07 January 2009


Are there perhaps too many digital SLRs on the market?

One way to get lots of people to see a photo of yours on the image sharing site Flickr is to take a good picture. That requires talent, skill, and dedication. A few of my pictures have become popular simply because they're good photographs—at least I think so.

But my most popular pictures on Flickr aren't like that at all. They're nerdy: pictures of wacky guitars or geek conferences, of old computers or Linux running on a Mac.

And what do you do to attract huge numbers of viewers and comments and favourites? Simple, go full nerd: just make a picture of a whole bunch of cameras and encourage people to argue about them. More than 38,000 views in six months, 208 favourite votes, and dozens and dozens of comments:

Old image of almost 25 cameras

State of the DSLR market: Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony/Minolta vs. Olympus vs. Panasonic/Leica vs. Pentax digital SLR cameras, as of June 2008
State of the DSLR market - June 2008 (old)

An earlier attempt of mine at the same thing even had commenters threatening to kill each other about the kind of camera they like! But my favourite comment was from Axl Van Goks: "I like the black one with the buttons and stuff."

Since the digital camera market changes like crazy, my big collage from June 2008 was out of date within weeks. I waited for all the pre-Christmas camera introductions to shake out, and now I've made a new version that includes all the current digital SLR cameras I could find (almost 40) from Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax, Panasonic, Leica, Samsung, Sigma, and Fujifilm:

New image of almost 40 cameras

State of the DSLR market: Nikon vs. Canon vs. Sony/Minolta vs. Olympus vs. Panasonic/Leica vs. Pentax vs. Samsung vs. Sigma vs. Fujifilm digital SLR cameras, as of January 2009
State of the DSLR market - January 2009 (new)

I expect the arguing to begin soon in the comments. The picture has 139 views and 4 favourites since I posted it three and a half hours ago. And yes, yes, I know, I know: they're not all strictly SLRs, but I think they're all of interest to SLR buyers.

Ah, art. Have at it.

UPDATE: My thesis appears to be correct. As a rule of thumb, the more cameras you put in a picture on Flickr, the more popular it is:

Shameless link baiting? Success!

Links from John Gruber and 37signals didn't hurt either.

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That is too funny. I guess you never really know what will score big and what will flop. I still have my wee point and shoot camera and I only dream of the day I can get a SLR. Keep dreaming and hoping and someday I will have one.
Cool photo!

I wonder how this compares — in terms of displaying the array of new production models available — to the film era of cameras, though. With the exception of Sony and Samsung, I believe, all the current DSLR makers were around as far back as the 1930's. And from post WWII until about '90s, you had WAY more companies making well-known (at the time) consumer and pro-line cameras. Zeiss, Agfa, Contax, Mamiya, Graflex, Yaschica, Voigtlander, Kodak, Polaroid, Bronica, Rollei, Hasselblad... I suspect the choices have actually gone down in the digital era.

Don't be in a big rush.
There is a lot to said for a small point-and-shoot camera.

You can carry it with you always. The SLR will be large a clunky and therefore you will leave it at home most of the time and miss that great shot of Jack Ruby offing Lee Oswald.

The photos from your PS camera will be almost as good as those from a SLR as the quality/beauty of a photo is due more to the photographer than the camera.
The "beauty comes from the photographer, not the camera" thing only really holds up to a point. Anyone who believes that it's totally true is naive.
If you combine the current SLRs and similar cameras here, the current medium-format range, the incredibly huge panoply of current and always-changing point-and-shoot digital cameras, and the cameras people have in their phones, I think there's probably a wider choice than photographers have ever had.

Also, if you're like me and carry and man purse/dude bag, or if you're a female photographer with a purse, or if you have a backpack or courier bag, you can carry an SLR a lot of the time. My D50 will fit in my bag with a 50 mm lens or even a small zoom, in addition to all my usual crap, so I have it with me a lot of the time. A smaller camera like a D40, E-420, G1, or Leica M (of course) is also surprisingly portable, and of comparable size to some of the bigger point-and-shoots.
Canon 5D Mk II FTW.
@Derek Good points — I would agree that cameras and photography is more accessible and more popular than ever (a good thing!) but I don't know if there's a wider choice. Well, perhaps "wider" is not the right word — I guess I would put it that there was a richer variety in the film era.

Consider during the '50s-'80s, a photographer had the choice of:
* serveral different 35mm, 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 rangerfinders
* a few 35mm & 6x6 TLR's
* a huge array of 35mm, 645, 6x6, 6x7, 6x9 SLR's
* 4 different Polaroid formats
* 2x3, 4x5, 5x7, 8x10 view finder cameras
* a few panoramic cameras in different formats
* and a good smattering of esoteric formats

Today... the variety of currently produced cameras isn't so diverse.

That said, give the digital era the same 30 years and maybe we'll see the variety blossom again in ways that we couldn't have imagined.

(I used to carry an Agfa Isolette III everywhere I went — "medium format in your pocket".)

@Jeff I disagree. The camera is just a tool. It's truly naive to think that any single camera will make one a better photographer. A good photographer, IMO, knows how to control light in any given situation and environment; knows how to compose a shot; and is in the right place at the right time. These ingredients have nothing to do with which camera the photographer is holding. :)

I disagree, too. If you think it matters whether Robert Frank is holding a Polaroid, Nikon or Leica, you're missing the point of the whole endeavor.

That guy threatening to kill people takes some remarkably mediocre pictures for a "professional", at least judging by his Flickr set.

Excellent blog btw, echoes a discussion about Flickr popularity (etc) over here: blog.hackbash.com.

Do you use a dSLR? If so, then why? By your logic, clearly your camera phone should be sufficient? Jeff was absolutely right by suggesting "the beauty comes form the photographer, not the camera" only holds up to a point. While I've had well composed shots with a point and shoot, the overall image quality is typically crap compared to my dSLR shots.
I think too many of us are looking for absolutes here, just like in the Canon vs. Nikon or Mac vs. PC debates. Obviously the average cameraphone, for instance, challenges photographers with a crappy lens, tiny sensor, awful low-light performance, no zoom or focus, difficult ergonomics, and sub-standard resolution. That sits it below the threshold of being able to take compelling pictures most of the time, even in the hands of a genius photographer.

On the other hand, people have them all the time and can often distribute their camera pictures instantaneously, and so we do get the occasional iconic image (like this one), despite the technical limitations. Even I get the occasional nice shot from my 2 MP plastic camphone.

At the other extreme, many landscape, art, and high-end fashion photographers scoff at 35 mm/FX film and digital as too small and without sufficient resolution. Snarky photo gearhead Ken Rockwell, who loves his D40, has a whole screed about why film is still great, especially at larger sizes.

On balance, I think most amateur or enthusiast photographers could get equally good pictures from any camera on this page. Pros or keen artists might find one particular model, or the more expensive ones, better for the specific things they need. That's a good thing all round.
Derek, this is off-topic, but have you heard fo tilt-shift photography?
Tilt-shift? Sure have heard of it, but I don't own any tilt-shift/perspective control lenses. They're pricey. You can also get the same kind of effect with one of the old-timey large-format bellows cameras where you put your head under the sheet. That's why old pictures like this one have straight edges on the buildings rather than tilted perspective -- the photographer could adjust the lens plane to fit the subject.

The cheapest lens that will accomplish something similar is a Lensbaby, but that's more for selective focus than true perspective control. Lensbabies are cool, but I don't have any of those either. Check John Biehler's site here in Vancouver for examples, including some really cool tilt-shift movies.
I disagree with everything written here, and I'm doing it disagreeably. Now hunt me down and kill me.
head.zoo: Well, both Mamiya and Hasselblad make MFSLRs that can (and do) take a digital back, so arguably they're still in the field.
Sad to see my lovely (and the very first ever in existence) digital Epson R-D1 didn't make it (unless I missed it)...would fit nicely next to the M8 there. ;-)
As far as I know, the RD-1 hasn't been manufactured in several years. The old site for it no longer exists, although there look to be some archived product pages. Amazon doesn't list it for sale. Nor do Adorama or B&H Photo, even used. The Epson U.S. site no longer has a digital camera section at all. There are a couple on eBay, but that's it.

So I don't think the RD-1 qualifies as a current model. If it's any consolation, I didn't list my Nikon D50 or F4 either, and those are the only SLRs I own.
A part of me wants to agree. But, then I think about how different camera brands are used more in certain parts of the world then other camera brands.
Good post, Derek. I think the Nikon v Canon wars, Film v Digital wars, PC v Mac wars, Nintendo v Xbox v Playstation wars burst into flame all to easily for absolutely minor and pathetic reasons. I mean, who really cares who is using what, so long as what you use yourself meets your needs. The guy giving you heat needs to take a long hard look at himself ....

I think we'll see some interesting DSLR's over the next couple of years - 35mm FF equivalent DSLR's will become the prosumer norm I think, as will some form of HDR and HiDef video. Now if only Pentax will go more upmarket ... I can still use all my film lenses ....

Steve Taylor
Melbourne, Australia
I think maybe the disconnect here is that there are those that believe high technical image quality — the kind of image that can come out of a Nikon D3 vs. a 2-megapixel cell phone camera — equals a beautiful photo.

Imagine Annie Lebowitz and I meet on the street one day. I give her my cell phone to take pictures and she hands me her Nikon D3 and we go out and do some street photography for an hour.

Who's set of photos do you think will be more interesting and compelling? The image quality of my photos will be technically superior but not a single one will hold up to any of her photos.

Good tools can give increased power, flexibility, and speed to do one's job. But, tools don't magically imbue talent or is a replacement for a lack of knowledge and experience in a craft. Just like Derek says in this post, "[good photography] requires talent, skill, and dedication."

And sorry Derek, this probably isn't the debate you were expecting. :)

@Sigivald True that!
No, this is pretty much exactly what I was expecting.
Gosh, I am sorry to have started off such a debate, that was not my intention! I love my wee camera, it's all I've got. I realize that I need to work on my "skils", trust me I do. One of these days, I will have a SLR camera that will be everything I need it to be. That is really all I meant. :)

Anyone should feel free to take a look at my flickr set and let me know what I could be doing differently.

Pavlina, you didn't start it -- this was bound to happen. It happened on my previous collages, and on this one. That was basically my point in this blog post.
I just can't bring myself to upgrade the Canon RebelXT because with it's dual lens mount I can use both digital and the old 35mm lenses with this body. Still is a sweet camera! :)
Any of the Canon non-full-frame bodies, right up to the EOS 50D, will do the same thing, so you shouldn't be worried about upgrading. Then again, if the XT still does what you need, why change? I still use my Nikon D50, and it was discontinued almost three years ago.