December 4, 2022


Capturing Magic Moments

Mistakes made and photo industry lessons (not) learned

6 min read

The big names in the photo industry have made some mistakes. Some have been accosted while others rear their ugly heads. It’s time they cleaned up their act and served photographers, not their investors.

Remember when we thought 2016 was one of the worst years ever? We didn’t know what was around the corner!

The camera money heist

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. Aside from the expensive lenses, there was a requirement to buy apps to add functionality to the camera. These functions were normal features of cameras I already owned.

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

Do not get me wrong. That issue aside, I thought the a7 II was a good camera. But at $1,700 eight years ago (equivalent to $2,004 in today’s money), you’d expect standard features like time-lapse and multiple exposures to be included as standard, as was the case with much cheaper cameras from other brands.

Since then, they changed their strategy and no longer charge for the apps.

Lightroom’s big problems

Lightroom has a despeckle tool that you can use to clean sensor dust from your images. It worked well when trying to use a single spot removal on a flat surface like the sky or a wall, although it often automatically selected the wrong sample area. If you tried to brush the selection, the spot where it’s sampled would always be totally out of place somewhere. The clone tool was even worse.

Adobe has finally updated this horrid feature. It’s far from perfect. If you’re still making some weird selections, albeit less frequently, you’ll need to go into Photoshop to fix the image. The tool is excellent there.

That’s not Lightroom’s only problem.

Big brand cameras had anti-aliasing (AA) filters to reduce moiré, and some still have. This is the interference that occurs when two patterns are superimposed. If you don’t know what it is, grab a fine mesh strainer from your kitchen and look sideways through the overlapping mesh. You will see a moiré pattern of meandering lines. The regularity of photo locations on a sensor can create the same effect when photographing a regular pattern.

AA filters fix that. But they have the undesirable effect of softening the image. This can be counteracted artificially by sharpening the image. Lightroom’s default sharpness has always been set way too high for the cameras I’ve used. I remember tutorials in digital photography magazines a year ago suggesting that the amount of sharpening should be set to 100. This always left ugly artifacts on my images.

That was because the cameras I owned back then had a much weaker AA filter. Since then they haven’t had any. This leads to significantly sharper images. Consequently, Lightroom’s default sharpness was miles too high, as the default settings were set to the more common brands that produced softer images.

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

Because Lightroom detects the camera and lens you’re using and automatically applies lens profiles, you’d think it could do the same with sharpening. Or maybe it’s time Adobe set the default to zero and let photographers decide how much sharpening they want to apply or not apply.

Adobe’s noise reduction sits in the same detail range as Lightroom’s sharpening. The algorithm is just terrible. With ON1 NoNoise and Topaz DeNoise’s stellar results, one wonders why Lightroom and ACR are still years behind the rest of the industry. It’s a shame, because otherwise Lightroom can deliver excellent results. It’s fine for minor adjustments, but cranking the ISO up isn’t fine. Photos remain soft and muddy.

Quality control is not good enough

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

When I’ve pointed out flaws before, Canon users get angry and start spitting venom at me for pointing them out. Instead, when they should turn their ire on Canon for failing them.

Do a Google search for the most famous brands; You will find some callbacks appearing for their cameras. In 2020, Nikon recalled the 2004 F6 in Europe for its use of the toxic substance dibutyl phthalate, now banned under EU law. Sony has recalled the Cyber-Shot DSC-T5 because the body could warp and scratch your hands.

When you buy a camera, especially a high-end one that will cost you a limb and that you can rely on to do your job, you expect it to work properly. Manufacturers should thoroughly test gear before releasing it to the unsuspecting public. This is something they still don’t quite understand.

Let’s hope the manufacturers attach poor quality control to the story.

The curse of the entry-level camera and where manufacturers still have to change course

One of the biggest mistakes many parents make is buying their kids the cheapest art supplies. In the discount store they see huge cans full of different pencils, crayons and paints. What a great offer! Unfortunately they are garbage. How can young people start creating good art when inferior materials limit their talents? Regardless of their potential, they cannot get the most of their abilities with these poor tools. Often they come to the conclusion that they are not good enough and become disillusioned.

I can hold and use cameras of all levels in the course of my work. Occasionally a new customer will emerge with the cheapest DSLR they could buy. The processing is abysmal, the viewfinder is small and has no diopter adjustment, the functionality is limited. Consequently, they outgrow it too quickly and have to buy another one. The manufacturer is hoping for that; so they earn more money. I’ve also met people who have lost interest in photography because their cameras were inadequate and uninspiring.

Producing poor quality entry-level cameras is a marketing approach some manufacturers use to keep customers loyal to their brand because they know they will likely be upgrading very soon and will likely stay with the same manufacturer. The manufacturers that do this are not serving their customers, they are serving their shareholders. I would argue that manufacturers should produce entry-level cameras that are a pleasure to use.

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

If this is your first time considering buying a new camera, don’t fall into this trap. Spend a little more and you’ll find a camera that will give you years of enjoyment, with plenty of features to learn over time. Avoid bundles as you are buying junk you don’t need.

Things are changing for the better. As awareness of the environmental impact of consumption grows and disposable cash shrinks, smaller manufacturers like Fujifilm and OM Digital Solutions are focusing on making higher-quality, longer-lasting gear with more functionality. The competition from fast-growing competitors like ON1 also makes Adobe sit up and take notice. As usual, small, innovative companies are pushing the boundaries and changing the industry. Let’s hope that a combination of market pressures and a return to meeting customer needs instead of just looking for profit will change the industry for the better.

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