Photokina 2018 — Thoughts and Musings

And we’re back…

After too long of a delay, PICTURE THIS has returned.

I spent a day at the Cologne Messe for Photokina 2018. It was not a very pleasant experience.

This was my third Photokina, the first being in 2012 and the second in 2016. Continuing a trend from 2016, the show was much diminished. The expo was condensed into halls one through five, fewer than even in 2016. The major players were all there and there large : Canon, Panasonic and Fuji in particular had enormous stands. There were people everywhere resulting in long waits for viewing new products and exhausted vendors. 

Expecting crowds, I targeted a few products to see: the Nikon Z (More on that in a different post), the Leica M10-P and its silent shutter, the new Panasonic full-frame cameras (under glass) and whatever Fuji was going to announce. I also visited a few other vendors who’s product I like and use regularly. I tried to thank someone at the Ilford booth for my free day pass, but no one seemed very interested in talking to a lone photographer. So, shouting into the void, thank you, Ilford! Hasselblad and DJI put up a united booth separated by a narrow  corridor. The modern, modular Hasselblad 500 concept that the company displayed in 2016 turned out to be just that, a concept. Even the Hasselblad rep was disappointed. I saw what I could and, after four hours, I had had enough. I called a friend from Cologne and we met for a drink.

In the middle of all of this photographic goodness, I found myself wondering, not for the first time, “Who is all of this gear for and what are they doing with it?”

The technology of photography has been through tumultuous changes over the past fifteen years. The rise of digital capture, low-light photography, APS-C, mirrorless, full frame, smartphones, HDR, easy-access aerial capture, cheap(er) medium format sensors, the analog revival and video, video, video. There has been a rush of very expensive wide-aperture lenses and high end camera bodies with blisteringly fast frame rates. The technical capabilities of even a consumer grade dSLR are light-years ahead all but the best film cameras. From a gear perspective, it’s a glorious time to be a photographer. 

Unfortunately, the economics of photography have also been through tumultuous changes. The rise of stock agencies and cheap dSLRs that were good enough for product shots on web sites kneecapped many, many commercial photographers. Photojournalism is alive but budgets have shrunk drastically from what they were in the 1980s and 90s. Couples on tight budgets often as a friend or two they know with dSLR to shoot the family shots and then crowd source the rest The Fine Art market is as fickle as ever. Fashion and high end Commercial still pay, but those worlds are as much about location and access as they are about talent. 

So, if you are not shooting professionally, are you using your Hasselblad X1D to take baby pictures? Do you need a full-frame sensor and a 70-200mm/f2.8 lens to catch your daughter’s basketball game? Do you need an m43 kit with a 100-400mm zoom for bird watching? Does everyone take their gear to work and shoot product photos? 

Clearly, the industry is out of balance. A large number of players are chasing the mid- and high-end markets for equipment while no one is making any money with their gear. A reckoning is due and it will be interesting to watch the drama unfold.

One thing is clear: Capturing still images isn’t going away nor is telling stories through still images. The still image is powerful in a way that video can’t replicate. Good equipment helps us tell our stories. Hopefully, we as an industry can find a way to support visual story tellers so that we can afford these wonderful new tools.

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