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 The Nikon D1 showed consumers that digital was the future, and was quickly superseded by the Canon 1D.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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Previous comments

Well said.

They will have to figure out how to make the lens smaller and brighter to make the mirrorless revolution really work.

Not sure how it would be possible to make a lens brighter, the hole is only so big. ;) Though making sensors more sensitive so that they require less light is probably a route in the future for us :)

If somehow they discovered a new transparent material that relied more on the composition of the material than the shape for bending the light, it might be possible to make a 85mm f/1.2 full frame pancake... maybe?

Perhaps but that would throw quite the wrench into the standard. It wouldn't really be an 85mm F1.2, it would be something like an 85mm F1.8 that lets in the same amount of light as normal glass would at F1.2. Be cool to see but also makes me wonder how the industry would have to adapt the standards to reflect this.

Well, totally forgetting where the mass market is going:
It went DSLR for a while, now a lot of people have aquired them and still shooting crappy pix. A small percentage of them aspires to "semi- pro" and gives long- time established pros a good run for the money.

So they have to take up the fight, be it in image quality or gear expense, in order to impress potential clients. Those who follow the first route might still be around in the next decade.
However, the dslr market in the consumer nieche is pretty much saturated, so the era of dirt cheap dslr's may come to a close, shrinking back towards feeding the needs of the pros and ambitious amateurs (reminder: they can only manufacture them so cheap in really huge quantities).
So: next step? cell phone photography on a pro level? might happen, but I really don't see it yet. Where pro experience and gear will still justify a stiff pricetag, i. e. in sports, events, wildlife, I don't see cell phones by a long way off.

Photojournalism? Sure, some newspapers are already making the switch. Where image quality (and here I mean image resolution, depth of field, low noise capacity and all the pixel peeping stuff) doesn't really make or break an image, cell phones are the way to go. Newspapers, bloggers, online publishers, anyone who rarely needs to go above 1024x768 pixels will do absolutely fine with their phones.
However, whether photography is dead, long live the video king, or any such hubhub - well, me being not so young any more, I've heard all so many cries of "TV is here, cinema is dead", TV is dead, vhs (anybody remember?) came out", and much more like these.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

People have been captivated by still pictures, whether they were drawn on the face of some rock 20.000 years ago or taken with the latest 1D-X. Somehow, I doubt that this will change within the next ten years.

Nice article but there are some errors. Sony does not make "all" of Nikons sensors,it's been shown that Toshiba makes at least one of Nikons sensors (D5200). It's also only been confirmed that Sony makes a few of Nikon's sensors (D800(e), D600/D610). What sensors the other cameras in Nikon's lineups are using can only be speculated on, not spoken about as fact.
Second, Sony can't buy up Nikon now or in the near future. Sony has a market cap of 17B to Nikons 7B. Neither company is profitable as a whole, and Sony certainly doesn't have the cash flow to buy Nikon even if they dropped to a 1/10 of their current value.
If there's a future where Nikon needs to be bought out, it's likely one of two things will happen. If Nikon still has potential for an upswing a conglomerate of financiers and funds will buy them, much like what happened with Hasselblad being bought out by Capital Fund.
If Nikon has lost and continues to lose marketshare while not showing innovation, think Blackberry, it's likely they will by bought out in sections. Canon/Sony et al could by their facilities and technologies, companies wanting to be players in the imaging market could buy up their Brand name (Think Kodak Alaris), and that will be the end of Nikon as we know it.
However, my personal opinion is neither of those will happen because Nikon despite last years performance, is still a strong brand and has good offerings. They are still in a financial and market share position to make a correction and adjust themselves accordingly.

Nikon deserves to go out of business. They really did me wrong by the way they handled the poor autofocusing and the green screen of the LCD on the D800. It was total denial of any responsibility. Same goes for the D600 oil sufferers. They would have to pay me to come back as a customer.

Future of consumer photography.... perhaps. But the future of professional photography is a bit less a possibility. I wouldn't call myself a pro, not yet at least, but I personally don't want to be seeing or dealing with 1001 apps for my camera. Can the DSLR evolve to something greater? I hope so, but I don't see a DSLR/Smart Phone hybrid coming out to replace Pro Level cameras like a D4. Wouldn't mind seeing WiFi / GPS / or Blue Tooth added to cameras, but keeps those apps away.. far far away.

We'll continue to have both.
Video requires the viewer to watch at the pace and in the timeframe dictated by the creator.
For stills, the viewer determines the pace/timeframe of the viewing.
I rarely watch videos because I don't want to take the time and the dissemination of information is too slow. Lots of people are like that.

The state of consumer trends will always come and go and come back again just like everythig else. The key word here is consumer. Meanwhile the industry still needs Both photography and videography just the same, and those desicated to either art will always find thier place. Let consumers think cellphone camera images compare that of larger cameras. Let them better video features make a better DSLR. The tides go but always rise up again; they get used to things until someone does something that makes old seem new again.

Meanwhile those of us who are dedicated to what we do choose what works for us and companies like Canon and Nikon are well aware of their respective markets.

If you want video, go Canon. If you want photography, go Nikon. I teach photography and having had my hands on many cameras from both manufactures, Nikon has always made it's features more intuitive for photographers, and canon does the same for videographers.

Why would you want them to be equals when it's obvious they divide the market very well and rightfully so.

Nikon isn't going to go bankrupt over video features. If anything they'll specialize their photo niche even more so and compensate for a smaller market. Besides when a company goes bankrupt its more because the big wigs got to greedy for their own good.

I've grew up Rochester NY, and in the same town as Kodak's second major manufacturing facility, i still live in whats left of this town. It's not they they where late to the game, sure that didn't help, but what really outdid them was the CEOs and top levels that kept giving themselves multi thousand dollar bonus checks despite diminishing profits. They sank the kodak ship and made sure to get every last dollar out first.

Photography will always have it's place immortalizing a moment in a single instance. You can print high a impact photo, put it on a wall, and it will deliver it's silent message in a glance. A video can't replace that.

Lastly this article is about brands, products, and consumers, and really nothing to do with the arts themselves. Ultimately I don't care if these companies thrive or fail. I'll get a the camera I need from somewhere and take my shot either way. Photography is not Canon or Nikon; nor film or digital.

I hope to see major camera makers to go with medium format (CMOS) SENSORS) 16 bit color profiles, super high ISO, mirrorless, 8, 000 sec shutter synch speed (not HSS), triple layer sensor design integrating red, blue &green for each sensor layer. 8000 fps at 500mp resolution (because we can resize and format pics in camera anyway and will negate the need for super tele lens). I hope to see this all come to light befor I get too old to enjoy ! Think of the possibilities ! Small flash, small lens

With Getty and Samsung teaming up I think the future may be decided for us. Stills have nothing to fear from video, they have always cross-pollinated each other, but the ability for a still photo to invite contemplation of a moment is something the moving image will never achieve.

I remember reading decades ago that Nikon was owned by Toyota. Toyota is not exactly poor. Toyota was also supposed to own other industries like steel, etc.. Business attitudes towards bigness a little different than in the US, in Japan.
That may or may not be the case anymore?
The rapid change in photo markets with deminished earnings for photographers combined with a rapid change and expense of professional digital photography have a lot of folks throwing in the towel. The film age starts to look cheaper in hind sight.
Golf anyone?

I can only hope that photography's future will be in my very light, thin and flexible smartphone, with DSLR like lens, that can capture the moon's crater from earth! WOW!!!

I'm expecting megapixels to be at or past 100 easily with sensors so good noise is a thing of the past. I also predict them to capture 32 bit images with ridiculous dynamic range so expspsure settings won't even matter in post. Also with such high resolution the lens could be a fixed 16mm and all zooming digital. Wireless auto upload to a cloud service with inatant PS quality editing and presets in camera.

We still think in terms of classic photography. It's a bit like speculating about the technology in the latest typewriter - completely out of date. Light field photography, multi sensor arrays, these are technologies that can do what digital did to film.

I believe in power of photography. See, I am not denying that video is a strong visual media and is increasingly getting popular but a photograph stimulates our imagination more. We are compelled to think of the context and the plot surrounding the photo whereas these are fed to us easily on video. The entire world is always in motion. We assume its a natural state but we will stand up and notice if all the motion around us were to stop. That's photography. The debate is not about technological advances in still Vs motion and masses lapping up video. These 2 are different visual art forms and foster different mindsets. I have written about this in my blog. If you care to read, please see the link: