The Disappearing Entry-Level Camera

Fujifilm X-T200 — Fujifilm’s last entry-level camera?

I commonly get asked advice on camera gear. Most often it is which Fujifilm camera to buy, usually by someone who is trying to get into the system—either as a first “serious” camera or switching brands, typically because they want to try Film Simulation Recipes; however, I occasionally I get asked by someone (that knows that I’m “into photography”) who is looking for an entry-level camera for themselves or their teenage kid. If it’s for themselves, it’s because Johnny’s 5th birthday is coming and they want better pictures, or they’re about to take that epic vacation they’ve been saving up for and want to capture the memories. If it’s for their child, it’s because their kid has shown some interest in photography and they want to foster that. Either way, the basic entry-level model is what’s needed.

Whenever I ask about budgets, I usually hear something like, “Under $300.” Sometimes $500 is the upper limit. I’ve been told $150 before. Almost never is it $1,000. In the past the advice I gave was to buy a used entry-level DSLR, like the Nikon D3200, for example, which could often be found somewhere close to the budget—super easy for the novice, yet advanced enough that a budding photographer could learn on it. Later, I would suggest something like the Fujifilm X-T100 or X-A5, which were affordable mirrorless options (and, of course, Fujifilm). Nowadays it’s harder to make a recommendation because the entry-level camera is basically gone.

Those who are “serious” tend to know that they have to spend more to get a quality camera. Much of the time you get what you pay for; however, sometimes these entry-level models were surprisingly good—I was impressed by the image quality of the Fujifilm X-T200, for example. Those who are after quality will typically skip the entry-level and go for a mid-tier option or higher. Those who want a cheap introduction will be satisfied with a low-budget camera. A lot of people—mostly those who would never consider themselves a “real photographer”—used to buy these cheap cameras in droves, but now they don’t.

Hidden Church – North Salt Lake, UT – Fujifilm X-T200 – “Golden Negative

The reason they don’t is largely because of the cellphone. The camera technology on your phone is beyond good enough for most people and purposes, and it keeps getting more and more impressive. You don’t need a bulky, inconvenient, complicated, and expensive DSLR to capture Johnny’s 5th birthday. You don’t need an interchangeable-lens camera to photograph that epic vacation. Your phone is more than capable of delivering stunning pictures that can be instantly shared. Yes, you could spend a grand on a camera and lens, you could lug it around, you could take classes or watch videos on how to use it since it’s all so confusing, and you could download a bulky photo editing program onto your computer—or just pull out your phone and let its smart technology handle it all for you with just one tap.

It wasn’t long ago that the cellphone killed the pocket point-and-shoot. Now it’s also killed entry-level interchangeable-lens cameras. While I think cellphone camera technology can be (and could continue to become) appealing to “serious” photographers, I don’t think it will have a big impact on higher-end cameras. The market is shrinking from the bottom up—not the top down. If anything, there is an increased demand for mid and high end models. But the lucrative point-and-shoot and entry-level markets are pretty much all dried up.

What does this mean? There are several things. First, those hoping to find a cheap camera will have to get an older model, because less and less are new ones being made. I definitely don’t mind using “old” gear, but others don’t always feel the same—five-year-old tech is practically obsolete and 10-year old definitely is (in some people’s opinions, not mine). Fujifilm’s last entry-level cameras—the X-A7 and X-T200—were discontinued shortly after their release, due to sluggish sales. Right now the mid-tier X-E4 is their lowest-level model, and it is certainly not a “low-end” camera. Other brands have been discontinuing their entry-level options, too. If you want a “real” camera, you’ll need to get a “serious” camera; otherwise, stick with your cellphone.

iPhone 11 with Moment 58mm lens

I think the affect on those with a budding interest in photography will be profound. Either you will learn on a cellphone (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), or you’ll pony-up for a mirrorless—those who cannot afford the mirrorless model either won’t have their interest fostered and it will fade, or will learn photography differently—good, bad, or indifferent, this will shape the future of photography in some way. Change always has some impact on the future, but we won’t know exactly what it is until we get there.

Another impact that the disappearing entry-level will have on the camera industry is that money must be made somewhere. Camera companies have to make up for the lost revenue. While the trend in tech is that things become cheaper over time, I think we’re already seeing that the top-end is not getting cheaper. It won’t just affect the top, but that is what’s most affected currently it seems; I suspect that it will have an impact across all brands and all tiers to varying degrees. Fujifilm is lucky because their Instax line is still extremely popular and profitable.

The flip side of the coin is that the cellphone camera market is (and has been) booming. Whether it is Apple or Android, the camera capabilities of your device likely had a significant impact on your decision to buy. How many lenses does it have? How much resolution? What kind of computational tricks can it do? The more people spend on cellphones, the more the technology marches forward, and the better the cameras become. It’s really quite amazing what the little telephone/computer/camera in your pocket can do!

Photo by Amanda Roesch using the RitchieCam App on an iPhone 13

Obviously those advancements mean opportunities. I took the opportunity to create the RitchieCam App to bring simplified and intuitive one-step photography to your iPhone. My wife took the opportunity to do some underwater photography—something that she wouldn’t have done with an interchangeable-lens camera, but her iPhone 13 handled it swimmingly well. What that opportunity is for you depends on you—there is an opportunity for certain, you just have to find it and make it happen.

Yes, the entry-level camera is disappearing, and will soon be gone. Much like CDs, Blockbuster, and one-hour photo labs, cheap interchangeable-lens cameras are a thing of the past. It will have an impact on photography, but whether that’s positive or negative depends on your perspective. And I do think there are both positives and negatives. Certainly camera manufacturers have been concerned for some time—if there’s a lesson to be learned, perhaps it’s to do more to bring the mobile photography tech advancements to “real” cameras, too. Those wanting a bottom-end camera are seeing their options disappear. Those hoping cameras will become cheaper as they become better will likely be disappointed, at least for a time. That might look bleak, but I also believe that photography has become more accessible.

How has photography become more accessible if it isn’t becoming more affordable? The phone-in-your-pocket is only getting better, and is being taken more seriously. There’s a reason why the pocket point-and-shoot and entry-level interchangeable-lens cameras have succumbed to it. Many more people have access to a decent camera, and the pictures are easily shared across the world—more pictures are being captured now than ever before, and that’s a huge understatement!

Captured with a Fujifilm X-E4 using the Fujicolor Natura 1600 recipe.

Fujifilm cameras have made post-processing unnecessary. I don’t know how many of you truly understand the impact of this—I have a front-row seat, and I’m just beginning to grasp the magnitude of it. Learning Lightroom and Photoshop have been a prerequisite barrier to becoming a “serious photographer” for years; however, not everyone in the world has access to photo-editing programs, not everyone has a desire (or the time) to learn them, and not everyone enjoys sitting at a computer for hours (or has the time). A lot of people have been on the outside looking in, but now they don’t have to be because the barrier has been removed (thanks to Fujifilm cameras and Film Simulation Recipes). For others, it’s just a fun way to do photography, and has made the process of creating pictures more enjoyable.

Some who are just learning photography, who’ve maybe only used their cellphones previously, are buying Fujifilm cameras and using recipes and getting good results out-of-the-gate; if they had to edit their pictures, they would still be stuck on the software—they’d be making less progress and having less fun. Some who are experienced pros and have been in the business awhile have found that using recipes on Fujifilm cameras has simplified their workflow and made them more productive, while not sacrificing quality delivered to the client (true story I’ve heard several times).

Camera makers don’t like seeing a previously profitable market segment disappear, and that makes them worry about the future. Those wanting to buy a low-budget camera are finding it harder and harder to find. Things are shifting and changing within the photography and camera world. Yet, whether you just want some decent snaps of Johnny’s birthday or are just starting out in photography or are a seasoned pro—or anywhere in-between—there are great opportunities for you right now. The obstacles in your path have never been smaller.

Download the RitchieCam App for iPhone here.
Download the Fuji X Weekly App for iPhone here, and Android here.
Also, check out Ritchie’s Ricoh Recipes! Oh, and there are now recipes for Nikon Z, too.

8 comments

  1. aero-proses-0l@icloud.com · 20 Days Ago

    I can appreciate your thoughts on the entry level camera and I agree with a lot of it. One thing I’m not so sure about is where you mention/imply that people will stick with the cell-phone because they cannot find a reasonably priced entry level camera (150-1000 to use your low and high range mentioned).

    However, cell phones are not really, in my mind anyways, reasonably price either. My iPhone 13 Pro was over 1000.00. Granted, it has multitude of other usages although even with that I still question the worth sometimes. It seems to me that one will get a much better entry level camera that is priced similar to the iPhone. But, that’s just my two cents.

    I do enjoy reading your articles!

    >

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · 19 Days Ago

      I don’t think that someone is debating, “Should I buy this $500 camera or $1,000 phone?” They already own the phone. It’s in their hand right now. The question is: “Should I buy a $500 camera when my phone seems to take pretty good pictures?” Most likely they won’t buy the camera. I appreciate your comment!

      Like

  2. Francis.R. · 20 Days Ago

    I think the success of Fujifilm digital cameras, was because they were quite Instagrameable, it is beautiful to post with their JPEGs that compete with the built-in filters of Instagram, and is beautiful to pose to the camera with a Fujifilm X100 in the hand and publish it in Instagram, think I doubt will happen with the X-H2S. The only thing lacking maybe was a more immediate square mode. I wonder if that is the reason the instant film line of cameras is even more popular. Of course I talk about the old Instagram, world (or accountants?) seem to feel people want more video than photos, so now the focus seem in video modes for Tik Tok, YouTube, stories, things which I think my smartphone is enough, but for those that want to try it I guess the X-H2S will be more or less fantastic, but if that is the case then, as in the case of filters for that previous era of Instagram, it should give to the video some of those filters that Tik-Tok people want, or integration with YouTube.

    If I wouldn’t know anything about photography I’d suggest my Samsung S20 FE and learn to use the built-in editor, maybe Snapseed. If I had a bit more of money for something specialized I think a Canon SL1 with a prime Canon EF-S 24mm f2.8 would be very versatile and with enough quality distance from smartphones than with the kit zooms which are too dim and too much digitally corrected. And if one really knows about photography then it depens in oneself, I chose my Fujifilm X100S, I didn’t get the SL1 and the 24mm because I had tried so many cameras to know that both colors from Fujifilm film legacy, and the experience without the gimmicky controls, were what I was looking for in digital.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · 19 Days Ago

      Everything seems to be trending towards video nowadays. I’m not exactly sure what that means for still photography. I don’t think video “replaces” still photography, but there is definitely an impact, particularly with how cameras are designed. I’d love to see a camera without video mode (I think the Nikon Df was like that… probably Leica, too?), but I don’t think that will happen. I appreciate your comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Chantel · 19 Days Ago

    honestly at this point, as an “entry-level” option, I’d recommend a used 5D Mark II with a secondhand nifty fifty. That combo can be found under $500 and is a very high quality option for someone looking to learn the basics.

    I don’t think cell phone cameras make photography more accessible, though. the ones with the best cameras still cost ~$1k on average, and even then, snapping a picture in portrait mode doesn’t teach anything.

    unfortunately, the best entry-level camera have not been under $500 for a while. my very first interchangeable lens camera was the Nikon D3100, and it retailed for $699 with the kit lens at the time of purchase. adjusted for inflation, that’s almost $1k after taxes. I do think that’s one of the reason analog cameras have become more popular among broader audiences. they’re cheap, durable, and a great way to learn the fundamentals of photography.

    great post, Ritchie!

    Like

    • Ritchie Roesch · 19 Days Ago

      The 5D would be much too much for someone looking for an entry level. That’s like going to Driver’s Ed with a Ferrari (granted, an older one with maybe some dents…). It used to be that you could get a Nikon D3200 or D3300 bundled with the kit lens at Costco $500 (I bought a D3300 once this way). You could find them used on eBay for $300-$350 sometimes. Granted, that’s not taking into account inflation… but I did see today a D3200 on eBay with the kit lens for $200, and it claims to still work….
      As far as the cellphone, people already have the phone. It’s in their pocket right now. Even those in poverty and living in very poor countries have a smartphone. Supposedly 84% of adults across the world have a smartphone. The question is will they buy a camera to use in addition to their phone, or are they finding the phone to be good enough? I think most “non-photographers” find it to be good enough, but 10 years ago—even five years ago—that was not necessarily the case.
      I don’t think most non-photographers have an interest in learning the fundamentals of photography, but those budding photographers might have an interest in that; however, if all they have access to is a cellphone camera, that’s how they’ll learn photography, and perhaps they never learn the fundamentals, which will certain shape the future of cameras and photography. Thanks for the comment!

      Like

  4. Taigen · 13 Days Ago

    If this plays out as you say, it’ll be good in a way as all the second hand gear will be ‘top end’ stuff.
    I know some people prefer to have a new cheaper option, but it suits me to have top end gear second hand.
    Great article!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ritchie Roesch · 12 Days Ago

      I don’t know if it will change the amount of top-end gear being sold second-hand. There will be less bottom-end, or at least the bottom-end that you find will be older. I appreciate your input!

      Like

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