Disruption and Innovation

The disruptive innovations that change the landscape of photography are often overlooked. Or worse, feared.

This is a long article, meant to be read at your leisure.

You better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’. -Bob Dylan

Technology changes tend to be of two types: incremental improvements or disruptive innovations. Incremental improvements allow one manufacturer to take market share from another and give fanboys fuel for internet forums. Disruptive innovations may create a million new customers. Or make a million potential customers leave for some new hobby or way of doing things.

People love incremental improvements but often dislike disruptive innovations at first. Disruption causes major changes and can be threatening. It may be several generations before the new technology is clearly superior to what already exists. But eventually the disruptive innovation has a huge effect on the market. It causes some existing manufacturers to fail, others to flourish, and creates brand new manufacturers nearly overnight.

A decade ago, some of these manufacturers were imaging mainstream, some were just about like they are today, and some didn’t even make cameras.

A decade ago, some of these manufacturers were imaging mainstream, some were just about like they are today, and some didn’t even make cameras.

By my definitions, the D800 is a good example of a strong incremental innovation. Some photographers changed (or added) brands to shoot the D800. Nikon increased their high-end SLR sales for a while. But the SLR market as a whole didn’t change because of it. Nikon did a little better for a while, other manufacturers did a little worse, but there weren’t any massive changes.

Cell phone cameras and social media were certainly a disruptive innovation. Depending upon your point of view, they’ve either cut the photography market severely or increased it amazingly. If you are a point-and-shoot manufacturer, the photography market is disappearing. If you own Instagram or Facebook, it’s growing phenomenally.
For over a decade, now, the photography market has had one incremental improvement after another: increased pixel density, better high ISO performance, improved autofocus, and sharper lenses. But I think there’s more disruption going on right now than simply cell phone cameras.

Most people, though, don’t realize what a disruptive innovation first looks like. They expect a burning bush of technological triumph that is instantly recognized as the next great thing. Historically, that’s not what a new disruptive innovation looks like at all.

What Disruptive Technology Looks Like

It’s Often the Tortoise, not the Hare

A new technology developed and introduced by company A often makes a fortune two years later for company B. The first home video recorder was introduced by the Nottingham Electric Valve Company in 1963. Avco introduced Cartivision, the video recorder that first allowed you to rent major motion pictures to play in your home, way back in 1972.

But it was Sony and JVC that became hugely successful with home video recorders, and Blockbuster that made a fortune renting videos. This pattern, that the company introducing the technology is often not the one that makes it successful is fairly frequent. Looking back, though, we don’t notice it. Most people think of the early days of video recorders as a battle between Beta and VHS.

Nottingham’s Telcan set-top video recorder. Original source unknown.

Nottingham’s Telcan set-top video recorder. Original source unknown.

Disruption Doesn’t Occur Immediately

There’s often a long delay between the introduction of a disruptive technology and it’s wide acceptance. In the example above, JVC and Sony made a fortune with video recorders, but not until a full decade after the Telcan was introduced. Blockbuster rented its first videos a decade after Avco’s Cartivision.

Often this is because the new technology comes in an unacceptable package. Nottingham Electric’s Telcan was a reel-to-reel system that recorded only 15 to 20 minutes of black-and-white video. Avco’s rentals took several days to arrive and the cartridges were rewind-disabled – you got to view the movie once, and only once. Can you believe a manufacturer would go to the trouble of disabling a feature to try to increase sales?

The pattern is repeated frequently. Xerox originated the computer mouse and graphical user interface and used it on its Alto computers and Star workstations in the 1970s. Apple turned it into the successful McIntosh nearly a decade later. Microsoft turned that into the more successful Windows.

Disruption Isn’t Recognized at First

A disruptive technology, being different, less polished, and geared towards a new marketplace is often disregarded at first. Those invested in the status quo often ridicule it. When graphical-user-interface computers were introduced, existing computer users laughed at them. Who in the world would want a computer you couldn’t program yourself? The people buying them shouldn’t be allowed to have a computer. They didn’t even know how to operate a command-line interface.

When George Eastman mass produced dry plate film in 1878, most photographers thought it useless. Any photographer worth his lens made his own wet plates, developed them, and printed them. When Lewis Carroll first saw dry plates, he spoke for most professional photographers when he said, “Here comes the rabble.” Within a decade, film dominated photography, not because existing professionals flocked to it, but because so many new photographers entered the field that a wet-plate photographer couldn’t compete.

My point is that when looking at innovative and disruptive technologies, we should realize three things: The introduction doesn’t always shake up the market. That usually comes later. The introducing company isn’t always the one that succeeds with the new technology. Many people invested in the market’s status quo either don’t recognize a disruptive technology, or despise it.

Disruptive Photography Innovations

The collodion process, dry-plate film, roll film, 35mm film, rangefinders, SLRs and a dozen other disruptive innovations all rocked the market place. Each increased the number of people who considered themselves photographers. During each innovation, existing photographers dismissed the new innovations as ruining their art. Some companies thrived with change while others missed the boat completely.

Autofocus is a fairly recent example that followed the usual pattern. Leica originally developed phase-detection autofocus in the 1960s (1). They didn’t see much use for it and sold it to Honeywell. Minolta used it on a point-and-shoot camera in 1977. During the 1970s a number of alternative autofocus methods, including sonar and infrared detection were tried. Pentax came out with the first camera to use a separate autofocus sensor illuminated by a sub mirror, the ME-F, in 1981. It was slow and inaccurate and never caught on.

Pentax ME-F with autofocus 35-70mm zoom lens. The bulge below the lens held the AA batteries that drove the AF motor. Image credit: ZanderZ via Creative Commons.

Pentax ME-F with autofocus 35-70mm zoom lens. The bulge below the lens held the AA batteries that drove the AF motor. Image credit: ZanderZ via Creative Commons.

Nikon released the F3AF with phase detection autofocus in 1983. While the manual focus F3 was a smashing success, the F3AF was not. If you can find one at a garage sale you’ll do very well on eBay.

Nikon F3AF. Image Credit: Frank Gosebruch through creative commons share

Nikon F3AF. Image credit: Frank Gosebruch through creative commons share

Real photographers laughed at all of this the clumsy technology in the early 1980s. It was obvious that autofocus would never be fast enough for something like sports, where the subject was moving. Only manual focus and a skilled photographer could possibly capture action images.

The first camera to hugely succeed with phase detection autofocus was the Minolta Maxxum 7000 released in 1985. For a short time, Minolta was king, but Nikon, Canon, and Pentax followed with phase detection autofocus cameras in the mid and late 1980s. By the 1990s companies who made 35mm cameras without phase detection were mostly going bankrupt.

Digital is another good example. You probably know Kodak developed the first digital camera and released the first digital SLR, the DCS 100, back in 1991. Based on a Nikon F3 body with a Kodak external storage unit, it sold for $13,000 and provided a whopping 1.3 megapixel image. It wasn’t a huge success.

Kodak DCS100 system. Image Credit: Frank Gosebruch via Creative Commons

Kodak DCS100 system. Image credit: Frank Gosebruch via Creative Commons

Minolta also introduced the first portable digital SLR back in 1995. The RD 175 used 3 CCDs and interpolated the images in-camera to yield a 1.75-megapixel image. Canon and Nikon introduced the first really successful digital cameras a few years later, a full decade after the Kodak DCS was introduced.

Minolta RD 175. Image distributed freely under CeCILL.

Minolta RD 175. Image distributed freely under CeCILL.

Photographers of the late 1990s, of course, talked loudly and often about how digital images could never replace the performance and resolution of film. Those digital things might be fine for vacation snapshots, but not for a professional photographer or serious amateur.

The transition to digital was truly disruptive. Some manufacturers thrived during the digital transition. Minolta, despite releasing the first good autofocus SLR and the first portable digital SLR, wasn’t one of them. Bronica, Contax, Kodak, and Polaroid were also left behind. Canon and Nikon did very well. A few companies, like Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony entered the market for the first time.

Today’s Disruptive Photography Innovations

SLR shooters who started photography after 2000 haven’t noticed much in the way of disruptive innovations. CaNikon has steadily brought out enough incremental improvements to keep them dominant. Sure, there have been a number of technologies that were leaps rather than simple improvements: mirrorless cameras, Foveon sensors, Micro Four Thirds format, fixed-lens, large sensor cameras, and others. None of them has really disrupted the marketplace — yet.

The Obvious Disruptive Innovation

I don’t think anyone will argue that cell phone cameras and social media disrupted the photography market. They came from outside the mainstream photography world, and attracted a new set of consumers to a new market. Let’s call them picture-takers since most of us don’t consider them photographers. Call them whatever you want, but there are a lot of companies in the image hosting and online-printing worlds that call them a huge customer base.

The effect on the existing photography marketplace was mostly negative. Many point-and-shoot companies exited the imaging business. Others, like Fuji, Olympus, and Sony had to migrate to the more serious camera market. The disruption also affected Canon and Nikon. They can no longer get customers to buy their point and shoot cameras today, hoping they’ll migrate up to SLRs in a few years. Only one SLR manufacturer today is attracting a huge number of entry-level customers it might move up to serious cameras. That would be Samsung.

Other Disruptive Innovations

If your first thought when you read one of these is ‘but it’s not as good as existing technology’, remember the examples above. Photographers laughed at autofocus because it was too slow and inaccurate. They laughed at digital because it could never resolve as well as film. They’re still laughing at cell phone cameras as useless toys — and then set down their SLR to take a cell phone picture they can upload immediately.

Mirrorless technology

I know. Mirrorless isn’t growing in most of the world. Lens selection is still rather limited. Neither Canon nor Nikon are pushing their way in very hard. The initial reason for mirrorless, smaller more portable systems, appeals to only a subset of photographers.

I think that the disruptive effects on the marketplace are still in the future. I think it’s disruptive because a mirrorless camera is far simpler than an SLR camera. Simpler eventually means less expensive, more reliable, and quicker to change.

Compare a teardown of a mirrorless camera with an SLR.

  • The SLR has a complex electromechanical mirrorbox assembly.
  • The SLR has a secondary mirror that must be perfectly aligned with the phase detection AF assembly.

The mirrorbox assembly has a lot of mechanical, moving parts that a mirrorless camera doesn’t have. Mechanical, moving parts sometimes fail. The manufacturer has to include the cost of warranty repairs when they determine what price a camera should sell at.

As an added thought, once electronic shutters become adequate, a mirrorless camera would have no moving parts except for buttons and dials. Electronic shutters aren’t quite ready for prime time on CMOS sensors, but they are getting close.

Simpler design makes things easier to change and modify. When I disassembled the Sony A7r and saw the grip is held on by a single large screw, my first thought was how simple it would be to put the screw on the front of the grip, offer 3 grip sizes, and let the owner change grips to better fit their hand.

Most current mirrorless cameras have a short backfocus distance (the distance between the lens mount and the sensor), but that’s not necessary (the Pentax K-01 mirrorless camera had the same backfocus distance as their SLR cameras, and used the same lenses). Nikon or Canon could make a full-frame mirrorless camera with the same backfocus distance as their SLRs, which would let them use the entire existing lens lineup.

I know that mirrorless technology hasn’t been disruptive yet, but I think it will become disruptive with further incremental improvements in two other technologies.

Improved Autofocus Technology

Autofocus technology has been incrementally improving for several years. Many of these autofocus improvements, like on-sensor phase detection, contrast-phase detection hybrid autofocus and improved contrast detection algorithms are steadily eliminating one of the major detractions from mirrorless cameras — that the autofocus is slow.

Phase detection is also being improved, though, and that may keep SLR autofocus superior in some ways. Will contrast detection AF ever be as good as phase detection for sports or birds-in-flight? Perhaps not. But it’s definitely getting better and clearly is simpler, more accurate, more reliable, and less expensive.

It may be we’ll see ‘action photography’ cameras with 10 frames-per-second and phase detection AF as separate from ‘general-purpose’ cameras with 5 FPS, contrast or hybrid autofocus, and focus peaking for manual focus lenses. Some photographers will prefer one, some the other. Assuming the cameras use the same lens mount, a lot of people might own both.

Electronic Viewfinders

Electronic viewfinders aren’t quite up to optical viewfinder standards yet. But they are electronic devices that are improving noticeably with every generation. I assume they’ll be getting less expensive over time, too. Electronic devices do that. EVFs still have some disadvantages over optical, but they have some advantages, too, and the disadvantages are decreasing.

Third-party lenses

A second disruptive innovation, in my opinion, started around 2005 when Zeiss started marketing their very good lenses in SLR mounts. It may not seem like this was a big deal. After all, manual focus prime lenses aren’t the mainstay of many photographers’ kit. But it was a big deal. The very best lens at certain focal lengths were no longer always the manufacturer’s own lens. Now, Sigma, Tamron, Voigtlander, and Samyang, among others, make lenses that are nearly as good, and sometimes better, than the manufacturer’s lenses, and sell them at a lower price.

You may think ‘that’s not disruptive’. I think it is because it affects the existing SLR business model. Manufacturers didn’t mind selling SLRs at near-break even because they made money selling lenses. Now the camera companies are getting hit from both sides. They can’t attract young customers to their point-and-shoots because of cell phones. Their existing customers are less likely to by the manufacturer’s lenses.

You may not be buying them, but a lot of people are. I recently bought a Pentax K3 outfit. The only Pentax lens I bought along with it was the 300mm f/4. My other 3 Pentax mount lenses are third party. For my Canon 6D I have 3 Canon and 2 third-party lenses. It’s not just me, a recent poll on one of the major camera forums showed more Canon owners shot the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 than the Canon 35mm f/1.4.

A Couple of Other Changes

There are two more things that I think are going to change the camera market over the next couple of years. I’m not sure it’s appropriate to call them disruptive technologies. Maybe they’re disruptive techniques.


This is a trend I’ve been noticing with certain brands. If you want to get a comparison with modular versus non-modular lenses, you can look at this teardown comparison of 24-70 f/2.8 lenses. For a look at a really modular camera, here’s a teardown of the Sony A7r. Basically a modular device quickly breaks down into a few major components, each of which can be further separated into individual parts. A non-modular device separates into lots of individual parts.

Why does it matter? For one thing it makes repairs amazingly simpler. The repair center, rather than stocking hundreds of parts for each lens and camera, may just stock a few modules and a few other parts. Inventory control for 1,000 spare shutter modules is a lot simpler (pronounced cheaper) than it would be to keep 200 to 1,000 each of the 22 parts that make up the shutter module.

Sure, the shutter module in the A7r costs more than the individual gear or capacitor that may be broken, but replacing the module takes 30 minutes compared to 2 hours to replace the gear and recalibrate the shutter. The labor and inventory savings more than offset the increased price of the module compared to the part.

Modularity can make upgrades and improvements easier and faster, and may allow some customization for cameras. Since I used the A7r as an example, lets pretend that some people don’t like the shutter. That probably means they will wait 18 months or two years to see if the next version of the camera has a better shutter. But with a modular design like this Sony could just call Copal, who makes the shutter module, get them to design a new shutter that fits in the existing space, and release an A7rS (for smoother, slower shutter) in a few months.

Or maybe some entrepreneur will figure out a way to put some shock-absorbing mounts on that shutter (its mounts are metal-to-metal now). Getting to that area in such a modular camera would be much simpler than in a standard SLR, so such a modification could be cost-effective. A new viewfinder, body shell, different grip, or different sensor would require only a new module, not a complete redesign.

Not everyone is going modular, at least not yet. Sony cameras particularly, and mirrorless cameras in general are getting more modular. SLRs are not. Newer Canon and Zeiss lenses are modular. Tamron and Sigma lenses are to a lesser degree. If anyone else’s lenses are more modular I haven’t noticed it.

Service and Repair

Factory service has changed a lot over the last two years. I deal with several thousand repairs per year so I notice these changes. Some of the changes I despise: forcing independent repair shops to close, refusing to sell parts, and finding excuses to not honor warranties. for example. Thirty-day turnaround times are awful, too.
But to every action, there’s a reaction. A number of companies decided that offering good service was a way to attract customers. Tamron, for example, offers a refurbished lens if they can’t fix your lens within 3 days. Sony has recently offered brand-new items as replacements when a part is on backorder.

There is one recent repair trend that I think is going to become more common: exchange repairs. You send the lens or camera in for repair. The company charges for the repair, but sends you a new or refurbished item in place of your broken one. The broken item gets sent to a central service center where it is either refurbished or broken down to component parts. Rokinon and Zeiss in the USA already do this for (as best I know) all repairs. Several other companies have started doing it for certain repairs.

Exchange repair allows smaller companies to offer service as good or better as the huge companies. Canon and Nikon each have several factory service centers in the U. S. and dozens of other centers across the world. A smaller company can’t compete with that, but they can put an exchange center in every country and build one large service center to salvage parts and refurbish items. Exchange is quick and simple and most people I’ve talked to prefer it.


History suggests two things pretty strongly. The first is that when change comes, people invested in the status quo (that would be us photographers when discussing the photography market) have a strong desire to deny it. Things have never been better. There is no need for change. And this is a stupid change that nobody would ever want. Well, nobody who is serious about photography would want it.

For example, you may think the Sony A7r is a horrible camera: there are few available lenses, the shutter problem may be an issue, you might hate that it’s so small, or maybe hate the viewfinder. So, you dismiss it. Just like people dismissed phased detection AF on the first Pentax SLR, or digital imaging on the RD 175. Whether the A7r is successful or not has no more meaning than whether the Minolta RD175 was successful or not. Digital cameras took over anyway.

The second thing history suggests is that there’s no accurate way to guess which companies are going to thrive and which will fail during a time of disruption. If being first were a huge advantage, we’d all be shooting Minolta digital SLRs. If being the biggest or most profitable were a huge advantage, we’d all be shooting Kodak or Polaroid. Sometimes biggest is really a disadvantage. As they say, it takes a long time to turn a battleship.

When the changes start rolling, though, they roll fast. Ask the video guys how many were shooting RED or Blackmagic cameras back in 2006. (The answer is none; there were no RED or Blackmagic cameras in 2006. Now they are everywhere.)

Is there a reason I use video cameras as an example in a photography article? Sure there is. Those two video cameras don’t need mirrorboxes, don’t use phase detection autofocus, are very modular, and can be purchased with different lens mounts. Which fits in nicely with my speculation.

My Speculation

Full-frame mirrorless cameras are here, so that part isn’t speculation. The death of point-and-shoot cameras is already happening, so that’s not speculation, either. Let me speculate the following things also occur (a big assumption, but not a ridiculous one.)

  1. Either on-sensor phase detection or contrast detection autofocus becomes fast enough for most photographers (seems very likely).
  2. Modular designs become widespread (maybe, maybe not).
  3. Electronic viewfinders become good enough for most photographers (seems very likely).
  4. Electronic shutters become a viable reality (likely, but maybe a few years away).
  5. Modularity and ‘exchange repairs’ make good service possible for even a startup company (it can if they want to).
  6. Third-party lens manufacturers continue to make excellent optics at lower prices (seems certain).

A sensor with contrast detection autofocus and an electronic shutter is very nearly a camera-on-a-chip. The sensor manufacturer could sell it to a dozen companies who each design their own camera around it. New camera brands might appear overnight.

A camera might be offered in various option packages. Different housings, an additional mechanical shutter for those that need it, an electronic viewfinder if you want it, or no viewfinder if you always shoot tethered in the studio. I order my computers online with a number of different options and get them 3 days later. I wouldn’t mind doing the same thing with my next camera.

If the AF system is contrast detection, then a manufacturer doesn’t have to worry about hundreds of phase detection AF algorithms for various lenses. Contrast detection is lens agnostic. Joe’s camera company might make the same camera available in Nikon F mount, Canon EOS mount, or Sony FE mount.

You can already do that with a RED camera. I serve as a lens consultant for a few well-known photographers who shoot magazine spreads on RED Epics and Dragons for the simple reason that they can shoot Leica, Canon, or Nikon lenses with a simple mount change done in the field. They want to use the different lenses. They don’t want to remember the controls or have to match color differences on 3 different cameras.

Third-party lens makers seem to be in a very good position right now. It’s become apparent that they are making very high-quality glass at a price well below the major camera manufacturers. If part of that price difference is because the camera manufacturers have to price their lenses to support their camera sales, then the manufacturers have a major problem.

Two factors have historically held back enthusiasm about third-party lenses: inaccurate autofocus and poor service or quality control. Third-party service is now at least as good as the major manufacturers, if not better. A contrast detection based autofocus system is just as accurate with a third-party lens as it is with a manufacturer’s lens.

I certainly don’t know who will thrive and who will fail as things change. And I sure wouldn’t rush out and change brands over it. Everything we shoot with today will still be working fine in a few years. Sure, Joe’s cameras may release something you just have to have, but I’ll bet it mounts some existing lenses. I expect most of the third-party lens makers will follow Sigma’s lead and be willing to change your lens mounts for you.

That’s the nice thing about disruptive technology. It always gives the consumer more choice. Most consumers will embrace it, eventually, like they did with autofocus and digital cameras. A few will sit around and talk about how it was back in the good old days, when men were made of iron and ships of wood.

About the author: About the author: Roger Cicala is the founder of LensRentals. This article was originally published here.

  • lord eels

    seems like someone wants to rent you a mirrorless system, it’s the future after all. please. slr vs mirrorless != film vs digital != PDAF vs MF. until there is a real ADVANTAGE FOR THE USER (rather than the sweaty repair nerd) mirrorless will languish as a value play gone wrong placing too much of a premium on hand-cramping small sizes that only children and women need.

  • K3 Man

    Yet another Pentax bashing article. Yaaaawn. If anyone is ready to take over the next generation of camera sales it’s a company like Pentax that doesn’t have investment in soon-to-be dinosaur technologies and has legendary lenses to boot.

  • lord eels

    you mean Ricoh.

  • Frode Hegland

    Xerox did not invent the mouse, nor the graphical UI.

  • Mabasa

    yeah for the mirrorless Fuji will kik all in 3, 2 1….

  • Richiebuzz

    Interesting article. I made the switch from DSLR to mirror-less system a while ago and now own an A7. I also see a couple of my friends who are professional photographers making the switch or considering to add mirror-less cams to their gear. I wonder what anyone here thinks about Light Field Photography as disruptive innovation. It was not mentioned i the article but it’s here. In my view this technology could have a devastating effect on the industry especially for lens manufacturers. So will we be using 70 Mp plenoptic systems that fit in our phone within the next 10 years to shoot holiday snaps as well as professional fashion shoots?

  • Willi Kampmann

    Isn’t light field photography one of the most obvious disruptive technologies? Who cares about AF speed or even AF precision if it can be precisely set afterwards?

  • Willi Kampmann

    Yet there’s only one mirrorless camera platform in their portfolio which features a miniscule sensor and doesn’t have an EVF. I don’t have anything against Pentax, but their current line-up certainly doesn’t scream “disruption”.

  • MichaelT

    “Legendary”. Agreed! All that the other manufacturers have are bigger marketing budgets.

  • Andy

    Yes, you can refocus the — within limits — at a tremendous trade off of both light sensitivity and resolution. Now that we can manufacture them with some degree of reliability, doesn’t change the fact that you’d still need to have them much larger than a standard camera to achieve decent resolutions.

    They also need a lot of light. I think we’ll see applications for light field in industrial photography and scientific photography but the tradeoffs mean we won’t see much traction elsewhere for some time barring some fundamental breakthroughs. These breakthroughs will have to be pretty fundamental since light field photography was first thought of more than a century ago!

    And all things being equal, any new physics that are learned about light will also have some effect on “normal” photography.

  • Smarten_Up

    Memo to Camera manufacturers:

    Here is when I will stop sitting upon my wallet and open it….until then my 10-year old P&S and 6-year old DSLR work just fine, no real reason to replace either.

    Why do we not have a camera that is ergonomic, that takes advantage of my neck and two good arms to stabilize the camera in space while I look through, yes a viewfinder, preferably an improved EVF?

    No “chimping” at screens for me–it is the single worst part about digital today: if you want to hand hold (and 90% of what I do is hand held, and I would venture that is true for most “prosumers” or advanced amateurs) you need stability, not just for sharpness, but to be able to focus your attention on the picture frame, and its edges.

    Of course I do check my screen, after the shot, but even then I use a large loupe made for the purpose–I want to see the clarity, the exposure, the frame borders, to know what my next move will be–re-shoot, delete, give up, re-think? I want a tool that does the work I need to do, not a mini-computer to which I must adapt.

    And the irony in all this? Now that the picture plane does not need to be a piece of film, directly opposite the lens, we are still using that paradigm, when we have the flexibility to put the sensor WHEREVER it works for the design–the ergonomic design. NO more greasing up my screen with my nose squashed up again a flat screen. Back in the 1960s Modern and Popular Photography ran articles about what manufacturers were learning from their customers, and what they wanted in terms of design. This was # one on many a list, the ergonomic camera.

    Popular Science promised me a clean, self-drive vehicle too, by 1975. I should live so long!

  • David Liang

    I really like the idea of going modular like medium format has predominantly been. If I get attached to a camera I can still get improvements by just upgrading the back. In fact that’s why I keep a Mamiya 645 AFD around, I can shoot film or rent a digital back on a whim with the same lenses and body I’m used to.

    It’d be great to custom order a camera online exactly like gaming laptops, get the parts I want, skins I want, sensor I want etc. It might not be an industry wide thing but I’d be great if the big 3 start to have departments that offer this.

  • CTS

    It’s hard to see how this article is controversial. Small, quiet, mirrorless, smart-cameras seem like an obvious future and one that I will embrace as soon as the cameras are flexible enough to use professionally. That time will come. You could safely go the next step and say technologies like google glass which change cameras entire form factor and how we interact with them and that will inevitably be a disruptive innovation that will be later adopted by professionals when it becomes more versatile or nimble than existing tech.

  • Peng Tuck Kwok

    Well yes and no. Yes because they weren’t the first SRI came up with the idea first but Xerox Pal Alto pretty much defined what modern mice would and could be. Same with the GUI. PARC had all the modern trappings of a GUI though.

  • Guest

    Sorry, but searching for Pentax and Legendary only returns people on DPReview’s Pentax forum.

  • Cam K

    This is a pretty good perspective, but the author has some of his history wrong. Huge segments of the professional photography world couldn’t wait to switch to digital in the 1990s. I’m a photojournalist, and it’s pretty widely accepted that most newspapers switched too early. The tech just wasn’t there yet, but the desire for quicker camera to computer speed pushed companies buy into digital. Same goes for a lot of wedding photographers, event photographers, sports photographers, etc.

    Also, the idea that quality third-party lenses are some new idea is simply ridiculous. Tokina and Sigma have been in the game for a LONG time. I have a M42 mount Sigma for a Pentax Spotmatic that’s at least 30 years old. Back in the M39 screwmount days, there were all sort of companies producing lenses, not only that, but Nikon actually produced M39-mounting version of their lenses for use on other cameras.

    If you’ve been a professional photographer for more than five years, you’d probably know all this already.

  • Brett

    Roger, what kind of advantages or disadvantages does the short backfocus distance of mirrorless cameras have in terms of the cost and feasibility of different types of lenses? Does it make it it possible to make certain types of lenses (wide angle?) at a lower cost?

  • LumixLord

    Nonsense. Mirrorless is the future. There is a real value for the user. The main thing is – you don’t need mirrorboxes. You don’t gain anything from SLR design. Mirrorless is simpler, cheaper, easier to fix and all around better. Also since the mirrorless design takes so little space you can put A LOT more stuff in a body the size of a current DSLR

  • tttulio

    Canon hasn’t made any significant advances since the 5D mk2. Their “New” models just have a new name. They are scared to canibalize their DSLR sales. They will end up going Kodak’s way.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    I was really digging this article at first as it all made sense, but then it got to the speculation. Everybody has an opinion, and I don’t want to deny the author of his; however, it seems more likely the author is trying to justify his purchasing decisions.

    Personally, I don’t think the Mfour/thirds are going anywhere. More likely, it will be mirror-less APS-C with similar mounts to the current crop of sensors. Being serious for a moment, regardless of AF style and capabilities, there is a reason FF sensor DSLRs are the professionals choice and it’s something smaller sensor-based cameras cannot compete with. And that is native low-light performance. The pixel pitch can only go so high until you start sacrificing resolution for noise ratio.

    Besides that, most of these systems might produce a technically simpler camera, but they aren’t saving a great deal on space once you start including various lenses and other accessories.

    However, third party lenses are certainly going to cause some serious pain for first party DSLR companies. Especially Canon as they seem to be rather slow to adapt, despite having a rocking R&D department.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    Uhh… The 1DX smashes the capabilities of the 5DII and the 5DIII more than doubles the low light performance, nearly doubles the shutter speed up to 6FPS from 3.9, increases the AF to 61-point high-density reticular AF (up to 41 cross-type points) from 9-point TTL (1 cross-type point), and increases the native ISO performance from a 6,400 to 25,600. And it’s a pretty serious increase at that. The noise on the 5DIII at 3,200 is similar to the 5DII at 800. It’s damn impressive.

    There are a lot of other changes such as better dynamic range and such, but the only real disappointment is the minor bump in resolution.

  • Scott

    You have missed what I think will become very important in the not too distant future – in camera DoF control using software post processing. No aperture control, just a depth of field control which probably has settings for portrait, scenery etc. The camera uses a small sensor such as the RX100 type and produces shallow depth of field using software. Definitely possible, I have an app on my Adroid phone that makes a pretty good effort that would definitely satisfy a ‘consumer’.

    The the tiny sensors in smartphones will be able to produce very similar classic shallow DoF shots.

    Additionally we will be able to use smaller sensor, smaller, lighter cameras without the need for heavy and expensive large aperture lenses.

  • Gav

    By double I assume you mean a 1 stop advantage..big deal…

    6FPS so what…Also the Canons frame rate drops significantly if you use smaller f stops due to there aperture mechanism design …bummer

    61 auto focus points?…The Sony A600 mirror-less camera (with the worlds fastest auto focus system) has 179 auto focus points covering 90% of the image sensor…it shoots 11FPS and is a consumer camera!

    For a lot of photographers the 5D mark 3 was a big let down..4 years of development time between the mark 2 and mark 3. We were expecting a lot more from this camera than we got…Yes the auto focus was better and we got a 1 stop more in ISO performance. But there is not a significant difference between a mark 2 and mark 3 files in terms of image quality…I think you have been sucked into the ‘Canon is the messiah’ vortex…

    Canon have been holding back development and sitting on their market share and very soon they will see that drop as they are way behind in mirror-less technology. As previously mentioned, the Sony A6000 released yesterday shows that Mirror-less AF performance is very close to over taking traditional DSLRs…And this is the crux of Canons problem. They have kept all the eggs in the optical view finder basket. But the problem is that we are nearing or (as some are suggesting) at the limit of what a physical mirror box and image splitting AF system can do (don’t get me wrong the 1DX is an excellent camera). On the contrary mirror-less technology such as OSPDAF and EVF are at the start of their development curve…DSLRs will and are being left behind…Progress.

  • Gav

    Do you not realise that Mirror-less does not mean smaller sensors…The A7 and A7r are full frame…The A7r with the 36MP sensor has the highest image resolving sensor of any 35mm camera …Period…(from independent testing)…The A7 (24MP) has a higher quality sensor than the 5D mark 3

    So what exactly has this ‘rocking’ R&D department been doing…..Navel gazing….

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    “Canon hasn’t made any significant advances since the 5D mk2. Their “New” models just have a new name”
    This is what was said. This is not true. Everything you said doesn’t matter. That was not the point. Deal with it.
    Also, on paper it might read as a one stop advantage, but it is much more. Everything between base and 6400 is beautifully clean. You’ll start seeing noise on the 5DII at 800 and it isn’t particularly great at 1600, let alone 12,800.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    Careful now, Gav. I specify a difference between M4/3rds and mirrorless in general.

  • Mike G.

    The article doesn’t seem far off base at all, and if I were still working as a photographer for the papers I would be using a mirrorless. I carried six cameras in the 60’s and 70’s for the newspapers and I don’t miss that weight.

    RC’s point about ‘what’ the media is for is interesting, too.

  • kb

    ” You don’t gain anything from SLR design.” You may not, but I do. I think this is an oversimplification from an undemanding photographer.

  • Roger Cicala

    Brett, I don’t know enough to summarize the advantages/disadvantages of short backfocus distances. I do know that retrofocus designs, which tend to be large and complex, aren’t really needed when there’s a short backfocus distance. But whether sensor microlenses, etc. make that an oversimplification I don’t know.


  • Gav

    “…This is not true. Everything you said doesn’t matter. That was not the point. Deal with it.”….Dude you are starting to sound irrational….
    High ISO on the 5D mark 3 is in not industry leading. 6400 is not beautifully clean what nonsense..Have you even shot on the mark 3???…More to the point have you even shot on any mirror-less camera released in the past 6 months…I was also a Mirror-less sceptic. But now it is undeniable that EVF is now as good as OVF and will only get better…

  • Graham Marley

    I can’t agree at all. The 5DII was a dog of a camera that only had resolution as a saving grace, but the shooting experience was miserable. When shooting with my 5D and my 5DII at the same time, i was shooting with the 5D more, because it was just a better camera experience, I just felt more confident with it. The 5D III, on the other hand, is a joy to use. I feel incredibly good about working with that camera, and I’m growing more as a photographer with it than I was with the MKII, because I’m not fighting with my gear. It’s not perfect, I’d like better DR, but beyond that I don’t know what aspects of image quality the III is actually lacking. (btw, the MKII had a distinct waxy texture to it’s images, the III doesn’t, so it’s definitely better IQ)

    Aside from that, I don’t know why people don’t talk more about the EX600’s as an example of Canon moving things forward. They went from having some of the worst speedlites to some of the best in one product release. With three 600’s, I haven’t gone above ISO 800 at a wedding reception since I got them, and that would be out-of-the-ordinary high with average probably around 400.

  • Konstantin Shtondenko

    Wonderful reading. Thanks.
    I see the next biggest disruption in online photo editing area. I’ll explain. Right now we laugh at capabilities of online photo editors like Pixlr and, but in a few years they might have the same power as Photoshop and Lightroom. already allows editing of images up to 42 megapixels and it doesn’t constraint by Flash restrictions.
    Imagine the world, where you can get professional tools instantly and for free using web service. Trial of Photoshop isn’t free. I see many-many new people coming to photography in upcoming years with this.