Why Is My Mom's Fridge Better Than My New Sony Mirrorless Camera?

Why Is My Mom's Fridge Better Than My New Sony Mirrorless Camera?

Canon’s recently released financial results don’t bode well for the Japanese manufacturer, nor the market more broadly. As much as the executives want to blame camera phones, the truth is that the industry is finally adjusting to a huge marketing con and a total inability to react to social technology. If you want to know why, it's time to examine my Mom's fridge.

The greatest trick that camera manufacturers ever pulled was perpetuating the idea that if you wanted to take nice photographs, you needed a DSLR. Going on holiday? Get a Rebel. Got a new baby? Get a Nikon 3x00. The aura built up around the DSLR was infused with aspirations of being the next Cartier-Bresson and the misguided but appealing idea that this big, bulky, complicated device was going to offer the best quality. Of course, myriad enthusiasts will have then upgraded to better cameras and benefited greatly from the ease with which you could learn the basics of photography. However, countless others will have never wandered outside of Auto, and never switched out their kit lens for another piece of glass.

The vast majority of those who bought those thousands of Rebels that now sit collecting dust would have been better off with digital compacts. As a friend just told me, “Most of the photos I take are equally crap on my phone as they were on my Canon, which probably doesn’t turn on any more as the batteries are dead.”

Canon EOS Rebel SL2

The Canon EOS Rebel SL2. Launched in 2017, how many of these are already tucked away in the back of a wardrobe after one trip to the Grand Canyon and a brief outing at Alan's wedding?

Undoubtedly, smartphones have had an impact on camera sales. Those with a new child gurning up at them don’t immediately Google “which camera should I buy.” Instead, they reach for their phones and begin snapping away. Market saturation of entry-level DSLRs coincided with the arrival of technology that made the DSLR redundant for those who just wanted a few snaps of a graduation.

Factor in Instagram and wannabe image-makers suddenly came to realize that pleasing results were not dependent on some plasticky lump of a camera that has weird dials featuring random capital letters and labyrinthine menu systems. Instead, with one click, you wash out the colors, mix in a ton of orange and teal, and throw on a heavy vignette. And most importantly, you share it immediately via social media. No cables, no card readers, no raw conversion, no unnecessarily complicated and expensive software. Instant publication.

My Mom's Fridge Is Better Connected than my Camera

The camera giants are a victim of two things: firstly the marketing success that sold the entry-level DSLR to so many unwitting non-photographers for so many years has had the rug pulled out from underneath it. Secondly, manufacturers have failed to respond to the rise of the smartphone with functionality that offered any sort of comparison. It’s 2019 and I can’t post a photograph from my camera straight to Instagram. Canon's photocopiers have better connectivity than its cameras, and if even my Mom’s fridge is connected to the internet, why isn’t my shiny new Sony mirrorless? And it may be that very few hardened professionals want that functionality, but that's not the market that Canon is saying goodbye to and seeing its profits hammered accordingly.

So a four-year-old can send people images from her fridge but I can't send people photos from my camera. I'm not sure which aspect of this is more ridiculous. (This isn't actually my Mom's fridge, by the way.)

When you look at the software that does exist, it is almost universally awful. Japan is a nation that prides itself on cutting-edge gadgets and yet most camera menu systems feel like they were designed by interns. That might be fine for seasoned photographers who know their gear inside out, but a customer having just bought a brand new entry-level ILC will be used to the clean, logical design of Android and iOS and, unless they drop six grand on a Hasselblad X1D II, they’re probably in for a bit of a shock. Menu system aside, do you want to post that photo of your gurning baby that just blew its first spit bubble to Facebook? Have fun with that.

Scandinavians appreciate the small details that make good design. Creative tools should inspire you, not make you feel like you're trying to send a fax. (Warning: loud music.)

The Budget Bodies Were Too Busy Boasting

Camera manufacturers have had their heads in the sand for too long and it’s difficult to sympathize. Those budget bodies were a huge part of their revenue and while Canon and Nikon were busy boasting megapixels, autofocus points, and viewfinder coverage, low-end customers wanted ease of use and the ability to share. Smartphones offer inferior results, but at least those results can be seen. What’s more, given the amount of compression that occurs when uploading to social media, those 20 megapixels packed inside Canon's latest and greatest consumer DSLR are completely pointless.

Canon Camera Connect app for the iPhone

The Canon Camera Connect app for the iPhone. “I’m shocked at how poorly designed and clunky their iOS app is!” says one review. Have fun connecting UPC246039278.

Manufacturers will tell you that arguments against developing social functionality are manifold: the processors inside cameras are geared towards handling large image files, not fancy displays. Running a version of Android would bring its own plethora of problems with security and constant updates, potentially introducing bugs and usability issues. The existing batch of entry-level DSLRs would be significantly more expensive as a result.

However, if I were a shareholder at Canon right now, this would not hold up as much of an excuse. With the research and development budgets at their disposal, it’s not that these challenges were insurmountable; it’s that they weren’t on anyone’s radar thanks to an alarming lack of vision that is now being felt in sales, a downturn that has been compounded by other global events. Smartphones have dented camera sales, but that dent would be a lot smaller if camera manufacturers had embraced user experience rather than continuing to blithely ignore it.

If the likes of Canon and Nikon want to fight this trend, it's time to change their approach. As much as we love dynamic range, vast numbers of megapixels and incredible autofocus features, there's no appeal outside of the pro market if all of those bells and whistles are hobbled by usability from twenty years ago. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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55 Comments

Rafael Hoyos Weht's picture

Can't agree with you more. Even my 3 years old Huawei can edit RAW (NEF) files but not my 20 Megapixels ,Xpeed processor, 51200 ISO camera. I dont even use my laptot that often. I ended up downloading pictures onto my phone. Edited and published in a few minutes.

Thomas H's picture

Tom Hogan is one analyst who for many years by now mentioned this inability of Japanese camera makers to adapt to the social media age. Nikon's SnapBridge was a typical case of this: slow, difficult to connect. Canon's connection was barely better, and mostly practicable with jpegs only. Even with the latest Canon RI find myself processing images in a conventional way: Card out of camera, into the computer, open Capture 1 and than export and publish. Whoever has a raw shooting phone, might be here at an advantage, of course only where the light and final quality is on pair (snapshots, reporting etc)

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Yes.
It's Thom btw.

Stas Aleksandersson's picture

People can send ships to Mars, but I still have to use manual labor to paint a house.

Jonathon Rusnak's picture

Thumbs up for long Balls Larry.

Great points Andy! I saw a video by Tony Northrup two years ago that made similar points. Two of his suggestions were for manufacturers to open up the camera to third party apps, and to start acting like a software company (frequent updates, usability, etc). (Video was titled "Death of consumer cameras" or something like that.)

I think the manufacturers need to recognize the user interface paradigm that consumers are accustomed to. Your suggestion for incorporating an Android OS into consumer-level cameras seems spot on to me.

noooo . that's completely wrong. They can't compete against the cellphones, period. It's not like trying to compete with those will make a difference (if any).
They have to answer 2 simple questions: why a cellphone with a 1mm lens takes the same pictures of a dslr with a big lens?
then why a minuscule sensor on a cellphone takes the same pictures of a DSLR sensor?
In other words there is no way to compete against a cellphone, none.
No way no how

Rob Mitchell's picture

I read this a couple of times to process it and gather my thoughts on the matter.

So I'm a full time photographer who shoots a lot of images for corporate social media campaigns. Clients request all sorts of things based on pre-discussed mood boards.

The content I'm asked to supply has gone beyond random cool images, it's more about creating the story by use of the techniques that are available to the consumer. Sadly, this includes the dreaded bloody vertical video format as well as stop motion, hyper lapse, cinemagraph, 'boomerang' and any other funky effect you can think of.
Sometimes, it's just more practical and more cost effective to actually use my smart phone (iPhone 8+ in my case) The results that pop out and are very good, more than good enough for social media. Not everything is to my satisfaction, or possible with a phone and that's why they rely on a professional to make the results look as they were requested in the mood board. Sometimes a lot of editing is needed to achieve a result that strongly resembles the same shot made on a phone. It's worth it though and both interchangeable lens cameras and smart phone are needed in my daily work.

To get back to the 'smartness' of an interchangeable lens camera. Do I want that? I don't know. Right now I have SnapBridge on the D850 and Z7. Pretty powerful, direct download to phone/tablet/laptop or select and download.
The downloaded image (2mp or full res) can then be tweaked on the mobile device and uploaded. Job done. I use this technique a lot.

Narrowing it down further. Do I actually want my camera to do all that? No. I really don't. My camera is to make photos. I don't want to be fiddling around opening apps on the camera to edit and upload somewhere just to discover that an app needs updating because it's not compatible with the new firmware on the camera. No, I really don't want image processing going on in the camera. I've never even used the RAW converter that's in the Nikon.

I don't lay awake at night speculating on what camera manufacturers are doing next, or worry about what their sales figures look like. My only concern is that tomorrow, when I open my camera bag, the cameras and lenses work, that I'm not confronted by a popup to say my day is ruined because I forgot to update something, that I don't have software conflicts on my tools. I can pick up the camera. Load a card and battery, fit a lens and earn my crust. A simple analogy recognisable to anyone who grew up in the 80's.. You plugged a cartridge into an Atari 2600 and played. Now, you charge up, log in, log on, update, play.

Call me old fashioned but I'll use a full toolbox of tools rather than have one tool that does all because a tool that does all is a jack of all trades and a master of none.

Old fart Rob x

I wonder if that new Carl Zeiss ZX1 rangefinder, with photoshop in it, is in response to this? Or at least an experiment, to slam the two worlds together. But I do agree with you.

My digital cameras do already feel like consumer white goods rather than cameras, which is honestly very annoying, on some of them I hate the fact it goes off "to think" when I press the shutter button, rather than just doing what it's told.

Having said that, I was reading somewhere else about the lack of encryption for digital files taking on a camera, and there being a very specific need for that from journalists in hostile fields; if the camera was more like an android device, with a more open software development platform, this could be fixed easily. Having an open source platform for software changes, could extend the life of your camera by a few extra years.

Rob Mitchell's picture

I'm fine with the camera being a camera though :)
To comment on your last line. I've never bought a new camera for the software. Always for the hardware. I also buy a new camera when the current one is written off the accounts and I need to buy a new one as 'investment' to offset taxation.

I see your point there though. If Tesla were making cameras, we'd have etch-a-sketch and space invaders on there, maybe even a ludicrous burst mode.

I guess my stand point as full time photographer is far from the core thinking of the article though. Us Professionals aren't the bread and butter audience of the manufacturers, they are making their money form consumers who want to upgrade, side grade and have the new bells and whistles. Are they going to win over smart phone camera users though? Convenience rules.

there is only 1 way and we already had a preview, but many didn't pay attention
Sony gave to fuji a 100mp medium format sensor. Fuji did the rest (stabilization and fast AF)
it's the new kind: affordable medium format
superior quality, not even close to both cell phones and current DSLR cameras.
and that's the future
in other words: as long as we have cell phones producing the same quality of a dslr guess what's gonna happen? the DSLR market will gradually disappear (as it is disappearing)
must be better, a lot better than a cell phone or else. And they know that, very well. Sony,Canon,Nikon. They all know

Keith Meinhold's picture

Yes the ZX1 seems an attempt to answer that challenge. Alas if you read the forums there are plenty of photographers that can not wrap their minds around the ZX1. "No removable media - OMG what will happen to my pictures" - yet no one asks this about a smartphone. Not withstanding that - you still can back up to removable media with the ZX1 (AKA a much more ubiquitous USB thumb drive). "I don't want to edit and share images from that small camera screen" - yet again people do exactly that with a smartphone - and the ZX1 goes a step further, you can still edit images in your desktop too - just like you always have.

The point of the article is about the vanishing market for *entry-level* cameras. I doubt anyone in the market for prosumer cameras is going to lay awake at night speculating on what camera manufacturers are doing next, or is longing for an Android-based camera. But if the manufacturers hope to appeal toward the average cell phone user with zero experience with a "real" camera, they need to offer familiar features, such as immediate upload to social media, filters, etc.

The main reason I'd like to see Canon or Nikon find a path to keeping entry-level cameras alive is for their own long-term survival. I'd personally hate to see Sony acquire Canon's imaging division or Nikon because I believe we consumers are better served with more competition. And in a declining market segment, mergers tend to happen. It's hard to see how they can continue to invest in research and development based solely on the high-end segment.

Tim Cray's picture

@ Rob Mitchell...I have to agree with you, Rob. My two main cameras...D850 and D500...would benefit with better firmware updates to enhance the feature set of the cameras. Especially, the D500. Nikon could add 9 point to the already 25, 72, 153 points, focus stacking, etc. These features are what photographers want, not some stupid app. I neither want nor need any iOS or Android apps on my cameras. If I'm going to upload something to social media (which, by the way, I've never used), I'll do it from my computer. Let the youngsters use their cell phones for social media.

Edmund Devereaux's picture

As long as my iPhone is connected I don't care if my camera is.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yep, this is spot on. It will probably be solved when the Chinese develop a solid alternative to Android.

C Fisher's picture

Ummm I can send photos to my phone with Imaging Edge, there's a dedicated button for sending photos to a phone on Sony cameras. So it doesn't post directly to Facebook, how fuckin lazy are ya? 😆

I've used Imaging Edge it to download pics to my tablet, and from there to post to Instagram, but the resolution is barely adequate even for IG. It might be because I shoot in RAW and they only have the preview JPEG to send to the camera. Also, the options for which images to send are crap, so once again it's let down by the software.

C Fisher's picture

Ah yeah the preview may be crap, I shoot in JPEG + RAW and have it set to transfer the full 24 mp files.

Nicholas K's picture

I am not sure how you balance the desire to add a smartphone to a camera with the desire to increase "ease of use".

I am one of those oddballs that doesn't use Instagram. A camera designed to post to Instagram would be less appealing to me (though I appreciate that I am in a minority).

The same for an Android-powered camera - one of the things I love most about my camera is that it doesn't feel like one of the many screens I spend my whole working life around.

I am tired of the trend for one device to do everything (and none of these "do all" devices actually do anything very well, they just do "good enough"). I like reading on a Kindle. I miss my old iPod, my phone is nowhere near as good at being an MP3 player. I prefer a laptop screen to a smartphone. And so on...

I think there will be a time in the not too-distant future when the smart thing for camera manufacturers to do will be to raise the drawbridge and abandon poorly-selling entry-level lines completely. Smartphones are better than DSLRs if all you ever intend to do is post to Instagram anyway. They're more portable. They have other useful devices incorporated. They include a ton of apps for bad filters and fake bokeh. You don't need to understand "exposure". Their low light performance (without fiddling with dials - just pick "night mode") while computer-enhanced is better too.

There has been a brief period in time when everyone wanted a "real camera". But we all know that the average Rebel ends up in a box in the wardrobe after being used twice. People don't have the patience to learn to use them or want to carry the weight (which compared to a smartphone is still too much) - their experience is never, no matter how much software is included, going to be better than using a smartphone.

In Western markets, the entry-level DSLR just doesn't matter anymore, in developing nations it's more of a big deal and a lot of pros shoot with cheap cameras because expensive ones are too far out of reach financially.

Bavarian DNA's picture

Totally agree with you and i don't think i will ever play with idea of using a smartphone to capture my precious moments or use it for more than simple productivity tools for my work/personal life. Each device has its own strong use and smartphones simply can't be for me as camera tool for my life moments.

Precious pictures deserves better tools and better image quality to print/archive it.

Ed Sanford's picture

The problem is that you can't control precious moments. So, it's the camera you have at the time... Now when you plan "precious moments......."

michaeljin's picture

Your mom's fridge is also a static piece of technology likely hardwired or connected to her home wi-fi. A camera is a portable piece of technology that would require an active internet connection to have any utility in the manner that you argue it ought to have. So do camera companies sell 5G data plans with their cameras? Are you going to rely on a mobile hotspot? Tether it to you phone? You would need to solve the connectivity issue in a user-friendly manner to take advantage of any social functionality. You would also have to implement some sort of system to easily type captions.

On another note, Japan is actually not that great when it comes to just about anything computer, internet, and smartphone related. This is one of those common misconceptions that people have because they are really great with other type of electronics, but you would do much better to turn to China and South Korea for those categories. If any company is going to pioneer "smart cameras", a Japanese company would be close to dead last among my guesses.

Is a market correction, we now have a device that has a camera with quality acceptable for most consumers, but also serves other purposes, why would you buy an extra device? As far as connectivity and interface, at least in new cameras is not as bad as the article makes it in my opinion.

To think someone actually spent time writing this garbage...wow

Wolfgang Post's picture

Bringing any device online requires a decent amount if IT and IT thinking (read: security). Most embedded systems (Wifi cams or other species of the IoT zoo) have serious security issues, something that i certainly don't need on my camera.
Not everything needs to be online. The right tool for the right job. For the quick snaps and shares the mobile phone is good enough.

Terry Poe's picture

You are so right. In the age of open SDKs we stuck forever closed in proprietary systems of a few industry behemoths. Why the latest Canon camera still does not have 802.11 ac -compatible wifi?

Some quotes from market research of camera market:

"The modern photography camera market landscape is a mind boggling sprawling ecosystem of proprietary mounts, communication protocols and raw file formats. Standardization, interoperability, seamless integration, unified communication protocols are alien concepts for photography industry forever locked in a medieval fiefdom mentality. "
https://www.marketanalysis.com/?p=8981

"There are many reasons for Software Defined Digital Camera Concept to re-shape drastically the current market landscape."
https://www.marketanalysis.com/?p=152

Andy Day's picture

Ah, these look good. Thanks for sharing. Saved for later. :)

"Those with a new child gurning up at them..." Gurning: making a grotesque face. That's a new word for me.

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