Lessons from Kodak
THE FIRST DIGITAL PHOTO REVOLUTION
The Chapter 11 demise of Kodak contains within it hints to a possible roadmap for photography. This is of interest to those making decisions now in regard to hardware purchases, but more importantly in careers in commercial or fine art photography. This is an article written by an optimist (and a self admitted elitist) who sees a fork in the global photographic road in the the near future.
I quote Rick Newman in his thought provoking article posted on US News.com (Jan 19th 2012) - 4 Lessons from Kodak's Comedown:
"While digital cameras now dominate consumer photography, they're also low-margin products that are themselves being displaced by smartphones, tablets, and other devices with built-in cameras"
My contention is this. throughout the era dominated by film photography Joe Public was furnished by cheap film and reasonably priced hardware. Kodak was the giant.
Professional (and fine art) photoghraphers occupied a stratospheric niche serviced by medium and large format cameras which commanded a great premium in costs but clients were prepared to pay premium fees. It was perhaps the golden age of photography.
The advent of mass produced digital cameras in the last decade changed all that of course. Film has all but faded into a nostalgia driven niche. With digital cameras in hand, millions shoot photographs of the technical standard only possible with costy gear only 20 years ago, and there is little in the way of ongoing costs. This has been a painful enathema to aspiring fine art and commercial photographers over the last decade as their work has been undercut by hundreds of thousands of photraphers with a good eye and excellent digital cameras, who have created a robust DIY market in high quality imagery, undercutting the professionals. This has created much struggle for those eying photography as a career as making a living has become ever harder - the market in images is simply oversupplied many hundredfold ! Images are cheap.
However I see the next revolution in popular photography is happening at the time that a giant from the film era bites the dust. Kodak is a casualty of the first digital revoilution as the comapny failed to predict how film would become a tiny, niche nostalgia market. We need to recognise the next big change.
THE SECOND DIGITAL PHOTO REVOLUTION
Smart phones now weild cameras that deliver the IQ if the 35mm film cameras of yesteryear.
We live in the age of iPads, Samsung Galaxies and photo apps which do all the Photoshop post editing that the average point and shooter could ever want.
My wife, who has just bought the latest iPhone said to me today that she never wants to use a camera again. The quality from her iPhone is so good. And she can instantly share the images with her social network. If she wants some 4 x 6 prints the IQ is still more tna adequate.
For the mass point and shooter the camera is obsolete.
Enough said, I think.
When the current generation of P+S cameras suffer their untimely demise from early component failure, the camera manufacturers will will struggle to move P+S cameras from the shelves.
But idea that photography as an art form of commercial enterprise is dead is not credible. Clients and galleries will require professional quality images for the forseeable future. But for high end cameras I do not see the sory as finished.
Camera makers will be left with a much smaller market of fine art photographers, serious hobbyists and professionals. The camera makers are going to have to move on this change or die.
In this new paradigm however there is scope for innovation, and those companies that listen to what photgarphers have been asking for will meet the needs of that market and flourish.
Innovations such as Foveon like full frame sensors, tilt and shift sensors, RAW file standardisation and the increasing accomodation of legacy lenses to offset the cost of the new cameras will allow smart manufacturers to continue to make and develop better professional tools.
I guess costs will rise as the market shrinks. The number of camera manufacturers will be much less.
This change will also (I hope) provide a window for serious photoghraphers to re-establish their art and points of difference.
You can almost see the dichotomy in the industry evolving with the likes of Sony abandoning their commitment to full frame professional gear and other manufacturers such as Sigma recognising that they might have something different that is a universe away from an iPhone (their SD and DP cameras). Pentax are ahead of the curve with their prestigious 645D.
I am sure Canikon will recognise the new landscape soon and floursih, but I sense that the future of Panasonic, Casio, Ricoh, Olympus and Fuji may be gloomy as their camera divisions turn out millions of cameras that suit all but will sell to fewer and fewer.
We need MANY less cameras and MUCH more serious cameras. For the photographers.
After all the point and shootists are just happy using their touchy x-phone jobbies, thats what is selling right now and one can see just why.
Malcolm Lyons January 20th 2012.
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