Outlandish Predictions

This is the time of year that we’ve been seeing predictions for the coming year (2023) from Web sites. In the first decade of DSLR I made yearly predictions, with a success rate that ranged from 50-70%. Given that those were typically very specific model, feature, timing predictions, I’d call that success rate good. 

However, about ten years ago when I split my sites, I stopped doing such predictions. So have many others. First off, we don’t get as many model introductions and iterations as we used to. Second, the pandemic-caused parts and supply chain breakdown makes it tough for the camera companies themselves to predict when they can announce a product. And third, ultimately, model level predictions are mostly now just predicting when the frog will jump, and how far. It will jump, but it might land behind, on top of, or in front of the other frogs. If you’re a betting person, then predicting frog jumps probably appeals to you. I’m not a betting person, so it doesn’t.

However, one reason why I wrote about what the camera companies might/will do in the future was to provoke thought and discussion as to whether that was the right thing for them to do. As consumers of cameras, we don’t get near enough attention or consideration from the very isolated R&D engineers in Japan. A patriarchal culture mostly has the camera companies saying to customers “here’s what you get” and expecting the customer to take it.

While I’m not into click baiting—there’s no real financial incentive to increase my page views—I am into provocation ;~). Presenting absurd hypotheses and challenging students to attack them was something I did regularly when teaching at the University level. Doing so absolutely provokes thinking, and I believe that thinking is good. 

So what I’ve decided to do this year is put out some “out there” predictions (plus a couple of simpler predictions). They’re not so much predictions as paranoid projections based on current trends and the practices of the camera companies themselves. While it’s possible that some of them might come true, I’m not going to suggest that any will. Nevertheless, for the sake of creating interesting discussion, these predictions ought to do the trick. 

Remember, I’m trying to be provocative here. I’m absolutely going to put my tongue in cheek and take some pot shots. Go ahead, knock any of these predictions down that you’d like, but do so with careful analysis and good debate practices, please.

First some generic predictions:

  • Photography — Kodak started the whole "everyone should take photos" thing, but now we might want to contemplate who's going to end it ;~). Photography has always had a tinge of fad to it. Polaroid was faddish. Instant cameras were faddish. Digital cameras were faddish. Most recently smartphone photography has been faddish. GoPros are faddish, as are 360° cameras. You detect fads after the fact, by the way, because they're characterized by rapid build up, followed by a (usually brief) period of use and stability, followed by market collapse. The interesting statistic to track with smartphones is the installed base versus overall population, which is now stabilizing, and the number of photos saved per smartphone (currently 2100), which is also stabilizing. Outlandish prediction: The number of photos actively taken a year worldwide will start to decline soon (it did during the pandemic, but then, pandemic!). Note I wrote "photos" and not "videos", which are still rapidly increasing. Note I also wrote "actively," as opposed to statically (security cameras, front doorbell cameras, etc.). 
  • Selfies — Google says that 18 to 24 year olds take a selfie every third photo (on Android devices). Of course, we older folk know that we used to hand our camera to someone else to take a picture of us at some unique location; we didn't have a name for that, but we were doing essentially the same thing. The need to document us and a place simultaneously has always been around, and will continue for the foreseeable future, but: Outlandish prediction: Selfies is another fad (see previous), and we'll see other ways of documenting us-and-place appear. I shudder to think that one of them will be "search for me at X" on the Internet and the results will be, well, a selfie produced from the nearly 1 trillion images already on the Internet (and rising rapidly). Call it a Virtual Selfie. No, wait, let's call it a Googlie. 
  • Stock Photography — Want to know why it's difficult to make money off of stock photography these days? Well, there's over a billion stock images available (though some may be duplicates at multiple agencies). That's a far cry from the days of film. It's basically an excellent illustration of the supply versus demand price curves taught at business schools (I'm sure Getty can track that specifically over time). Outlandish prediction: higher priced stock will return. Of course, it will have to be unique, stand out from the noise of the billions, and may even require exclusivity for the use. 

Curious aside: in researching this article, I found one statistic that claims that Africans take about twice as many photos a day with their smartphones than Europeans. Let's go, Europe, you're falling behind!

Now, company by company:

  • Canon — Canon has stuck to their “must have 50%+ market share” goal for quite some time. It doesn’t seem to matter to them how they achieve it, or what happens with the cameras they sell—most are in closets or disposal sites—just as long as they sell a lot of them. Sell, sell, sell. Prediction: Canon will eventually have to let third-parties make autofocus lenses for the RF mount. Or they’ll have to lower prices in order to keep market share. Bonus outlandish prediction: Canon will become #2 in market share, and at least in consumer-facing cameras, Canon will become the new Nikon ;~).
  • Fujifilm — Given Fujifilm’s overall size, digital cameras are almost a footnote in their financial reports. The XF and GF systems are virtually the definition of “hobby business,” and their success or failure isn’t going to really do anything meaningful for the overall bottom line. Prediction: short of anything that cripples the overall company’s finances, the hobby will continue on. Like many hobbies, though, things will happen on whims of those involved, not necessarily a clear, carefully considered goal. Dials, no dials, redials, all are probable.
  • Leica — Leica has managed to make the “same” camera since forever. Even when they introduce something entirely new (e.g. SL), that’s mostly just a different skin on the same animal. Leica has proven they can do this profitably, by positioning themselves as a cult object for the rich (be sure not to get any Grey Poupon on your lens). Outlandish prediction: Leica will continue to succeed right up until the next People’s Revolution when the guillotine makes a comeback. Or maybe it’ll just be jail cells for the rich. Either way, no more rich customers means Leica’s eventual demise.
  • Nikon — The Precision and Imaging groups that defined the company (90% of sales) for decades no longer define the company. Bankers have decided that Nikon is a business-to-business supplier (which does favor Precision, if only they were competitive with ASML ;~). Supply semiconductor equipment to others. Supply glass to others. Supply metal tools to others. Supply robots to others. Supply, supply, supply. Outlandish prediction: When Imaging sales get lower than 25% of the entire company, Nikon will spin out the Imaging group, much like Olympus did with theirs. Bonus outlandish prediction: Nikon will go all FX, as DX won’t give them the high average selling price they need for their volume.
  • OM Digital Solutions — With full frame cameras getting smaller, OMDS really has to make incredibly small m4/3 cameras or change lanes. The problem for them is that they continue to return to my “brought a knife to a gun fight” comment from 2003. If an OM is the same size as a A7, less light is collected, pixel count is lower, and more. The primary advantage of m4/3 becomes “semi-equivalent lenses are smaller.” That was a tough marketing proposition in 2003, 2013, and remains one in 2023. Outlandish prediction: OMDS will take the OM-# cameras and make them full frame. In order to do that, they’ll have to adapt the L-mount. Irony alert: once they were the ones who designed the mount and got others to agree, for full frame someone else would control the mount and OMDS will have to agree. Bonus outlandish prediction: OM Digital Solutions takes over the Panasonic m4/3 lineup (or at least some of it).
  • Panasonic — Panasonic makes great batteries. Some good appliances, too. If you remember the brand names Matsushita or Technics, you can probably guess what my prediction is going to be ;~). Outlandish prediction: When OMDS goes L-mount, Panasonic won’t be able to continue in m4/3. Meanwhile, Varicam also can’t continue without its own consistent mount or remain somewhat dependent on EF lenses. So…either Panasonic wraps everything into the L-mount and continues, or it just shuttles the camera group to OMDS and gives them a head start on getting to full frame.
  • Pentax — From most popular interchangeable lens camera to least popular in less than three decades. The original Asahi company eventually became a situation where the parts were worth more than the sum of the parts (not easy to do), and the Hoya then Ricoh acquisitions eventually stripped out all the things that weren’t cameras, leaving a small group of aging engineers and salarymen to fiddle with the remains. Outlandish prediction: once the last of the original Pentax employees retires, the Pentax brand will disappear at Ricoh. 
  • Sigma — Yes, they make cameras. They’ve done so all the way back into the film SLR era, but at such low volume that they make Leica look like a large supplier. Their CEO has stated they’ll continue to do so, so there really isn’t any need for a prediction, but here it is. Prediction: Some time this decade we’ll see a new Foveon-based camera.
  • Sony — I give Sony full credit for rationalizing their professional and consumer imaging products, and properly positioning their business from bottom to top. This was necessary if they wanted to stay in the camera business (other than perhaps television cameras), as they just didn’t have the efficiencies and volumes to achieve the profit levels that a large corporation like Sony must maintain. Imaging—unlike at Fujifilm—threatened to be another drain on the financials had they run with their original plans. Today, Sony is executing consistently and well, more so than any of the other camera companies. That’s usually the point where people start taking their eyes off the road and looking at distractions. Outlandish prediction: Sony is going to design themselves out of the still camera business. The alignment of still and video designs has started skewing too much towards video. Irony alert: this will help Canon maintain market share. 
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