1. 2016 is the year Sony throws its weight around and makes life even more miserable for Canon and Nikon at the higher end of the product mix. Everywhere I look people are just coming unglued about the A7R2. (By "people" I mean working photographers and working videographers who cross over the borders into still imaging too...). The nature of the warfare is sneaky and simple on the part of Sony. Build a really, really good camera that outperforms its competitors when it comes to image quality. Get some of the marketing magic that comes with the buzzy-ness of being "mirrorless." Show people how easy it is to use manual focus, and other people's branded AF lenses, on this kind of body. Show the pros what they've been missing by not having focus peaking and instant magnification for manual focusing. Help people discover how much better and faster work can be with an EVF.
Here's how the creeping contagion will inevitably work: A guy who is a dedicated Nikon shooter will get a couple of older, Nikon manual focus lenses on a whim. Perhaps a 50mm f1.2 and a 135mm f2.0, because, you know, he's a portrait shooter. He'll try to focus the lenses on his Nikon D810 and Nikon D750 and find that you either have to go to live view, or make significant sacrifices to the manual focus gods, to even have a chance of accurately focusing them. Then the photographer starts reading about that 42 megapixel sensor in the A7R2 and the ease of working with live focus peaking in the big, bright EVF and he will think, "Oh, I'll just buy that one Sony body and a lens adapter and just use it when I need to focus with the manual lenses." But that process will be more fun than he ever imagined. He'll start using the camera more often. Over time the Nikon bodies will be relegated to just shooting fast breaking action out on sports fields, etc. The one place where the autofocus difference makes a difference.
Then he'll decide to get a back up body, you know, just in case. After that he'll start reading the DXO info for the Zeiss lenses that autofocus on the E cameras and he'll compare them to the Canon or Nikon lenses he's been using. He might see some real differences. And after a while he'll start to buy lenses in the Sony system as his first priority. Eventually he'll tire of owning two systems and he'll make their choice. That's when he'll start bitching about battery life.... But there are workarounds for everything.
By the end of the year (2016) the swell of pros, and advanced amateurs, making the switch from their traditional DSLRs to the newer Sony cameras, will hit critical mass. The sale of Sony bodies, and third party lens adapters for Canon and Nikon, will be one bright spot in the cratering camera market.
The professionals left out of the above scenario (by their own choice) will continue to buy what they were always going to buy until the whole cohort ages out of the picture entirely. Once Sony matches AF performance with the two leaders for fast action the days of the DSLR will effectively be over. By that point I'd be incredulous if Nikon and Canon didn't have competitive products that provide the same stuff: A great EVF coupled with focus peaking and great dynamic range.
2. Can the medium format field narrow down any more? I had an interesting e-mail recently from a photo department head at a huge and very prestigious museum. They were a power user of MF cameras for documenting art. They are buying up D810s as fast as they can. That's the hot camera that was in the pipeline when they did the comparison between the Nikon product and what they were currently using (MF). He stated that the D810 (and now, by extension, the Sony A7R2) matched what they had been getting from their current MF systems. Once the power users go the rest of the market will follow. And coincidentally, the power users have always constituted the safety net for medium format camera makers; the segment that actually needed their products...
Phase One may or may not be the last one standing. It'll be a toss up between Phase One and Pentax. Doesn't really matter much since they both end up using the same sensors. At least in the camera models that are actually selling to paying customers.... All in all it will mean fewer choices for photographers at the high end.
What about Leica's MF? They'll end up using the 42 megapixel Sony chip in an SL variant and announce the demise of the MF versions because the SL, 35mm variant will have "achieved technical parity." The choice will end up being Sony, Phase One, Nikon or Leica. Sony and Leica have a better shot at filling the market because the shorter film to lens flange distance means more different lenses fit and work, across more lens brands. Canon will rejoin the competition as soon as their sensors achieve overall parity with the rest of the market as far as read noise and dynamic range go.
Only about 1200 hundred people worldwide will even notice that more MF makers have left the party.
3. Lighting manufacturers will start dropping like flies. Big flashes and big anything for big flashes will go away except for the highest end companies who will continue to supply big, power users. So, Broncolor and Profoto stay but Photogenic, Norman, Genesis, Photek, Speedotron, Comet, Bowens and all the rest exit the big flash market and the ones who survive spend their time and capital going after the portable, battery powered location markets. The bulk of working photographers have moved out of studios and into the real world. With hammered budgets there is no longer the stomach or the cash to hire the ancillary people to haul and set up the big lights. And as sensors and lenses get better and better the bigger units become much less desirable.
Don't get me wrong, people still need to design lighting and bring good lighting to most commercial jobs but they just don't need the sheer quantity of photons they used to in the days of slow film and large cameras.
When we sold off our 2,000 watt Profoto electronic flash units I thought there would be times we'd miss them. Those times have yet to materialize and it's been six or seven years since they left. By the same token, I have several complete sets of lower powered mono-lights sitting around the studio but those are generally only fired up for group portraits or to keep the capacitors formed. Location work is left to smaller, battery powered flashes which are much less expensive but mostly equally capable.
The one exception continues to be our powerful 1100 watt Elinchrom power pack and two heads. The unit runs on (heavy) batteries but is a job life saver when shooting in the sun with big modifiers like soft boxes. We run the D810 at ISO 64 in order to shoot at lower apertures and keep within the 1/250th of a second flash sync; sometimes I'll even add a neutral density filter, but it takes a lot of lumens to match sunlight. And to do it 200 or 300 times in a row. We'll keep that one around but with the better and better color balance, along with falling prices, of the new SMD LED lights I'm starting to think we can do just fine without any of the mono lights. The world of imaging has changed. Bigger isn't really better for most stuff.
4. Photographers by and large will start redefining what they need in a camera by assessing how and what they shoot instead of emulating the styles that continued on from the last century, like shallow depth of field and super high resolution. It may actually be apparent to a lot of hobbyist moving from iPhones to a real, stand alone camera that the depth of field on an m4:3 camera is much shallower to the same angle of view than what they've grown up with on their phones and that it's a sweet spot for them.
5. Canon will come roaring back in the second half of the year. Why? Because they finally got their new sensor fab online and they'll start pumping out a brand new generation of sensors that have both PD AF on the chip as well as the dynamic range their current sensors lack. A killer sensor in the 50mp range, with class leading DR would bounce the ball back into their court. I also think they will learn their lessons from the current mirrorless EOS cameras and their miserable still/video hybrid, the XC-10 and they'll start buying great screens to use in "must have" EVF configurations. It's only a matter of time before they get it right and launch a full frame, EVF endowed, mirrorless camera with a great sensor and a dedicated M to EOS adapter that brings with it all the good focusing and exposure camera integration needed. Overall, Canon will still be part of a declining market but they'll effectively grab more market share from everyone else. Nikon better get moving.
6. Speaking of Nikon... I like the stuff they are making right now. Specifically, the D810, the D750 and the D7200 but a little part of me (celebrating a good year in the business of actually taking photographs; as opposed to selling gear..) would love to see Nikon come out really strong with a 4K enabled D5 camera that is elegantly designed as one of the optimum "crossover" cameras. It would have a full sized HDMI connector along with the usual microphone and headphone jacks. It would provide a useful codec for both the 4K and 1080p files. It would have really killer focus peaking. It would have zebras and out-of-gamut warnings. And the finder would have lines that appear describing the 16:9 crop in the regular finder as well as on the back screen. There would also be an output on the camera that connects to a Nikon EVF finder that could sit in the hot shoe of the camera. If you'd rather have a flat screen, the adapter would work with that as well. But the EVF would be portable and run off power from the camera. I'd be looking for a 20 megapixel sensor and, best case scenario, the sensor would come with some of those darling PD AF elements to enhance live view focusing.
7. Along with the new D5 it would be really cool if they could introduce one video lens; something like a 28-120 f2.8 that had a servo focus control on it. That, and a manual f-stop ring. Just for the hell of it.
8. Olympus will upgrade to the 20 megapixel sensor the Panasonic is using in the GX8 but the real news will be a rash of new, faster primes. I expect to see a 60mm f1.4, a 28mm f1.2 and a 14mm f1.2. All sharp wide open. I would also love to see (and hope to see) at fast (f2.0) zoom that goes from 14-60mm. I don't care if it weighs a ton as long as it's state-of-the-art. I would also like to see a new battery grip that, instead of using one additional, regular BLS battery, uses a big ass battery that takes up the whole of the grip. Something with enough oomph! to power three or four thousand actuations. They had one for the E-1 Four Thirds camera and I thought it was a great addition. Some people need pixie cameras and they can use the EM-5.2 naked. Some people would rather have the power to shoot all week. Let's give them the option.
9. Video. Folks, this is not going to go away. You can insist that you'll never shoot a second of video but the numbers on Facebook, YouTube, Vimeo and most other sites show that video sharing is growing at a very rapid pace. A quick survey of working photographers would also show you that many are providing (at their clients requests) some sort of video content currently and fully intend to increase their video offerings to their clients. I feel kind of silly buying a camera these days that doesn't support at least good video and hopefully, really good 4K video. This is one of the main reasons I keep skirting the Fuji APS-C cameras, the video is just not there. It's also the reason it kills me to buy cameras without headphone jacks ---- Panasonic! Hello, first no headphone jack on the 4K capable fz 1000 and now no headphone jack on the GX-8??? Are you guys serious?
10. The commercial market for photographic and video services. Now that most of the workforce is headed back to work at full time jobs the market for photographic services seems to have stabilized and is, in fact, recovering nicely. I expect that more and more clients will want to take advantage of their websites by rotating topical and contemporary video and images through on a regular basis and will need a constant supply of fresh work. Gone are the days of the static website that contained mostly the same content, month after month, year after year. People go to lots of websites for entertainment now and expect to see new work, new information and newer styles on every visit. This should keep a new generation of photographers quite busy. And if the new photographers have any sense at all we should see rising prices. The market for their work is strengthening. The number of people actively pursuing a full time living in the field is dropping and that should mean that it's our turn to take advantage of the supply and demand curve.
11. The future of photography blogs. Readership of my blog continues to rise and fall depending on how many equipment reviews I write versus how much I write about the process or the art or business of photography. If my income depended on this blog I would need to write two or three blog entries a day and focus just on the most popular cameras and lenses to have even a fighting chance of making money here. Since that's not (thank God) my motivation for writing this I give myself a pass and will continue to write whatever I feel like. But.... I think the days of plentiful, and frequently refreshed, blogging are coming to an end. All bloggers are linked to affiliate sites like Amazon and B&H. We are mostly showcasing the same new equipment and the affiliate fees are spread out over more and more channels. The smarter bloggers like Thom Hogan and Michael Johnston are diversified. I would bet that Thom derives most of the benefit from his highly focused blogs as an advertising vehicle for his ever deepening collection of e-books that tell photographers how to squeeze the very best value and performance out of their gear. I'm impressed that Michael Johnston has helped people put their money where their reading glasses are by focusing on things like collaborative print sales with Peter Turnley and others as well as launching a portfolio review service.
But for every blogger like Michael (whose content is generally superb and aimed at a literate and engaged audience) and Thom (whose technical expertise and writing skills are obviously great) there are tens of thousands of equipment review sites who mostly just parrot each other and all do a funky crowdsourcing mash up of camera talk. Most of these sites depend on volume of camera and lens sales that have been cut in half (literally) over the past two years. DPReview will emerge as the leader and, as such will get the lion's share of the click throughs and affiliate cash. More so as the audiences for the written and video reviews continues to shrink. The rest will have to go and re-invent themselves as something else, or.....actually learn how to take decent photographs and try to make a living actually doing what they've tried to write about.
But all this is just by way of saying that Photography is no longer a self standing and hugely relevant undertaking for as many people as it was. The cultural sea currents are shifting away from the enthusiasm and devotion to the art that found us almost deifying anyone with a bit more knowledge that we ourselves possessed. David Hobby is no longer a buzz name in the field. Chase Jarvis is no longer sitting on top of the pedestal of industry workers, and Trey Ratliff's work has been absorbed, diluted and degraded by a Borg collective that is losing its interest in the whole ball of wax anyway.
In 2016 we'll see a greater division than ever before. Millions will make descriptive narratives of their daily lives while a much smaller percent will continue to true and find true meaning in their work as exemplified by the workers and the work of a previous century. Photography has become ultimately ubiquitous. There is still a market for great content. And good content. But our industry is becoming more and more like every other industry. The people inside will know the names of the people who are sought after by real, industry clients but they will be largely unknown to everyone outside the industry. Just as you know your own medical doctor's name none of the doctors you might know are really well know by rank and file people, living life in the center of the Bell Curve. They are working in a field and their relevance is totally dependent on the value they add to individual people's lives. People working in the photo industry will matter to the people who create ads and websites but will have no real relevance to the hobbyist who pursues his hobby.
2016 is the year when most workshops aimed at entertaining hobbyists and wannabe's dries up. There will still be great workshops left but they will be aimed at serious workers and they will teach more serious stuff. The truth is that most of what is taught in workshops right now could be learned better, quicker and more objectively by bundling together a series of worthwhile web sources. In many ways it would alleviate the misplaced reliance on one person's style and methodology.
Final prediction from me for 2016: Photography will keep on being amazingly fun and satisfying long after the bulk of casual hobbyists, attracted by the fizzy exuberance of rapidly evolving photo technology, move on to the next thing. Looks like the next big trend will be video gaming, as a sport and profession. I can hardly wait to see the workshops.
Disagree with something I wrote here? Try sharing your point of view in the comments.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. The New Year will be full of surprises. I hope most of them will be happy.