I think the writing is on the wall. The future is mirrorless. And that means optical viewfinders will go away.

The thing I like about beautiful women and photography is that beauty is camera neutral.
The image doesn't care what system we use. And in most cases neither does the sitter.

I've been reading rumors all over the web this week that point to Sony rolling out SLR style Alpha cameras next year with a few improvements over the current cameras, like the a58 and the a99. The biggest improvement and the most controversial one boils down to one thing. The mirror; translucent, pellicle, actual, virtual, etc., is going to go away. The maker of the world's highest quality imaging sensors for consumer cameras is going to go "all in" and pull the plug on the sliver of glass that is the "R" in SLR, or, single lens reflex.  And I'm predicting that when Sony pulls the plug on last century technology consumers will push Canon and Nikon, grudgingly, into the future.

You can scream and yell and leave all kinds of pseudo-scientific arguments about why you think I am wrong but I'd just tell you to follow the money. Samsung, Sony and Panasonic have been rolling out sensors that have phase detection auto focus elements embedded in the sensors along side the plain vanilla imaging picture elements (pixels). They're on generation three of the technology and the next rev, the one that will take Sony fully mirrorless is already being tested.

While Olympus took a hit from their existing customer base with the (non) announcement that they would be abandoning the whole reflex viewing system to go EVF and LCD they really didn't have much of a choice. They could see the writing on the wall and didn't have the bandwidth to juggle and market old tech while focusing on putting a bunch of consumer friendly new tech into the pipeline.

Sony may not have made the transition any less painful by ripping the bandaid off a feature at a time. Die hard DSLR fans were livid when Sony more or less let everyone know that the optical finder was being retired. And retired for good. When the a99 camera hit the market I think even the thickest headed optical die hard realized that his choice at this point boiled down to loving the industry's best EVF or tossing the whole mess and scampering off to some other marque. 

They'll be doubly pissed off when Canon and Nikon inevitably follow suit. The next step for Sony (and it's just engineering logic...) will be to remove the vestigial mirror altogether and move to a completely electronic transmission throughout the camera system. The only reason the "translucent" mirror is still required is to provide auto focus performance that equals the mirrored cameras from their competitors.

If (and I know it's a big leap of faith....) Sony is able to engineer a chip that really does allow their cameras to focus as fast as the competitors but doesn't require a secondary optical system to function then what would be the real beef from consumers. If the performance is the same would the objections be based strictly on philosophical grounds? Is there an implicit moral superiority that falls to the idea of the mirrored camera?

Of course not. It's a matter of tradition. Of convention. The comfort of the well known solution. If the sensors function transparently (in comparison to more conventional systems) then Sony will have made their cameras less expensive to build and they will have eliminated two more infrastructural systems; the mirror with it's alignment requirements and the secondary autofocus sensor in the mirror box.

Does this mean that all Sony DSLT lenses and DSLR lenses and Minolta lenses will be rendered obsolete? Of course not. There's no reason that Sony has to change the lens mount to sensor distance and no compelling reason to get ride of the lens mount. But there's no reason to think that they couldn't shorten the lens mount to sensor distance to the same depth as the Nex cameras while utilizing the shorter distance as they did with the VG-900  video camera which give it all the capability of using both the Nex and (with an adapter) the Alpha lenses with full compatibility.

Sony isn't doing this because they believe in some sort of design religion nor is there a manifest destiny that champions mirrorless. They are doing it because now is the moment in the world of technology when they can more cost effectively mimic the focusing system we've worked with for better than fifty year but by eliminating the mechanical parts and the expensive glass prisms they can offer a very similar user experience at a profound cost savings.

And while everyone over fifty may clench their teeth and curse progress most people who came to photography through digital will find the newer systems more recognizable and ultimately more usable for taking better images. Information is power. And the EVF provides the feedback loop and real time information to make better images.

Remember the first time you used a digital camera with a decent LCD on the back? It changed the way you shoot whether you want to admit it or not. It allowed you to instantly review your shot... which gave you the option of modifying your settings and trying again and again until you knew you got what you wanted in your photo session. And I doubt anyone would willingly give up the screen and go back to a camera that didn't have one even if it was still fully digital otherwise.

Well, to my mind the mirrorless cameras offer the same type of evolutionary forward jump in picture taking. You can ready the camera, the exposure, the color balance and even image styles and see them as they WILL be recorded before you push the shutter button. And once you experience shooting that way you will be as loathe to give up the new power of information just as you would not conceive of giving up the current screens.

It's all about the convergence of costs savings and technology. And that's a curve we've been working with since the dawn of digital.

If you are shooting Canon or Nikon right now I'm sure you think this whole line of reasoning is full of crap. But are any of you willing to bet real money on what the outcome will ultimately be five years from now?

Losing your marbles.

Set design for Harvey

just for fun.

"One day, as if by magic, a young boy in a very poor village, found a small, perfectly round object only half an inch across that seemed to glow with the most beautiful blue light. He carefully put the round object in his pocket and went home to show his parents. The parents were delighted because, living in a village made of beige mud they'd never seen anything so beautiful. 'If you can find more of these we could sell them and become rich.' Said the boy's father. So the boy decided to go out into the world and find out the secret of the small, perfectly round, beautiful orbs. He put the one he'd found into his pocket, packed a few sandwiches and headed off to search the world for more.

He searched far and wide and eventually heard of a famous inventor who lived in a house on a tall hill, surrounded by great trees, and though it took him days and days of walking he finally came to the house. To his amazement the garden of the house was filled with the splendid orbs. And not only blue ones but also red ones and yellow ones and clear one. And some with a wild mix of colors that seemed to shift if one held an orb between their fingers and twirled it around.

The boy knocked on the door and in a few minutes the door creaked open to reveal a very tall man with a very short beard and a pair of enormous black eyeglasses. He looked down at the boy and asked, 'What is it you want?'

And the boy answered, 'I come from a mud village far away and I found this.' He reached into his pocket and pulled out the orb and then he said, 'It is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I heard stories which told me the orbs come from here.' The the boy put the orb back into his pocket, summoned up all his courage and asked the man, 'Will you teach me how to make such beautiful objects? I want to make them and share them with the people in my village. We spend an awful lot of our time contemplating....beige mud."

The old man decided to accept the boy as his apprentice and to train him in the art of the orbs. Over the course of several years the boy learned to gather pure sand. He learned the workings of a forge and he learned how materials could be added to a hot, molten mix to create colors and patterns within the orbs. When he had finally mastered every step of the process he came to the old man and said, 'Thank you. You've taught me how to make beauty.'

'And why do you think they are so beautiful, these round orbs?' And the boy answered, 'Because it takes such skill to make them and they are each so rare. Each one is like a precious bit of gold because each one is different and unlike all the others.'  

Then the old man asked him, 'What if they were easy to make? What if there were not so rare? Would you still feel the same?' But the boy couldn't even begin to understand what the old man was asking because he was still wrapped in the joy of his own mastery. 'They will always be beautiful and people will always want them because they will always be rare and unique. People will marvel at them as I did. They take so much time and skill to make."

So the boy took his carefully written notes and his collection of orbs which he'd made himself and travled back to his beige village. When he arrived at home his parents were overjoyed to see him. And when he opened up a small leather bag and carefully spilled out this collection of orbs they were overwhelmed. They asked him all kinds of questions and he told them about his apprenticeship.

A few days later the boy opened a business. He would make the beautiful orbs and sell them to his fellow villagers. People brought him valuable goods to trade and he and his family became rich. And in every home in the village people had one or two or even three small orbs which they would look at to relieve the sameness of their visual universe. 

And then one day two young men who had learned many things from many places came to the village and saw the "orbs."  They sought out the boy and asked him how he made the orbs but the boy wouldn't say. Eventually they offered him lots of lots of money for the secret of making orbs and eventually he decided to sell them his notes and his knowledge. The men married this new knowledge with things they had learned in many places. In a short amount of time they had figured out how to make the process much quicker and how to produce many more orbs in a day than the young man had produced in months. As they learned more and more they were able to make small machines and kits of colors so that everyone could easily make the orbs.

Soon everyone in the village had the same kind of small machine and the sand required to make the orbs was free for the asking a short walk away at a beach. People stopped working at their jobs to make orbs. Mothers ignored their hungry children in order to make orbs. The making of beautiful orbs became so addictive that soon everyone in the village was spending all their waking hours making orbs. They remembered that the boy who first made orbs had become rich by making them and the villagers were certain that they too could become rich.

After a time there were so many orbs just lying around on the floors of the houses and the streets of the village that walking became dangerous. People began to slip and slide and fall because of the orbs. A few weeks later the streets became filled with the orbs and were unnavigable. All other commerce ceased. The orbs then started to fill  up the farmlands and that created additional woes. 

Most of the people who'd bought the orb machines were frustrated. Here they were making beautiful orbs, just as beautiful as the orbs that the boy who discovered them had made and yet no one else in the village was buying the orbs. A man came into town who taught the villagers something called "workshops." He could, he said, teach them how to make different orbs that would appeal to buyers. Many people took the workshop and began to make bigger and smaller orbs. And opaque orbs. And orbs that looked like a cat's eye. But as soon as they learned how to make the different sizes and colors and shapes so did everyone else. Afterall, they'd taken the same workshop.

Months later there were so many orbs that small children could not see over the top of them and they covered every flat area of the village. Now the orbs were everywhere. And in everything. And the price of the orbs had dropped to zero.  Some people in the village could make better orbs or orbs with brighter colors and they thought perhaps these clearly superior orbs would bring some price in the market but people were so weary of seeing so many examples of orbs at every waking hour that the new and more beautiful orbs were lost in the infinite selection of orbs. 

Finally, the town council convened and they decided that the orbs had become a risk to health and commerce. But even more, the ubiquity of the orbs caused them to become an eyesore. They crowded out all other expression. So a company was hired to come in with shovels and carts and load up the orbs and drive them away to another location and dump them. And the village breathed a unified sigh of relief. 

It was then that the old man who'd given the boy the secret of creating orbs came into town to see how his apprentice had fared. He met with the boy and they went out for a walk. The boy told him the story of the endless supply of orbs. 'Interesting.' said the old man. 'So the village finally lost its marbles?!' And the young boy looked up at him and asked, "What are marbles?" And the old man smiled and said, "They are what beautiful orbs turn into after they have been mass produced."

'I'm sad." said the boy. 'Why?' asked the old man.

'Because for a time the orbs seemed so beautiful and it took such talent to make them. People would pay well for a nicely made orb, and then they became so ordinary and so common that they lost almost all of their value. I wish there were something new I could do that would always take skill and vision and would always have value..."

The old man looked at him for a few minutes and cleared his throat. "Do you know about photography?" He asked.