to stay firmly committed to the last round of DSLR updates. And that's probably because they value the optical viewfinder. Wanna bet if Canon or Nikon actually spend any time improving the optical viewfinder in any of their next DSLR updates? ;~)

Which means a lot of you are thinking you should be in category #2. 

So what have Canon and Nikon done there? 

Shot low. Canon specifically shot very low with the RP and R, using older sensors and not really doing anything other than making the 5D and 6D into mirrorless cameras (while at the same time totally messing up the 5D's ergonomics). While I like the RP as an entry full frame mirrorless camera, it really does feel like I'm going backwards in terms of overall features and performance from the kinds of Canon DSLRs I've used. How many Canon DSLR users want to go backwards?

Nikon put the Z7 just a shade under the D850, and I suspect we'll find that the Z6 is a shade under the upcoming D750 update, too. Which says to me that Nikon doesn't really want you to transition from DSLR to mirrorless. Yet that's exactly what I—and I suspect you—want to do. I don't want to lose anything in making such a transition. I want all the Nikon "good bits" to be present, not just most of them. The whole 3D Tracking "mode" problem is something that just boggles my mind, as there's no reason why 3D Tracking on the Nikon mirrorless cameras couldn't be an Autofocus-Area mode that works exactly the same way as it does on the DSLRs. Nothing. (If you've actually tried the mode-within-a-mode nonsense on the Z6 and Z7, you'll know that the actual focus tracking works just fine, it's only the UI that gets in your way. UI that changed from the DSLR to the mirrorless body for no good reason.)

But to get back to my original thought: even if Nikon had made the Z7 exactly the same as the D850, only mirrorless, it still would be a boring camera ;~). It's as if the camera companies have run out of ideas, and just do mild iteration of what they've already done while they wait for someone on staff to have an Aha! moment.

Thing is, not many on camera company engineering staff in Japan are actually photographers (I recently caught a Japanese camera executive whose name you'd recognize at a trade show taking a photo with his smartphone; he knew people might be watching, so he tried to do it discretely, but I still noticed). So the engineering teams are not seeing the actual user problems that you and I face every day shooting dozens, hundreds, or thousands of images at a time. If you don't know what the problem is, it's unlikely you'll provide the solution.

It's getting less and less important that you update your current camera gear. The very old D750 and D800 both take photos that can be competitive with any other Nikon camera you might want to buy today. If I had to shoot sports with a D3—preferably a D3s—I wouldn't be particularly less competitive than I am today (though I'd have to go tighter with lenses, as I wouldn't have any real cropping flexibility). 

So, as the new camera updates start rolling in here in early 2020, ask yourself this: boring or exciting? (hint: if it's not exciting, it's boring ;~) I suspect I know what your answer is going to be most of the time.

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