The Future Of Photography?

The Future Of Photography?

About 15 years ago, the first DSLR was introduced. The Nikon D1 showed consumers that digital was the future, and was quickly superseded by the Canon 1D. Sporting just 2.7 megapixels (and 4.15 megapixels for the Canon D1), the technology wasn't quite there to make the DSLR groundbreaking. 15 years later, the DSLR has become the staple for photographers everywhere. So where will we be in say, another 15 years?

My time machine is missing just a few key components, so at this time we can only make speculations, but speculations are a plenty. Many believe that the DSLR is a dying breed, and will soon be replaced with mirrorless and 4/3rds cameras. Sure, I did find the Sony a7R to be exceptional when I had the opportunity to play with it for a while. But I’m not convinced that that is where we’re going.


Smart Cameras

I've had dozens of different cameras in my hands these last couple years. I've handled the biggest and brightest stars in each manufacturers lineup, and the one that may have impressed me the most? The Samsung Galaxy NX.


Now it’s not perfect, but it doesn't have to be. Certainly the Canon and Nikon fanboys have their long lists of complaints for their respective brands. Canon shooters still want a truly innovative focusing system, and Nikon shooters want Nikon to adapt real video shooters, and lose the vintage gimmicks of the Nikon Df. What made the Samsung NX really stand out however was the Android integration.

Whether you choose to admit it or not, Instagram-like services are a part of the future for photography. We need something that we can share quickly. Something with a built in workflow, with the ability to work with ease, and a touch screen paired with an OS can give us just that. Samsung is real late to the game, and not a name known for their high end cameras. But innovation comes from struggle, which is while the smaller camera companies such as Sony and FujiFilm are gobbling up the market share from Canon and Nikon.


The megapixel war isn't over, despite what you may think. In 2007, I couldn't think of a need to have anything above my 10 megapixel Canon 40D. In 2013, my Canon 5d Mark III didn't need anymore than it’s 22.3 megapixel sensor. So where will I stand at in 2024?

Brands like Hassleblad and PhaseOne, despite their flaws, show us the future of the industry. Whether you’d like to admit it or not, if we won the lottery, we’d all likely be shooting with a Hassleblad H5D or Phase One 645DF+. Nothing can really compare to the resolution, dynamic range, and leaf shutters built within those systems, which is exactly why they can attach those outrageous prices.

Whose to say that in ten years, 4K or possibly 8K resolutions will become the standard for computers? With increased screen resolution, one can come to expect increases in resolutions on every other aspect. So the megapixel war won't end in the 20-30MP range, and likely won't end in the 40-50MP range either. So the only true answer to that is --

Medium Format Sensors

For the past couple years, smaller sensors have gotten better and better, and putting a damper on the sales of the full frame market. Mirrorless crop sensor cameras have made their way into many hearts, and shown off their capabilities. However, crop sensors still have their limitations. One being of course the depth of field. Full frame sensors have mastered the way we're able to capture razor thin depth of field, showing off exceptional bokeh. Aside from that, it seems that apertures have seemed to hit a wall. Sure, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 has broken grounds when it comes to zooms, we're still looking at f/1.2-1.4 being the cap for major lens producers. The next step to decreasing the depth of field is to increase the sensor size. Could we expect larger sensors out of the major manufacturers in the coming years? Let's hope so. I think that is the surefire way to separate the DSLR market from the mirrorless.

Nikon's Fate?

It's no secret to say that Nikon has taken a bit of a hit in recent years. With Canon successfully pulling ahead in the video DSLR markets, Nikon is struggling to find it's feet again. Reporting a 48.2% drop in operating profits last year alone, Nikon has to make some big changes within the industry. I'm working purely on speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised to see Sony buy up the Nikon name in the coming years, and adapt Nikon as their format. Sony has already shown that they're in the game, with the a900 and a7R, they just need to have a fan base for their system, and Nikon may be the answer to that. Sony already makes the sensors for all of Nikon's cameras, so what is stopping them from piecing the rest of it together as well? With Nikon being such a household name in photography, I'd expect Sony to adapt the name, much like they did with Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson. Again, I'm just throwing out predictions. Sony is bleeding more money than virtually anyone in the photography industry, but also have a virtually bottomless pit when it comes to working capital. This means they can go one of two ways - either make a huge investment and keep pushing, or abandon ship all together.

Is Photography Dead, And Video The New King?

Perhaps. However, less than two years ago, Peter Hurley put his Hassleblad H3D-22 up against a Red Epic and found the workload of the Red Epic to still be too much of a hassle. While having 24 frames a second to pull images from is nice, it also means you need to have a much beefier computer to work with. Those will come in time, but will it comes fast enough before another innovation takes the lead? While computer innovations have been rapid, video seems to always be one step ahead. Many of the new cameras shooting RAW or 4K resolution data are limited to write speeds of drives, and are still only able to shoot in short clips. These limitations will be corrected in time, but in their current state, provide a bit of a headache for many.


In the end, we're left without having any clue. For all I know, we could all be wielding Google Glass like systems on our heads, and floating around on hoverboards (You've got one more year, Back To The Future). Whether stills are dead and video is the future, we can't be sure. But I want to know how you feel. Where do you think the industry is heading in the next 15 years? Feel free to put your predictions in the comments below

Zach Sutton's picture

Zach Sutton is an award-winning and internationally published commercial and headshot photographer based out of Los Angeles, CA. His work highlights environmental portraiture, blending landscapes and scenes with portrait photography. Zach writes for various publications on the topic of photography and retouching.

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Man, I don't know about the photography industry, but I expect a toaster that pops the bread up in a less terrifying way.

Never happen, but the toaster will become the internet of things.

My sunbeam radiant control toaster from the 60's is as good as you can get.

Nice and easy. But I also use a Nikon F as my main shooter, so...

OMFG! No fucking way!

Hahaha I can relate to Tam, I really need to get one of those toasters that doesnt scare the shizzle out of me everytime the bread pops up

I enjoy being startled.

I'd like to see Canon up their dynamic range game to competitive levels, and not in 10 years. Try like, 10 months ago. Thinking more far out, I'd like smaller, lighter versions of the Profoto B1 someday. Maybe built-in cam-ranger capabilities in camera bodies.

I agree so much with this. I think the Elinchrom Quadras is a great step in the right direction for flashes. However. They are very limiting and having a second adapter for all the light shapers is just tiring.

Sony doesn't make all of nikons sensors, they use Toshiba, Renesas, and also make their own. Sony loves their own name, I don't see them launching their products with a bought name, and can't recall them having done that before in any other market. They could have done it (and probably still can) with Minolta and Konica and didn't. There are dozens of reputed names they could probably have bought (Agfa, Bronica, Contax, Kodak, Pentacon, Polaroid, Rollei, Yashica, etc.), and they also have invested heavily in Olympus, and nothing.

Nikon is mostly a photography company (Sony is consumer and pro electronics and entertainment and Canon is imaging) and is the one most affected by changes in the photo industry. They will have to make important changes in the near future or shift some of their focus (pun intended) from photography to other areas.

Like Zach mentioned, When Sony bought Ericsson phones they were branded Sony-Ericsson for years.

I can also see bodies being branded as Sony and lenses as Nikon too at some point. Zeiss does this with Sony stuff too.

Nikon needs to stop handicapping their lower end DSLRs when it come to video. That no iris control in live view is getting old. They also need a 2k and 4k capable DSLR. They need it. Video is the new photography.

They also need a mirrorless line that is directly compatible with the mount. They also need to put wifi and gps standard in all their models.

As a Nikon user I dont think they see their cameras as part of a greater ecosystem. The app is a joke and I don't want to be taking pictures with my phone while shooting so that I can record location data. Where is their partnership with a desktop manufacturer or studio lighting outfit. can even experiment with a medium format camera and few primes.

Where is their action camera. They are leaving money on the table not competing with gopro.

Why don't they have a drone like the dji f550 or a remote submarine camera.

They need to think outside of their box. Cause the box is growing faster than their imaginations.

And one more thing... Where is my 135mm 1.8 or 2.0

I totally agree, it's quite sad for the video part ...Their recent aps-c cameras probably have the cleanest image among the DSLRs (beside Panasonic's) in video (no aliasing and moiré unlike Canon ones and amazing dynamic range) but are stuck with very minimal controls and features (low bitrate, no zebra, no peaking, basic codecs, etc, and they don't have to restrict themselves because of a higher end video market like Canon... )

I totally agree that Nikon needs an action camera. The crazy thing is that they already have it in the Nikon 1 system. They just need to leverage it to fill the gap between gopro and dslr.

Well as long as everyone is speculating I'll throw my hat in as well.

Rokinon will jump into the camera market by offering to install an FX sensor into compatible film cameras for $499.99 plus shipping and handling if you buy one of their lenses.

Ken Rockwell will retire and never post another gear review again

Kodak will usher in a film Renaissance by developing a film stock that is capable of 18 stops of dynamic range and zero grain at ASA 50. They'll also bring back Kodachrome just for kicks.

Scott Kelby will switch to Sony.

Fuji will go Full Frame.

I agree about Ken :)!

Hahaha, scott kelby will switch to Sony... Good one, that "photog" will sell his mother if the price is right!

I hope the future of photography is the same as what made photography awesome in the past; artist that have honed their craft and execute photographs with a strong creative vision.

Gear comes and goes over time but the fundamentals of telling a story visually are the same in every era.

Now, I just hope photography doesn't get de-valued while companies are crowd-sourcing images from people and their smartphones.

Best comment so far.. A true photographer (artist) don't have worries about all these gear wars , he is just busy visualizing his next master piece , after all these gadgets are mere tools which helps building the picture.

I hope the future of photography goes back to witnessing a moment in time and capturing it faithfully. I truly hope this cartoon looking advertising and commercial photography disappears by then, just like the ridiculous clothing styles of the 80's.

I think eventually when sensor technology reaches a plateau, people will get tired of upgrading every 3 years and hold on to their cameras for 5-10 years like in the film days and in order to survive, camera makes will make interchangeable sensor backs.

Actually, I already do. I own my current camera for about 4 years and I see absolutely no reason to buy something new so it'll survive for another year at least. Megapixels enough (12MP) and no need for video.

I owned my camera for 5 years before upgrading from DX to FX and the difference was day and night. I expected better high ISO and low light performance which it delivered on, but even with shots in perfect light were much better on the new sensors so at the moment, I don't think we're there yet...

I think it's already happening, and a big part of Nikon and Canon's drop in the DSLR profits/forecasts. Until there is new revolution, non-pros are quite happy with what they have.

I think this will happen, but not sure if it is there yet. I cannot believe the difference in the D600 vs D700. Technology changes so fast.

Crazy mention of the Nikon 1D. I still have the 1Dh, and I used it up until about 2005. that 2.7mp file was great haha.

sorry, D1 and D1h...its been forever

The google glass is definitely gonna take over (if not the google glass maybe a similar product), but definitely the present day camera/dslr will be obsolete in 10-15 years. If you look closely at DSLR development, for the past 5-6 years the development have not been ground breaking other than video capture. By this I mean because at the same time mobile phone video and photo capture have made much more stunning development than DSLRs in comparison.

Rapid development doesn't suggest an equal level of development. Sensor IQ is limited by physics, pixels can only capture so much light and detail. Optical design is another limitation of physics. You simply can't produce an image with small, glass that you can with larger glass. As sensors get smaller with more densely packed pixels, optics need to continue to improve to adjust for the micro-contrast needed to project a high quality image.

Imaging technology is not the same as microprocessor technology, you can't keep miniaturizing while doubling performance. We're nearing the point of limitations where we need to research on the quantum level to seek more than incremental improvements.

I can see things like smartphones and google glass taking over in terms of popularity and use, but it won't take over on an image quality performance basis.

I wish there were less cameras released every year, and a stronger commitment by all manufacturers to make quality cameras, and support them better once they're out there. New DSLR versions every 6 months is actually pushing me the other way, back to film.

Just polished up my M6 the other day and I'm on my 6th frame already. Sick of GAS.

Well said, Phil. I agree that the pace of new DSLRs is ridiculous, especially since 99% of casual photographers don't need more than 12 megapixels in resolution. Additionally, I miss the awesome build quality of the old film cameras, i.e., Nikon FM, Nikkormat FT3, etc. Those cameras last many years with consistent performance. I think that at the current pace of "innovation", technology will reach a point of diminishing returns, at least with regard to photography.

I love to see some figures on the percentage of digital cameras that are landfill after 4 or 5 years. One of the drivers of my addiction to the old cameras is the build quality and endurance...theres something about using a camera thats 60 or 70 years old and still takes awesome photos...

While agree with all of this, one can never count out technological innovation. The biggest thing for me if all of that is corrected, is I don't want to look through hundreds of images to see if I got what I wanted in still photography - whether it be portrait or landscape. Sports may be a different story.

Yeah, machine-gunning like many do in fashion, and particularly sports, is not photography. It's gambling. You're no longer a photographer when you're just firing away and crossing your fingers.

Great article, and i'm pretty sure i speak for 99% of us here when i say that if we do get our hoverboards next year as both expected AND promised - who cares about anything because surf will be UP!

I'll buy two, bolt them together, and use it as the best camera slider/dolly/crane/steadicam ever!

1. I'd love to see DSLRs adapting 16 bit depth from medium format. Combine it with wide adoption of 10/12 bit consumer displays and this could change some things up. A paradigm shift from focus on spatial resolution to spectral resolution could be refreshing.

2. I really don't see video "replacing" photography. Considerable market canibalization? Sure. But not complete replacement. After all, cinema didn't replace theatre, music videos didn't replace opera and facebook didn't replace real-life conversations.

3. The one topic that seams to be forgotten is completely new imaging sensor technology. I mean 15 years is some time. And molybdenite sensors (5x sensitivity of silicon sensors) and graphene sensors (1000x sensitivity of silicon sensors) are being developed as we speak. My bet is that this new technologies will be responsible for major shifts in this industry.

In the far future I'd like to see cameras which capture a 3D data set comprised of distance and color of each and every pixel. That would give limitless possibilities in post processing by not only altering the 2D image but also moving pixels (or objects) back and forth.
Microsofts XBox1 "camera" does something similar at a very low level but its an auspicious inception.

Video could replace still shooting if you could easily save a high-quality frame. Computer processor power should be there in 10 years to easily go through that many frames. Or software will be smart enough to find the better "photos" for you.

Toshiba makes the aps-c sensors for Nikon, not Sony (just to be precise ;) )

Interesting and quite amusing as usual. But at the very start of the article, why did you chose to list the Nikon D1 as the first DSLR? When actually Kodak has had DSLR's on the market since 1991. Canon released their first DSLR in 1995 with a mind boggling 1.3 MP sensor. Also at that time not only was Nikon working with Kodak, they also were working with Fuji. In 1995 as well Nikon released their own 1.3 MP sensor DSLR known as the E series the same camera was also available named the Fujix DS. So your timeline is a bit off.

this is what i see that would happen in the next 10 years:

the Medium Format War revolution!

nikon will go Medium Format, with more than 60 MP, they might jump in to video with a cinema camera fusion medium format, but i think they would stick to Medium Format in the near future, Canon would jump in to medium format after Nikon, Fuji would go full frame and maybe would be set the stander of mirror less full frame cameras, sony might jump in to it too with Olympus, but they won't succeed, Canon would make a DSLR with Medium Format that can shoot in 4k with high speed frame rate.

next 30 or 40 years

Im hoping too see the comeback of film, maybe in the next 40 years a new kind of film that is more easy to develop, less expensive with a wide dynamic range and color, just like everything thats was analog now made a comeback with fusion of digital, some kind of like film emulation strip or something like that, but that is just my prediction for the next 30 or 40 years.

I believe for now, raw video is the future in video and medium format sensors for still photography and hoping film will make its comeback soon!

And I'm hoping to see the comeback of the horse and trap - but it will never happen!

Why film? People like the ease of manipulation of digital files. Sure film could be a niche, until people stop making film. I would not be a photographer today if I still had to use film, I couldn't afford it.
But what about a camera body that would let you "save" photos that you choose onto film?

What a confusing article. Strikes me as a concoction hastily whipped up to make a case in point
but which the editor lost sight of while drafting.

The sheer fact of mentioning Samsung as something like a serious camera maker is
striking. Samsungs repertoire of cameras is a wild assemblage of contraptions
that can’t make their mind up whether to serve as phones or cameras. Any photographer
worth his money will steer clear of this stuff for good.

The idea of Sony scooping up Nikon is bewildering as well. Nikon has put itself in a spot
by being neglectful towards mirror-less systems but there is no incentive for
Sony to acquire Nikon. What would that be good for ? DSLRs will have passed
away by the end of the decade. So why bother with a company that so adamantly
defends the mirror ?

Samsung makes everything, why not cameras too? The future could be a tablet with multiple camera sensors on the back making it a big interferometer. The sensor size could effectively be measured in inches.
Sony would buy Nikon for their name and history.

I think Canon and Nikon will make a push into Medium formats to separate from the consumor market.

Canon loves the consumer market, it's Nikon that pushes it away with a 10 foot pole. That's why Nikon is hesitant to put video features in their cameras, and why the cheat people out of useful features in their entry levels.

Canon is smart about catering to all levels of consumer. That's why almost every non- professional photographer I run into is holding a Canon DSLR. I teach photography workshops and it seems that one in ten of my students own a Nikon.

I believe that the future will also be 3D photography with the use of such cameras as the LYTRO to develop photos for holographic displays and 3d printed photos. Photoshop already supports 3d printing so I can imagine a future where you take a photo with a lytro and print out a 3d photo.

I believe the title is a little misleading instead of “The Future Of Photography” it should be “The Future Of the Cameras ”, yes, they go together but they aren’t the same.


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