Disruption and Innovation

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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.


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.


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.


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 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 courtesy 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.


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 4/3s 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 phase detection AF assembly must be electronically calibrated and mechanically aligned to the sensor, mirror and viewfinder. 

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 its 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.


Roger Cicala


February, 2014


43 Responses to “Disruption and Innovation”

Privater said:

Well said, agree on almost everything.
But, one potential disruptive elements would be smart camera, like general purposed mobile OS with high end hardware handle AF brutally and integrated wireless connectivity.
The high performance hardware can handle 30+ FPS image capture and produce clear image in realtime without increase sensor size or aperture. or produce image in different focus range to simulate light field camera, like some app did on smartphone.

Sam said:

Hi Roger,

Interesting article, but I'm not sure that these things are truly disruptive. Most mirrorless technology has been applied towards building a camera in the same mold of those that existed during the height of the DSLR days, so while it can conceivably make cameras less complicated and cheaper, it slots quite firmly into the iterative development path.

Similarly, while third-party lenses are definitely improving and will cause camera makers to change their strategy a bit (cameras are generally low margin items compared to lenses), I don't see that as truly disruptive.

I found the modular statement interesting, but I don't think it's going to be true. Generally speaking, most technology has progressed towards items that show less seams and seek less interaction from the user on the fundamental level. Not to mention the simple fact that making a modular and small electronic device is considerably more difficult. I would anticipate that as fixed lens compact cameras begin to seize more and more of the general market, even modularity like interchangeable lenses are going to recede into the professional realm only. Granted, this market might start looking more like the current video market (as you mention), but I don't think that will extend to the vast majority of consumer cameras that are sold.

intrnst said:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."
Arthur Schopenhauer

And because this is a modular writing you can swap (without any additional charge!) "truth" for: viewfinder, image capturing device, social media, human settlement, moral laws, the most fitted life form...

You name it, we change it.
Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back!

Roger, change hase for phase in "Leica originally developed hase-detection autofocus".

And thanks again for another insightful writing!

Chris Jankowski said:

I would venture one more prediction: return of FF point&shoot superficially similar to pocket sized 35 mm film cameras from the 1970s and 1980s. Once all the electronics - sensor, electronic shutter, AF, image processor and Internet connectivity all get standardized and commoditized then all of that will be packaged with a fixed 28 or 32 mm lens and sold as a serious alternative to mobile phone cameras. It will be non-modular and non-repairable the way most mobile phones are these days. But it will be cheap (say $200 - $300) and will take excellent photos.

Max said:

After messing around with Sony NEX7 and A7r for the last two years I bought my first 'real camera' a Nikon DSLR and the 70-200 VRII lens about 2 weeks ago. I haven't touched the Sony since. Nikon understands the photographer. They may not understand EFV and Live View but I get way more keepers than I did with manual lenses and asking people to 'stay still' 'hold on while I focus' 'uhhhh..... go back to the way you were a minute ago' and the hodge podge of lenses that work on the Sony. Plus I get real 14 bit files. And not lossy compression Sony 8 bit crap and shutter slap.

Innovation is important. Getting the shot is CRITICAL.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Thank you intrnst. Wish someone would make a disruptive spell checker.

Speed said:

Good stuff, well argued.

It might be interesting to think of the future not in terms of changes to the DSLR/Mirrorless business but as a growing up or growing out of the camera phone business. Millions of people like (love?) their camera phones, the pictures they take automagically and all the sharing they do. What happens when they demand (or get without asking -- disruption often occurs by giving customers something they didn't know they wanted) better picture quality, no shutter delay, better (longer, wider, faster) lenses, better low light performance?

Nokia: "No other smartphone comes close to the 41MP sensor in the Nokia Lumia 1020. PureView technology, Optical Image Stabilization and super high-res zoom make sure that your videos and photos are the best yet."

Nokia again: "With Nokia Pro Camera, you can shoot in full resolution for “lossless zoom.” You can zoom in on a particular part of your shot after you take it, and then reframe it with no loss of quality. Shoot, zoom, crop and share amazing images every time."

And again: "Capturing stunning images is easy with Nokia Pro Camera. Take your photos to a new level by adjusting focus, shutter speed, white balance and more with simple and intuitive controls."

And a lot of that is software.

Dr Croubie said:

Great article again Roger.
It took a bit of a different turn to what i was thinking when I read the introduction though.
My first thoughts when talking about 'disruptive' technologies were on two or three products.
The first was Lytro, that shoot-first focus-later camera.
It follows pretty much every technology you described. Yes, it's expensive for what it is, now. Yes, it's slow compared to SLRs, there's only one "lens", it's got bugger-all MP, yada yada. Also, you have to send your files back to the manufacturer to be 'processed' and can only view them as a Flash file (at least, as I understand it last time I read about it).
Compare that to Kodachrome using K14 being killed by Velvia using much easier-to-process E6. And only being able to view on manufacturer's proprietary equipment. Kodak PhotoCD anyone?
In the end, same as all your other examples, the big guys with the proprietary and locked-in methods and products were overrun by the smaller guys doing something very similar but most importantly easier.
It remains to be seen if Lytro manage to not Kodak themselves (or XD-card themselves), or if they'll get overrun by some other startup with a more open approach (that manages to get around Lytro's patents).

The next thing that I thought of was a local news story a few years back, one of those "local company done good, gonna take on the world" stories. What they had done was created a projector small and portable enough to fit inside a mobile phone.
Imagine, going out shooting for a day with your phone, coming home at night and instantly viewing the images on a spare blank wall. No "take the card out, insert into computer, download images, process them, find and plug in the projector, rearrange the room and everyone look over there while this annoyingly small fan whines us all into getting migrains".
Pity, I never knew what happened to these guys, but I don't think it ever made it into an iphone or galaxy.

The third thing combines the two. Maybe this is me with wishful thinking, but how about holographic projections? Take your lytro-style light field camera out for the day, come home at night, and with the same device project holograms and/or 3D images. That's your "10 years after invention" style disruption. In 20 years we'll all look back on today and think "wow, downloading and processing images? Printing? Projection? How did those cavemen ever take photos without a hologram projector in the same device?"

Clay Taylor said:

Roger - I would add one more innovation that comes from video - Electronic (on sensor) Image Stabilization. With the much bigger M4/3 or APS or FX sensors the technology needs to be able handle a lot more data, but it is all proven technology. This follows your theme of fewer moving parts (no internal moving lenses or sensor-shifting mechanisms) and could offer customizable IS profiles.

Personally, I am awaiting those 5mp EVFs for a full-sized DLSM.

eddy said:

The future of still photography is video. Imagine 24 FPS full-res 36MP footage. That's too big for a footage per se, but very useful for still. You can pick the best frame, or average them to mimic long(er) exposure. Or downsample (or crop for that matter) it into a 4k footage. No mechanical shutter. Electronic stabilization. Global electronic shutter. It's all good.

Chuck Trotter said:

Interesting article but despite disruptive and transformational technology, the most important component of any system is the six inches behind the viewfinder. People spend thousands in new technology while never understanding why their images remain much the same. Perhaps we should be working harder at transforming on own abilities.

Ron said:

I believe there is a far larger disruption coming related to how professional photographers go about business. You briefly mentioned it: the convergence of stills and motion capture into a single platform.

All of your points certainly will apply to such a platform, but individually I feel are relatively minor equipment adaptations compared to the resulting massive shift that will happen in the clients-paying-for-images market.

Recently I chatted with a videographer who came up in the past 20 years doing weddings quite successfully, but is now faced with photographers offering videos 'on the side' as part of their wedding coverage packages. Conversely, video guys shooting with DSLRs offering some stills coverage... At some point, it's going to become some kind of seamless hybrid motion/stills production. Shoot motion and pull high-rez stills from the key moments. Sure you can do it now, but it's still pretty kludgy, or really expensive for the high end systems. Of course it's easier to say than do well, at least now. But certainly there will be technical solutions to these problems.

Give it a few years and we'll have ~$3000 'mirrorless' pro-oriented cameras offering this at sufficiently high resolutions from which to pull quality stills. On the consumer end this will all appear in smart phones too...

I agree with the earlier comment about Lytro too.. it has the potential to make AF fairly redundant, or much simplified if it can be done well and easily in post.

Mark Ryan Sallee said:

Awesome article Roger. Very thoughtful, and the history lessons are a great support to the arguments.

Some other innovations that may turn out to be significant disruptions:

1) Small sensors.

Full frame is the holy grail, except it's smaller than medium and large format. Smaller sensors still get compared negatively to full frame, but people rarely complain that full frame captures less light, has greater DOF than medium format. Because, frankly, full frame is a great balance of size and quality.

I don't see that balance is immovable, and see smaller sensors -- with smaller, cheaper camera bodies and lenses -- making even more ideal balance in the future. MFT is already closer, but why not smaller? A 1" sensor may be all we need in the future. Or whatever sensor fits into a phone that's still pocketable.

Full frame could become what medium format is today. A niche boutique market for enthusiasts, but no longer the standard.

2) Live view / touch screen interface.

I agree that EVFs will get better and I have no doubt that soon even "real photographers" will prefer them to OVFs. There's just so much more an EVF can do.

But the live view touch screen is an even bigger disruption. As screen technology improves, glare is no longer an issue, and the functionality of live view increases, shooting from the screen -- not a view finder -- will become increasingly common.

Many DSLRs support live view shooting, but often with limited functionality, as if it's an afterthought. Meanwhile, cameras built with live view as the primary shooting experience will continue to (a) introduce new features that help photographers, and (b) be more natural and user-friendly for photography newcomers.

Touch to focus, live-updating bulb shots, histograms, tilting screens, etc. are the beginning. View finders are ancient by comparison.

3) Simpler interfaces.

Great cameras are still confusing. Dials for shutter, aperture, and ISO, when what I really want is smaller DOF and proper exposure for my subject. It's easy to forget who complicated cameras are when you use them all the time, but try explaining why a small number means a wide aperture means more light means smaller DOF means faster shutter speed means lower ISO means less noise, etc. when the person you're talking to like shooting his iPhone.

Kids are growing up with sliders and effects. Why have an aperture dial when you could just have a "blur" slider, coupled with touch-to-focus, and a built-in ND filter (no need to mention the ND filter to the shooter). A slider for "motion" that secretly adjusts shutter speed but visually shows streaking lights, soft water, or razor-sharp freeze frame.

Explain photography to someone that's not into photography and you start talking about real words -- background blur, motion, lighting -- and stop talking aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. The latter group of words are just tools, means to an end. In the future, there's no reason for new photographers to know about them.

4) Software innovations.

It's already in the cell phone market, expect to see it in "real" cameras eventually. The camera captures three frames with every shutter press and you pick the one where no one was blinking. Or the camera is constantly recording frames when you bring it eye-level and your shutter marks key frames that you can later reading from.

Face detection is a pretty big software innovation that started with traditional cameras. Expect more to come from where software is king, the phone market.

Maybe cameras in the future have installable apps, not just hackable firmware but a thriving market of programs that let ordinary home coders improve your camera. A motion cam app. A scheduler. Built-in HDR. Photography-based social games. Improved photo management. Cloud syncing. Suggestions for great photo-ops near you. Voice control. Things I can't even imagine because I can't possibly be as creative as millions of software developers.

Samuel H said:

Question about replaceable camera mounts: are they really that much better than adapters? I mean, a fixed mount is carefully aligned, but if we're talking about "a simple mount change done in the field", wouldn't a *good* adapter be basically the same?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Samuel, not at all. First a mount change replaces a lens-camera interface with a lens-camera interface. An adapter is a lens to adapter, adapter to camera interface. Double the chance for sample variation.

More importantly, a camera mount on mirrorless mounts directly to the sensor mount which is already calibrated. (It would be different on an SLR where all the various parts need to be calibrated to the mount.) We change mounts on RED cameras all the time and they are more accurate, if anything, than SLRs. Granted they are bigger and very robust.

Bruce Rubenstein said:

"Disruptive" technology that consumers eventually see, is generally built upon “enabling” technology that they don’t see. Leonardo Da Vinci’s inventions remained curiosities, because key enabling technologies, such as modern high strength, low weight materials didn’t exist. Photography, to a great extent, uses derivative technology that was developed for another purpose/product. The manned space program (was funded at its peak at 4% of the GNP!) generated a great amount of new technology that found its way into other products.

I used to work at Bell Labs. In the mid 90’s they were working on high data rate wireless, and just as important, the 3G specifications (things don’t go very far forward without standards). When I saw demos of it, I couldn’t for the life of me fathom why people would try to watch movies of access the Internet on an itty-bitty LCD. Well, give people bandwidth and they’ll figure out something to do with it. They make camera phones! There isn’t much point in putting a camera in a phone if you can’t sent the picture somewhere with the phone, and you can’t send much of a picture at voice data rates.

It’s the fundamental enabling technology that you have to watch out for.

Max said:

Nice point Bruce. There's one good reason for wireless photos and we saw a little bit of it during OWS. With the police throughout America cracking down on civil rights it was important that the reality of that was seen by the rest of us and the world. Many think OWS was just a dress rehearsal for a much bigger movement to happen 6-8 years from now. When it does, the technologies of Google glass like devices that transmit in real time should have a real effect on how the state behaves towards its citizens. It seems nonsensical that one even has to pull a camera up to ones face to compose at all. Why not a Google glass viewfinder that is getting images from a remote and discrete camera? Technology will make it more difficult for the boot to stamp on a human face forever. http://cdn.theatlantic.com/static/mt/assets/politics/pepper.banner.jpg

Samuel H said:

RE: replaceable camera mounts:
Good to know. In that case, there should be a market for people making, say, A7r camera mounts. Something that is installed with four screws (so, without the alignment issues of adapters) and allows people to use, say, Leica-M lenses.

Michael R said:

Mostly spot on.

Canon and Nikon are are real enigama on their Mirrorless strategy. Are they afraid mirrorless will canabilize thier DSLR sales and profit margins?? Are they waiting to profit from competitor mistakes and make a better mirrorless?? They could end up like Kodak and Poloraid??

In the past many instamatic, p&s camera owners moved up to an SLR for better pictures. But the % who moved up has historically been a small percentage of the picture taking population. so bascially, for most smart phone picture takers, their phone will probably always be good enough considering a two year upgrade cycle for phones and never upgrade to a separate camera. This group basically has no compelling reason to upgrade to a separate camera.

If someone owned a (Brand)P&S, they were quite likely stay with that brand when they upgraded.

with camera phones, there is no photo branding except maybe with Samsung. Samsung smartphone to Samsung smartcamera to more expensive Samsung mirrorless camera. maybe if Sony slapped a large Sony (camera brand) logo on the lens of smart phones, they might get somewhat similar recongition and sony purchase path.

Michael R

Yohan said:

Rodger, great article. It reminded me of "The Innovator's Dilemma" by Clayton Christensen (he uses the hard drive industry as an example of how disruptive technology caused the leading firms to fail).

Siegfried said:

I wouldn't rave that much about all the things going modular. You didn't put it straight, but it reads between the lines: it is going to be better.

No, sir, it is not. Days ago you could strip down and disassemble the whole Merc (yep, I mean that very Zeiss thing on the wheels) into bits and pieces. Then they went modular. And nowadays one doesn't need to work ages to make for a Merc since they're cheaper than back to those days, but they had also lost the value right after they lost the quality - today you buy the Merc to trade it back in in three to five years, not to pass it to your son.


Heidfirst said:

"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."
& so could Sony with A-mount & I'll lay you money that they will get there before Canon & Nikon (of course you could argue that they already have with SLT).

I also think that it could be something from out of left-field that comes along & truly disrupts/revolutionises whether it's hardware, software or a combination of both.

Mark Muse said:

Rodger, would the A7 shutter module fit and work in the A7R?

Mark Hespenheide said:

RE: repair/exchange

I hear what you're saying about exchanging a "new" refurbished unit rather than repairing a specific unit. But given the sample variation in lenses, I can think of cases where you might not want to exchange your lens. At the very least you'll need to check the AF micro-adjust with your new lens.

Having bought multiple copies of my primary lens and cherry-picked the best one (yes, it's dorky and pixel-peeping, and yes, there was a visible difference), I'm not sure I want to give it up for a "repair".

Paul Sheridan said:

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 said:

Agree on all points. Frankly, I'm surprised people are buying low-end DSLRs at all when size, cost, simplicity and often performance favors mirrorless.

I was mulling earlier tonight how to replace my 5D II. I spend way too much time fiddling with it. The AF system sucks.

Here's my ideal camera, I decided:

* Contrast-detect AF. Maybe combined with phase-detect, but I don't ever want to calibrate the lens or worry about crappy outer points. In fact, I don't need to see points at all.

* Eye-tracking AF point selection. I have no idea why Canon abandoned this, and then they went even further backwards by pulling the quick-select joystick from the XXD line. If I look at it, I want it to be in focus. Done.

* Cloud integration. I love having my phone automatically dump its own photos into Dropbox. The next step is to have my camera send to Dropbox, and then send previews to my phone. I can pick the ones I like and they'd automatically post to Facebook with details pulled from metadata and with heuristic text and tagging.

* Non-crappy auto-exposure. Basically M mode with Auto-ISO and exposure compensation. It still, STILL, does not exist on Canon DSLRs. It's the sort of thing that makes me wonder if they use their own cameras.

* Retina-class EVF. I've no attachment to optical viewfinders. If the response rate, contrast ratio, and resolution are high enough, then EVF all the way. I want to see what the camera sees so I don't have to chimp to see if I got it right.

On the video side, I think we'll all just end up streaming Google Glass from a contact lens into a constant archive. Black Mirror (UK TV) has an dead-on episode on how this would play out. Before that happens, though, I'd like to see responsive and capable on-camera touch-based video editing.

Sggs said:

Bravo Mr Cicalla!
We must not forget tha tha big companies, canikon, hold down the possibilities of their gear afraid that the cheaper will canibalize the expensive cameras. See the canon 1d-c that some insist are a 1d-x with a different software for the doble of the price.That open space to new players, like Blackmagic, and to hackers, like magic lantern. Maybe in a future, not so far, wee will see a open source camera that can be customized by third party software.

andrew said:

Christiansen has done extensive research on disruptive innovation and its fascinating to see how firms at the front end of a paradigm shift don't see it, or react to it, or take advantage of their market position until its to late.

Go Pro's are an amazing example of this-as in they were the one no one else saw coming, as was the 5D Mark 2, yet if you go back and look at reviews, they'd not indicate initially the extent to which they would fundamentally change the market and the democratisation of film making / photography.

I think that it is only with hind sight that one can reflect and see how obvious the change was, whilst we're all living through it, its less than obvious and i can only wish I was prescient enough to see it coming as it would assist with my retirement investments.

I suspect that if Nikon, for example can produce a simpler mirror-less camera that will take legacy lenses, performs like an SLR has fast fps, autofocus and a full frame sensor, then thats an evolution and quite inevitable rather than to be viewed as a disruptive innovation - and its one I'd welcome though I'm always baffled about how people seem to comment that mirror less is so much smaller and convenient that DSLR - a NEX with a 200 lens is not much smaller than a SLR and neither are particularly easy to wander about with.

For truly disruptive change, I suspect it will go along the lines of chip manufacturing, double the speed and half the size every X years until we're all walking around with a iPhone with a 24mp sensor that performs as well as a D800 and I have absolutely no doubt at all that this will happen.

My first computer was a ZX48 spectrum about 30 years ago, followed by PC's, an 86?, a 386, 486? etc and I'm now sat with 3 MB Pro's and 10 TB's of storage in my living room along with 12000 tracks on a 2nd generation iPod which was inconceivable until the last decade or so.........the idea you could put 12000 tracks or more with video on a device the size of a credit card was unfathomable until recently

At present I've camera's on laptops, my BB, my nexus 4, nexus 7, iPhone 3, a d7100, a rx100, go pro, contour HD all of which have more processing power than PC's up to a decade ago.

I've got streaming TV, apple TV, netflix all of which if you'd explained to my parents or grandparents in the 1990's that these would happen - you might as well have been discussing star-trek.

At some point someone is going to provide a device further consolidating the need for phones / tablets / laptops and we're inevitably progressing to the point where a camera with the performance of the RX100 will be the size of a go-pro.

If cameras have wi-fi, can have 3g and gps, the need for storage lessens if you can store images in the cloud. Once we're at the point that we can obtain power from the air with out a direct power source in a device (and we're getting there with proximity charging and the fact that we're developing building technologies eliminating the need for power sockets, you remove both the storage and power component from the device - or significantly reduce it.)

I think we're going to see devices we can not really envision - huge functionality, smaller, more durable, go anywhere, reduced cost, GPS, wireless, 4G, remote storage - basically Go Pros on speed and its going to be amazing.

Of course may be we just end up with the Nikon D620 instead.

andrew said:

Christiansen has done extensive research on disruptive innovation and its fascinating to see how firms at the front end of a paradigm shift don't see it, or react to it, or take advantage of their market position until its to late.

Go Pro's are an amazing example of this-as in they were the one no one else saw coming, as was the 5D Mark 2, yet if you go back and look at reviews, they'd not indicate initially the extent to which they would fundamentally change the market and the democratisation of film making / photography.

I think that it is only with hind sight that one can reflect and see how obvious the change was, whilst we're all living through it, its less than obvious and i can only wish I was prescient enough to see it coming as it would assist with my retirement investments.

I suspect that if Nikon, for example can produce a simpler mirror-less camera that will take legacy lenses, performs like an SLR has fast fps, autofocus and a full frame sensor, then thats an evolution and quite inevitable rather than to be viewed as a disruptive innovation - and its one I'd welcome though I'm always baffled about how people seem to comment that mirror less is so much smaller and convenient that DSLR - a NEX with a 200 lens is not much smaller than a SLR and neither are particularly easy to wander about with.

For truly disruptive change, I suspect it will go along the lines of chip manufacturing, double the speed and half the size every X years until we're all walking around with a iPhone with a 24mp sensor that performs as well as a D800 and I have absolutely no doubt at all that this will happen.

My first computer was a ZX48 spectrum about 30 years ago, followed by PC's, an 86?, a 386, 486? etc and I'm now say with 3 MB Pro's and 10 TB's of storage in my living room along with 12000 tracks on a 2nd generation iPod which was inconceivable until the last decade or so.

At present I've camera's on laptops, my BB, my nexus 4, nexus 7, iPhone 3, a d7100, a rx100, go pro, contour HD all of which have more processing power than PC's up to a decade ago.

I've got streaming TV, apple TV, netflix all of which if you'd explained to my parents or grandparents in the 1990's that these would happen - you might as well have been discussing star-trek.

At some point someone is going to provide a device further consolidating the need for phones / tablets / laptops and we're inevitably progressing to the point where a camera with the performance of the RX100 will be the size of a go-pro.

If cameras have wi-fi, can have 3g and gps, the need for storage lessens if you can store images in the cloud. Once we're at the point that we can obtain power from the air with out a direct power source in a device (and we're getting there with proximity charging and the fact that we're developing building technologies eliminating the need for power sockets, you remove both the storage and power component from the device - or significantly reduce it.

I think we're going to see devices we can not really envision - huge functionality, smaller, more durable, go anywhere, reduced cost, GPS, wireless, 4G, remote storage - basically Go Pros on speed and its going to be amazing.

Alternatively we just end up with a Nikon D620

Andrew said:

The full-frame mirrorless camera taking existing lenses, but adding modern video and real live-view with EVF has been here for a while now. Yes, the Sony A99 (and APS-C A77) have a mirror, but they lack the complex mechanisms to move that mirror while retaining all of the benefits of traditional DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. What is the down side? Half a stop of light.

bruce bender said:

Another great article from the emerging philosopher-king of imaging. Meaning you, Roger. Write a book. Go on a book tour. Oh, wait, that's what is happening here, eh? Sorry. But I tell ya, dude, if you are not careful you will be invited to make presentations at the Big Innovation Conclaves at Davos and in the Colorado Rockies.

Seriously, on the modularity front, I wonder if easy self-diagnostics will be a market factor. I am thinking of the somewhat parallel advance of self diagnostics in the auto industry. Starting maybe 15 years ago some Japanese brands allowed owners to read diagnostic codes themselves, whereas some German brands required you to go to a dealer to have your car hooked up to a proprietary computer to read codes. This included some really silly things like turning off the change oil light, or the check engine light if the gas cap was loose (or suspected to be loose by silly sensors and chips). So independent shops could work on some brands much more easily than others, giving consumers a choice. And who has the quality reputation today, eh?

Perhaps the disruptive aspect will be when modular electronics can be repaired by one's self (if so inclined) with easily available modular parts from several competing manufacturers. (To continue the analogy, like going to your nearby auto parts store.) Or for the none-DIY majority, perhaps modules will be replaced by your friendly local Electronic Gizmo Repair Shop, where virtually all electronic doo-dads of a certain value can get modules swapped in and out. Cameras, of course, being just one of the array of valuable electronic doo-dad. (Then, of course, the franchise chain store folks will slowly drive the heroic friendly local electronic module swapping stores out of business, but therein lies another tale.)

Doug Dunlap said:

Hi Roger,

I very interesting article. Relative to your December 22 article, “A Little Bit of A7R Sanity”, you are apparently in the “useful tool” stage of your regard for the A7R. In that article you wrote, “ I may even (gasp) buy one for myself.” In this article you said you bought a Pentax K-3 for yourself. I was all set to buy an A7R myself and then the reports of slow autofocus started to trickle in. Is that what changed your mind also? I enough spent time in Amsterdam trying to focus on bicyclers whizzing past with an NEX 7 to convince me contrast autofocus was too slow.

Before the days of the internet, that comment about buying a A7R, may have slipped past, but nowadays everything is recorded and can be read back. Politicians don’t seem to have caught on to that, especially Canadian ones with names that rhyme with Ford.

But like you pointed out the A7R is modular enough so that maybe Sony can put in on chip phase detection and an electronic first curtain shutter, call it the Mark II and Canon will be dead before they have figured it out. Say, I thought Pentax was dead. Canon may have some tricks up their sleeves. Remember the Canon AE-1. At the time everyone had Vivitar 283 flashes which produced like several hundred volts across the contacts. The Canons were lower voltage units, like 5 volts, so everyone was blowing out their Canons. I’m sure Canon is thinking up ways right now to prevent autofocus from being fully implemented by third parties.

I still intend to rent an A7R from you with the 24-70 Zeiss lens when you have them. Zeiss doesn’t have the cache for me like it used to, but it should be a well matched pair.



LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Doug,

I bought a K3 before the A7r came out, but largely because I keep it in my kitchen with the 300 f/4 mounted: I live near a pond with woods right up to my back yard so I have a lot of opportunity to shoot wildlife. The A7r wouldn't fit that need, but I do like shooting adapted lenses on it as more of a general purpose camera. The resolution is spectacular.


Andrea Costa said:

Nice article. About your checklist, points 1 and 3 are ALREADY checked - you said "for most photographers", and they are good enough for everyone it is not a sport photographer. And in 2012, professional (as in "paid for") sport photography accounted for around 5% of the U.S. market - I don't think the rest of the world market is very different in this regard...
Last, regarding CaNikon not pushing very hard in the mirrorless field, THEY will be disrupted at the end - it is the CaNikon camera buyer that is still repeating that "smaller sensors are useless to real pros"...

Speed said:

How Instagram took over New York Fashion Week

Racked took a look into how Instagram has changed the culture at Fashion Week, speaking to the likes of Kenneth Cole and Paper Magazine Editorial Director Mickey Boardman to get a sense of the shift. What's clear is that fashion is only just beginning to figure out how to make good use of this technology. But they're getting better at it. In any case, you can expect more photos and an even bigger photo wall come Fall Fashion Week. And perhaps a better sense of what to wear next year.

Pretty disruptive.

inohuri said:

Judging by what is happening with CHDK and Magic Lantern and
Canon's absence of any response or assistance to them I think a breakthrough could come from outside the industry.
With 3D printing and a growing knowledge of how things work and
crowdfunding to purchase existing components a modular, programmable camera system could happen. Perhaps some insider
engineers will break away, do something sensible and stop holding back.

Tom Conte said:

Roger, it's "Macintosh" not "McIntosh," just FYI.

I enjoyed your article quite a lot.

Andy Templeton said:

I started a Photojournalism career 1n the early 1980s with a Canon A1 and a bag full of lenses. That camera now sits on a shelf above my home computer. Technology has and will keep changing. I have not seen a time where it has leap beyond the ability of the consumer or professional market to catch up with. I don't think we need to fear change. Changes will come but only the practical ones will last.

Branko Collin said:

In the late 1990s I was an editor for a computer magazine and I remember one day a story landing on my desk about IBM having invented the 1-inch hard drive. I remember thinking what a remarkable feat of engineering that was, but I also remember wondering what somebody would use such a small hard drive for. I assumed IBM had some sort of industrial use in mind. A couple of years later, everybody was walking around with iPods (which used a slightly larger drive).

The story of personal audio players (PAPs) is one of immense disruption. The invention of the record player about 100 years earlier was of a similar magnitude because it separated space and time. Before that, if you wanted to listen to your favourite artist you had to go to a specific place to hear that artist perform. With gramophones you could stay in and listen to the artist whenever you wanted.

The PAP took this a step further and liberated you from your own house. You could carry almost your entire music collection with you wherever you wanted.

Ironically the PAP and the miniature hard drive soon parted. Having helped ignite the personal audio revolution, the miniature hard drive was soon replaced by flash memory---admittedly the first digital PAP, the Diamond Rio, already used flash but at the time you couldn't store an entire record collection on it. Then people started using their phones to keep their record collections on *and* to take pictures with.

Randy said:

Fascinating comments. Having some experience, when I think of disruption, it's in people's lives. It's probably true that the D800 created a few jobs since people had to go out and buy new computers. But without even counting redundant camera brands, this amazing technology has delivered a significant net loss in employment. Film, paper, chemicals, processing, processing equipment, photo labs, a whole infrastructure. Not to mention camera stores.

The stock answer is time moves on and get with the program. People who say this have never walked into a Kodak facility at 2am, seen 250 people at work and returned the place a month later, deserted. But Kodak and Minolta were just the tip of the iceberg.

Zak McKracken said:

I'm quite sceptic about the modularity thing as well, since it would mean that the large camera makers would have to open themselves to competitors. I bet they'd pay good money to make it impossible to use 3rd party lenses on their bodies, as well, if they didn't think people wold hate them for it.

I was super-happy back then when Canon offered inkjet printers with individual colour cartridges and a fixed print head since I could just buy 3rd party ink and that made printing so much cheaper! Well, after Canon had become market leader because of this, they just closed the system up again. As long as any manufacturer thinks they'll get away with non-modular non-interoperable products, they will do so. It's cheaper, too, if you don't have to worry about keeping anything compatible to stuff outside your own company.

That said: Re-using modules within your own product range is always a benefit. Airbus has done it for aircraft, most car manufacturers are doing it for most cars (sharing engines, machanical parts, whole chassis across different cars), but it's still not possible to just swap the engine of your car for a 3rd party one ... if anything, it's become more difficult to adapt them.

So: Internally modular product ranges: certainly, especially under economic pressure. open modular platforms: Only from niche manufacturers, only at a premium (it's just more expensive to make) and only in slightly larger packages, thus with less mass appeal. Which really leaves it to professionals who are willing to spend loads of money on a system that requires modularity.

Peter said:

Missed one: Lightfield photography. It will allow us to edit photos more quickly, and to make lenses sharper by digitally correcting almost all aberrations. f/1.4 zooms will enter the realm of practicality.

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