Predictions about the FUTURE…

Future Or Bust!
Future Or Bust! by Vermin Inc

The future, Conan?

The only thing more fun than predicting the future is looking back at old predictions of the future and seeing where they landed.  Digital photography eclipsed film way faster than most people expected and is still progressing rapidly.  Predictions of the future for cameras usually involve the viewfinder (optical or electronic), camera size, sensor size, and the number of megapixels.

If you’ve been paying attention, the most-talked about cameras lately have been EVF (electronic viewfinder), small-bodied, large sensor (4/3 or APS-C), 10-20 megapixel designs.  Sony showed what happens at the extreme end of the small camera size large sensor with the NEX, which suffers from a poorly designed interface (not necessarily a consequence of its small size) and lenses that have to be large enough to cover an APS-C image circle.  Why Sony is releasing the gigantic 18-200 zoom for the NEX before a set of pancake primes is beyond me.  Panasonic started with a tiny 40mm-eq f/1.7 lens that makes its GF1 almost pocket-able (depending on your pockets).  They’re soon releasing a 28mm-eq pancake prime, so all they need to do now is sell a third prime in the 70-90mm-eq and they’ll be set.  APS-C DSLR’s are still going strong and make up the vast majority of the non-digicam market.  Full-frame DSLR’s are still popular with pros and some enthusiasts, but they make up a tiny part of the overall market.  Fill in the remaining gap with Sony’s SLT cameras which are fairly small with a large (APS-C) sensor and an EVF and that’s where we’re at today.  Oh, and Nikon and Canon are still selling bucketloads of heavy, oversized, but very good DSLR’s and large lenses with image stabilization as an expensive option.

But what were people predicting back in 2005?  That was only 5 years ago, but in the digital world that’s an eternity.  I was taking a look at some of the archives at Luminous-Landscape when I came across a couple of dueling predictions with some interesting thoughts.  The two authors were Mike Johnston of The Online Photographer and Michael Reichmann of Luminous-Landscape.  For readability, let’s go with MJ and MR.  The first of the articles is here.  The second and third articles are here and here.

MJ predicted the following:

  • DSLR’s will be a dead-end within about 10 years (from 2005)
  • Sensors will get smaller (than 4/3), not bigger
  • Sensors that record all 3 colors at each photosite will become the norm (similar to Sigma’s Foveon sensor)
  • Separate media cards will go away, because the memory will be built-in
  • Lenses will be smaller, even on professional or advanced cameras
  • Cameras will routinely plug into printers with the image processing done in-camera

I found this interesting:

Will cameras continue to have eye-level finders, whether optical or virtual? Probably, because there will be situations in which photographers won’t want to use a bright, glowing 2D display. But how this will end up being implemented is something I won’t guess about (except that it won’t be a flipping mirror).

Hey, he predicted the SLT five years ago!  It’s too soon to make a call on MJ’s first two predictions, but I can’t say I see much evidence that he’s wrong yet.  Olympus has all but confirmed that 4/3 DSLR’s are done for, so it may only be a matter of time for APS-C (probably a long time).  Sigma’s Foveon is still the only non-Bayer sensor, but it has yet to spread to other manufacturers.  I’m sure this has a lot to do with patents and marketing.  For some reason, cameras still don’t have any built-in memory.  Build in 8GB for an extra $20 and forgotten memory cards will be a thing of the past.  Lens size is all over the place right now, but that will trend along with sensor size because of physics.  I’d say he’s wrong on the last point because the people who would use that feature are not printing their photographs.  As for eye-level finders, they’re not dead yet.

MR’s response was that large sensors will never go away and he called APS-C the new 35mm.  I agree with this and I think the benefits of full-frame are fading fast.  DOF scales inversely with sensor size, so the question becomes how thin does our DOF need to get to have artistic freedom?  Digicams have far too much DOF, but APC-C seems like a sweet spot.  I don’t have enough experience with 4/3 sensors to comment on DOF.  My hunch is that it’s just fine.  Looking at the camera-landscape today, I’d say I agree with MR that we won’t see much smaller than 4/3 for serious cameras.

MJ makes the point in his rebuttal to the rebuttal that more DOF can be a good thing and that the benefits of smaller sensors and thus smaller lenses will far outweigh the want/need for thin DOF.  He’s right from a logical standpoint, but it doesn’t look like the market is headed towards sub-4/3 territory yet.

A lot has changed in the digital camera market since 2005.  The announcement of the micro-4/3 mount changed everything.  Prior to that, new camera releases touted nothing new but an improved sensor and some extra features, but now we are seeing true innovation.  Who knows what cameras will be like in 2015!


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