Mistakes made and lessons (not) learned by the photographic industry

The big names in the photography industry have made a few mistakes. Some have been tackled, while others rear their ugly heads. It’s time they cleaned up their acts and served the photographers and not their investors.

Remember when we thought 2016 was one of the worst years ever? We had no idea what was happening around the corner!

camera money

That year, I landed a contract that required me to use a full-frame camera. So I bought a Sony a7 Mark II. I was very quickly disappointed. Apart from the expensive lenses, it was necessary to purchase apps to give functionality to the camera. These functions were regular features of the cameras I already owned.

For me, this was the worst money-making exercise I’d seen in the world of photography, an attempt by Sony to copy its in-game purchase and microtransaction strategies for the PlayStation. Their monopoly on the PlayStation Store and the 30% commission they charge is something Sony is currently being sued under competition law to the tune of £5 billion. This is because, here in the UK, there are allegations that it “scammed people”. This is precisely how I felt after spending a lot on the camera and then having to pay more for basic features.

Do not mistake yourself. Other than that issue, I thought the a7 II was a good camera. But at $1,700 eight years ago (that’s $2,004 in today’s money), you’d expect it to have standard features like time-lapse and multiple exposures to include. as standard, as was the case with much cheaper cameras from other brands.

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

Lightroom’s Big Problems

Lightroom has a smudge removal tool to rid your images of sensor dust. This worked well if you tried to use single point deletion 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 sampled spot would still be somewhere totally inappropriate. The clone tool was even worse.

Adobe finally updated this terrible feature. It’s still far from perfect. Still making weird selections, albeit less frequently, it forces you to go into Photoshop to fix the image; the tool there is excellent.

That’s not Lightroom’s only problem.

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

AA filters correct this. But they have the undesirable effect of softening the image. This can be solved artificially by sharpening the image. Lightroom’s default sharpness was always way too high for the cameras I was using. I remember tutorials in digital photography magazines a year ago suggesting that the sharpness value should be set to 100. This always left nasty artifacts in my photos.

This was because the cameras I owned at that time had a much weaker AA filter. They haven’t had any since. This gives much sharper images. As a result, Lightroom’s default sharpness was way too high, as its defaults were set to the most common brands that produced softer images.

Adobe has since lowered the default to 40. But as more and more cameras catch up and don’t build an AA filter into their camera, this needs to be lowered further. I have to apply a preset on import to remove sharpening, which slows down the import process.

Since Lightroom detects the camera and lens used and automatically applies lens profiles, you’d 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 want to apply or not.

Adobe’s Noise Reduction is in the same details panel as Lightroom’s Sharpen. The algorithm is just awful. Given the outstanding results of 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 produce great results. It’s ok for minor tweaks, but if you wind the ISO up high, it’s not up to scratch. Photographs remain soft and muddy.

Quality control is not enough

Canon has been plagued with multiple product failures and subsequent product recalls. The mirrors fell off the Canon 5D and insufficient lubrication of the drive mechanism led to increased wear on the EOS 1D C. The flagship EOS-1D and 1Ds Mark III DSLRs had lubricating oil leaking from the mirror housing. The EOS-1D Mark III was recalled due to autofocus mirror adjustment issues. Rashes were caused by the rubber grip on the EOS Rebel T4i (650D in Europe) and the Powershot SX50, and there was overfocus hunting on some EOS R5 Cs. EOS 70D was due to it giving error codes 70 and 80 for unknown reasons. Then there was the 5D Mark III’s LCD panel light leak, and finally, the whole EOS R5 overheating debacle.

When I’ve already pointed out flaws, Canon users get upset and start spitting venom at me for pointing them out. Instead, when they should be aiming their anger at Canon for letting them down.

Do a Google search for the most well-known brands; you will find some reminders appearing for their cameras. In 2020, Nikon recalled the 2004 F6 in Europe due to the use of the toxic substance dibutyl phthalate, now banned by European law. Sony has 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 few limbs and that you rely on to do your job, you expect it to work well. Manufacturers should thoroughly test equipment before releasing it to the untrained public. It’s something they still don’t understand.

Let’s hope manufacturers put poor quality control in the annals of history.

The curse of the entry-level camera and where makers still need to change direction

One of the biggest mistakes many parents make is buying their kids the cheapest art supplies. In the discount store, they see giant boxes filled with different pencils, crayons and paints. What a good deal! Unfortunately, this is garbage. How can young people start creating good art when poor quality materials limit their talents? No matter their potential, they cannot succeed to the best of their abilities with these wrong tools. Often they conclude that they are not good enough and become disillusioned.

I can hold and use cameras of all levels in my work. Every now and then a new customer will show up with the cheapest DSLR they could buy. Build quality is poor, the viewfinder is small and has no diopter adjustment, and functionality is limited. Therefore, they outgrow it too quickly and have to buy another one. This is what the manufacturer hopes; they will earn more money this way. I have also met people who lost interest in photography because their cameras were inadequate and uninteresting.

Producing poor quality entry-level cameras is a marketing approach used by some manufacturers to hook customers into their brand because they know they will, probably very soon, want to upgrade and will likely stay with the same manufacturer. Manufacturers who do this are not serving their customers, but their shareholders. I would say manufacturers should produce beginner cameras that are a joy to use.

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

If you’re considering buying a new camera for the first time, don’t fall into this trap. Spend a little more and find a camera that will last for years with plenty of features you can learn over time. Avoid bundles, because you’ll buy waste you don’t need.

Things are changing for the better. As awareness of the environmental impact of consumerism grows and available cash dwindles, smaller manufacturers like Fujifilm and OM Digital Solutions are focusing on making better, more durable gear with more features. Competition from fast growing competitors like ON1 is making Adobe sit up and take notice as well. As usual, small, innovative companies are pushing boundaries and changing the industry. Hopefully a combination of market pressure and a return to meeting customer needs instead of just chasing profit changes the industry for the better.

Michael E. Marquez