Can You Predict the Future of Photography?

Can You Predict the Future of Photography?

Some accepted truths about photography proved wrong over the years. Just as beliefs in seemingly unassailable attitudes have been eroded by time, so too will things we believe are correct now. Are my predictions for the future uncomfortable, or will you embrace the changes?

Reading through a book from 1987, A Field Guide to Photographing Birds in Britain and Western Europe by Dr Mike Hill and Gordon Langsbury, it said:

Modern SLR cameras come with a bewildering array of additional features, many of which are of little use to bird photography.

Although that may have been correct 35-years ago, that is now an obsolete opinion.Improvements in exposure, autofocus and tracking, image stabilization, and other technologies have revolutionized bird photography.

Take, for example, Bird AI Subject Detect available in the new OM-1 mirrorless camera. This has been widely hailed as a giant leap forward for bird photographers.There are also societal changes that change how we consider different types of photography. Back in the early 1980s, I remember wildlife photography being considered quaint and sentimental. Although there was a following, a picture of a bird or deer would be regarded as by many fit for a greetings card but not much more. Now, wildlife photography is tied closely with the conservation movement, and the skill required for capturing a good bird image is widely appreciated.

Wedding photography has not always been well respected either, as shown in the following observation from Wedding Photography Unveiled by Jacqueline Tobin:

Wedding Photographers were considered the bottom-feeders of the industry.

Not many would have that opinion now, and wedding photography is a genre that is respected by most as being one of the most challenging.

Of course, marketing by the camera manufacturers also impacts our opinions. Take, for example, the use of the term “full-frame.” Originally, it was used by cinematographers to describe the gate size of 35mm movie cameras, a size pioneered by Thomas Edison and William Dickson in 1892. Canon adopted this term to promote its 35mm digital sensor cameras. There is a degree of snobbery with some full-frame photographers looking down their noses at smaller formats. However, 1948's How to make Good Pictures – The Kodak Manual for Amateur Photographers says this:             

 So-called ‘miniature’ cameras are generally defined as cameras giving negatives 2¼ x 2¼ or smaller… another popular miniature is the 35mm camera.

Full frame cameras were once considered miniature!

The Canon EOS 5D Mark IV a miniature camera? Hardly.

When digital photography was in its infancy, no self-respecting photographer would have attempted to submit digital images to their publishers. But that had started to happen by 2002, and by 2003, the sale of digital cameras was on a par with that of film. By 2020, Nikon had killed off the F6, their last film camera, two years after Canon discontinued the EOS-1V. Ironically, there started a resurgence in interest in film photography around the same time. Consequently, sales of second-hand film SLR cameras are now booming.

It doesn’t seem that long ago when mobile phone cameras were considered laughable by “serious” photographers — whatever they are — but by 2013, their impact was widely blamed on the halving of the interchangeable lens camera (ILC) market, which has continued to plummet ever since. The drop was from around 31 million units sold in 2012 to 5.2 million in 2020. The sales of fixed lens cameras, mostly compact and bridge models, were almost wiped out over the same period.

Seeing such significant changes in the past, one can only assume that the future will also bring changes within the world of photography, too. Of course, nobody can accurately foresee what the future may bring, but here are five predictions for the future.

Prediction One: Micro Four Thirds Will Grow and Thrive

As I have mentioned before, I think the drop in ILC cameras isn’t just down to mobile phones. I believe it is also due to the greedy approach of the major manufacturers and their swamping of the market with constant minor upgrades. Consumers realized that what they had was good enough and didn’t need to upgrade. Why spend money updating equipment when the differences are negligible and what you have does the job? Nevertheless, that trend was recently bucked by OM Digital Solutions (OMDS), the newcomer to the world of photography that had an ancient heritage: Olympus.OMDS introduced two top-end products that were a huge success. Both were massive steps forward from what had come previously.

First came the M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO Lens. Despite it being the most expensive lens released under the Olympus name and its launch happening during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when cash for many was short, the demand for this lens took the company by surprise. They could not keep up with production to meet all the orders. Olympus lenses have always been well respected, but the performance of this one exceeded anything that had come before.

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PRO

Despite costing $7,499, far more than other lenses for the OM System, it’s nearly a stop faster and costs $5,500 less than the Canon EF 800mm, which has the equivalent field of view when the Micro Four Thirds crop factor is considered. The OM System lens also weighs less than half the weight of the Canon, has an additional aperture blade, can focus 4.6 times closer, and has a built-in 1.25x teleconverter.

Then, they released the OM-1 camera. This time, the preorders outstripped the number manufactured by two months. Why? This camera was a massive leap forward technologically from its predecessors, and many of the features were unavailable on other systems. Furthermore, outstanding image quality became available in this smaller, lighter package. Photographers also saw through the myth of megapixels, and the definition offered by the OM-1 was more than enough for most photographers.

The OM System OM1

The lower cost of the system, its size and lightness, and the advanced features like the superior in-body image stabilization and computational modes for many photographers far outweighed any other differences. Untethered from the requirement to only develop products that would benefit the medical division of Olympus, we can be assured that they will keep innovating, and the refreshing new approach of OMDS will shake up the market.

Prediction Two: An Increase in Acceptance of Lifestyle Documentary Photography

Despite the shrinkage in the camera market, the number of photographs shot year-on-year is increasing; 1.4 trillion was the last figure I saw quoted. Around 90% of these were taken with smartphone cameras. What started as a genre dominated by vanity and narcissism has evolved into young people recording their lives and the world around them in a documentary style. Much of this is still shot using mobile phones, but there is a movement toward stylish cameras with small, interchangeable lenses.

Prediction Three: A Growth in Fine Art Photography

Many of my most popular articles relate to art and aesthetics, and there is clearly a growing interest in learning about how photography sits alongside other forms of art, even in areas where one might not expect there to be a link.

Evermore, art schools and universities worldwide offer photography-based degrees, many of which are in fine art photography. The graduates are starting to enter society and influence the art world, and equally, the art world will increasingly influence photography.

Prediction Four: Cameras Will Have SIM Cards

Just as GPS, Wireless, and Bluetooth have been built into cameras, and cameras have been built into phones, it’s only a matter of time before ILCs start to have mobile data connections so that images can be uploaded directly to the cloud without having the inconvenience of connecting to a smartphone first.

As the processing power and memory within the cameras becomes more powerful and technology continues to shrink in size, one can also envisage all the apps we see on our smartphones being hosted on our cameras. Isaac Asimov predicted humans would become more robot-like and robots became more like humans, they would eventually meet in the middle, so maybe, we will see a similar evolution where phones and cameras evolve towards each other.

Prediction Five: Photographers Won’t Need Photoshop

As belts are tightened because of rising fuel and food costs, photographers will want to make savings. Lightroom and Photoshop have ruled the roost for years. However, other products on the market offer as good, if not better, results and cost less. Capture One, On1, and DxO offer superior results and cost a lot less than a long-term subscription to the Adobe Photographer’s Plan. They are, overall, a lot easier to use too.

Do you agree with me? I’m not sure I agree with myself, as historically, many of my predictions have been wrong, although I didn’t invest in Betamax nor buy a Zune. What predictions do you have for the future of photography?

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

Log in or register to post comments

Predictions! Now that is an area fraught with many unseen pitfalls, just read Tetlock the current guru on all things to do with predicting the future. One thing that’s for sure is technologies these days can have a very short shelf life. Floppy discs, iPods, DVD players, VCRs. etc Having said that some old technologies driven by nostalgia like vinyl can make a comeback. Huge dominant companies can come and go Nokia being a prime example. One day everyone owns a Nokia then the next they are forgotten and rendered obsolete. They obviously never seen it coming. How many business types these days own a Blackberry? Both companies were dominant in their day, now mostly forgotten. When it comes to cameras the phone and the photographic and video power they wield has for sure made an impact on camera manufacturers, how far this will go we will have to wait and see. As for the future of the camera that is a difficult one. Who could have predicted the birth, growth and impact of YouTube back in 1974 when H.261 was first conceived? The problem is knowing how some new technology will impact older more establish technologies, spawn a while new product sector while replacing those older technologies and the behaviour of the people using them. Just ask TV bosses or newspaper bosses about the impact of the smart phone and such devices on their business! The question that needs asking is will cameras even exist in the future? Will some new technology come along and render them obsolete? In the short term I don’t know if I would agree with any of your predictions. Adobe may well surprise everyone and produce a new business model. If they are smart they will or they will go the way of Nokia. As for which camera format will gain most market share even in the short term that’s difficult to predict. There are too many unknown important variables at work especially in this area to make any accurate predictions. Just ask the product developers at Nikon.

I was listening to an interview with Anthony Fadell who was talking about how some inventions come along that are the cornerstone of others. His being the iPod, without whch there would be no iPhone. It's really fascinating looking at how products and fashions in technology change, your Blackberry and Nokia points being great examples. Most failures are due to an inability to adapt and meet the new needs of the customers. It's exciting to think about what might come next.

You're on to something, I hope, with your mention of a SIM card.

I optimistically predict that interchangeable lens cameras will soon be able to do everything that smartphones can do, plus take professional grade photos and video.

It is somewhat baffling to me that something that we pay $3,000 or $4,000 or $5,000 for and that is 10x bigger than a cell phone can't do most of what a cell phone does.

I think that every upper-tier camera should basically have a cell phone built into it so that we can access the internet, download apps, use apps, play audio, send and receive texts, pin locations, etc., right from our cameras, and not have to continually pull out our phones while photographing.

I can't even begin to tell you how many times I have dropped my phone in the mud because I am trying to use it and hold it with one hand while trying to use my DSLR and huge 300-800mm lens with the other hand. If the camera and its rear LCD could just do what the phone can do, then I could have everything I need right there in front of me and my two hands and 10 fingers would be enough to do all that I have to do at any given moment.

Why in the world doesn't this exist right now, on every mid and top level camera body from every manufacturer? I mean, if I can buy a fully capable smartphone for just $50 USD, then why can't my $2,000 and $3,000 cameras just have those capabilities built right into them?

I've wondered the same for years. Thanks for your great comment as always.

Agree mostly. Maybe except for mft. There is also room for "a long tail" on the international market. Specialized products, that doesn't fill a lot in percentage of the sales, but enough to sustain a production. Like Sigma fp or Fuji medium format cameras.


Some points I agree with others I see things a bit differently, but I disagree strongly with the M43 prediction.

I used this format happily for eight years, until I tried out a Nikon Z7 at my dealers. It just did everything my M43 kit did, but with a far superior image quality. The tonal and colour transitions are just so much smoother, you can pull the shadows in post far more. I shot a D810 and M43 side by side for a while and the image quality is markedly different in challenging situations.

The Z7 + 24-200 weighs no more than an EM1 + 12-100, and so for travel and hiking the M43 format has no advantage for me any more. The EM1 costs about the same as a Z5 or Z6. For those who use lenses up to about 200mm, M43 does not make much sense any more, as the weight, and often the bulk advantage of M43 has been lost in the confrontation with FF mirrorless.

Olympus with heavy fast primes and 2.8 zooms has mistakenly pushed the wrong way in my opinion. M43 is great for travel and leisure activities when it is light and unobtrusive. But then this market has been eaten by the cell phone.

What they are left with is the wildlife and birding segment. Here I agree the long lenses are cheaper and lighter and probably there are some advantages in the field too. But how big is this market? How many amateurs buy €7000 lenses?

I see the second hand prices for M43 gear at my local dealers has taken a tumble, especially after Olympus passed the camera division onto OM. I fear the two long zoom lenses were already in production when OM took over and the OM1 is an Olympus project. Have OM the means the push the brand forward with new innovative products?

Panasonic were a bit smarter. They went after the video market, and I must say I find their lenses have been better thought out. The two 2.8 zooms are small, compact and lightweight and are a better fit for the ethos of the format.

I predict OM will shrivel and disappear, perhaps sooner than we think. I see Panasonic doing a little better.

Thanks for the interesting comme. Lots of people thought Olympus would disappear soon after the split from the aren't company when exactly the reverse has happened, but they were wrong.

The OM System is growing and there is a huge shift from other brands because of the advantages of the smaller system and the innovativeness of their products. The vast difference in cost between the OM-1 and the other brands' cameras wih stacked sensors and the massive advantages brought by those is one case in point, addressig any difference in Dynamic range. If they continue to be first in the game with such technologies as they have in the past, then I think they will continue to grow.

There is still a big weight advantage in the system as soon as you attach a lens.

The new OM-1 is better geared up for video than it's predecessors, a field that they left to Panasonic in the past. I think it is something we will see their cameras and lenses become more geared towards now that they are no longer shackled to having their product development having to fit with medical applications.

The one lens you refer to at 7000 euros has had a huge take up, far bigger than they anticipated. When I look at the equivalent lenses sold by other brands. They are double the cost and more.

The prices of used MFT gear has held its price hear in the UK. There was a small drop when OMDS split, but small loss in customers has been more than made up by the ongoing migration to the system.

Time will tell.

I'll give it a crack.

We're about to see two concurrent civilisational level conflicts, which will cause the complete collapse of the consumer economy.

You can work out the rest.

Having lived through the latter half of the Cold War, and saw proxy wars fought between the Soviet Union and the US, I hope this gets sorted out as it did in the past and before our civilisations get wiped out. I guess that's down to Putin and any of his cronies brave enough to stop it.

Not this time.

Xi will flick the switch when he's ready to do so.

That aside, nuclear exchange is not a synonym for great power kinetic conflict.

Well let's see what may happen.
Let's start with the cost of gears now days, it's way to high and not worth it. Any working pro knows you use what you have until it quits then have it repaired and keep using what you know and can count on.
There's tons of used gear on the market, and it's getting cheaper so why buy the new stuff when the used gear works just as good.
I think your right about the m4/3, it will continue to grow, as it's the cheapest gear on the market at the moment, but it will slow down, then disappear as more people switch to using their cell phones. Let's face it, you get a new camera/phones every 2 years. Why buy?
The people that stay with the larger gear will start doing fine art, along with documentary and event photography. My son does Video production so you'll be seeing more and more cameras that do both video and stills like the Sigma FP more a video camera than a stills camera.
It won't be to much longer before you see companies close up shop. Someone wrote that within the next 2-3 years there will be only 3 companies doing business.
Ask my son and he'll tell you all he needs is a video set up, cell phone, and a film camera. His friends use a cell phone and a film camera. If some company looked into the future and starting make film and processing cheaper they'd do very well.
The pay monthly fee for PP software is coming to and end. I use PhotoScapeX which it every bit as good in every way as anything out there, but it's FREE ya FREE. I use to use Lightroom, and Corel, and now use only PhotoScapeX. I use to test Lightroom way back when, it was free to me then, but as the price went up and up I starting looks around and I found PhotoScapeX. and I can tell you PhotoScapeX is just as good, after you learn to use it, it is intense.
I was in the business for 45 years and all I use now is my cell phone a film camera and a digital. My digital and film cameras have the same lens mount. No more buying for me. You'll never see the difference, it's all hype to keep people buying.

Have fun be smart and safe

Prediction is always fun, but always wrong. That's fine because it gets us thinking. A lot of things ultimately depend upon confluence of technologies and social movements.

People have criticized the failure of Kodak to jump into the digital world, considering they made the first demo of a 'digital' camera in the early 80s. But in truth, there was no clear path at that time because many pieces of the puzzle were yet to be invented.

1) A method to produce a sensor with a far higher resolution than the 7K or so pixels of the original, and do it at a reasonable price.

2) Processing power to create the image. CPUs have increased in processing power by several thousand times since that era, drawing a tiny fraction of the power and cost.

3) Storage. A generous hard disk of that era would hold only a few modern jpgs, was heavy, was fragile, required lots of power. NO ONE at that time could have imagined terabyte storage the size of a fingernail costing about as much as a restaurant meal.

4) The cellphone, while seemingly unrelated, provided additional use for that storage and processing power in addition to the camera. The modest cost of only a few hundred dollars became justifiable.

5)Sharing and networking.

Not really, but based on info I have been reading lately...I have a good notion on what might happen. New tech has now made it possible to record images via contact lenses. It will be very interesting to see how far this technology advances. I have envisioned taking photos/videos and remote-feed them to a computer or other storage equipment. I am sure many others out there have also come across some never-before-heard-of ideas. Hope you can share them??