Friday, February 26, 2021

Falling Off a Cliff

First, the scaremongering video. Anybody who was invested in these companies would soil their Underoos watching this.

That's...well, that's bad. Right?

Of course, they go on to explain that's only telling part of the story. Measuring everything from 2010 is ignoring the fact that 2010 was a peak for camera sales after years of explosive growth. 

In 2000, digital cameras were weird and clunky things still. The Mavica I bought in 2001 recorded 1024x768 images on floppy discs. It was discontinued merchandise at Wally World, already obsolete only two years after being released with a thousand dollar MSRP. 

Ten years later, a thousand bucks would buy a Canon 60D, which is still a recognizably modern DSLR, capable of recording eighteen megapixel images; that means that unless your screen resolution is set to 5184x3456, which I'm betting it's not, you're not going to see the whole image onscreen at once*.

The stretch of time from 2000 to 2010 was a decade of explosive, crazy, Moore's Law-esque growth in the digital camera world, and it kept people on the upgrade treadmill pretty effectively. Camera makers relentlessly searched for niche markets of customers needing a way to record images, and tried to fill every little one of them. Look at how many different camera models Nikon alone introduced in 2010, from DPreview:

And that was a middlin' busy year for Nikon intros. Look how thinly they were slicing that market! There's even a camera in there with a built-in projector.

This is one of those scenarios where, with the benefit of 20/20 (or 20/21, as the case may be) hindsight, you wonder "Why did nobody look around and think 'There's no way this can last. Eventually everybody's gonna have a camera that makes them happy.'"

Which is, of course, what happened. 

It happened because 2010 is also about the time that sales of smartphones with actual usable cameras really took off and now pretty much everyone does have a camera that makes them happy, only it's part of their phone and therefore not counted by CIPA, the camera industry's trade organization. The NSSF should thank their lucky stars that smartphones don't come chambered in 9mm.

I know that even with its feeble (by modern standards) 3.2MP rear camera, my first smartphone dramatically increased the number of photos shared on the blog. Meanwhile, by the time I bought my first DSLRs in 2013, the market was about to enter free fall. In a way, I helped, since I bought a used Rebel XTi, deciding that a camera that was a couple generations out of date was still plenty adequate for my modest needs.

Over at The Online Photographer, Mike has a philosophical take on it, suggesting it might be more of a return to normal from a bubble.
"As far as "our end of the market" goes, I'm concerned, yes, but not panicked. We had a lot of good choices back in the '80s when I went to art school, and we have a lot of good choices now. There were 5.2 million DSLR and mirrorless ILCs sold in 2020. If you compare that to the top end of the market in 1985 when I graduated from the Corcoran School of Art with a degree in photography—setting aside all those point-and-shoots—well, I don't know for sure, but I'll bet the players at that time would be plenty impressed with that figure. Yes, I was sad we lost Olympus; but consider that, thanks to Andreas Kaufmann, Leica survived to thrive in the digital era, which looked pretty darned unlikely at times during the transition. I would have bet against it. And Panasonic was definitely not a player when I came up. Fuji was mainly a film manufacturer. Lose some, win some."

*...and ten years after that, a thousand bucks gets you Canon's full-frame mirrorless EOS RP, which sports a 6240x4160 resolution. The curve is leveling out, though, and the dwindling market means it will probably continue to do so.