Lies From Camera Companies

In Master Photography Roundtable by Jeff Harmon5 Comments

Based on Tony and Chelsea Northrup’s discussion on their Picture This podcast, Jeff and Brent talk about lies that camera companies tell photographers.

In this episode I want to talk about the lies camera companies tell photographers.  I have to say right up front I stole the idea from Tony and Chelsea Northrup and their Picture This podcast.  I love Tony and Chelsea and the way they approach producing their content.  Really resonates with me. They came up with a list of 5 lies that camera companies tell photographers that we will go through and I have a couple I want to add to the list.

5 Lies From Camera Companies by the Northrups

Let’s run through the 5 that Tony and Chelsea came up with and then we’ll see if we have any we want to add to the list Brent.  

  1. Silent mode.  Canon very specifically marketed a silent mode feature with the release of the 5DM2 and Tony demonstrated how silent mode is far from silent.
  2. Megapixels.  Every camera release there is huge marketing about how many megapixels the camera has.  The megapixels of the sensor is one factor, but that is not the only factor. The lens has to be able to resolve those megapixels.  Kit lenses that come with the cameras usually can’t come close to resolving the megapixels. Then they went into some of the technical detail about the bayer patterns mean the resolution of all colors are not the same.
  3. 4K.  What a mess with 4K.  Many of the camera manufacturers are cropping the sensor to provide their 4K and in some cases there were such heat issues it couldn’t actually be used for more than a few seconds.
  4. Frames Per Second.  So many times the advertised fps rate is a best case scenario that isn’t actually useful.  Like it works that fast so long as you don’t use autofocus. Nikon Z6/7 advertises 12fps, really does 2.5.  Canon EOS R advertises 8fps, really 2.5.
  5. World’s Fastest Autofocus.  Seems like every camera claims this as they release cameras.  Get everyone all excited to try it out and most often ends in huge disappointment.

Other Lies We Would Add to the List

Fuji X-Trans Sensor

May not qualify all the way up to the other “lies” in the list here.  May be oversalling it a little here not sure how I really feel about this myself but the X-Trans sensor from Fuji might be one of those technologies that was originally marketed as being a differentiator that hasn’t ended up being such a big deal.  

We talked about how photo sites on most sensors are placed in a bayer pattern with the red, green, blue and there are impacts to detail and other downsides to bayer like moire.  Fuji made a big deal out of doing something different there and not sure it has ended up being something as big as Fuji had hoped it would be.

Not questioning the quality of Fuji X-Trans sensors.  Fuji cameras produce incredible quality, so much so I am seriously considering switching to it.  Just saying I am not sure that it is a technology so different and so wonderful it is the ONLY reason to switch from another camera brand over to Fuji.  In fact, it could be the reason not to go there because post processing software has shown to have some issues. Lightroom in particular.

Expanded ISO

This feels to me like a very similar thing to what the Northrup’s talked about in their list.  As new cameras are marketed they always include these ludicrous numbers for ISO capabilities. As Sharky James would say if you actually shot at the highest end of those ISO numbers you would get a digital snow storm of noise that really isn’t all that useful to anyone.

I wish there was a standard for ISO.  Something like Bill Claff’s Photographic Dynamic Range that he outlines over at photonstophotos.net.  I don’t understand the science and math behind it fully, but I do see that he has been able to kind of baseline all the cameras and what the effect to dynamic range is as the ISO is increased.  I would love to see something like that become a standard that all camera manufacturers use to make these ISO numbers far more meaningful.

By the way, if you check out photonstophotos.net and you don’t see your camera on Bill’s list then contact him and he will ask you to get him some photos so that he can get the data he needs to add that information to his site.  He would love to get the data from all of the cameras out there.

Upgrade to Improve

Camera manufacturers have to sell cameras.  I totally understand why it is marketing teams are doing all they can to make photographers feel like they have to upgrade their camera body.  However, I see photographers doing this far too often. I also understand why a photographer would be so prone to falling for the marketing. Who wouldn’t love to believe that they could become a much better photographer without time, experience, practice, and a lot of work in paying $3,000 or so and upgrading their camera.

It is so tempting.  The thought that you could go from what you may consider to be amateur image quality to the professional results you want with the swipe of a credit card would be appealing to anyone.  The marketing is persuasive. Very purposely persuasive of course. The best target for a new camera is a photographer who is already using a camera in their line and they have to do all they can to make those photographers want the shiny new one.

It compares very well to another technology based industry; the smartphone industry.  Things have changed now where people are slowing down on how often they upgrade to the latest phone.  As a new phone comes out, and smartphone companies are asking for GOBS of money with each new model, people are really considering things far more than they used to.  They don’t see significant features that they really need and have a phone that is working really well.

Just like camera manufacturers the smartphone marketing teams have to do all they can to persuade consumers that the device in their hand is inferior and they really need the new one.  Some, like Apple, have even gone so far as to make some features unavailable in the software even though the phone is fully capable of offering the feature. They have to find a way to sell phones in a saturated and mature market and that task is difficult.

Camera bodies aren’t updated as often as smartphones, but they have a tough job to convince photographers that they need the new one when the feature differences aren’t very significant in a declining market (thanks to smartphones).  Of course the marketing is going to resonate with photographers. The significant appeal that all you need to elevate your photographer to another level is by buying that new camera is very real and tempting.

I also think that there are some “mainstream” photographers who are sponsored by camera manufacturers that make this even harder.  They create incredible images, images that we would all like to produce, and we want to be more like them. Makes total sense why the camera manufacturers do sponsor these influencer photographers to cause that very thing to happen.  To me it reduces their credibility because it feels like the photographer has been paid to rave about camera releases even when they might not be so great. Not all sponsored photographers are compromised, I think Don Komarechka is an example of a sponsored photographer who does an incredible job of keeping it all very real.

Doodads

Jeff: Impact Background Support System – 12′ Wide ($110)

Brent: A battery backup. CyberPower EC850LCD ($90) or any others.

Reminders:

Comments

  1. At the end of the show you mentioned no one ever comments on here, so here’s one for you!

    Personally I think the problem is how specs driven people are these days. All they care about are the specs on paper and not real world performance. Because of this, companies can tell all these lies in marketing and it works.

    Also with Flickr getting a revamp from SmugMug, have you considered making an invite only group on there?

    1. Author

      Glad to see that some are still listening at the end of the show. We should put more easter eggs at the end! A flickr group sounds like it might be something fun. I’ll look into it Daniel. Thanks so much for listening.

      1. Haha yes I always listen to the end. I don’t use Facebook at all so it would be great if there was a Flickr group. You can make it private and request invites so you can still do the same thing as FB and make people say the name of one of the hosts.
        Thanks Jeff and looking forward to the next episode.

  2. With regard to the comparison of how manufacturers put too much emphasis on CPU speed, GHz and core count, and that cameras were doing the same with megapixels. At one time those were really big upgrades, to go from 2 to 4 cores or 12 to 20 megapixels. But now-a-days those really aren’t that big a deal, and manufacturers need to realize that there are other more important things to push in the R&D department for their next generation of gadgets.

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