Real Reasons Why The Camera Market Is Shrinking

It is a hot topic now, with the rumors circulating the closure of Olympus business, and the ambiguous Bloomberg reporting Olympus CEO "backtracking" his comments on the possibility of Olympus imaging unit being on sale (which has been DEBUNKED by the way, go here), I thought it would be a good opportunity to dive into the reasons why the overall camera market is declining. We can easily point the blame solely to the existence of smartphones, but that is not the only reason. I admit smartphone camera improving drastically over the years with the convenience of only carrying one device to do it all, there seems to be less reason to pick up a dedicated camera. I acknowledge that smartphones played a huge contributing factor to the shrinkage of the camera market overall, but in this article I want to explore several other valid reasons why less and less people are buying cameras. 

If you prefer to look at an Asian guy with small eyes (yes I received several of this comment, racist much people? I thought we are in 2019 and this is behind us. But nope....) with larger than average sized body talk on and on about this topic, I made this video for you. 


REASON 1 - CAMERA HAS HIT SUFFICIENCY

Let's face it, there is not much to do with camera development left. I am not saying we have the perfect camera now, there are still kinks to work out there and here, there is always room for improvement. However, take a deep look at any camera released in the past 5 years, they are certainly more than good enough to tackle any challenging photography task thrown at it and deliver satisfactory results. The consumers will keep on driving demand for bigger, better, larger products. More megapixels, more dynamic range, cleaner high ISO images, the demand is never-ending and the chase will not stop, and honestly has become meaningless. Those who do REAL photography has no issue using a 50 year old camera and still produce work of art. The cameras we have today are sufficient for our use, our greed is killing the camera market. 

I give you two examples. A successful local Malaysian wedding photographer, who has been in the wedding photography industry shooting for more than 10 years. Guess what camera is he using in 2019 to shoot wedding professionally? A Nikon D700. Yeap, that dinosaur D700, first generation full frame DSLR from Nikon. He is not using the latest D850, or the Z7, he is still making fantastic work of art with his old D700, being bruised and battered over the years, been in and out of Nikon service repairs. His clients were always happy with his delivery, and this same photographer was one of the first few who inspired me to pick up wedding photography. Be real guys, are you seriously going to deliver 61MP image files to your wedding client? Do you need ISO1,000,000 to shoot a wedding? Anything as high as ISO3200 or 6400 with the use of quality F1.4 or F1.8 optics, and creative flash boost can cover almost any scenario, delivering beautiful images that can be printed large still. 

Another example, a maternity, newborn and family portrait photographer, also a close friend who is based in Kuala Lumpur. If you have seen her images you will be blown away. She uses a Canon 5D Mark II now, actively for her shoots, and she is fully booked until next year. If these two highly successful professional photographers who regularly shoot in challenging situations with cameras that are 10 years old and still able to thrive in their business, why can't we be happy with any cameras that have come out newer than those two?

More megapixels do not make you a better photographer. Better dynamic range and cleaner high ISO images won't elevate your photography. At first when everyone started buying cameras, there were some inadequacies, as the digital camera development was progressing, but it has come to a level where the cameras are better than 99% of the photographers out there. Those who bought cameras a few years ago have less and less reasons to upgrade their cameras, hence the sales are declining drastically. 



REASON 2 - INTEREST IN PHOTOGRAPHY IS DYING

Collectively in the world, it is quite obvious that the interest in photography is slowing down drastically over the years. 

There was a time when cameras have become so accessible, entry level DSLR going for mere few hundred dollars, everyone jumped on the bandwagon quickly. A lot of people bought cameras not because they were interested in photography or wanted to get wet in the world of photography, they simply joined the cool club of owning a camera. Peer pressure is an effective tool to drive sales. There was a time almost EVERYONE has a camera. 

What happens when the bandwagon is full? There is only so much new camera users the brands can target. 

There are generally (simplified) two categories of camera users - group 1: photographers and group 2: camera users. 

In group 1, the photographers use the camera for photography purposes. They work their craft, they want to shoot, they want to pursue art and creativity. They aim to do story-telling with their photography, they shoot with passion and clear purpose. They have no issue with self-driving themselves to go out and shoot, and they will continue to shoot even when the world is ending. 

On the other hand, in group 2, the camera users are of a different breed of species altogether. These camera users bought cameras because photography seems like fun. The excitement in the beginning was real, everything was new, discovering a whole new world of photography was indeed thrilling.  However, there was never any genuine interest in photography, they shoot because everyone else is shooting. Fear of losing out is real. They have a camera dangling around their neck because that was what everyone else was doing.  Guess what happens when the excitement wears out, after half a year, after a year or two, when there was nothing left new to find out? if there is no inner desire to shoot, if photography is not a true passion, the interest in using the camera fades away very quickly. This is the hard truth - not everyone who has a camera is a photographer. 

A photographer stands the test of time - after all your friends have quit photography and left you, if you still hold on boldly, clinging into your passion, then you belong to group 1. Else, camera users in group 2 becomes the main reason why the camera sales are declining, because  they simply give up photography, they simply give up the camera. Is that not happening to the majority to camera users around you over the years?

REASON 3 - SOCIAL MEDIA CHANGED THE LANDSCAPE OF PHOTOGRAPHY

Social media has changed the content of photography over the years, and shifted how the crowd perceive photography, resulting in cameras being irrelevant in this modern digital age. 

Let's take a few steps back, in the older days, how does a photographer get noticed or recognized for his art and talent? You get published, you get exhibited. Find an art gallery, do a real physical photography exhibition with prints, and you are seen as a successful photographer. Now in this digital age, all photographers can exhibit, you don't need an art gallery, you don't need to work with a curator, or editors, you bypass all that, from your social media platform you can reach thousands, or possibly millions if you play your card right (I obviously played mine wrong, I failed to grow my Instagram, and even my YouTube and Facebook have sad number of followings). My point is, the way people see, value and interact with photography have changed drastically, and this was because of the dominance of social media in our lives. 

Here comes a big problem, social media promotes the culture of me, me, me and me. Photography has never been about the photographer (so literally), photography is about the photographer shooting the world around them. Hence the lens was pointed outward from the shooter not inward. Take a look at your Facebook friends, the Instagram accounts that you follow, any celebrities or "influencers", the content published online was ALL about themselves and the lives that they live. Is it not the food that they eat, the places they travel to, the parties they are at, the dress that they wear, the cat or dog cute poses or that amazing car that they just bought? Photography, which was a genuinely powerful tool of art and documentation has been vilified and reduced to mere selfie tools. Photography has become  selfish, self-centric adventure and is losing the core meaning of why the camera was invented in the first place. 

You don't need 61MP for your selfie photographs, you don't need ISO100,000 to shoot that slice of cake, and certainly you don't need a super-telephoto 600mm lens to shoot your Siamese cat licking her paws. The relevance of having a camera is eroding away so quickly, now that the purpose of photography has shifted so much. There is no longer a need for a camera to do the "modern photography" for social media. 

REASON 4 - PHOTOGRAPHY IS STAGNANT

Photography as an art has remained stagnant for a long time, and is not evolving. 

Take other art forms - any art forms - fashion, music, TV/Film, writing, each and every one has evolved and changed so much over time.   We don't wear the same cloths as our previous generation did in their 80s, we don't listen to the same music on radio as it was played in the 50s, movie and TV have changed so much, we can clearly see how much art has evolved over the years. However this cannot be said for photography. 

Look at the legends  Cartier-Bresson, Richard Avedon, Martin Parr and Ansel Adams, they redefined what photography was during their age. They reshaped the history of photography. They challenged the norm, they dared to push boundaries, they went the distance and provoked what was deemed right. They were visionaries and they successfully made photography truly meaningful. In stark contrast, today all we do are merely imitating what has been done before over and over again, a million times. What's new today? Look at the Instagram feed - sunrise, sunsets, long exposure photography, portraits of beautiful lady, more model shots, these are good photography yes, but they have been done to death and there is nothing new anymore. I don't see anything truly thought provoking and revolutionary from the work of today's photographers. 

Photography is an art form, but people do not see it that way, not today in 2019 in the digital age. Therefore, it was not a surprise that the camera sales are declining, because the appreciation for true photography is significantly dying. To be fair, this critique is also valid for myself, and I am writing this article as reminder to myself not to stay complacent with my craft and dare to challenge myself, take a risk or two, to elevate my photography. I hope you are taking this in a positive manner. 

So what can we all do collectively to fight the dying camera market?

Honestly, there really is nothing much we can do at this point. It is very difficult to predict the future of photography. 

For me, I will ask myself why I picked up the camera in the first place? Why did I fall in love with photography? Where did the passion come from? Remember the excitement of shooting something for the first time, and that excitement can be reignited. Go back to basics, find the core of photography, and continue to push further and shoot more. After all, there is no photography without the active use of cameras. 

We can do our part, to improve ourselves, be better photographers, be true to ourselves, then we can be the inspiration for others to follow. I am sure together, we can bring the joy and true meaning of photography back to this world. 

Shutter therapy lives on. 


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32 comments:

  1. Very interesting analysis. It's a different approach, most of what we read is "smartphone is killing" the cameras. I agree in general with your views. Many thanks for sharing!

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    1. Thanks Heraldo for the show of support! Appreciate it.

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    2. Great article, Robin. We had family portraits done in a studio recently by a photographer in Toronto, Canada (she shoots celebrities like Gordon Ramsay, Megan Merckel, etc.). She too uses a 5D Mark II. I asked her what she would buy if her 5D Mark II broke. She said "another used 5D Mark II". People who do this professionally realize that cameras are a means to facilitate their art and there is no sense paying more for something that doesn't benefit them.

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  2. We live in rapidly changing times. Things that are normal and steady don't last long - for example, comments on your blog has dried up and heaps of comments on your Youtube videos - I look at myself and yes, I do read blogs and like them but the past few years I am on Youtube more too.....

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    1. I never really had that many comments for my normal articles. The ones with massive flood of comments were always gear reviews.

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  3. “For Imaging, however, we currently have no plans to sell the business. The task is therefore to stabilize and strengthen its market position. To achieve that, we are actively running marketing activities, and have already established a clear and exciting product roadmap for the coming months and years. We are actively pursuing future technology developments that will enhance photography and video for creators. Furthermore, Imaging is and will continue to be an important technology and innovation driver for our other businesses.

    “Our Imaging business features a unique product portfolio. Olympus products are compact and lightweight, feature market leading image stabilization and autofocus. Many of our high-end products are also splash-proof. No other product offers customers this level of optical excellence paired with the highest mobility.

    ...“Just last month we launched our new OM-D E-M5 Mark III – a light yet feature packed addition to our semi-pro camera portfolio, inheriting pro-features like a high precision AF from our OM-D E-M1 Mark II model. Furthermore, we have announced the development of M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25x IS PRO earlier this year to be launched by next year. Customers can follow our break-free campaign on various channels and worldwide...” from Olympus Response!

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  4. To add to your point regarding the impact of social media, I read this morning about the trend to Instagram tours - tours in destination cities where the guide takes 'pro' pictures for the tourists to post to their Instagram sites. The 'pro' attribute apparently is getting the correct lighting, angles and helping the tourist take on model personas. Not really heavy lifting for kit, except possibly for connectivity. As you say, its all about getting the best view of 'me'on 'my' experience. From an operator: "Take an Instagram tour to recreate for yourself those perfect Instagram travel photos you always see in the most popular posts."

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    1. I don't blame the tour provider, it was an opportunity and they latched on that to make more money. Riding on the current me me me me trend. It is quite sad that photography has been reduced to this for the vast majority of people.

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    2. I don't blame the operator either. I applaud their entrepreneurship. They see a market opportunity and are seizing it. The point I was attempting to make is, this fulfillment of the "me, me, me, it's all about me' demand is a growth opportunity for imaging, but not necessarily growth for dedicated cameras. Phones work perfectly well for this new 'professional market' (getting paid for one's images). In fact, maybe better given the immediate and near-ubiquitous connectivity. Gear forums can bemoan this trend to phones and grieve the loss of the importance of pixel level quality - and the cash flow from everyday-consumers that subsidized the cost of 'real cameras' for 'real photographers' - but it won't change the fact that imaging markets are changing. Like you I find it sad and disappointing that this new market exists and is growing. That is, it saddens me that many, and apparently a growing number of travelers are not traveling to capture the story of the people and times of their places of travel. They miss the point it's the story telling, regardless of its amateurism, that makes their trip, and therefore themselves, interesting. They have forgotten or have never heard the adage 'to be interesting, you first need to be interested'. In this case certianly in something other than yourself. BTW, this is why I'm a fan of your Shutter Therapy. It's always very interesting to me, especially the street portraits. I think they capture your deep interest in the person in front of your camera.

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  5. Really enjoyed reading your analys. Keep doing your excellent work!

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  6. Hi Robin, another small eyed guy here! If racism is eradicated, so unfortunately is free speech. I try and tolerate such comments and eventually if they ignore me, they are tolerating me too.

    Enough politics though: I think one of the reasons the camera market is dying is because it really isn't. If you look back to the peak in camera sales many consumers were buying camera's particularly DSLR's because they became affordable and there was a real belief that a cheap, big, pro-looking camera with auto features was going to instantly give them great photos. This was of course false and over the years I've met many people who, when talking to me about my camera, mention they have a DSLR at home they never use.

    I believe there are millions of people that bought a pro (looking?) affordable camera thinking they would get magazine cover photos from it and when they didn't, they put them in a closet and the surge just died. It would have died without the phone. Most of the people I had the discussion with said their phones take just as good of pictures as their big cameras. To me that means lousy light, lousy pictures regardless of what they are shooting with.

    These people created a market that everyone looks back on but the truth is they never were a market, just a bubble. If someone told them up front they need to learn how to take a picture and that the camera wouldn't do it for them, they probably never would have bought one. But of course camera sales people will always tell a potential customer what great pictures their cameras take... another problem with free speech!

    Kev

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    1. I like that you look at the camera boom as a bubble. Now that it has burst, sales drops drastically.

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  7. I enjoy your thoughts on this. I don’t disagree with any of it although I think there is more nuance of course, and I’m sure you would agree that with billions of people, the reasons are an amalgamation of millions of individual decisions many of which are influenced by the present time and place and culture of the Internet. It’s interesting to consider that the first cameras were seen by artists as excellent tools to help them gain access to places they were painting for their clientele which were often historical in nature and difficult to access, let alone live in for weeks or months in order to paint a large canvas or create a relief for artistic objects. If anything, the camera has been a tool to help us stay connected to our pasts, individually, as families, as nations, as tribes, etc.,. And as you note the current phase where we are so overly immersed in the present and fearful of the future makes recording and storing ‘past’ moments less the point of photography. I would argue that photography hasn’t diminished so much as the pervasiveness of cameras (phones) and imagery (social media) has created a huge diminishing of importance of any single image and consequently, the value of any portfolio or image series is simply a commodity with very little overall value apart from it’s pervasiveness to the point it is assumed that any photo of any particular moment is merely one micro-cosmic minuscule frame within a vast panoply of a thousand frames per second world so that the very best image and the very worst image of that moment all put side by side in a long line would make the value of even the best one not worth much more than the average of the lot - a few pennies worth.

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    1. The value of photographs has decreased, thanks to social media and how the modern generation consumes images posted online all the time. The problem is having too many photographs shared easily unfiltered, by everyone, this changed the way we see photographs and the meaning of photography itself.

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    2. It's not a problem, it's the fact. Similarly, one can say that the quality of the language has decreased because of "too many [posts] shared easily unfiltered, by everyone".

      Maybe it's just like an evolution: the strongest will survive... ;)

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  8. Thank you for your insight into this Robin. I belong in group one as I still enjoy photography after many years. After the OM-1 mk11 I don't need another camera as I find it has everything I need so I won't be buying a camera for awhile either. Not until this one breaks down anyway.

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    1. Let's continue to shoot and enjoy photography!

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  9. My OM-D E-M5, original from...2012...is still so delightful to use...
    Today much is said about “user experience”, and the E-M5 delivers that.
    The camera category has matured, now we are sold excess and status. And many folks are not buying.

    Don’t let the trolls bother you, Robin. Your positive and light-hearted approach makes your blog unique in an ocean of photo blogs! Bravo!

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  10. Hello Robin, strong statements. I really liked this and you spoke out of my heart. Thanks! "Shutter therapy" (even though I never called it like that) is a very important part of compensating for the everyday hassle for me. And of course street photography involves communication with the people that are being photographed. Maybe not alaways but often enough. Please, keep on doing this great work!

    Michael

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  11. Thank you for your thoughts, Robin. All good points and I'm sure there are more for the ebb and flow of consumer products and tech. Yet while my latest Oly camera has over 250 options (wild guess), we can still think of more, as some of your earlier posts suggested.

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  12. I think when we went from viewing and sharing photographs as prints to viewing and sharing them on 1 or 2 Mpx screens that marked the end of any need for dedicated cameras for most people. Plus the camera makers response- higher prices, more weight, really ridiculous complexity, seems exactly wrong and is probably hastening their decline.

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  13. I totally disagree that "interest in photography is slowing down drastically". Photography is booming. People take more pictures than ever, and we put more time into viewing them. Photography (and increasingly video) define our culture, perhaps to a disturbing degree. Everyone from teenagers to small business owners put a great deal of time into improving their composition, lighting, and storytelling.

    I also disagree with "photography is stagnant." There has never been a time of more rapid change in photography. Compositions have changed dramatically. Vertical has overtaken horizontal. Photos and videos are shared instantly. We put ourselves in our landscapes. Computational photography is allowing handheld milkyway photos. Our cameras literally fly, and 3D, 360 photography is emerging.

    Traditional camera companies didn't keep up with the change. Corporations and complicated, expensive gadgets never defined photography, they constrained photography. Now, photography is free to be more art than science. Long live photography.

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    1. Thanks Tony for thee comment, appreciate it much.
      What I was referring to was not so much on the technical side or camera advancement, but the story-telling/creative aspect of photography as an art medium. Yes everyone is taking photos and more videos but that does not mean these people have any interest in the craft of photography to begin with. After all, a photograph of a cup of coffee is barely art.

      I agree with you that camera companies need to innovate, I acknowledge that and that is a topic (to be discussed) on its own.

      Hand-held milky way photos, 360 degree photos, VR/3D all these are just different techniques/methods to capture imagery. My discussion revolves around the "what" aspect in photograph, not so much of "how". Can you really say that we have outdone our forefathers in terms of photography that truly define an era? I cannot think of that many examples. We have all these new tools, our imaging technology is more advanced that ever, but the art of photography has become stagnant, we are not progressing, we don't see anything truly revolutionary.

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  14. Thank you for your views Robin.
    I totally agree with you.
    Perhaps, the emphasis placed on the urgency of our modern times, makes us forget the reflection necessary to take a picture. Thought gets along with the idea of death, and then it is necessary to sell and buy more often than is necessary. And the consumption is of the thing, not of what the thing produces. I agree with your reasons. Nice day

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  15. Hi Robin! What can I say...  Standing ovation! Relevant subject but much deeper perspective than all I saw around the web in these days... The only thing that I don't agree with you is when you say, So what can we all do collectively to fight the dying camera market? ... We (I mean me, personally, and my company www.phloc.io) believe that photography is an experience, is more about yourself connecting with a moment, with a place... the technology is just the mean to get there... of course we focus to the "  Group # 1 that you mention, but in our perspective is people that enjoy photography and not necessarily because they make money off it.

    I think like all bubbles the DSLR bubble, really made a lot of money and also got closer many people in to the hobby of photography as never, of course, everything changes and factors that you mention are very smart and relevant, for me the right question is about, what is going to happen with the "Hobby" of photography after the bubble burst and, and what we can do about it :)

    I wanted to thank you again, great post!

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  16. I don't agree with the assumption that photography as an art form is stagnant. The problem, I think, is that there is so much photography being done that it has become very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Good work is just not getting enough chances to be seen. But honestly, to a degree good work has always had a struggle.

    Still, sites like lensculture.com and lenscratch.com are doing a terrific job of showing work that is indeed pushing photography. But those two combined are just a drop compared to Instagram and Flickr.

    I agree with your other analysis' though, thanks for that.

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  17. I agree with the reasons Robin suggests in the video. I've felt for a long time that photography has been changed by social media. So many of the images produced are copies of images, they see something on social media and they have to replicate it (which has always been done to some degree in photography), but with social media this has become far more extreme. There are a lot of people that have a great eye for composition, posting images that get lots of likes and do well on social media - but since they are shooting on GREEN MODE, subjects are often under exposed and backgrounds blown out. This has actually become acceptable on IG/Flickr/FB/etc to large numbers of photographers.

    Often on Flickr I will see photographers with massive likes/views and they post the stats graph in their feed - They seem to think they are amazing photographers because of these stats. They fail to realize the stats are because they are posting images of beautiful young females. Their exposures/lighting/etc are all average, nothing innovative or requiring much photographic skill. The model is the draw, not the work of the photographer.

    Social media is a tool for the blind to lead the blind. Anyone can repair a Canon AE1 Squeak now with YouTube, a Screwdriver and a can of WD-40. It does "fix" the squeak, but the oil migrates and ruins the camera.

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  18. The same has been said about music.

    It used to be that buying a musical instrument was a costly experience. Then prices went down as the industry found ways to mass-manufacture them. Nowadays there are really affordable guitars that sound better than the expensive models famous artists made their gold-selling records with in the 1960's, 70's and 80's.

    Then digital sound brought music-making (some people would merely call it DJ'ing) within the reach of everyone with a computer. Nowadays making mashups of popular songs or looping short samples is within the reach of anyone with a mobile phone. While it's nowhere near as common as taking selfies, it's nonetheless just as affordable and the content that is produced is just about as unimaginative as the pictures most people produce nowadays.

    The same could be said about movie-making.

    Any recent DSLR or mirrorless camera can produce image of a better quality than most classic movies ever had. However, the content most people shooting videos is seldom original (let alone ground-breaking) from an artistic perspective.

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  19. Remember, rent the camera, but the lens. I would love a 300 f 2.8 to add to my collection for indoor sport, but at that price, I can simply use my 70-200 and crop. If they lowered the price significantly, I would need an additional camera to mount it to.

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  20. Robin sorry I’m a little late to this discussion but I completely agree with you. Lately I’ve been making A3+ inkjet prints from my collection. What I’m finding out is that whether I’m printing scans of transparencies shot with my 1955 Rolliecord or my 1971 Nikon F Photomic my 1972 Mamiya RB67 my 4x5 Linhof or my 1999 EOS 1n, or digital images from my 6 megapixel Canon 10D, or my 13 megapixel 5D(1), my 22 mp 5D3, my 32 mp 5D4, or my 24 mp 80D. They all print really well (except when I’ve made mistakes in the taking). Especially RAW images from the digital cameras. I have a collection of Canon L and Sigma Art lenses and these are as good as I need. I don’t want faster than f1.4 and I don’t want to print larger than A3+.

    RAW is the key to getting good results from older digital cameras, especially with modern editing software assuming they are supported.

    What I’m seriously thinking of doing is firing up my 1948 Kodak Brownie Model E again. It was my 10th birthday present 71 years ago. I’m sure that with care and using a tripod plus selecting good lighting I’ll be able to print the 6 X 9 cm negatives just as large.

    Incidentally we recently traveled from Singapore up the East Coast of Malaysia and into Thailand then back down the West Coast to Singapore over 3 weeks. ( my 6th visit ) I saw lots of people with smartphones taking selfies but very few DSLRs

    Why would I want to spend money on new cameras when I can spend it on travel ( I was professional for 55 years)

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