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.
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.
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!
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!
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.