Imaging Companies Seem Intent to Continue to Stir the Pot

Commentary

Imaging Companies Seem Intent to Continue to Stir the Pot

by George Schaub

As I pack my bags to head off to the PMA show in Las Vegas that starts March 3, I wonder how many new products and technological advances will be announced this time around. It might seem with the economy the way it is that the pace of development will slow. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. The pace of change in photography has been breathtaking, with photographers wondering when it will relent. Guess what—it won’t, or it won’t as much as you or I might expect.

As competition on all levels and product lines continues to grow, the idea seems to be that the survivors will reap the benefits down the road when things improve. That’s why you can set your clock on when software will move to the next version (give or take eighteen months) and make a safe bet that the megapixel and sensor size ping pong match will keep being played. Even with some consolidations and buyouts in the works there still will be new players who see enough gold in the digital hills to keep the momentum going.

Keeping up with all this is challenging even for those of us who follow the developments day in and day out. Most of you reading this have a life, and following the arcane and the obvious about every aspect of a camera, software or printer is not what gets you out of bed in the morning. While Shutterbug readers are a special breed, for most folks photography is a pleasant pastime, a part of holidays or special events that records memories. For travelers it’s a way of bringing back trophy shots of their trips. For them, photography is an integral part of their social fabric, one that has been passed on to them by generations before as a valid way to keep close the memories of their families and lives.

The imaging industry has asked a lot of us all in the past few years, starting with the meaning of megapixels and how various levels of resolution should best be put to use. We have been required to become computer savvy beyond the simple tasks of sending emails and downloading recipes from the web. We have terms like optical stabilization and shutter lag, ideas once so obscure that only pure techies even considered them a few years ago. In short, all of us have suffered from a bit of information overload, where the message often overwhelms the medium.

While the benefits of digital are many there are also a few dark sides to all this growth. One example would be upgrades. In the past that might have meant getting a camera with a better lens, or switching over to an SLR. Now it might mean that the memory card that works today might not work in a future camera with the same size memory card slot, a switch in capability without a change in format. Or it could mean buying a new computer and discovering that all the software you already own won’t operate well, or at all, in the new operating system. Or that the Raw files shot today might not be capable of being read via the software that you have loaded, and that only an upgrade will open the door. In some cases the changes are proper responses to new and better ways of doing things. In others, viewed through an admittedly cynical eye, it’s a case of flipping solely for the sake of getting us to dig into our ever-thinner pockets once again.

Part of the problem is that the goal posts are always being moved. It’s selling soccer moms cameras with very impressive integral long range zooms so they can catch the action as their daughter streaks in for a goal, only to find that the camera’s intolerable shutter lag makes any hope of actually getting the shot they want slim indeed. It’s telling folks that an 8 megapixel camera is now small potatoes and that to get anything decent they need to move up to 10 or even 12MP sensors. It’s offering inkjet printers with such improved output that image sharpening thought proper a year ago will now produce harsh edges on output. And it’s soon to be the offering of solid state drives that make out the old drives to be as temporal and corruptible as a cheap CD.

The digital changeover has driven film companies out of business so rapidly that it has even shocked futurists who are paid to know better. The advantages of digital are legion and many folks quickly understood the benefits of this new form of photography. Walk through any tourist site these days and all you see are digicams; go to any family occasion and that night you’ll be able to look at, download and even order prints right off the web. There are literally billions of images loaded on servers the world over, with new personal sites and public sharing spaces coming on line every day. Digital has changed photography forever, and there’s no return to the old days, despite some grumbling from film fans.

So, given all that, how do we sort out all the confusing jargon and make it less of a grind to try to keep up with all the changes wrought and to come?  When will we finally arrive at some standards that all can agree to so that we can make some judgments about what’s best for us and the type of images we want to make?

We’ll do our part, with new columns like Jon Sienkiewicz’s “Buying Smart” and continuing to review products that we think really do make an improvement over what’s come in the past. And while at PMA, our reporters will keep an eye out for the best of what’s to come. Do I think that manufacturers will continue at the pace they have set in the past? From pre-show announcements and some sneak peeks we’ve had here at Shutterbug it looks like there may be some slowing of introductions, but that will certainly not derail technological improvements and interesting developments in cameras, lenses, lighting and more. In many cases you will vote with your wallet and certain systems and companies will prevail. These times call for paying attention to all this and making sound judgments about what is best for you and your work.

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