Future proof?

After a two year break from the photo industry, I am back in the fold. At the moment my role is teaching courses and a little sales work as needed, but it is all good.

The other night, I took part in a Canon sponsored event, partly as back-up staff, partly out of curiosity and something instantly struck me. 

The big two have not moved ahead very far in terms of mirrorless thinking. Canon is at the moment the leader of the two in practical Live View application (I believe), but the two reps present were reticent to apply any of this technology, something I found odd as we were doing astro photography. Live View with its automatic mirror-up vibration reduction, exposure preview and focussing benefits (magnification and accurate off the sensor focus) have always seemed to me (especially when using Canon myself), to be a logical feature to use. Little was said on the subject.

There are rumours of better adoption of this technology, but they have lost a lot of ground to the Sony, Fuji, Panasonic/Olympus brands in an area that is not a quaint side line, but the realistic future of camera tech. Lets look at some realities;

It is growing when the industry, generally is not.

Video cannot be shot with a mirror down. As SLR technology improves here, the relevance of the SLR itself lessens, leaving the SLR makers with the quandary of developing the tech at the expense of their own preferred format.

Live View is exactly that, the huge convenience of "what you see is what you get" applied to a field that has always had to put up with a certain amount of user "blindness", due purely to limited technology. Maybe one of the reasons phones are so popular may be this very feature (see it, shoot it - get what you see). The first thing I teach when getting down to the nitty-gritty of better image making is Exposure Compensation. It is infinitely easier when you can see what is going on. I remember being quite afraid of the mystical art of exposure comp. in the film era especially. It was the feature of true pro's. I use it all the time now as the perfect "mind reading" light meter is still a little ways off.

Focussing has more options, is smarter, will be even faster and smarter with near future development and is effectively unlimited as it processor based. Phase detection focus has improved steadily over the years, but relatively slowly compared to the amazing growth of Mirrorless AF systems and is it "better" that we rely on a system that looks for us, not with us? Don't even get me started on calibration and accuracy!                                                                 This seems also to go for silent electronic shutters, super high speed and high frame rates, removing other shutter limitations and vibration. It is not limited to the Mirrorless cameras, but most of the good thinking seems to be coming from there. 

Cameras will be smaller, less fragile (no mirror box to shake loose), have smaller lenses/accessories and it's form factor can be re-invented as needed. Just look at the modern return of the view finder style retro clone. Why not as any shape works when the old rules no longer apply.

Photography has always been a slave to technical limitations, but each time these are overcome, we move towards a better way, often with a vocal core of hold-outs for the old ways. I remember or was aware of the transitions to Colour,  Auto Focus, Digital and now Mirrorless technology, each with it's detractors and often with some valid points to hang their arguments on, at least early on, but the only real reason to hold on to old ideas is because you personally want to. You do not need a better excuse, that one is fine. If it wasn't there would have been no painting after photography, no records after CD's and no film after digital.

It becomes a problem, when the big two (not anywhere near as big as they were, but still perceived to be the royalty of the industry) control our perceptions of the natural change coming, it is much like the big oil companies short circuiting the development of natural energy sources. 

When I switched to Olympus from Canon five years ago, it was for practical reasons. The focus speed and accuracy, the sublime sharpness of both the sensor and lenses, in such a small and affordable package all persuaded me over. I even bounced back to Canon in a small way (forgivable after 30+ years with them?), but found the same compromises came up in size, selection of suitable lenses (more, but less reliable, bigger and dearer), body size (tried an EOS 100, but it felt, ironically, too small) and sensor (issues with clarity and highlights).

Not all that glitters is gold.

Not all that glitters is gold.

During my Canon time, in digital at least, the average life of a camera, due to unrest, not reliability, was less than two years and my lens arsenal was much the same. My OMD's are five years and counting. For the first time since film, I am looking at long term life, not waiting for the next big thing (that usually changed nothing).

Did I take ok images with Canon. Of course I did, otherwise i would have given up some time in the 1980's. Is the future the 60+ year old SLR and the brands that cannot break from them? Probably not.

I sometimes get the urge for another system, just to liven things up a bit (spice of life and all that), but every time I look at Canon and Nikon, I personally see a long term dead end. 

Anyway, rant over. Use what you want, they all take good images, but look a little more deeply than the salesman's recommendation of the same old same old. The form factor and usability of the camera you buy should be a major factor in your choice, not just the name on top.