I love the world of photography. It's so diverse and so wide that you can't ever master the whole mixture. You can only stake out your aesthetic territory and dive in. I make my living making photographs for use in advertising and public relations. I specialize in taking portraits and, if I had to define my specialization even further I would characterize my best work as being portraits on locations.
I would define my personal work as a mix of black and white portraits taken in the studio and bits and pieces of modern life shot in coffee shops, on the city streets and while at work in my real job as a photographer. My biggest prediction for me, in 2012, is that I'll shoot lots of photographs with an ever changing array of interesting cameras and lenses. Second prediction? That I'll spend more time writing books than ever before. My one big resolution for the year is to get my long languishing novel out the door. Of course it's all about photography.....
But my purpose today is to stand on my soap box and make general and specific predictions about what I think will happen to the markets, clients, and photography business this year. And to also predict what will happen to our tools. Those little gems. The cameras and their best friends, the lenses. This is all for fun so don't take it too seriously. But this is how the "whole picture" seems to me:
1. We'll see a general recovery in the U.S. economy. We always do in election years. It's a historic metric. The interesting thing is that in the year following presidential elections when the Democrats win the White House the stock market always climbs. When the Republicans win the stock market recedes. I'm staying away from politics here for the time being but regardless of your party affiliation remember to make some hay in 2012 while the sun shines.
2. Following point one I think the market for commercial photography will improve somewhat for two reasons: a. A rising tide lifts all boats. As the economy recovers there will be a release of pent up corporate and retail demand for fresh images and a total marketing refresh. I think this will translate into more assignment work. b. More people will be re-employed or more fully employed at traditional job functions which means they'll have less time and fewer opportunities and inclination to dip their toes into the freelance market. Fewer players means less downward pressure on the remaining participants.
3. Both of the above points will have the effect of putting more income into the hands of the huge installed base of people who love photography as an art and a hobby and they'll drive a recovery of the camera, lens and experience (workshop, location experience, seminar) markets. More demand means more new products.
4. 2012 will be the year the overwhelming number of cameras in every category (including even pro cameras) leave the optical prism finder behind and replace it with fast acting, super high resolution electronic viewfinders. Traditional photographers will riot and rend their clothing in rage and frustration. The rest of us will realize that progress is progress. Unstoppable and relentless. And, hey, it's really nice to see a fully configured preview, with information overlays, right there in the finder. This will drop the prices on entry level and mid level cameras since the corollary to the move to EVF's is the logical elimination of the moving mirror. And the moving mirror with its mass and mechanical complexity is the nexus of most mechanical problems and mis-focusing problems in DSLR's. Eliminate the moving mirror to gain robustness and minimize the number of parts required to make a camera.
Nikon, with their V1 camera, has shown that technology has eliminated the one issue of mirrorless cameras; their slower autofocus process. They've put contrast detection (accuracy) and phase detection (speed) in one camera and done it well. These capabilities will doubtless trickle up and down the product lines. The combination of AF capabilities will also go a long way toward eliminating the need to have micro-focus adjustments in cameras...
(here's what Trey Ratliff says, http://www.stuckincustoms.com/2012/01/04/dslrs-are-a-dying-breed-3rd-gen-cameras-are-the-future )
Get ready. We're going EVF. If you really hate it all that much (and that presumes you've looked at the latest finders, not some superzoom compact from 2004) you might want to stock up on some of your favorite bodies in the hopes of riding out the new wave. The rest of us? We'll manage.
5. This will be the year that convinces us that sensor size doesn't really matter as much as we thought. With the noise performance of the Nikon V1
trumping the last generation of m4:3rds cameras, even though its sensor is less than half the size, and with the rave reviews for the even smaller sensor in the Fuji X-10, I think we've come to the point in the road where most people are going to be satisfied, from an image quality point of view, with just about any sensor size above the standard compact camera sized sensor, like the ones in the Canon g12, and the Panasonic LX-5.
6. As more and more people embrace the cellphone as their primary imaging tool the public perception of what defines quality and professional metrics will keep falling faster than lead balls in a vacuum. A tandem trend is the need to continually increase the compression of web graphics to make them manageable on mobile devices of all kinds. This will define the new schism between "professional" results and "amateur" results. More and more documentary images (and videos) will be taken with iPhones and other smart phones. The images needed for print advertising, display prints and other uses will come from traditional cameras. BUT, after a few years of being inundated by small sensor, handheld and heavily processd images, the images derived from full frame captures will seem to us like the very best of the digital medium format captures seem to us now. This means that smaller sensor cameras will become our "workaday" cameras while FF digital cameras become the new "high end" standard and medium format becomes an even more highly specialized and expensive niche market.
7. 2012 will see the acceleration of software designed to emulate the look of previous cameras, both large sensor digital cameras and the four by five inch and medium format cameras from the film era. Better and better selective focus filters and selection processing will give us the "bokeh" most people seem to crave, and use as an excuse for not wanting to use smaller format cameras. By the end of this year it will be possible to shoot a portrait with a small sensor camera at f11 and, with the touch of a button, have the background rendered as soft as a baby's butt, without the telltale edge garbage of current selection processes. And the effects will be so well feathered that only a handful will be able to see the slight-of-hand of the process. This will make iPhone users even happier.
8. The current year will become known as the amazing year of prime lenses! The m4:3rds market got off to a rough start when the only option for lenses was a handful of tame, mid-focal length zooms with apertures that started at 3.5 and quickly rushed to 5.6. Couple a smaller sensor, increased depth of field and increased high ISO noise with a crippled optic and it's hard to make the whole package an easy sell. Then one lens turned around the whole space. Panasonic launched the brilliant 20mm 1.7 pancake lens for the format and sales started soaring. The best implementation of this lens is on the Pen EP-3. The camera provides really good image stabilization while the lens gives back high sharpness at an aperture almost guaranteed to ameliorate the need to go to nose bleed ISO's to capture everyday images. And, did I mention the high sharpness wide open?
It didn't take the manufacturers long to learn the lesson and now, Alpha-Blogger, Michael Johnston, has named the recently launched 45mm f1.8 Olympus Pen
lens as his "lens of the year." It's fast. It's sharp. It's cute and cuddly. And it works on more than one camera system. If Olympus have fatally shot themselves in their own foot the lens will work just as well on the Panasonic m4:3 camera offerings. (See points 5 and 6 above. These cameras may be all you need). Hurray for open systems. This time....
The 45mm was followed by an amazing 12mm (24mm equivalent) and, in the Panasonic camp, a Leica branded 25mm f1.4 that's gotten the kinds of lens reviews usually offered only for the most elite and expensive of optics. In fact, the one review I recently read was extremely boring. It basically said: "Sharp and perfect across the frame, wide open and stopped down. No weaknesses that we could see."
How popular is the use of prime lenses on the mirrorless cameras (including Sony's, Olympus and Panasonic)???? Leica is currently in an extreme backorder situation with nearly all of their "M" optics, and since M9 camera sales haven't followed the same curve it only stands to reason that those lenses are ending up on something. That something seems to be inexpensive mirrorless cameras. Great sensors coupled with exhilarating optics in small packages. Isn't that what the great documentary photographers always wanted?
9. This will be the year that we, as professionals, and the rest of humanity, as well as our markets, redefine what it means to be a professional camera. The days of the glandularly engorged D3's and the obese Canon 1D series cameras is likely at an end. The things that made them sought after are losing their relevance to most consumers and shooters. Fast frame rates? Get a Nikon V1. Low noise at high ISO's? That might still be the provence of the full frame sensors. The ability to carry them around? Gone with the softening of our culture. The ability to pay for those premium cameras with the diminished earning power of most professionals means less of a logical connection to offering them. We used to offer premium services to clients in exchange for high rates. If the rates are cut in half does it still make sense to provide the premium tools? Especially if their greatest levels of performance are only called for in a tiny fraction of the total number of jobs we undertake? It's a tough sell. I got it when architectural photographers charged day rates of $2500 but brought along view cameras and tens of thousands of dollars of lighting equipment. Not to mention the expertise to concept the shots and use the gear. But when most people will pay a couple hundred dollars to shoot a house and will be happy with anything that's adequately lit and reasonably sharp is there any logic in making enormous and non-recoupable investments in premium gear?
No. The market is shifting and the tools will shift along with the ability to generate profit and the resetting of taste and discrimination. If I can do a great job shooting a portrait with a m4:3rds camera and I can make the background go all gooey with a software program, and then quickly retouch said portrait with Portrait Professional, or similar software product, why should I spend $20,000 on a medium format camera? There's a price ceiling in every market for commercial headshots. My having a big investment in a camera won't change that reality.
10. This will be the year that we re-invent the portrait. We've spent the last ten years trying every type of lighting and light design and every type of location you can possibly think of. Now we're going to re-invent it to add value in a different way and make people demand the new product. I don't know how we're going to do it but I can feel it in my bones that the old looks and old methods are going to be chased out the door by the new. It might be a mix of video and still work. It might be something 3D. I don't know and I may not even be able to make the jump but someone will and it will breath life back into the market for consumer portraits. Remember, we thought we'd done it all when Aaron Jones invented the Hosemaster and made lightpainting a giga-trend for a while. Now Trey Ratcliff is riding the trend of HDR. But there's a next and it's coming to the portrait space.
Now for the easy stuff: Product releases.
Nikon will release some really boring consumer DSLR cameras that will tick all the boxes and have great specs. They will also have hit with the replacement model for the D700. But the real news will be the fleshing out of their Series One product. Look for the release of three killer, prime optics. I'm guessing a 6.5 or 7mm wide angle with an f2 aperture. Of course there will be a 35mm or 50mm equivalent, normal optic with an f1.4 aperture and also a 38mm (105mm equivalent) telephoto portrait lens. I'm guessing this one will also be under f2 and razor sharp wide open. Also look for adapters to fit into the proprietary shoe to give you ooodles of flash control with Nikon's current SB flashes. Finally, they'll have a new pro body that gives you the much desired (by some but not necessarily me) PSAM dial and a few other "critical" external buttons.
Most users who started their careers with big digital cameras will turn their noses up at the Series One but their careers will be decimated by a whole new generations coming up behind them who see the value proposition and the lower barriers to entry and use systems like the Series One and the m4:3rds to compete at a lower cost. They'll make whatever shortcomings we perceive with these cameras into stylistic selling points.
As Nikon's bigger cameras and lenses become less relevant to a growing part of the market look for prices on big glass and big cameras to continue to rise.
Canon will see the writing on the wall and come at the mirrorless market in two directions. First they'll pump up their G family and add cameras in the $600+ market that are akin to the Fuji X10. Bigger and quieter sensors, more in cameras processing and an ability to go toe to toe, in good light, with everyone's entry level APS-C cameras and m4:3rds cameras. The pro market will tentatively buy the new pro camera (the 1DX) but huge numbers will wait to see what replaces the 5Dmk2. If that replacement implements the AF technology of the 7D and keeps the full frame with a modest increase in pixel count and an improved control implementation for video the remaining pros will keep it on backorder for years. And it will come to define the Canon Pro market for the 95% who aren't shooting Luge at the Olympics and NFL football games from the sidelines.
But, here's my huge prediction for Canon. They will introduce a mirrorless APS-C camera, styled like a rangefinder, that has it's own line of lenses and is compatible with EF-S lenses as well. It will be sexy, riff off the Leica and Contax rangefinders of the 1950's and some of the optics will be luxe. It won't necessarily be cheap but it will exude hipster coolness and become the thing that the Fuji X100 should have been. Gorgeous, but with interchangeable lenses. The lines at the stores will look like an iPad introduction.
Olympus. They were so close. And then the scandal. Will they recover? My money says that the Japanese government won't let them go down the toilet. They have a great brand name, a raft of new products and a profitable medical imaging business to help support them. And they have finally hit their stride with the Pen products. Sadly, the conventional 4:3rds cameras are soon to be toast. If you love the e5 I'll say you should stock up. Squirrel away the lenses you want and warehouse some bodies because my spider sense tells me that the financial dramatics are essential cover for the abandonment of a whole product line. Rationale? We couldn't survive without a laser like focus on our most profitable line....something had to go. Either that or...."
With the older line off their shoulders (and ledger) Olympus will continue their agressive march into the mirrorless space. Next up? A pro-version of their EP3 with a new chip from Panasonic. I'd love to see the well reviewed G3 sensor in the body. And I hope it hits by the Summer. I've got plans. Look also for them to flesh out the lens offerings with an 8mm wide angle and a fast 60 or 65mm portrait type lens. And count on the next implementation of their top camera to have a built in EVF.
Panasonic. Hot on the heels of their success with the new sensor look for them to keep fleshing out their Leica badged lens line, to the delight of both Panasonic and Olympus fans. A 90mm Apo Summicron equivalent (45mm f2) with fast focusing would go a long way to professionalizing the line. But a few fast and longer optics wouldn't hurt either. Both Panasonic and Olympus could snag more and more shooters into using the m4;3rds as their primary cameras (instead of their fun "hobby" cameras) if they round out the mix a bit. I'd love to see a 70-200 f2.8 zoom equivalent and also a 180mm f2 equivalent (90mm f2). The new sensors have breathed new life into the GH2 and the G3 and, as the sensor rolls into the rest of their product line they become a very competitive alterative to everyone else's APS-C lines.
Sony. I'm amazed at Sony. So much good technology and so much really bad marketing. They need to get a rational lens line figured out and put into place and they need to figure out who the Nex cameras are being made for. Great sensors with oversized lenses and undersized camera bodies. Huh?
The top end of their offerings needs a big time refresh. The 900 and the 850 need to be mirrorless and video able. The Zeiss line needs to be fully implemented and available. And they have to put them into the hands of world class shooters, not the second string. And then they need to market the hell out of the art potential of their product line.
Lighting. The shift will happen this year. The days of the tungsten light, in photography, video and cinema are nearly gone. In three years the "hot light" fixtures will be museum pieces. So will the consumer market for big, powerful studio flashes. Continuous light will move inexorable and unstoppably to LEDs. As the CRI (color rendering index) of the bulbs improves with each generation, and the introduction of tri-color fixtures accelerates, LEDs will become the absolute standard for lights that have to be on all the time. And, for most people doing portraits and products, the LEDs will be even more popular. Why? Because what you see is what you get. A set of LEDs and the LCD on the back of your camera and you've got an interactive lighting class at your fingertips. Self propelled.
My prediction is that you'll see more and more LED panels in more sizes and outputs than we ever imagined. Most of them will be able to run off highly efficient lithium batteries and a/c, your choice. That means well be able to use them in cars, in bar, to light stars and just about anything else that doesn't require enough raw power to overpower direct sun. I used three panels recently to light books for a catalog and I was able to do my shoot in a fraction of the time because of the WYSIWYG nature of the lighting.
Florescent fixtures will start to drop off at the same rate film dropped off after 2001. The reason? Too fragile, too unwieldy and too hard to use with a myriad of modifiers. Also, who wants to try and travel with a bunch of fragile glass tubes filled with traces of mercury? Not me.
In the flash space we'll see more and more "cross-overs" like the Elinchrom Rangers and the Quantum Q lights. Big enough to do a reasonable job for portraits and general studio work but small and efficient enough to go out on location get good results. But the real market for professional and wannabe professionals will be more products like the Alien Bees and their companion Vagabond Lithium battery pack. Small, light but capable monolights coupled with lightweight and efficient but powerful lithium batteries that mean you can do studio work anywhere. No wall plugs necessary.
While I like LEDs we still need flash for it's very high CRI ratings in color critical shoots and for action stopping. But mostly we need bigger flashes because they provide enough pop to do really big outdoor effects, even in sunlight. I have Elincrom Ranger RX lights and Profoto lights but going forward the much lower cost of the Alien Bees+Lithium batteries is alluring. We'll see a continual move away from high cost and lux feature sets to low cost and utilitarian. Bye-bye big boys.
On camera flash? Yawn. I think we've hit a good spot with lots of flexibility and control. Anything beyond this for right now is window dressing.
Finally, the actual art and business of photography.
We've spent, as a culture, so much time looking at screens and creating for isolated viewing protocols that there's bound to be a backlash. I think people want to make prints because they are at least an echo of the hand made tradition of the darkroom and the fine print. We like things we can hold in our hands and we like things that provide a uniform and objective experience. I think we're going to see more gallery shows and more impromptu sharing of prints for the next few years as a counterpoint to the endless squinting at tiny cellphone screens. And I think prints will become more manageable as a result.
When a show is a "once in a lifetime" retrospective there's an almost unstoppable momentum to print as large as a file will allow. But when you show a lot things have to become more manageable. Frame sizes will have to be affordable. Viewing distances taken into consideration. And albums constructed on a human scale. We'll have a renaissance of print viewing but we'll also share "theater style."
There's something social that gets lost when you share your work out to the world on a screen. Any artist will tell you that much of the fun is seeing the reaction of guests at a gallery opening, chatting and sharing with peers and fans. Drinking too much wine and eating to much finger food. A show creates a vibe and the way to understand the vibe is.....to be there. Sending a link just isn't the same thing as walking through a crowded room full of men with beards and funky glasses and women in tight black outfits with seductive snarls on their lips.
But the middle way would be to do a show like theater. Here's my idea for a group show and I'm sure it's already happening all over the place. Select a gallery or a space. Create a theater environment with lots of black drape and a giant, state of the art television monitor. Can we say 60 inches or larger? Something very high res. Get 10 slides from each participant and do a slide show. Invite everyone you know and everyone everyone else knows and the room rotates through the show through the night. Just outside the "theater" is an area for discussion and socializing. On the wall is an enlarged index of images from each participant. Art buyers and gallery goers choose the image they want and choose a size available from the artist. They order, leave a deposit, and the artist delivers the print. Either directly or to the gallery. Even if no sales the show works. It works because it keeps everyone in the social mix.
I expect that the enthusiasm over having all images manipulated in software and HDR will abate just as soft focus and psychedelic effects did in the 1960's. Or monumental black and white landscapes did in the 1980's. Or studio fashion in the 1990's. Or hand colored prints in the 1950's. Or bromoil prints in the 1920's. The first decade of the new century will probably be forever remembered as "that time when everyone destroyed their images with post processing." Just as real estate markets reflect sinusoidal waves of over building and underbuilding I think we're about to undergo our "market correction" and go back to a style where content drives the perceived value of images. It will be interesting to see if the same people who are so good at applying glitter to their images really have anything cogent to add to an adult conversation.
I also predict that people's appetites for blogs will inevitably decline. At some point we all come to the realization that none of us know for sure about anything important. It's all just conjecture and personal prejudice. We'll probably become so enamored of actually creating work with messages and context and point of view that we run out of time and energy to hear someone else's opinion about the inevitable downfall of civilization as we know it and we'll double click on the little application icon, shut down our computer or whatever you use to cruise the web and we'll head out the door for a good, long walk with out cameras in our hands and a determined smile on our faces. And we'll face the new year knowing that we don't know. And that's okay. As long as there's still coffee.
Thanks. Happy New Year.
Here is an old blog post of my end of year predictions going into 2010. Check out #5.....