What Future Camera Technology Might Be Like

Barn by the Tetons – Grand Teton NP, WY – Fujifilm X-E1 – Nik Silver Efex edit

What will future cameras be like? More specifically, what do I think they’ll be like? This is an odd topic that has come up a few times recently in various places. I don’t have any inside information. I’ve never laid eyes on any top-secret still-in-development cameras. I only have my own ideas and opinions, which are probably inaccurate. I’ve certainly been wrong before, and I’m probably wrong now. Still, it’s fun to speculate.

I think, in the not-too-distant future, perhaps beginning in roughly five years, we’ll see camera manufacturers team up with software companies to offer more (and better) in-camera filters. We’re going to see more software built into cameras, and with that, I think we’ll start to see VSCO, RNI, Alien Skin, Nik Collection, and others, partner with camera manufacturers to include their popular presets integrated into gear. This will also allow RAW files to match straight-out-of-camera JPEGs (and TIFFs) simply by applying the same preset in-software as in-camera.

Mirrored Mountain – Mirror Lake, UT – Fujifilm X-E1 – Alien Skin Exposure edit

The Zeiss ZX1 camera has Lightroom Mobile built-in. The Pixii camera can be programmed with LUT profiles. It’s not even close to mainstream yet, but you can see the very beginning of this shift start to build. I think it is only a matter of time before you will be able to capture in-camera with (for example) the RNI Kodak Gold v.3 preset. I don’t think Canon, Sony, Nikon, or Fujifilm will be the first company to do this. Maybe Leica. Perhaps a future Panasonic S-series model. I’m not exactly sure, but it will definitely be a marketing strategy for whoever does it first.

I believe that in the beginning it will be collaborations between specific manufactures and software companies. For example, Sony might partner with VSCO, and perhaps Nikon partners with RNI. I personally hope Fujifilm partners with RNI or Alien Skin, but my guess is that Fujifilm will hold onto their film simulations, which, let’s be honest, is a similar concept. Film simulations are kind of like presets, especially since they can be customized with film simulation recipes; however, in its current state film simulations don’t go as far as what I believe is coming. I do think Fujifilm can accomplish in-house their own presets, since they do seem to have a nice head start, but I don’t know if they have the foresight to take it far enough or the R&D resources to keep up once it takes off. We’ll have to wait and see how it all plays out. Currently, Fujifilm’s Film Simulations, with the help of custom JPEG recipes, are the closest thing right now to what I believe is coming.

Eventually I see it morphing into more of an app model, where you can buy any company’s presets and use them on your camera, no matter the brand. Buy a Canon and download the RNI app if you want their presets, or VSCO if you want theirs. If you have a Fujifilm camera, you can use the exact same presets on that camera as you can on your Sony. This might be 10 or more years down the road, but it seems like it is inevitable that it will happen someday.

Whitefish Lake Infrared – Whitefish, MT – Fujifilm X100V – RNI Aero edit

Why do I think all this is the future of photography technology? What I believe is going to happen is a stronger movement towards straight-out-of-camera. Not for bragging rights, but for three reasons: 1) it saves so much time, 2) it can be more fun, and 3) it opens up photography more to those who don’t have the desire, skills, or time to post-process their pictures. Technology will make getting post-processed-like-looks more accessible without the need to actually do it. It’s going to be easier and more automatic. You, the photographer, will have to select which look you want, and the camera will do the work for you and will deliver to you out-of-camera that look without any need for Lightroom, etc., to achieve it. Upload the picture to whatever social media or cloud storage you want right from the camera. No need for a computer, as it’s all handled by the camera. You won’t even need your phone, unless camera companies figure out that they can harness the phone’s computing power to do the work for them, and the phone becomes (wirelessly) integrated into the camera.

I could be completely wrong about all of this. I’ve certainly been wrong many times before. Nobody knows the future. I do see things moving in this direction, and in a very small way, because of my film simulation recipes, I’ve had a hand in moving it.

Sentinel & Merced – Yosemite NP, CA – Fujifilm X100V – SOOC “Vintage Color” unedited

Of Shadow & Light — Be The Light

The Art of Photography – Fujifilm X100V – “Kodak Tri-X 400

The first time that I saw Bruce Barnbaum‘s Chair & Shadow photograph was over 20 years ago in college during Photography 102. Most of those classes began with a look at well-known or really good photographs, with a discussion of why these pictures were special, and Bruce’s photo was one of those. At the time I had no idea who he was. I remember being struck by how this simple image could be so moving. The Zone System was mentioned, as well as dodging and burning and perhaps some other technical stuff.

I didn’t see Chair & Shadow again for more than a decade, when it was featured on the cover of The Art of Photography: An Approach to Personal Expression. I bought the book and read it cover-to-cover. It’s a great resource for those wanting to be more artful with their images. Note that the current edition of the book has a different cover photo.

Bruce’s picture is of a simple folding chair inside a large empty room with a door cracked open. The building looks old. The picture leaves far more questions than answers. Where is this? What is the significance of this place? Why is the chair in this large and otherwise empty room? Who sits in it? Why is the door partially open? What is outside? Is this a good place or bad place? These and other unanswered questions are likely why this image produces an emotional response, and, depending on the answers your mind invents, it might be good feelings or uneasy feelings—either way, you likely had an emotional response to the photo. Ultimately the picture is about shadow and light—more shadow than light, with light piercing the darkness—and utilizes a simple (yet effective) composition to make that point.

Yesterday I visited PetaPixel and saw that they published an article (which apparently first ran in Medium Format Magazine) in which Bruce Barnbaum explains the story behind his famous photo. It was such a fun read for me, because of my own experiences with the image. Many of my unanswered questions were answered in an interesting way. I very much enjoyed it!

Then I read the comments section. Big mistake. It’s amazing how people can be so negative yet full of unsubstantiated pride. You see it everywhere on the internet, including photography websites. I suppose it is easy to do that when you can hide behind anonymity. I learned awhile back not to Google my own name, because people have said some really awful things about me, largely because they simply disagreed with something I said. You can imagine, since I encourage people to shoot JPEGs, that it rocks the boat a little.

What’s great about the Fuji X Weekly community is that you’ll find very little of this nasty negativity here. Yeah, it’s seemingly everywhere else, but not among you. You guys and gals are extraordinarily kind, and it shows. You are like the light shining through the door in Chair & Shadow, illuminating the room. It’s really refreshing, and seemingly uncommon. Thank you for being a light in the “darkness” that is the internet. You are the best community in all of photography—I’m certain of it—and I appreciate you!

Shrinking Camera Market: What Fujifilm Should Do In 2021 & Beyond

50160901406_742566da86_c

Fujifilm X100V captured by a Fujifilm X-T1

It’s no secret that camera sales have been declining for several years. The global pandemic has unsurprisingly significantly impacted the camera industry. Some companies have had bigger declines than others, and I think over the coming couple of years we’ll see some camera makers restructure, put themselves up for sale, or go out of business altogether. What should Fujifilm do to minimize declines and maximize profits in these tough times?

I’m not an industry insider or business expert. There aren’t any good reasons why Fujifilm should listen to me on this topic (other than I’m one of their customers). Besides, they have a pretty darn good track record for dealing with change within the industry and economy. Fujifilm doesn’t need my help. This article is more for my own enjoyment and perhaps yours. It’s fun to consider and discuss this topic. I don’t expect anything else to come from this.

Camera sales have been declining since the collapse of the compact camera market. Cellphone camera technology has come a long ways, which has rendered point-and-shoot cameras obsolete. The casual amateur snap-shooter uses their phone now to capture pictures, and has no need or interest in another camera. Before cellphone cameras had decent image quality, camera manufacturers were selling cheap automatic cameras to these folks. Lots and lots of them. But now that market is all dried up.

50160642736_57034461f0_c

Captured with a Fujifilm X-T1. This camera is four models old but is still quite capable.

The more serious shooters are still buying cameras, but cameras have reached a point of diminishing returns. Digital technology changes quickly, but if a camera is already really good, these improvements have less of a practical application. For instance, if a photographer finds that his or her camera’s autofocus is already more than good enough for their photography, a quicker autofocus system won’t likely tempt that photographer to upgrade. If a photographer finds that his or her camera already has enough resolution for the size they print, more resolution won’t likely tempt that photographer to upgrade. In other words, photographers by-and-large are keeping and using their gear for longer than they did 10 years ago, or even five. Digital is still disposable, but it is becoming less so, or at least photographers are beginning to realize that they don’t need to “upgrade” as frequently as they used to.

The camera industry isn’t Fujifilm’s main business. After the film collapse, Fujifilm diversified, and now they’re a pharmaceutical and cosmetics company that also happens to sell cameras. Their camera arm, which is just a small part of their business model, is doing better than many other camera makers right now. Still, the current market is impacting Fujifilm, and will continue to do so, which means Fujifilm might need to consider some changes.

Fujifilm has several camera models that are essentially the same, but look different and have only small feature differences. Fujifilm should consider ways to either further differentiate their similar models or combine them into one. The X-T200 and the X-A7 have nearly identical features, and having both models seems redundant. The X-Pro3 was made more unique to further separate it from the X-T3, and that worked out well, I believe. I look at the X-E line, which I love. My first Fujifilm camera was an X-E1. The X-E3 is so similar to the X-T20, aside from camera body design, so what differentiates the two besides shape? Fujifilm should consider discontinuing the X-E line, or do something to the eventual X-T40 or X-E4 to better differentiate the models. For example, if Fujifilm added IBIS to the X-T40 or made the X-E4 a black-and-white only camera (the “X-E Acros” is what I’d call it), that would separate them, and Fujifilm would have unique models. I think, alternatively, the X-T40 could basically be transitioned into a higher-end model, and serve as the (eventual) X-T5 without IBIS. The X-H line, now that the X-T4 has IBIS, is also redundant, so the X-H2 would need something to make it stand out, such as 8K video. Since the X-T4 has been so well received, I’m not sure how much of a market there is for an X-H2, but Fujifilm insists that this camera is in the works. It will be interesting to see it when it comes out, perhaps next year, and how well it does.

Fujifilm has situated itself as the leader in digital medium-format. It seems like overnight they went from not-even-in-that-market to top-dog, thanks to the success of the GFX line. Still, it’s more of a niche market than anything mainstream. I think what’s missing is a “budget” rangefinder-style 100-megapixel camera without IBIS. Essentially a GFX-50R, but with the 100MP sensor of the GFX100 inside. Maybe Fujifilm should consider adding IBIS to whatever camera replaces the GFX-50S. I have no idea how profitable this line has been for Fujifilm, and if it will stand the test of time, but I think it was smart of Fujifilm to jump into a market that they could easily dominate.

50123395623_b3f031f1d4_c

This is a camera-made JPEG from a Fujifilm X100V, but looks more like film.

Something else that I think Fujifilm should consider is replacing cameras less frequently. When they release a camera and then replace it with a new model one year later, that’s too soon. Two years is too soon. Three years should be a minimum between updated cameras, and four to five years is even better. I know this might sound counter to what consumers want, but X-Trans III cameras, such as the X100F, X-T2, X-T20 and X-E3, are still very excellent! The X-E3 hasn’t been replaced yet, and the X100F was only recently replaced after three years, but the X-T2 is three models old now, and there’s already “talk” of an upcoming X-T40, while the X-T30 isn’t even a year-and-a-half old yet. It’s better to get the most out of a model, then replace it with something that’s a significant improvement over the previous edition. There’s a latin phrase festina lente, which means “make haste slowly.” Fujifilm needs to keep pushing the envelope and strive to produce more technologically advanced cameras, but not be too eager to release new models that only have small improvements over previous versions. If Fujifilm were to update the firmware on the X-T3 and X-T30 to breathe new excitement into these models, these cameras could still be sold for another two years easily.

There’s one more important point that I’d like to make, and this relates to Fuji X Weekly. I think Fujifilm needs to focus even more on JPEGs. I’ve discovered that there’s a huge community of photographers who love the camera-made JPEGs produced by Fujifilm cameras, whether straight-out-of-camera or with X RAW Studio. The film simulations—a brilliant idea by Fujifilm—were just the tip of the iceberg, and now film simulation recipes are all the rage. There’s something big here, bigger than I think Fujifilm realizes. Yes, Fujifilm has demonstrated their commitment to the JPEG with the X100V, X-Pro3 and X-T4, but they need to continue their commitment on future models. This is a fairly unique angle that Fujifilm has. While other camera makers do, in fact, have some nice JPEGs, Fujifilm is perhaps the only brand with a cult following based on it. They should absolutely capitalize on that, more so than they have been.

I doubt that Fujifilm will read this article, and I’m even more doubtful that they’ll make any internal changes based on it. I think it’s sound advice, but what do I know? Whether or not Fujifilm does any of the things I suggest, I think they’ll be just fine and will weather this “storm” without too much trouble. The guys running the company seem pretty smart to me, and are doing just fine without my advice. It will be fascinating to see exactly what happens within the camera industry in 2021 and beyond, and what Fujifilm does to find success during these tough times.