Are We Jumping the Shark Now?

Jumping the shark is an idiom for misguided direction that derives from the sitcom Happy Days. The belief was that when Fonzie jumped a shark on an episode, everything went downhill for the series from that point on.

Certainly Blackmagic Design, Canon, and Sony have gotten a lot of attention this month with some impressive specifications (e.g. 12K!, 8K! 4K/120P!, but there were plenty of other high tech assertions in their recent product announcements). 

The first thing to note is that all three of those products were focused towards video users. And not just any old video user, but probably videographers and filmmakers that are trying to keep ahead of Netflix's ever-expanding size/quality requirements. No doubt these customers exist—and are willing to pay good money for what they need/want—but how many of them are there really? Enough to save the interchangeable lens camera (ILC) market?

No, I don't think so. Video cameras have long sold at an order of magnitude lower than still cameras, though that's starting to change a bit due to the collapse of the market. Even so, if it takes pro-level video features to sell a camera now, then the market is going to get really, really small. 

I'd assert that the two mirrorless cameras that are the most important which were introduced this month are the Canon R6 and the Nikon Z5. In different ways and in different price classes, these two cameras target the actual remaining photography market with competence, performance, and ability. One represents the entry point for the full frame market, the other the middle level. Both are nicely defined for their job, arguably better than what came before them at those product positions. Yes, the pricing is a little higher than the preceding products that defined those points, but you'd better get used to that; the camera makers need to sell cameras at higher prices if they're going to sell less volume. Otherwise, they may as well fold up shop.

Still, I'm struck by how much commotion and argument there has been this month about products that don't really reflect the primary buyers. Moreover, then we devolve into heated (pardon the pun) arguments about cameras shutting down early because they're too hot. Or whether one mosaic pattern is better than another. Or which CODEC is better. To the majority of you reading this site or buying a mirrorless camera this year, those things are probably irrelevant.

There's always a point with tech where the deep engineering teams start chasing more and more esoteric gains, just because they can. Meanwhile the product marketing teams either aren't observing and listening to customers well enough to find their real pain points, or management and engineering is ignoring product marketing. Suddenly sales start to dry up. Customers want solutions to their problems, not just impressive specs. 

The biggest pain points on current ILC models for photography tend to be: size/weight, battery longevity, connectivity, complexity, and things that relate to reaction time (focus is one of those). Everyone that moves from DSLR to mirrorless has the additional pain point of lenses. 

One of the things I learned very early on in the personal computer business is that eradication of pain points equates to more sales. Apple's still practicing that for the most part, though they get themselves tangled in dead-end corners sometimes, too (has the task bar solved anyone's problems?). 

When camera companies start jumping the shark, they're likely doing the opposite: reducing sales. Good thing they charge a higher price for those cameras ;~). Personally, I'm not at all interested in testing the things that are being touted on the R5 and A7S Mark III. Indeed, I've requested a Canon R6 for test because I think it's pointed more the right direction cameras need to go for most customers.

Of course, the persistence of the COVID-19 virus is keeping many of us from going out at all and using our cameras for what we want to use them for. So all we have left is to argue about whether the raw 8K video on one camera is a better option than the fast fps 4K video on another.


Oh, and here's an amusing tidbit about the jumping shark: the first "cooling" camera cage for the Canon R5 has already been announced. The upcoming Tilta cage has a heat sink, cooling chip, and a fan that mounts to the area where the rear LCD is before rotating out of the way. You can also buy the Cooling Kit separately from the cage. 

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