The Camera of the Future Isn’t From the Past


In an insightful essay about the “graying” of photography, Kirk Tuck opines about seeing 50-year old men proudly displaying their huge DSLRs while hanging out at the counters at the Photo Plus Expo in New York last month. The generation that obsessed over pristine primes, low noise and 16×20 prints has been supplanted by a gaggle of Snapchatting millennials for whom photography is no different than a text conversation.

As many pundits have pointed out, photography has become a form of communication in a way that it wasn’t when film and processing was expensive. A visual communication that transcends language and cultural boundaries that is being created and evolving at a prodigious rate.

I bring this up because of the trend of “retro” camera design, most recently, yesterday’s announcement of the Nikon Df DSLR (disclosure: I am a Nikon shooter), which featured a marketing campaign centered around its vintage design.

There is nothing wrong with a vintage design. Good design is often timeless, and having dials instead of a hierarchical menu system can be a good thing. But who is the target market for this $2750 body?


Given the awesome D4 sensor that is packed into this body, one could argue that this is a defeatured, lower-cost D4 in a smaller body. That all sounds great on paper, but I suspect that buyers in this price range will opt for the Nikon D800 with its 36MP sensor and video capability.

And this is all good and well if you are a 50-year-old white guy, or perhaps an indie filmmaker who wants that shallow depth-of-field look for their next Vimeo short.

But what about the next generation, most of whom are content to use their smartphone because they always carry it?

There will never be a mass movement back to point-and-shoots from the camera phone because convenience trumps quality, and by the way, cameraphones have startling good quality. But there is a segment of users in the millions who do want a dedicated camera. They consider themselves photographers, they desire better low light capabilities, they want optical zoom, and they are willing to deal with a little extra weight.

I am that guy. And I considered the Nikon Df because I wanted to use my fast glass and have faster focusing. But by the time I slap on a 35mm f/1.4, I’m suddenly lugging 3 pounds of camera instead of the sub-1 pound of my Sony RX-1. And although I might gain phase detection focusing (e.g. faster focusing), I can’t instantly Facebook my higher quality shots because there is no built-in WiFi (Nikon offers a plug-in accessory) or GPS.

That camera I carry around all the time? It’s a personal communication device, and sometimes I don’t want to wait until I get home to dump my 24MB RAW files into Lightroom to generate an obscenely large JPG that will never be printed.


The future isn’t the Nikon Df, the Olympus OM-D EM-1 or the Fuji X100s. The future isn’t the Sony QX-100, which awkwardly attaches to my phone. The future for photographers willing to carry around a dedicated camera adopts paradigms from the phone.

WiFi, GPS and a touch screen are built-in, and its open source software allows me to launch Instagram (or whatever app is the soup du jour) and have the camera automatically pair with my phone so I don’t have to do everything twice. The future uses technology and design to free us from analog constraints. The future is optimistic, and the utopian future makes us want to catch glimpses of the next future — not peer backwards and yearn for the past.

I don’t know many things, but I’m pretty sure the camera of the future isn’t from the past.

About the author: Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and Co-founder of PhotoShelter. Allen is a graduate of Yale University, and flosses daily. This article originally appeared here.

  • Renato Valenzuela

    fair enough. i believe there is a company that makes aftermarket cat-eye focusing screens. but then it becomes a permanent rather than interchangeable solution. i was tempted to do it to my D700 before but then i decided against it.

  • Jason Philbrook

    But my friends on facebook care nothing about my photography. Something about casting pearls to swine? And my friends on flickr care nothing about my digital photos and only want to see well done film scans.

  • doesn’t need your opinion….

    good look…. :)

  • nikonian

    “50-year-old white guy” So why was race brought into this? I’m not even white. In fact I want exactly this camera! In my 20’s and this is fantastic. Illnab one as soon as my budget allows.

  • gochugogi

    I’d love to have a DF and won’t miss having GPS or WiFi one bit. Not interested in uploading a bunch of images straight from camera to social media or photo sharing sites. I actually enjoy editing on a big screen and tweaking the best images for my online gallery or print. The main barrier is the price but then my last two cameras–5D & 5D MKII–cost as much or more, so plenty of people can afford the DF if they want it. Incidentally, it looks like a cross between the Elan II and FM3A…

  • Drew Nash

    I’ve been saying for years that Apple needs to put their OS into a Nikon (or Canon) I suppose. Right now I’m trying to get a $6800 camera body approved by my newspaper while at the end of the day I’ll still use an eye-fi card so I can tweet the damn pictures quicker using none other than my iPhone.

  • walter

    I had a D700 and from what I remember the installation of the Katzeye screen is not permanent. The D700 screen is designed to be interchangeable. All you need is a small set of tweezers that usually come with the screen.

    I was hoping that Katz eye would have a screen for my D600, but not only is it not really designed to be replaceable, but Nikon has restricted sales of parts to unauthorized service centers. So, Katzeye can’t purchase the parts needed to develop the screen. Thanks Nikon.

    I find all of this very disappointing. I have shot Nikon forever and prefer their cameras over nearly all others. But this whole business with the fixed screens in recent models is really trying my patience. I have a closet full of manual and vintage glass and that is how I prefer to work and Nikon has suddenly decided to make my life unnecessarily difficult.

  • ksporry

    And what happens if you lose your phone or it gets stolen…?
    And what about actual performance as an instrument, rather than a gimmick…?
    And what about image quality…?
    And how about the ergonomics…?
    And what about the fact that quite obviously the market really REALLY likes old fashioned looking cameras, to the extent that people are rediscovering film all over again????

  • Yadka Blimov

    I’ve been a full-time professional photographer for the past twenty nine years, and recently went on the thirtieth “man-trip” with several of my close friends (in the Adirondack Mountains). I brought a couple of Canon 5D MKII’s (and a 120 format panoramic Noblex camera). Two of my friends brought their latest-generation Iphones. One of my friends put together a “slide presentation” on his Imac computer using imagery from the Iphone cameras and my 5D MKII’s. When looking at the imagery from the trip side-by-side, the Iphone imagery looked like complete crap compared to the 5D MKII images. Those “smartphone” images are far from impressive.

  • radiancedeluxe

    bright sunny days wide open? 1/4000th shutter, I guess you’d need a 6 stop ND filter. that would be just a blast to MF through a split prism. c’mon, you’re grasping at straws. live view destroys split prisms in every practical application and live view doesn’t impact AF. period. the world has moved on for the better.

  • Cinekpol

    What are you talking about?
    Bright day == everything reflects from an LCD screen == you can’t see sh*** == you can’t focus.
    Optical viewfinder destroys live view.

  • radiancedeluxe

    obviously. but the point here is if it’s that bright you aren’t likely to be shooting very wide open. the advantage of a split prism over regular OVF is from f/1.2 – f/2.5. of course the OVF is better overall, but using MF wide open is far more accurate in live view, even over a split prism.

  • Cinekpol

    IF you can see something on a screen in enough detail to focus accurately. Which often isn’t the case.

    Besides – the advantages of split prism are there with any aperture. Not just when lens is brighter than f/2.8. Not to mention that it’s much simpler to focus with split prism, especially if you got (even very slight) issues with eye sight.

  • vp

    given that the target audience of this camera can’t see very well without bifocals, the small preview screen is a waste of space. I’d throw the whole camera away and simply produce a lens mount – sensor combination which can be driven via a smart phone or tablet. No need for all these buttons and weight.

  • Aaron Link

    In that price range, I agree. $1600 MSRP is not appropriate for that camera. However, I would not characterize the 20mp sensor in the current Samsung NX range as sub-par. No, it’s not going to quite catch prosumers like the D7100, K-5iis, or 70D, but Samsung’s no slouch. Samsung may have a small crop of glass at the moment, but the primes are remarkably good. Olympus and Panasonic certainly lead Samsung in the ILC market, but investing in their lenses are a small fortune. Plus, Olympus is in financial disarray. Samsung has the infrastructure to position themselves quite well in a connected-camera future. They just have to persist in acting on it.

  • ChuckPatch

    But will it have an optical viewfinder?

  • Guest

    Open source =! magical pixie dust.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Open source =! magical pixie dust. Why does everyone assume open source imbues a product with something consumers want? Where’s that consumer friendly Linux desktop I’ve been waiting on for almost 20 years.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Good analogy using the Denny’s. Thank you.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    I want the knobs and dials because at the age of 46 I can barely reading the back of the fracking over-crowded menu on my Nikon DSLR. Carrying around a pair of reading glasses and swapping them in/out as I go from reading the LCD to looking at the scene gets tiring very fast.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    What? The Eye-Fi mobi card is a class 10 card.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    “And a lot of these new retro cameras are gorgeous to look upon… but the very idea that a camera ever, EVER has to look pretty to be functional is asinine. At all levels. Does it do what you ask it to do when you ask it to do it? If the answer’s yes, then f the rest of the planet: you have yourself a working tool.”

    Do you apply the same philosophy to choosing a house, car, clothing, spouse etc?

  • Khürt L. Williams

    “Who cares if someone wants to buy a camera because they like its looks? What business is it of anybody elses?”


  • Todd Evans

    It’s not just 50 year old men (of which I am one) that obsess over DSLRs and pristine primes – there are LOTS of young people who do just that. Have a look at Flickr or any online photography forum – they are covered with young people just barely in their twenties that have had over five DSLRs in their short time on earth. They upgrade whenever there is a new model. Last week I was at a local botanical garden and there were more young people with DSLRs than I could count.

    Photography is doing just fine, and there will always be cameras.

  • ThomWaits

    Agreed, entirely! No worries at all.

  • callmejimboman

    racist stereotypes.

  • callmejimboman

    Would love to know what brand feels free to insult its customers because they can’t sell their product. As though it’s the cusomers’ fault.

  • Omar Salgado

    Well, technically there is a huge difference between iPhones and DSLRs. Also, there is a huge mechanical difference between a Harley and a, say, Ducati, or any japanese/german motorcycle. The same goes for vynil and, say, CD, or even this last one and MP3.

    If you know what you’re in, you may choose accordingly. But the fact is that we choose without knowing the technical aspects of technology (and what it can achieve for us) and our goals or desires, we just choose it because it is “not part of the past”, “it’s trendy”, “it’s better” (?), “I don’t wanna look like a dinosaur”, etc.

    To me, most mirrorless cameras resemble Kodak cameras that used 110 roll film. I’m not saying they are crap (most are excellent machines), but they do not meet my technical needs, which one of them is an OVF (so archaic most think), but it has to do with perception, not state-of-the-art tech. (Not much has changed in our biological and perceptual structure as humans, and this is generally looked aboved in these kinds of tech/archaic discussions.)

    Future technology is always in diapers due to it’s very nature.

  • Omar Salgado

    In this case, photography depends a lot on the technical side. It is a very technical art. Of course, one needs to know how to put all that “technicality” to work.

  • Omar Salgado

    Innovation, yes. But physics will always be physics.

  • Korios

    Check out the latest Ubuntu distro.