Camera of the Year - 2015

December 29, 2015  •  2 Comments

...and for the 3rd year in a row, the common SmartPhone.

Now before all the fanboys/fangirls get upset, I think this trend is a good thing. Take a look around you (anywhere) and you will spot 10 people taking pictures. Of those ten people I'm going to guess that only 10-20% of them a really photographers. I don't mean that in a snooty way. When I have time in the Fall/Winter the buddies and I get together and play football. If I visited a store and bought the full regalia of equipment I would still be a photographer dressed up like a professional athlete. The truth would be obvious to a trained eye though.

It's much the same way with a "Good" camera that a lot of non-photographers purchase because taking decent pictures of people, places and things are equally important to them. Until the SmartPhone came along what choice did the non-photographer have but to buy an expense compact or DSLR camera for upwards of $3K?

Make sense that these people would start purchasing iPhones in large numbers. A phone, Social Media Hub, Music Repository and everything else needed to manage the ever increasing busy lives of the modern age.

Also Apple Inc. has done something that camera companies still struggle with:

A) Define their target market

B) Give them products they want

It helps of course, if you are a multinational corporation with more money on hand than some countries and a cult following that will wait in the rain, sleet or snow to buy your latest product.

I often ask myself during camera reviews "who is this for"...sadly most of the time no good, or clear answer presents itself. Not so with an iPhone. Owners swear by it and will only be parted by theft or misfortune. I myself have a handful of Apple items in the house. There isn't a single camera company except for Sony who wouldn't trade places with Apple Inc.

Flickr Year in Review 2015 - Camera Brands

So full disclaimer, the chart above is presented by Flickr and I have zero idea of how they arrived at the data or even if it's accurate but I'm inclined to agree that the general trend information points in the right direction.

As a professor once told me "you are entitled to your own opinion but not your own facts". Here is a fact for companies cannot make a profit by selling to photographers alone. We don't buy enough new gear to pay for R&D, Marketing etc...We know that the camera is secondary to education, practice and discipline.

It makes me curious though that if the non-photographers are moving on to iPhone and Android devices, who exactly will pick up the slack for the "real" camera market...just a thought.

Anyway, in order of my interest...

DSLR: Nothing new at all. So-called new models from Canon, Nikon are just rehashed products from existing lineups and they haven't figured out how to give us what we want. Instead of putting in real work they continue to pump out body after body, lens after lens with no appreciable improvement in image quality. The crutch is the ever increasing claims of "expanded ISO" sensitivities and a resumption in megapixel count. 

Truth Time - DSLR's have no room for growth. It's a fully mature format that's been done to death. Companies like Canon keep selling them because they are the home court champs and people will continue cheering for them. Sensors will continue to evolve but there are few reasons to saddle them with the traditional DSLR baggage. There are zero reasons not to apply the technology to a new camera format.

Mirrorless: I had high hopes for real change and I'm not ready to give up on the format just yet but...I'm really puzzled. Why are we still subjected to these terrible MENU systems, why isn't 4K the standard, why hasn't battery life been improved, and why does every "new" model resemble the old ones so much?

I'll single out Olympus here...a new EM10 & E-M5 MKII that deliver exactly the same image quality as the flagship E-M1. The changes only amount to "fluff" to a  photographer but I appreciate the holding-pattern effort. I've tried out the new video, focus stacking etc features but they could have done much better over three years. Ditto for Fujifilm...I love the regular Firmware updates to improve functionality and introduce new features...but...more has to be done, and at a faster rate.

Truth Time - The mirrorless market is the future but at this rate I may be retired before they give us what we want. Some SmartPhones have 4K ability built in at a fraction of what the Flagship E-M1 costs at launch. Add a DJI Osmo to a 4K SmartPhone and you know what you get? (A DSLR/Mirrorless camera video killer that also takes pretty good pictures and even the newest user can figure out the menu system in a matter of days)

Medium Format: Bottom of the list...over-priced and difficult to use outside of controlled situations. At typical WEB viewing sizes who cares about the image quality differences. You have to make large prints to fully appreciate what a MF can deliver. Anyone printing on a regular basis?

I refrained from any camera upgrades over the past two years because I'm perfectly happy with the image quality I get from my existing kit. The so-called new cameras don't even begin to address the bigger items on my "Needs Improvement" list. Firmware updates are filling in the blanks but they can't solve hardware issues like the tripod mount right where the battery compartment lives or, the shutter shock at certain exposure speeds...while we are at it, if video isn't your thing (camera companies) at least give us clean HDMI outputs and better CODECS...we keep asking.

Were I to pick any single camera for "The Camera of the Year Award" it would be the Sony A7r MKII....grudgingly.

Shocked right?

I admire Sony for breaking the mold and trying something new. Something Canon and Nikon said wasn't possible..a Full-Frame sensor in a mirrorless camera body with image stabilization. Add to that, 4K video, clean HDMI output, fast enough auto-focus system etc, etc etc. I still wouldn't buy one because of several issues such as overheating, battery life and ergonomics. Despite the shortcomings, they have it going on and shaming everyone else in the process.


@Rob...right you are on a few of those.
Rob Campbell(non-registered)
Hey Leigh,

fun post, and I can't really disagree with you, even though I'd like to argue a couple of points. There is no question that the smartphone (and the iphone specifically) have turned everyone into a photographer of sorts. Everybody takes their instagrams of their lattes. The really advanced ones even invest in a monopod! (aka, selfie stick)

I'd love to see a camera company like Olympus or Fuji take an Apple-like approach to camera design. Strip everything to the bare minimum and come up with simplified menu systems. Leica tried that with the... Type-T? The new SL looks promising as well, though I haven't used either of them. It's a tough thing to take everything away and still satisfy the Pros like yourself.

I applaud Olympus for the Air A01. With the same sensor as the EM5 it's a neat system. I'd love to play around with one and try it out as an aerial sensor package.

Until we start accepting cameras that don't necessarily look like the things we're used to seeing, they won't change much. We're up against the wall as far as technological innovation. It feels like the only way to improve things is through better design.

oh, and the A7Rii seems like a fine camera, but it just highlights how little was done this year. The E-mount has a ton of huge glass available for it now, but if I'm buying that, why wouldn't I just stick with a Nikon or Canon and use equally large full-frame lenses with better ergonomics? Once you get past the raves about the sensor tech and the amazing low-light performance, you read about the lag, the lockups and the generally slow performance and it starts to look a lot less impressive. At least in my opinion.

happy new year!
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