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 The Nikon D1 showed consumers that digital was the future, and was quickly superseded by the Canon 1D.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