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Mistakes Made and Lessons (Not) Learned by the Photographic Industry

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The big names in the photographic industry have made some mistakes. Some have been addressed, while others are rearing their ugly heads. It’s time they cleaned up their acts and served photographers and not their investors.

Remember when we thought that 2016 was one of the worst years ever? Little did we know what was around the corner!

The Camera Money Grab

That year, I won a contract that required me to use a full frame camera. So, I bought a Sony a7 Mark II. I was soon disappointed with it. Apart from the expensive lenses, there was the requirement to purchase apps to give functionality to the camera. Those functions were regular features of cameras I already owned.

To me, this was the worst money-grabbing exercise I had seen in the photography world, an attempt by Sony to copy their in-game purchase and gaming microtransaction strategies for the PlayStation. Their monopoly of the PlayStation Store and the 30% commission they charge is something that Sony is currently being sued for under competition law to the tune of £5 Billion. That’s because, here in the UK, there are claims that allege it “ripped people off.” That was precisely how I felt after spending a lot on the camera and then having to pay more for basic functionality.

Don’t get me wrong. Apart from that issue, I thought the a7 II was a good camera. But at $1,700, eight years ago ( equal to $2,004 in today’s money), one would expect it to have standard features like time-lapse and multiple exposures to be included as standard, as they were with much less expensive cameras from other brands.

They have since changed their strategy and no longer charge for the apps.

Lightroom’s Big Issues

Lightroom has a spot-removal tool for ridding your images of sensor dust. It did work okay if you tried to use a single spot removal on a plain surface, like the sky or a wall, although it would often automatically select the wrong sample area. If you tried to brush the selection, the place it sampled would always be somewhere totally inappropriate. The clone tool was even worse.

Adobe has finally upgraded that appalling feature. It is still far from perfect. Still making some strange selections, albeit less frequently, it forces you to go into Photoshop to repair the image; the tool is excellent there.

That isn’t Lightroom’s only problem.

The big-brand cameras had, and some still have, anti-aliasing (AA) filters on them to reduce moiré. That is the interference caused by the overlaying of two patterns. If you don’t know what it is, pick up a fine sieve from your kitchen and look sideways through the overlapping meshes. You will see a moiré pattern of wiggly lines. The regularity of the photo sites on a sensor can produce the same effect when photographing a regular pattern.

AA filters fix that. But they have the undesirable effect of softening the image. That can be addressed artificially by sharpening the image. Lightroom’s default sharpening was always set far too high for the cameras I used. I remember tutorials in digital photography magazines a year ago, suggesting that the sharpening amount value should be set to 100. That always left nasty artifacts on my pictures.

That was because the cameras I owned around that time had a much weaker AA filter. Since then, they have had none. That results in much sharper images. Consequently, Lightroom’s default sharpening was miles too high, as its defaults were set to the more common brands that produced softer images.

Adobe has since reduced the default value to 40. But as more cameras are finally catching up and not building an AA filter into their camera, that still needs to be lowered. I must apply a preset on import to remove the sharpening, which slows the import process down.

As Lightroom detects the camera and lens that are used and automatically applies lens profiles, you would think it could do the same with sharpening. Or maybe it’s time for Adobe to set the default to zero and let photographers decide how much sharpening they do or don’t want to apply.

Adobe’s noise reduction is within the same Detail panel as Lightroom’s sharpening. The algorithm is just horrible. Given the outstanding results from ON1 NoNoise and Topaz DeNoise, one wonders why Lightroom and ACR are still years behind the rest of the industry. It’s a shame because Lightroom can otherwise give superb results. It’s okay for minor adjustments, but if you wind the ISO up high, it isn’t up to scratch. Photographs are left looking soft and muddy.

Quality Control Is Not Good Enough

Canon has been plagued with multiple product failures and subsequent product recalls. Mirrors fell out of the Canon 5D, and insufficient lubrication on the drive mechanism caused increased wear on the EOS 1D C. The EOS-1D and 1Ds Mark III flagship DSLRs had oil lubricant leaking out of the mirror box. The EOS-1D Mark III was recalled because of adjustment problems with the mirror for autofocus. Skin rashes were caused by the rubber grip on the EOS Rebel T4i (650D in Europe) and the Powershot SX50, and there was excessive focus hunting on some EOS R5 Cs. The EOS 70D recall was because it produced error codes 70 and 80 for reasons unknown. Then there was the light leaking from the LCD panel on the 5D Mark III, and finally, the whole EOS R5 overheating debacle.

When I’ve pointed out shortcomings before, Canon users get riled and start to spit venom at me for pointing them out. Instead, when they should be aiming their ire at Canon for letting them down.  

Do a Google search for the most well-known brands; you will find some recalls appearing for their cameras. In 2020, Nikon recalled the 2004 F6 in Europe because of the use of the toxic substance Dibutyl phthalate, now banned under EU law. Sony recalled the Cyber-Shot DSC-T5 because the case could warp and scratch your hands.

When you buy a camera, especially a high-end camera that costs you a couple of limbs and it’s something you rely on to do your work, you expect it to function correctly. Manufacturers should thoroughly test the gear before releasing it to the unsuspecting public. That is something they still don’t get right.

Let us hope that manufacturers consign poor quality control to the annals of history.

The Curse of the Entry-Level Camera and Where Manufacturers Still Must Change Direction

One of the biggest mistakes many parents make is buying their children the cheapest art materials. In the discount store, they see giant tins full of different pencils, crayons, and paints. What a great deal! Regrettably, they are rubbish. How can young people start to create good art when low-quality materials limit their talents? No matter their potential, they cannot succeed to the best of their abilities with these poor tools. Often, they conclude it is them that is not good enough and become disenchanted.

I get to hold and use cameras of every level as part of my work. Occasionally, a new client will turn up with the cheapest DSLR they could buy. The build quality is rubbish, the viewfinder is small and doesn’t have a diopter adjustment, and the functionality is limited. Consequently, they outgrow it too quickly and must buy another. That’s what the manufacturer hopes for; they’ll make more money that way. I have also met people who lost interest in photography because their cameras were inadequate and uninspiring.

Producing poor-quality entry-level cameras is a marketing approach used by some manufacturers to hook clients onto their brand because they know they will want, probably very soon, to upgrade and will probably stay with the same manufacturer. The manufacturers that do this do not serve their customers, but their shareholders. I would argue that manufacturers should be producing beginner cameras that are a delight to use.

Some retailers don’t help because they bundle these cameras with dreadful cheap filters and tripods.

If you are considering buying a new camera for the first time, don’t fall into that trap. Spend a little more and find a camera that will last you years with plenty of features you can learn over time. Avoid bundles, as you will be buying rubbish you don’t need.

Things are changing for the better. As awareness of the environmental impact of consumerism is growing and available cash is shrinking, smaller manufacturers like Fujifilm and OM Digital Solutions are concentrating on making better-quality, longer-lasting gear with more functionality. Competition from fast-growing rivals like ON1 is making Adobe sit up and take notice too. As usual, small, innovative companies are pushing the boundaries and changing the industry. Let’s hope a combination of market pressure and a return to meeting customers’ needs instead of just pursuing profit changes the industry for the better.

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