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Photokina 2012 Trends


Step back a bit and see what's happening above the detail level

This page documents products trends I see at Photokina 2012.

Page last updated 9/22/12 at 7pm GMT (latest items on top):

  • Full Frame Compact?--Not quite as hot at the show as you'd think. The Sony RX-1 was getting good attention, but not the crazy attention it's gotten in the press since announcement. Ditto with a full frame Fujifilm. Fujifilm's comments about such a possibility at the X-E1 launch set off a wave of press speculation that's snowballed, but people trying out the X-E1 in the booth weren't demanding when there would be a full frame version. We have plenty of great cameras, folks. A few will be coming with that special element Unobtanium FX, sure, but you don't need it, and remember what happened to the humans when Eywa rose up against them trying to use it all up.

  • And a Moment of Silence--I am honored to say a few words about our old friend, film. I saw my friend just a few years ago, and while clearly not his spry young self, he was still full of color and sharp as ever. But he doesn't seem to be here today in this Digital Wonderland still called Photokina, and I think he'd be happy to know that a few of us missed him.

    If that sounds like a eulogy, it is. At least it felt like I should be giving one. Analog has mostly left the building(s). I was lucky enough to see the opposite (when Digital entered the building), so it really struck me that we're nearly at the other end of the cycle as I wandered around Photokina. The Kodak booth was strangely filmless (hey buddy, can I sell you a printer?). The Fujifilm booth was probably the only one of the big main booths in the crowded section of the show where you could find someone to talk film. Remember, Nikon still sells two film SLRs. I didn't see any mention of them at the show.

    There is one hall that was mostly analog, what with papers and the remaining chemical-based stuff. Indeed, it was smelling those chemicals that made me realize what I hadn't been seeing.

  • You Are a Videographer--with even a Leica M now capable of recording video, the "still camera must have video" campaign has now come to a near complete takeover of the still camera market. Unless you're buying a medium format back or one of the few remaining oddballs (Sigma SD1 comes to mind), you've got video.

    Some say that it's a free feature: it came along with the Live View, which is a still camera feature. To some degree, true, but the licensing fees you're paying for the video compressors, even if only a few cents, aren't doing the still user much good. The extra engineering time probably cost you some more cents, maybe even dollars. The fact that you accidentally hit the red button when you didn't mean to and then missed the US$64,000 shot of Joe Biden shooting a bat's head off with his assualt rifle or Paul Ryan cashing a food stamp voucher might cost you a bit more some day, but what the heck, you've got two products in one.

    Sort of like the Subaru Brat. It's a car, no it's a pickup. Of course, if you need a real pickup...

    So where do we go from here? We get it. We can shoot video with just about any camera on the planet, and it will be just as good as the video our iPhone 5 creates. Yeah, yeah, at the top end I can use fancier lenses and get really cool shallow DOF effects the iPhone will just have to...wait, what's that? Just use a software filter on the iPhone video stream? Hmm.

    Okay, I'm yanking on your chain a bit here. I've found uses for the video on a few of my cameras. But when I'm doing a serious video production, I just pull out the real video gear.

    Where we go from here is "more of the same." Can't say anything about whom I was talking to, but yes, 4K video in a DSLR is being talked about. Why, I'm not sure.

    That's one of the problems with these hardware trends: once they get started, they just keep iterating and iterating and iterating. At least until everyone decides the real trend is somewhere else now. It's an interesting aspect of Japanese culture, actually, one that has fascinating me to no end. The very first time I saw it in action and realized there was something hive-mind-like going on I wasn't conscious of was back in the early 90's on my first visit to Tokyo. It had snowed that night, but the weather was warming up. At one moment in Tokyo, everyone had on their coat, hat, and gloves. I think I blinked or something, then the next moment all the hats and gloves were off. A little later, there was another of those blinks and the coats were gone. The thing that fascinated me was that it happened almost instantaneously, but I didn't actually see one person taking anything off. Not one. Yet one moment they all had these clothing items on, the next not.

    I thought I was hallacinating. I mentioned it my Japan-veteran colleage and he said, "no, that's the way it works here. It's like there's some sort of signal that only the native Japanese can see." And in my visits to Japan since then, I've noticed other versions of the same thing. It also became clear to me that this explained some of the things I was seeing in the electronics industry, too: once something started in motion, it was quickly adapted by all. Still cameras must have video. Really, that move came in a relatively short eyeblink even for the fast paced electronics industry.

    What I've been looking for is whether there are any other signals going off. WiFi was obviously another. Android cameras. I think, but am not sure yet, Sony's charge-for-apps-that-are-features is going to be another. There weren't many candidates in evidence, and let's hope that the Hasselblad Lunar (also known around the show floor as the Hasselbling Lunarcy) isn't one of the ones. (The Lunar is covered on sansmirror.com, as it is a mirrorless camera, if you can call it a camera.)

  • Photography in Product Booths--So how are camera makers using imaging in their booths? Well, first up, we have the ubiquitous staged sets where you can try a product out. Here's the Lumix set:
    Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan

    I've left the light in this shot to show you just how strange some of these setups are. Guess we're really supposed to be trying out telephoto lenses (though then why do we need the foreground elements?). (That's not how I remember my partners dressing while out camping, by the way.)

    Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan
    Nikon's booth really doesn't have such an element in it (though you can take a picture of yourself with an I AM message at the set of monitors arrayed as a heart, see above). Indeed, Nikon's booth seemed oddly de-imaged for the most part. At the heart of what image, Nikon? As I note elsewhere, Nikon seems to be thinking of images as graphic arts elements, not images.

    Here's another strange thing: many of the camera makers do have big display images in their booths (or at least on the outer walls). Most of them are appalling bad. In some cases the reproduction is bad, in other cases the image itself isn't compelling, and in one of the few images on the back side of Nikon's booth, an image that sends an entirely wrong message about the product they want to sell you. Now, I have to be careful here, because the image in question is part of a story-telling documentary series. It's very difficult to take such images out of context, and I actually thought the series was interesting and worked at what it was trying to show. But there's one image that's a bit of a mess when looked at solely as a stand alone image, as someone might in the context in which it was used. And down there in the label of this blurry, motion impacted image is the note saying it was taken with a D800. Oh dear. If someone just took those two things together quickly--quick scan of the image, look at the product note--it doesn't match the message Nikon wants to say about the D800.

    I don't want to belabor the point, partly because I'll bet most people who went to the Nikon booth never saw the image in question (it's on the back side of the booth in an area where almost no one goes), but if they did and tried to make the D800=quality connection, they wouldn't. So maybe it was good that Nikon's booth was mostly de-imaged other than whatever was being presented at the stage.

    Contrary to that, Sony's booth was the one where I found lots of interesting, compelling images. Bravo Sony. I actually had to brave a few crowd rushes to take in a couple of images and get full satisfaction from looking at them. Excellent printing, too. It's almost as if someone who cares about images was in charge of that, go figure.

    The printer manufacturers get this. Not a single printer maker at Photokina had blah images like the camera makers mostly did (again, Sony was an exception). If you ever go to a photographic trade show of any kind and really want to see what the latest and greatest equipment is really capable of, skip the camera maker's booths: get thee fast to a printer maker. Of course, you have to be a little careful, as the printer maker may be using medium format images, but if you ask nicely, I'm pretty sure they can find some that are DSLR generated to show you.

  • What's Wrong With These Pictures?
    Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan
    Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan
    Notice anything about the two pictures? They were taken within minutes of each other at two of the different halls. Why yes, the hall with the big galleries has no people in it. The hall with all the pieces of metal, plastic, and silicon in it--uh, I mean cameras--is a mob scene. Short answer: we care more about our gear than images.

    This message was repeated many times throughout the show. I rarely saw people step up and study the ubiquitous images (with an exception I'll get to in a minute). Personally, I thought that's what we're here for: to figure out if product X can do task Y. Everyone was so busy concentrating on X that no one bothered to check out Y. Well not everyone. But darned near close to everyone.

    It's sad. Really sad. In a few places I found some really stunning photography (rarely in a camera maker's booth, certainly not in Nikon's). But it seems that images really are commodities now. We're bombarded with so many we ignore them while shopping for something that actually makes them!

    We're losing our way here, folks. A great image isn't whether sky pixel 10,231,922 is the same as 10,231,923 and thus shows no noise. It's whether 16 million, or 24 million, or however many million pixels make a construct that moves you. That tells you a story. That shows you something you've never seen before. That captures a moment you would otherwise miss. Sure, I want quality in my images, but image first, quality second.

    I came to Photokina to see where we are with everything imaging. It's one of the few places where you can get the full picture, pardon the pun. The Pied Piper is leading everyone to black shiny things. The Wizard Behind the Curtain is telling you that you're right: if you only had a camera, the right camera, everything would be fine. You're falling for the Dark Side of the Force, and a Dark Star is coming to gobble up your images and put you in a nice all plastic suit.

    Which brings me to the exception:
    Copyright 2012 Thom Hogan

    On the floor, the stairs, the globe, are thousands upon thousands of 4x6" sized images. Note the people on the floor photographing the photographs. The photographer photographing the photographer photographing the photographer and people standing in front of the globe. Now this particular display of photographs--but not the gallerys--had a constant stream of people looking at them.

    Basically, this isn't photography as image, it's photography as graphic art.

  • WiFi--You don't have to be very observant to notice this trend: cameras of all kinds are getting WiFi. Smartphones have it, compact cameras have it, mirrorless cameras have it, DSLRs have it or have an accessory to get it, printers have it, tripods have it...hey, wait a minute that last one can't be right. There's only one problem with this trend. No, make that two related problems: (1) Everybody is going about it in different ways and there's absolutely no standardization happening, as we've got AdHoc and Infrastructure solutions, menu based and button based, and pretty much every other possibility of differences you can think of; and (2) WiFi is not really much better than cables when it comes to workflow.

    So, instead of taking your card out and putting it in a card reader or connecting your camera via a cable to start you workflow, you can use the non-cable (WiFi). Oh, you might have to press a few more buttons or traverse more menus to do this, but you also don't really get anything much more than you did before other than the lack of a cable. No automatic renaming, no filing, no automatic routing, no nothing. It's just a transport for the bits for the most part. Of course, everyone's touting that you can then share your images to Facebook, Flickr, Twitter, eMail, et.al., once the images are over on your WiFi connected device (e.g. smartphone, tablet, computer), but I can do that with the images that I copy over physically with wires, too. I haven't truly gained anything other than losing the wire (or card reader). Yes, that's a start. But it's only a start.

    The real problem here is that the camera companies don't see that they are being completely end run. The smartphone cameras have better workflow than WiFi connected cameras. So, as a user, which company would you turn to asking to solve your further problems: (a) ask the smartphone makers to give you better cameras; or (b) ask the camera makers to solve their software deficiency with workflow-friendly fare? If you answered (b), you have more faith in the software groups in the Japanese camera companies than I do. Heck, I noticed something key just the other day that the even smartphone cameras aren't doing that they should be, so they're not perfect either, but I bet if I suggest it to one, it'll happen tomorrow ;~). (And yes, it's a workflow thing, and it's one you'll go Doh! on when you hear it because it's so obvious once you see it. Just no one's seen it yet. Quick, where's my patent attorney?)

    We're at the infancy of communication in cameras. We may even be pre-natal the way that some of camera companies are going about it.

    Adding technology hardware to all already decked-out-with-technology hardware product gives you a nice marketing box to check off, but there's nothing stopping your competitor from doing the same thing. Indeed, they are doing it. So basically you've added parts cost to your camera and lowered your margin without giving the user any superb benefit. Bravo. Do that a few more times and you'll have no margin. We had MP3 players before the iPod, we had smartphones before the iPhone, we had tablets before the iPad. In all of those cases, the "technologies" were already in products. The reason why Apple's products resonated and took off to dominate their categories was that they answered user problems: they put the technologies together in ways that made users' lives far easier. Removing a cable isn't the answer.

  • Copycats--Heaven help you if you don't have a protectable hook or aren't exceedingly fast to iterate. The halls of Photokina are filled with copycat products. No, I'm not talking about cameras per se (though I'll use one as an example in a moment). I'm talking about Company X being the first to figure out that if you put Technology Y into Container Z you have a new product or a product that appeals to some niche or perhaps even larger market. Quick, how many carbon fiber tripods are there these days? I stopped counting at this trade show. So Gitzo was first to realize that using a different material might make for a lighter but more rigid tripod. And because carbon fiber was expensive to work with they priced these tripods high. But they sold! Market proven. Enter the copiers. Now everyone makes them, as there's no real barrier to using the material itself.

    LED lights are another example of that: new material used to generate light. Now let's talk about the barrier thing. Litepanels claims to have a US patent on using LED in photographic lighting equipment (that's a really broad patent, and I'd argue that it's obvious, as every time we've had other new lighting sources they've been used in photographic lighting equipment). Here at the show there must be more than 100 companies showing LED lights, ranging from some very big players (including Litepanels) to your basic Chinese knockoffs. The talk of the show in lighting is about Litepanels complaint to the USITC (trade commission) in the US, where the preliminary decision apparently is in favor of Litepanels. See the complaint here. This could allow Litepanels to shut off all other players in the US market (it currently is directed at Flolight, Prompter People, IKAN Corporation, Cool Lights, Elation Lighting, Fotodiox, Fuzhou F&V Photographic Equipment Co., Yuyao Lishuai Photo-Facility Co., Yuyao Fotodiox Photo Equipment Co. Ltd., Shantou Nanguang Photographic Equipment Co., Visio Light, Inc., Tianjin Wuqing Huanyu Film and TV Equipment Factory, Stellar Lighting Systems, and Yuyao Lily Collection Co. Litepanels one of the expensive options, so they'd piss a lot of photographers and videographers off when all the less expensive ones disappeared from the market. Is that the way you want to acquire a customer? Making their options disappear and forcing them to pay you more? So even when you have a barrier to entry--and again, this seems like a faux barrier to me, though one that is looking like it might hold--you have to be careful, as the pain from enforcing the IP barrier might exceed just iterating and moving to be the best provider.

    The camera I'm going to single out here is probably different than you're expecting me to write about: it's the GoPro. Take an image sensor, put minimal processing and control facilities around it and place that in as small as possible container, and make lots of ways that container can be attached to things. It started because of surfing (can we put together a simple camera that'll survive the rigors of surfing and not get in the way?). Now they're being used everywhere, for all kinds of things. I saw a reality TV show being filmed recently, and there were 10 GoPros mounted on a truck the contestants were using. 10. Well, I guess they got all the angles they wanted.

    So-called cigarette video cameras have been around for a long time (Hollywood has always needed small cameras that could be tucked into tight places), but the interesting innovation of the GoPro was all the low-cost attachment capability: tripod, helmet, chest, rail, gun (wait, that's not one, is it?), you name it. Yes, GoPro created their own proprietary attachment system, but the barrier to entry into the market they've proven is also low: create your own proprietary attachment system. So now we have dozens of companies from small ones like Contour to huge ones like Sony to ones we wouldn't expect, like Polaroid (who announced their US$99 sports camera here at Photokina). The concept is still the same: imaging sensor with minimal processing and controls in a hardy case with multiple attachment capabilities. Good luck protecting that marketplace.

    That was actually my point about Android cameras earlier this year: it'll be a race to the bottom by not just one or two players, but lots of players, many of them enormous (so far, Nikon and Samsung are playing, but there are three others on the horizon and I heard rumors of a lot of new ones here; indeed, I'm almost certain there was a project manager from a future rival standing next to me trying out the Galaxy at Samsung's booth). These are indefensible markets. When the barrier to entry is zero, if there's demand there will be an inexaustible number of entries until the product is completely commoditized and all excess--and sometimes just all--profit margin has been exterminated.

    In the PC, phone, and tablet world, we have a lot of such copying going on, though much of it won't stick, I think. Regardless of where you stand on Apple's Copyright/Patent suit against Samsung, I think that even a poor observer would have to admit that before the iPhone phones were different, and now they're all much more iPhone-like. Or that before the MacBook Air ultralight computers were all quite different (and often strange), but eventually everyone has seemed to come down to the same solution. The difference is that Apple doesn't get into products without having their own sauce, which creates a barrier to entry. The suit they won against Samsung shows that they'll defend that sauce whether it be design, software, or technology. I'll give Google credit (for being evil ;~): they and Amazon both seem to get that it isn't just the hardware alone that made for Apple's success. Google Play is the iTunes Store and Google Drive is Apple iCloud. They understand that it was a lot of integration of a customer's experiences with content, services, and products that really was the barrier to entry for others. Amazon, too, gets it. And after some random wandering around the planet Vista 7, Microsoft even seems to get it. Hard to think there's room for all those players, and we've still got Sony and Samsung needing to fully check in. The fact that a number of these are top performing companies when it comes to understanding all the details and fleshing them out is going to make those barriers really, really high for any laggards, like RIM, HP, and others.

    What's this have to do with cameras? Well, anyone can get an imaging sensor that's good these days. You can license what you need for an imaging ASIC. There's software that will help you design lenses and plenty of companies that will grind them for you. Cameras are a bundle of common technologies that are ubiquitiously available. Sure, there are some patents that you might have to maneuver around, and yes, the camera companies have years of tuning their offerings under their belt, but there's no barrier to entry for a camera these days. Not unless you do something that creates a barrier.

    I thought Sony had figured it out (remember, my mantra on this has been Communicating, Programmable, Modular). The Play Actions Applications on a few of their new cameras at first look like they might be getting the reason why "programmable" is in my list. Unfortunately, Sony seems to think apps are for them to create, and that they know just the apps to make (both are wrong answers). Those apps so far turn out to be features. Features that any camera maker could simply put in their camera--they don't need to make them into apps. Now maybe Sony is playing coy and they really do understand what's possible under the covers and are just going slow until they've got what they really want to do ready. I don't get the sense of that, though. They seem quite proud of what they've done (charge for features) and they don't seem to see the real potential. Quick, how many people are coding for Apple iOS, and how is that helping Apple iOS be a dominant player? Now, how many people are coding for any camera platform?

    Thus, the sense I got at Photokina is that we're in for a lot more of the same. Same as in copycat same. Your workflow won't get magically better, it'll just go cableless through a cloud. A cloud that everyone wants to own, and which will require quite a bit of bandwidth to handle 36mp cameras.

    In other words: business as usual. The Japanese still don't understand how their customers are truly using their products, and thus we're not getting products that are solving customer problems (at least directly). This was one of the reasons why I came to Photokina, to see if I could see evidence of any company that was breaking from the pack. Not this Photokina.

    That's not to say there aren't interesting products here. But they're the same products, with slightly different features, slightly different technologies, newer sensors and electronics.

  • Where's XQD? Nowhere except a Nikon D4, it seems. Sony didn't introduce a product with it (and they had several that were suitable, including the video NEX-VG900). Despite rumors, Lexar didn't introduce their version. A SanDisk official stated that they preferred CFast, despite having been a co-creator of XQD. Canon and Phase One, apparently, are working with SanDisk on cameras that might support CFast (which has a top speed of 600MB/sec).

    This appears to be another of those standards wars the Japanese love to get into, usually because of the patent payments that go into one thing versus another. Technically adept data standards don't always win (witness Beta), alliances often form to dethrone a key technology that might otherwise rule the market and change market shares. We may be witnessing that here. The original XQD alliance was SanDisk/Sony/Nikon, which seemed pretty unbeatable. But SanDisk now seems out, and Sony is strangely quiet, despite being the sole supplier of cards and readers. Nikon is the only actual practitioner at the moment, and when you get that lone practitioner thing happening, it usually signals blood in the water.

    That Sony didn't jump on XQD with their video gear seems unusual to me. Remember, 4k video is not far off, and you won't generally want to be recording that onto an SD card (for a number of reasons, and especially if you allow 4k raw, which clearly a number of cameras will start doing). Right now, SSD drives seem to have taken over the high end video world as a recording format (even my FS100 has a form of it in the optional module I've bought for it). So the question is whether or not we need faster small cards at all. Well, yes if you someday want a GoPro4K that shoots raw. Moreover, you'll want faster transfer speeds to the computer as file sizes get larger. A CFast card theoretically can be fast enough to give you 7x performance in transfers over the fastest CompactFlash card we have today.

    The problem I and others have with Cfast is it's basically still the same CompactFlash packaging, meaning pins that can get bent on connectors. A few companies--Hoodman is one with their new card reader--have come up with clever ways of protecting the pins if you put the card in wrong, but it's still a bit weakness.

    What's unusual here is that Nikon has rarely picked the wrong technology to put into their high end cameras. The last time they made anything that could be called a mistake was the reliance of Firewire on the D1 cameras. However, Firewire didn't go away, it was just bested by USB as the ubiquitous "fast" connection choice (even though it wasn't faster). Here, though, we have a chance that Nikon just picked something that nobody else will adapt, which is disconcerting, to say the least. D3 users upgrading had to pick up new cards and readers (though they got one of each with their D4 purchase) that might turn out to have short useful lives.

    So here's a newly relevant question: what will Nikon's pro video cameras use? Wait, what? Yes, you read my question right. It's coming. Remember some of the other things I wrote about here at the show: Nikon execs want to be the #1 brand in imaging, across all products. Nikon's booth had something that is clearly a predictor: a dedicated moviemaking area. Indeed, the main areas were labeled overhead Coolpix, Nikon 1, D3200/D5100/D7000, D600, D800/D4, and Movies (also EDG, the spotting scope, binocular, et.al. group). With Canon now well into the C series video cameras, Sony continuing its NEX onslaught of video cameras, Nikon is already behind. When you throw in the upstarts like RED and Blackmagic, Nikon isn't just behind, it's conspicuously behind. That's assuming that they want to be in the video making imaging business. Well, their booth says yes. So using very little other than German tea leaves and a few crumbs of conversation I've now overheard, I'm going to make a prediction: sometime in 2013 we'll see a dedicated video model (or more) from Nikon. Which brings me to the next trend:

  • Where's Nikon? I spent this morning just walking around trying to gestalt things. You know, stand back and try to get a bigger picture. One thing that really hit me was this: in all the video-related booths, Nikon was virtually non-existent. Lenses, dollies, constant lighting, rails, it didn't matter what the video equipment I was looking at, it all had Canon or maybe Sony or maybe Panasonic or maybe something else on it. Cameras in search of a mount (e.g. the REDs, Blackmagics, and others without a lens legacy) all had PL or EOS mounts on them for the most part (though the Blackmagic now has an m4/3 alternative).

    This has to really upset and hurt Nikon. There was a time in Hollywood when everyone was putting Nikkor lenses on film cameras. Now? The digital cameras people are using are all PL or EOS mounts, and the lenses aren't Nikkors anymore. Indeed, the big greeting in the "video" hall was...another Canon booth. But even when you look elsewhere, there's a Canon lens, there's a Canon body, there's a video accessory for Canons, there's another movie shot on a Canon (or GH2 or something way out of Nikon's league, like an Alexa).

    The operant questions here are: (1) when did Nikon notice Hollywood turn from them?; (2) when did they crank up the new engineering unit to address that?; and (3) how far did they figure out they needed to take it?

    I suspect that the answers aren't as good as we Nikon fans would like to hear. While the D4 and D800 are excellent video cameras (and the D3200 and V1 aren't bad), Nikon still hasn't worked out all the kinks. Not even close. Getting Hollywood quality out of a D800 means outbound recording of both video and audio, after all, and that right now means third party products (see next). Canon's nascent C series and Sony's ever-growing NEX series of serious video cameras has stolen the meat of the market. Even Panasonic reluctantly admitted to one reporter at the show that the AG-AF100 was a bit out of favor at the moment with the dedicated video crowd (which means they've noted the problem and are probably readying their own answer).

    So we're back to the end of the previous trend point I wrote: what will Nikon's pro video cameras use? Let's hope that it wasn't XQD (or that XQD's invisibility in the industry is only temporary).

    Meanwhile, Nikon's own invisibilty in the video sections of the halls is a problem for them. They're going to be a late player to the video game, so they'd better bring it big time.

  • Why Did APS (and DX) DSLRs Have to Die? Count the number of APS/DX cameras announced at Photokina: the Pentax K-5 II, an update to an existing one. Count the number of APS/DX lenses announced at Photokina: I think my final tally was three. Obviously, someone sent out a memo that the rest of us didn't receive.

    APS/DX was AWOL at Photokina. Oh, sure, Nikon, Canon, Sony, Pentax, Sigma, Tamron, Tokina, et.al. all brought their existing lineups, though mostly given smaller space and certainly not the highlight of their big stages. There were still plenty of people lined up at the APS/DX counters looking at gear, but I could actually get to the front of those counters and ask questions quickly because they weren't exactly mobbed.

    APS/DX was AWOL at Photokina in the sense that new gear just wasn't much evident. That seems strange to me. APS/DX is the core of Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony's profitable cameras. Large profit margins, strong volume sales that are still growing despite mirrorless, sales that are now measured in the 10's of millions. So why such short shrift at Photokina? After all, we've got a Christmas selling season coming up shortly.

    One can only guess that all the companies seem mostly satisfied with their current offerings, that Christmas 2012 will be just fine with the gear at hand. I'm betting, however, that we're going to see lots of discounting ahead. Let's just take Nikon's "D7000 users will upgrade to D600" statement: if that's so, who do they replace the D7000 user with? It's overdue for a replacement, and if prospective buyers hear that previous purchasers have moved to FX, what's the remaining marketing proposition. Price. Of course, if the D7000 price pushes down, so does the D5100 and so does the D3200. Yikes. The same story is true at Canon, as well, though the new 6D won't be available until late in this selling season. But if it gets the same response as Nikon thinks the D600 does, we've got the same proposition in the Canon lineup, as well. Sony's FX a99 is at least a slightly different target (at a higher price), giving the a77 and its APS brethren a little breathing room, but if Nikon is discounting DX, Sony would probably have to respond.

    I stuck around a few APS/DX counters for awhile, and asked people visiting them some questions. There's definitely still interest in APS/DX, though mostly as a value proposition. Other than at the Pentax booth (with the new K-5 II models) I couldn't find anyone that was expressing the same "new" excitement about features/technology/performance. These were all the "am I getting enough for the price" shoppers for the most part.

    It reminds me a bit of Best Buy. You can always tell what they want to push you and what they think is exciting (or the company's paid them to push ;~): it's got the biggest area devoted to it, a central, obvious area. The lesser things are on the periphery, and the even lesser ones are in a tiny aisle tucked even further into the corners of the store. Consider personal computers. At my Best Buy, less than three years ago desktops held center stage. Laptops were on the periphery. Two years ago laptops took over the center stage, desktops moved to the periphery. Then last year tablets took center stage, laptops moved to the periphery, and desktops got relegated to a crowded, tiny aisle way off to the side.

    What's the message the Best Buy customer gets? Don't buy a desktop (but we carry them if you have to have one). Guess what happens to desktop sales when you tell people to not buy a desktop? Yep, they plummet. Now the Best Buy quants will tell you that they carefully measure sales per square foot and make such changes when they see trends. The thing is that you sometimes self enforce the speed at which a trend occurs, and sometimes the emerging trend doesn't perform quite the way you think it should. All those tablets? Not doing all that great other than the iPads, which have quietly moved away from the Apple Store within my Best Buy to be more the entry point to the big tablet area.

    APS/DX seems like a version of the camera companies doing the same thing. "Not the highest growth in our line, let's de-emphasize it a bit and promote something new." If you de-emphasize it too much, boom, you just accelerate the demise. The question is whether that's exactly what the camera makers have done. It very well might be. All you hear them talk about is video, Android, mirrorless, and full frame. "Yes, we still have our APS/DX cameras, our compacts, and our camcorders. But our new stuff is video, Android, mirrorless, and full frame." Message received. Response coming.

    Now, I used the words "had to die" in the slug at the top. APS/DX hasn't died. Nikon would be crazy not to iterate the D5100, D7000, and D300s with new models. Ditto Canon with their APS models. Ditto Pentax and Sony. But they've made a key blunder in my opinion: they de-emphasized too soon. Every day I get a stream of "where's the [fill in DX model]" messages. They look at Photokina, the biggest photographic trade show for answers, and find none. They start making up their own answers. Now, for Nikon and Canon, that means they'll sell a few more entry FX models so all isn't lost. But do I believe that had Nikon introduced a D400 replacement for the D300s and the D600 simultaneously that the D600 would outsell the D400? No, not done right.

    But let's look back at the arch of DX over 13 years versus the arch of m4/3 in four. Did the DX lens line ever fill out? No. Is the m4/3 line filling out? Yes. Someone is seriously asleep at the wheel, or internal politics are keeping one group from doing the right thing because another group thinks that's their territory. That's the sort of thing that really came back to haunt GM. It'll haunt the camera companies, too.

    Let's hope upon hope that the APS/DX lull is due to something else. Blame the earthquake, blame the floods, blame the yen appreciation against the dollar, blame something. But iterate and promote the darned lines, guys! Make sure everything's there that should be there. What I hope upon hope is that I'll wake up after the photo-related shows in early 2013 is that I'll find that we've got a D5200, D7200, and D400. That we've got a 16-85mm f/4 lens. That we've got a 16mm f/2.8 or better lens. That we've got WiFi across the line and someone has figured out that you need to do more than add the technology. That we've got new, interesting, and useful options in this range that make us excited about APS/DX again.

    Because if I don't wake up to learn those things, then APS/DX is indeed dying. Dying by being choked by its own makers.

 

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