Looking Back (at 2021), Looking forward (to 2022) – The Big Trends

Camera & Technology

January 23, 2022 ·

Dan Wells
An endangered species? Sony’s APS-C A6000

The lower end of the camera market (defined as anything short of full-frame, apart from Fujifilm) has been devastated this year, especially in the last few months. Supply chain concerns have led to the pushing off of releases, and to the premature cancellation and suspension of cameras that are already on the market. Neither of the new Micro 43 bodies that we expected to see with a new sensor made it, and Sony at least temporarily shut down production on their entire APS-C lineup, after having released neither a body nor a lens since 2019 (discounting the vlogger-specific ZV-E10). One of the big questions for 2022 in my mind is whether Sony has abandoned APS-C completely (they have announced nothing of the sort, but they HAVE put every single body on temporary hold due to supply conditions), whether they’ll restart some of these bodies in a few months, or whether Sony APS-C will be back with new bodies and hopefully some new lenses.

An EOS- M5 is a nice body – but you’d better like f6.3 lenses.…

We haven’t seen a new lens for Canon’s EOS-M system since 2018, and few if any of the choices have been exciting for far longer than that. There have been persistent rumors of an APS-C body (or several) using the RF mount, perhaps something to fill the gap left by the 7D and 90D DSLR lines. Nikon actually released an APS-C body and a new DX lens this year, and they seem to be the only player apart from Fujifilm who is currently really trying in APS-C.

At one extreme, there could be no viable non-Fujifilm APS-C lines left at the end of 2022 (unlikely, because I’d expect at least Nikon to keep up some development), while at the other extreme, we could see Nikon release two more APS-C bodies (an entry level model and an enthusiast body with IBIS) plus several lenses – a wide zoom and a compact 24mm prime are on the roadmap, and they might drop a surprise as well. Sony could come back with new bodies and a few well-chosen lenses, and Canon could put that APS-C RF body on the market with a good set of initial lenses (plus full-frame RF compatibility). Oh, and we see bodies from both Panasonic and OM using a brand-new sensor. Neither extreme is the most likely – we’ll probably see something in between, but my crystal ball is cloudy once we get beyond Fujifilm expanding their line.

In order of likelihood for viable lines of sub full-frame cameras and lenses in 2022: Fujifilm (100%), then Nikon, Canon, Sony, Micro 43 in that order. The reason Canon and Sony are as low as they are is that there is a non-zero chance that Sony doesn’t bring APS-C back, but releases low-end full-frame bodies instead. Since Sony’s attention has gone primarily to full-frame for many years, they might not bother with APS-C at all if they could strip enough features out of a FF body to sell it for $700 or so (they have a couple of cheap lenses that they could kit with such a body). By similar logic, Canon might not bother with APS-C RF mount of they could update the EOS-RP and even slip a stripped-down body in under it. Both Micro 43 makers are absolutely depending on a new sensor for viability, and is it worth it for either one?

Panasonic, in particular, is in a very tough spot – seemingly caught in a pincer trap. One side of the trap is that the delayed GH6 is going to be up against a new entry from Fujifilm with 8K video and an enormous list of video features for around the same price. Since the new Fujifilm camera has been hinted, but not pre-announced, we don’t know the exact feature list – but it’s going to be extensive. Fujifilm has come out of nowhere in the video market in the past few years, and their stills quality has always been significantly higher than Micro 43. Depending on Codecs, Fujifilm’s almost certainly superior sensor could mean that they take the lead in overall video quality at the $2000-$2500 price point as well. The new Fujifilm camera may or may not offer things like waveforms and vectorscopes (almost certain to be on the GH6), and it may not offer a few codecs that the GH6 does.

GH6 killer? Canon’s Cinema EOS-R5C offers many previously Panasonic-exclusive features.

The other side of the trap for Panasonic is Canon’s new Cinema EOS R5C. The R5C DOES offer waveforms, vectorscopes, and an unprecedented list of codecs for anything short of a RED or a high-end Blackmagic. Canon seems to have copied every Panasonic-only feature, added a few more of their own, and put it in a very well-supported lens mount. It will cost $4500, more than the GH6 is likely to be, modestly more than even the full-frame Panasonic S1H, but it’s not $15,000 like the last hybrid Cinema EOS. Canon’s extremely aggressive price puts a LOT of pressure on the GH6 and the S1H from the top. Can Panasonic thread the needle between Fujifilm and Canon, finding a relevant place for their video-centric hybrids? Are there enough GH-series loyalists that the GH6 will sell even if it’s trapped between those two cameras?

Will we ever see another? Pentax’s K3 mk III is a multiply anachronistic high-end APS-C DSLR.

This year saw a grand total of one DSLR release (the Pentax K3 mk III), along with five DSLR lenses (all Pentax). Not only did neither Canon nor Nikon release a DSLR or a lens, no third party in DPReview’s database released either one. The database includes not only Sigma, Tamron and Tokina, but also 7Artisans, Samyang/Rokinon, Venus Optics/Laowa, Irix, etc. I think it is quite fair by now to say that all DSLRs except for Pentax (and possibly Phase One at the extreme upper end of the market, if you count a body/back as a DSLR) are no longer under active development.

Pentax made a cryptic announcement in mid-January 2022, suggesting that they were moving from a mass-produced, mass-distributed camera maker to a workshop/boutique model (at least in the Japanese market). They will sell directly, over the Internet and through company-owned boutiques. They may offer more design customization than other cameras – they already tried this some years ago with a series of unusually colored cameras. Will they go farther than color and possibly grip size this time? The other manufacturer that does this is, of course, Leica – there are currently four base models of digital M (three resolutions of standard color cameras plus one that shoots only monochrome), with one to three body color variations each. Any of them can be wrapped in 24 leather colors, a service offered by the factory, at least in many markets, and any can be custom-engraved. This is the list of variations on digital M cameras meant to be used – Leica also offers frequent collector and commemorative editions that often appreciate in value and are rarely taken out of their boxes. Can Pentax pull it off? Leica has the advantage of very inelastic demand – people who prefer a Leica rangefinder will pay a price much higher than any comparably performing camera to get one (and there is no other option for a true rangefinder experience).

If Pentax is making the last DSLRs, can they set themselves up similarly? Will a cadre of dedicated DSLR enthusiasts come to Pentax to build them beautiful, semi-custom cameras, and be willing to pay as much as 2-3 times the price of mainstream mirrorless alternatives for them? Nikon’s, and to a lesser extent Canon’s (Canon is farther out of the DSLR market) decisions about what (if anything) to release, what to discontinue and when could have a major impact on whether Pentax can make this model work.

Canon started discontinuing DSLRs and lenses at a rapid pace in 2020 and confirmed in late 2021 that the EOS 1Dx mk IIi will be their last flagship DSLR. Nikon is now discontinuing DSLR gear rapidly as well, especially DX lenses. Canon will almost certainly not release another DSLR or lens (if anything, there might be an extremely cost-engineered Rebel, but even that is unlikely). Nikon may or may not have one body left to release. If they do, it’s a beauty – a D850 successor that will probably stand in history right alongside the Nikon F6 (the last 35mm film SLR from a major maker) – not only the last camera of its kind, but perhaps the best ever made.

It is difficult to tell what’s selling and what isn’t, because there is nothing close to a uniform data source. Japan’s BCN Rankings give a cross-section of the Japanese market that picks up something like half of the cameras sold in the country. Unfortunately, it has two biases. First of all, the Japanese market is somewhat unusual – very small cameras sell far better in Japan than just about anywhere else in the world, both to photographers who would probably buy a larger camera in North America or Europe and to people who would probably use a smartphone in most countries. The smallest Micro 43 models, the Fujifilm X-A series and some of the EOS-M cameras are all significant sellers in Japan, while being difficult or even impossible to find elsewhere. Seven of BCN’s top ten selling mirrorless models barely sell in international markets – four EOS-M models, two versions of the Fujifilm X-A5 (which is not even available in North America) and one Olympus Pen model.

In addition to the bias inherent in the unusual Japanese market, BCN captures sales in a couple of unusual ways. Their reporting comes mostly from large chain electronics stores, but excludes the major camera stores. The equivalent in the US market would be to look only at camera sales from Best Buy, Walmart and Target, while excluding B&H, Adorama, Hunts, Pictureline and Samys. That will certainly under-report more expensive cameras – very few people buy an EOS-R3 at Walmart while picking up paper towels. BCN also counts the very inexpensive Fujifilm Instax models that take low-resolution digital photos as well as instant prints as “digital cameras”, along with other compact cameras that are still popular in Japan. They sell in large numbers and affect the overall digital camera marketshare date (nine of BCN’s top ten selling cameras are compacts, including three Instax models).

B&H’s bestseller lists are biased in exactly the opposite direction – they include a lot of preorders, and B&H is a dealer that caters heavily to professionals and advanced hobbyists. B&H’s top ten mirrorless sellers as of this writing are nine full-frame models and the Fujifilm X-T4. Canon’s EOS-R3 isn’t on the list (but both the R5 and R5C are, joined by the R6). Both the Nikon Z9 and the Sony A1 make the list. A list where the least expensive camera sells for $1500 and there are six models around $3500 and above is no more representative than one dominated by Instax. There really isn’t a source of unbiased sales data by model, and even data by brand are difficult.

Fortunately, full-frame, Fujifilm APS-C and medium format mirrorless look a LOT brighter than the low end of the market. Persistent rumors point to a new “standard pixel” from Sony sometime next year. Like the present 3.76 µm pixel, it will come in a variety of sensor sizes, from ~40 MP APS-C (spreading through Fujifilm’s line, starting at the top, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it in a Nikon (Nikonized version?) or Sony enthusiast body as well) through 88-100 MP full-frame (A7r V, possibly Nikonized in the Z7 III or Z8) and a couple of medium format variants (150-170 MP GFX format almost for sure, although maybe in 2023, 220-250 MP Phase One?). We may not see all the iterations of the new standard pixel in 2022, but I’m quite confident the first of them will crop up.

The exact resolution will depend on how Sony decides to define 8K – rumors about Fujifilm’s next APS-C sensor invariably mention that it will shoot 8K of some sort, and the full-frame version should be capable of 1.5:1 oversampled 8K (it may or may not record some sort of 12K as well, in certain versions). If Sony chooses to define 8K as 8K UHD (7680 pixels across), that will require around a 40 MP APS-C sensor. 88 MP full-frame, 150 MP GFX and 220 MP Phase One would share that pixel size (and 88 MP full-frame is just about perfect for 1.5:1 8K UHD). If 8K is defined as 8192 pixel Cinema 8K, that requires the APS-C sensor to go up to 45 MP, bringing full-frame closer to 100 MP (which works for oversampled Cinema 8K), and driving the GFX sensor closer to 170 MP, with the Phase One sensor somewhere around 250 MP?

How will such a small pixel do from a noise perspective? We’ll have to see. It will be interesting to see how the first camera does, regardless of its sensor size. Even if it’s a 40 MP Fujifilm APS-C body, it will have performance implications for a 200+ MP Phase One back (and vice versa) – the basic pixel-level technology will be the same, although the exact means of readout may differ by size (the APS-C and full-frame versions may not offer 16-bit readout and, conversely, the medium format versions may or may not offer all the video modes).

In addition to the standard high-resolution pixel, we should see variations and responses to the A7 IV sensor begin to appear. Sony is likely to put the same sensor in another body – my guess is a more A7C-like camera, with some features stripped out. Canon may very well update the lower end bodies with a new sensor of their own. Nikon may also respond in a “Z6 III”, either using the Sony sensor, a “Nikonized” variant of it, or something else of similar capabilities.

2021 was the best year for top-end cameras in a long time – see Four Flagships from November… The last time we came close was in 2007 (Nikon D3, when Nikon finally went full-frame) or, for Canon shooters, 2011’s original EOS-1Dx. Sony aficionados will point to 2017’s A9 – but 2021 saw the most important successors to all three of them in one year PLUS Fujifilm finally showing us the true potential of GFX. If you are in that part of the market, your favorite brand just delivered the camera you’ve been waiting for (although it’s still on backorder), and you’re either extremely satisfied, waiting for the lens you want for it – the first couple of Nikon telephotos and the Fujifilm 20-35mm zoom are announced – the Sony 300mm f2.8 is not (hint, hint, Sony…), or else chasing unicorns.

The only real top-end camera on the 2022 list is Canon’s high-resolution companion to the EOS-R3. We will also likely see a high-resolution body from Sony, and maybe from Nikon – but those won’t be true flagships – more like the A7r IV or the Z7, with some compromises in other areas in favor of resolution ($3500?). . We just got FOUR $5000+ cameras – the market’s going to be a bit short on those for a while – they have long development cycles and don’t sell in the volumes that $1000 cameras (which have been languishing) do. We’ll see a lot more midrange and upper-midrange cameras next year, as those were largely ignored while the Four Flagships were hogging development resources.

Canon’s EOS-RP is the cheapest full-frame camera around, but it could use an overhaul.


I’d also expect to see quite a bit at the lower end of full-frame, especially from Canon and Sony, assuming that they prefer that to restarting moribund APS-C programs. Unless both Canon and Sony devote major resources to APS-C instead, I expect at least one, and possibly both of them, to have a full-frame body around $750 by next holiday season It’ll be a stripped down body, and one of the most interesting questions about it will be how it compares to a comparably priced X-S10 with a much better lens. To get a FF body to $750, it will probably lack IBIS, it may even be viewfinderless, and the kit lens is likely to be lousy (so it can be sold in a kit for $900 or less).

Nikon’s at least trying in the APS-C market – this Z fc is a clear homage to the FM2.

There need to be bodies and lenses that bridge the gap between smartphones and $2000+ cameras – it’s not realistic for people to be confronted with a $2000 bottom end for anything that makes sense. The manufacturers know this, and it’ll be interesting to see how they respond. Sony used to do that really well with their plethora of older bodies, but now needs to come up with their next solution if they aren’t making those any more. Canon has a couple of older full-frame bodies (with some interface experiments that didn’t work terribly well) and a dead-end APS-C system. Nikon has both APS-C and full-frame, with some odd lens incompatibilities centered around image stabilization. Fujifilm has a very healthy APS-C system.

Over the past year or two, medium format has become a much more viable option for high-resolution photography. From the beginning of the digital era until the original GFX 50S, digital medium format existed, and the potential was there – but the costs and complexities were an order of magnitude higher than smaller formats. In the film era, a Hasselblad with an 80mm lens and a back had always cost about as much as a really top-end 35mm camera like a Nikon F5 with a top-end lens, and additional lenses were somewhat, but not shockingly more expensive than most 35mm lenses except fast telephotos . A Mamiya or Bronica system could be cheaper than pro-grade 35mm, depending on the details. For most of the digital era, medium format digital was several times the price of even very expensive full-frame. Starting with the Pentax 645 line and carried forward by Fujifilm, that’s no longer true – a GFX 100S is slightly less expensive than a Sony A1, and the lenses are slightly more expensive than G-Masters (on average).

Now, with medium format being price-competitive with top-end full-frame, and not much more bulky or complex (example: the image stabilization on the newest GFX models is better than most modern full-frame cameras), most people who are serious about certain disciplines of photography should at least be LOOKING at adding medium format to their kit, if not shooting it already. These disciplines include landscape, architecture, contemplative portraiture and anything else where resolution and color quality matter intensely and speed matters very little – anything where the preferred film size would have been medium or large format. We’re back to the film-era situation where photographers would choose between a 501 C/M and a F5 based on the subject matter, not because one was five or ten times the price of the other. Where you would have chosen the Nikon, the new tool is a Z9, an A1 or an EOS-R3. When you would have chosen the Hasselblad or a Sinar view camera, a GFX 100S may be the tool for the job. You haven’t seen files like this before.

If I’m right about the standard pixel strategy, smaller medium format (GFX format) will maintain about a 2:1 ratio in overall image quality compared to the best of full-frame. Larger medium format, such as Phase One’s 54x40mm sensors, will be capable of even higher quality – but that has shown few signs of dropping in price. The current generation of high-resolution Sony sensors (26.7 MP APS-C, 61 MP A7r IV, 102 MP GFX 100, 150 MP Phase One) certainly ARE based on a standard pixel (3.76 µm BSI) – and there’s every reason the next generation will be as well, and no reason to think it won’t be. A next generation standard pixel is speculation – but it’s highly informed, logical speculation.

There’s a Nikon Z9 hiding in there – its video capabilities are good enough to deserve the full rig (so are the Sony A1’s and the Canon EOS-R3’s, not to mention the R5C)

The very existence of semi-affordable medium format may actually push the designs of full-frame cameras more towards speed and video – someone looking to design a full-frame camera as landscape and architecture oriented as, for example, the original Z7 (let alone the old D3x) might now say “how does this fit in a market that includes medium format with twice the image quality for not that much more money”. My suspicion is that even full-frame pixel monster designs will shy away from the GFX line (and any competitors) by trying to add speed and video modes, rather than absolutely maximize image quality at slow speeds. Full-frame camera designers know that keeping up with a sensor 170% the size, using exactly the same technology, and with lenses designed for the more contemplative sorts of photography is futile. They’d need a generation or two of technological edge to overcome the sensor size and the lenses, and the standard pixel strategy means they won’t get it (they used to, when medium format sensors were different designs, and not updated nearly as frequently). Fujifilm is very darned good at color science and other image quality optimizations, so nobody’s likely to use that to close the gap.

From an industry perspective, I’ve long said that Canon, Nikon, Sony and Fujifilm are safe through most sets of photo industry turmoil. That is little changed in 2022, and I actually think #3 and #4 players Nikon and Fujifilm may have somewhat improved their position relative to Canon and Sony. Panasonic, OM System and Pentax are NOT safe, and we could lose any or all of them this year. Pentax and L-mount are both almost certainly being outsold by Fujifilm GFX (not just by Fujifilm in total, but by medium format alone). Trying to sell to a mainstream market while being outsold by a high-end niche product for pros and artists (with much higher selling prices) is not a recipe for success. Micro 43 is selling in greater volumes, but there are still only two Micro 43 cameras among B&H’s top 30 mirrorless sellers – and they’re #27 and #30. You reach #47 before you find the first L-mount camera.

Despite the emphasis on the (very capable) image sensor in this Leica promotional image, how many brand-new M11s will never take a picture?

Leica is probably existentially safe, but lives in a weird world of luxury goods – how many Leicas we see that are actually useful for taking pictures, as opposed to “Leica collectors’ editions” that are meant to sit on a shelf is a more open question than “will there be Leicas”. Hasselblad is entirely at the mercy of DJI – selling medium format cameras to artists and professional photographers is an entirely different business from either selling inexpensive drones by the millions to consumers OR selling expensive professional drones to industry. DJI is the world leader in both drone businesses. There is a space for Hasselblad in the medium format market, but does DJI want to bother with a third business much smaller than either of their primary ones? I’ve never been able to find out much about Phase One as a hardware maker, and that still holds – their software business seems very healthy.

Among lens and accessory makers, Sigma is safe and very strong. They are one of the most respected lensmakers around (see Sigma the Lensmaker on this site), and they are a family-run business owned by photography enthusiasts and not subject to the whims of the stock market. I know much less about Tamron and Tokina, but I suspect they, too are in decent shape, even in a smaller market, especially Tamron, who has been particularly innovative lately. Carl Zeiss should be safe, because the manufacture of camera lenses is a matter of pride and tradition for them. They are an optical conglomerate whose major businesses are in industrial and medical optics, and in licensing lens designs to makers of phones and other gear including Sony, who uses a lot of licensed Zeiss lenses – less in interchangeable lenses these days (many have been replaced by G-Masters) than in fixed lens still and video cameras. The small Otus, Batis, etc. business is a reminder of their roots.

A bevy of Samyang lenses – one of many makers of inexpensive optics…

The smaller makers of inexpensive manual focus lenses may come and go, but will always exist. For the most part, they are not actually small companies, but divisions of large optical companies who have long made lenses behind the scenes, but are experimenting with selling them to consumers in Western markets. Their glass has been in products with more familiar names for years, but it has been sold by the more familiar company. A low-end lens from a camera maker, or especially the lens on a drone or a phone could well be made in the same factory as a lens sold on Kickstarter or Amazon Marketplace, but the maker has previously sold to the name on the drone or phone, not the final consumer. An individual company could begin or end the direct experiment, but there will always be companies in that space.

The last question about the industry itself is who buys whom? Apart from one special case involving Sony’s entertainment businesses, I think the Big Four camera businesses are unlikely to be sold. If one is, apart from a sale of Sony based on the entertainment business, it will probably be a “Sony buys Minolta’s camera business” situation, where the new owner wants and cares for the camera business. The once Minolta now Sony camera business is much healthier than it was when Minolta had it – Sony was the best thing that could have happened to it. Anything beyond the Big Four (except Sigma, which is family-owned by passionate photographers) could be sold, and there are three models.

One is “Sony buys Minolta”, where the new owner is far better for the business than the old one. The second is “DJI buys Hasselblad”, where the new owner has an interest in photography and wants the name and some of the intellectual property, but not necessarily the product lines. So far, we’ve seen DJI do a lot with the name, probably something with the color science (DJI drones are paying real attention to color, when they previously hadn’t been), but nothing with Hasselblad’s core medium format product line. Several lenses came out right after the acquisition, but they were almost certainly developed under the former owners. Since then, Fujifilm has brought stabilization and a crucial new sensor to the medium format world, while DJI/Hasselblad has stood still.

The final scenario is that a company is acquired for other assets, and the new owners don’t care about photography at all. Alternately, a conglomerate simply shuts down a camera business that has no relevance to corporate vision or the bottom line. Panasonic and Pentax are both at risk of being lost to a simple shutdown. There’s a far better potential fate for Panasonic – they have a very strong professional video division. If Lumix cameras moved from the consumer appliance division (where they reside uncomfortably between toothbrushes and microwaves) to the professional video division, they might find a more stable footing.

It looks like an ongoing reorganization of Panasonic is, unfortunately, probably separating the still cameras farther from the broadcast business. The still cameras are under Panasonic Entertainment and Communication (a new company owned by Panasonic Holdings), in with TVs and related gear – but the broadcast gear is in another new company called Panasonic Connect. None of the products under Panasonic Entertainment and Communication are especially strong – they used to be a major TV manufacturer, but have lost share recently to Samsung, LG, Sony and lower-cost brands. They make a lot of the world’s Blu-Ray players, but streaming is eating that market. They make a line of earbuds – but so does everybody else. One of their major products is landline telephones (?!?!). Other than cameras, lenses and camcorders, almost all of their products sell at WalMart and Best Buy for under $250 (only a couple of expensive Blu-Ray players go over that, and their TVs aren’t sold in North America). To me, the whole Panasonic Entertainment and Communication company looks ripe for a fire sale or a shutdown.

Will the company that is now OM System make it? They were bought by a company that specializes in rescuing or shutting down troubled businesses. They get out of businesses as frequently as they revive them – and I don’t consider the failure to get a new sensor out in 2021 a positive sign. Pentax is a tiny division of Ricoh, which sells almost nothing else to consumers – their only other real consumer product is also a camera (Ricoh Theta 360 degree cameras). Everything else is business-to-business sales (their real business is in office copying and printing).

The special case is what happens to Sony’s camera business if they are sold to someone interested in Sony Pictures, Sony Music and PlayStation? Amazon is in the process of acquiring MGM, and (if there are no regulatory hurdles), the other content-hungry tech giants will be looking to buy movie studios and record labels. It’s possible that the Amazon/MGM deal will fall through due to antitrust concerns, and if it does, there is almost no way that any tech giant big enough to swallow Sony would be allowed to.

Assuming that Amazon is allowed to buy MGM, Apple, Alphabet/Google, Facebook/Meta, Microsoft and possibly Netflix will be in the market for big content companies of their own. There are enough around that they could all land content companies without someone buying Sony – and most of the rest don’t come with Sony’s other businesses, so it’s quite possible that, even if there is a wave of content buying, Sony isn’t touched. Microsoft would never be allowed to buy all of Sony, or even all of the entertainment division, because PlayStation and Xbox is an insurmountable monopoly problem. They COULD possibly buy just Sony Pictures or even Sony Pictures and Sony Music – but that doesn’t affect the camera company. Any of the other giants could potentially buy one, two or all three of the entertainment/content businesses – or buy all of Sony to get the entertainment businesses.

The most likely scenario is that a tech giant buys ONLY the content half of Sony, and I think this leaves Sony Electronics (cameras) and Sony Semiconductor (image sensors) in a better place. They will get more attention as the most important part of the remaining Sony Group than they do as about ¼ of the present company, which is about half entertainment content (the remaining quarter that is neither entertainment nor consumer and professional electronics is divided between industrial products and a bank). It doesn’t matter which tech giant does this, because the company we as photographers are concerned about is the independent portion of Sony that remains.

Another possibility is that someone buys Sony for the entertainment businesses, but is also a good home for the electronics businesses. That company is probably Apple. Apple rarely makes acquisitions that large, but there’s a lot of synergy – they would love the content businesses, but have been talking about getting into TVs for years, are the largest photography company in the world (yet make only low-end fixed-lens cameras), and are probably the world’s leading chip design shop. If Apple buys all of Sony (they could also buy just some or all of the content businesses), they would probably do good things with the cameras. They sell to many of the same customers, and they excel at user interface design. The image sensor business goes well with their existing processor design group – except that they don’t historically sell chips to others. Sony Semiconductor sells sensors to everyone in the camera (and phone) business..

Paging Mr. George Orwell… One of Facebook/Meta’s few forays into hardware is this screen with a camera that makes Facebook chats easy (but tracks users and has deeply unclear privacy policies).

If a tech giant looking for the entertainment businesses isn’t interested in, or wouldn’t do a good job with, the camera and image sensor businesses, that’s where the problem comes in. Neither Facebook/Meta nor Alphabet/Google has much experience selling expensive hardware, and Netflix has none at all. If they had to buy the businesses they didn’t want to get the ones they did, they might spin them off (fine – that’s the “smaller, more focused Sony” scenario). They could also sell them – there are good potential suitors (another large electronics company), but the risk would be that the businesses could go to a hedge fund focused on short-term profit. They could run them badly – both Google and Facebook have tried hardware, without any success in Facebook’s case, and with success mainly in inexpensive hardware that pays for itself through data collection in Google’s.

The biggest uncertainties here are the regulatory environment and what’s in play. Two of the biggest film studios are already owned by internet giants , although in the communications end of the business. Comcast owns Universal through NBC, and AT&T owns Warner. It would be a significant shakeup if either of those were to go to an even larger tech company, although it is possible. Paramount (ViacomCBS) and Disney are both primarily entertainment companies, without all the other businesses that Sony comes with. Each comes with some other assets – Paramount comes with CBS (a huge source of content in its own right) and a chain of movie theaters, while Disney has the theme parks and other travel assets. Lionsgate is smaller, but is also primarily an entertainment company. At least several of these are probably more attractive targets than Sony, precisely because they don’t come with the rest of Sony. Disney’s theme parks and cruise line could actually make them attractive to Facebook/Meta – given their emphasis on virtual worlds, a “semi-real” place could fit into their metaverse plans.

The second question is regulatory – most of these companies (certainly including Sony) are big enough that they would be mega-mergers certain to attract regulatory scrutiny. Would a tech giant be allowed to buy something the size of Sony or Disney? What might they be forced to divest? Would it be worth their while to fight for such an acquisition? If Amazon is blocked from acquiring MGM, there is no way a larger studio is in play (MGM has a huge back catalog, but is not actually that large in terms of current production). Would Sony’s video game business make them a more difficult target from a regulatory standpoint (it certainly removes Microsoft as a suitor)?

Who else is as tired of mega Zoom gallery views as I am?

Another question that we need to think about (and that I’m not able to predict) is how we’re going to use images. There is plenty of breathless technologist speculation about the so-called Metaverse, and there are a lot of very wealthy people trying to get us there. On the other side, we’re in (hopefully the later stages of) a failed two-year experiment in online living, and we WILL get COVID under control – I’m hoping it’s in the next few months, with more vaccine and more treatments rolling out, and with it becoming increasingly clear that the very transmissible Omicron variant doesn’t get people as sick, and is frequently “only a cold” in fully vaccinated populations. .

We may want to take a real look at what living online means as we transition out of this world, and to decide if a radically online world is what we want as a society. I’ve seen a lot of the evidence on online education, for example – it looks like about 10% of students benefit (perform better than they would in a classroom), 10% progress about as fast as they would in a classroom, and 80% lose. The losers include something like 20% of the total for whom online classes have essentially no value beyond the value of the syllabus. The reading and the papers still have value, but the online classes themselves are valueless and even negative for a substantial fraction of students. When I’m not writing for LuLa, I’m a mid-career graduate student at Harvard, and I took a full year of Zoom classes. I know that the 20% that get no value from online learning exists, because I’m part of it – that’s why I’ve been interested enough to look up the numbers. A significant number of people can’t use VR headsets due to motion sickness, and others (including me) are left behind by the controls (I have one hand, and I’ll never successfully use a dual hand control).

Tragically, rates of depression, addiction and suicide are massively up during the pandemic – and much (but not all) of that is because of the amount of time we’re spending online. Young people and people who depend more on friend groups are suffering from the social effects of the pandemic, because they have lost critical in-person interactions. For much of the past two years, people in lonely living situations (that are typical for younger adults, and not uncommon for others) have had many of their social interactions forced through screens and riddled with advertising. Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen has revealed how bad too much social media is for our mental health, and that Facebook knew it.

We’ve seen evidence of how Amazon uses its size and power to run roughshod over warehouse workers, small suppliers (including beloved camera accessory maker Peak Design) and delivery drivers, among others. Counterfeit photographic accessories (dangerously including batteries, which can explode) are sold in droves on Amazon, when they used to be successfully kept out (for the most part) by dealers who ordered high-quality equipment – there was no Amazon Marketplace that allowed the counterfeits to flood in. Yes, there were fly-by-night dealers in New York, but B&H and others largely cleaned them out by offering similar prices and an honest business model. Now, Amazon Marketplace has replaced the old fly-by-nights with teams of lawyers who make sure Amazon is untouched by liability, and honest camera stores around the country from giant B&H to regional powers like Hunt’s and more local shops like Green Mountain Camera are suffering.

I wonder if we’ll see a backlash against the always-online world? I hope so – that we’ll see a return to increased demand for really good still photography, for beautiful prints, for photo workshops? I think that, as we finally exhale, all of these things may become more important. Much of the tech industry tells us that we live in an all-video, increasingly VR world, but is that what we want? I may be wrong, but I wouldn’t hurry to replace all of your gear with a Canon Dual Fisheye (the VR-specific lens), a smartphone, a VR headset and a drone. These things are worth experimenting with, but I don’t think they’re all that matters.

Photography has a critical role to play in helping us return to the beauties of the real world, not just in building the metaverse. We as photographers can play an important role in shaping the world, including how much of it lives online. We can keep the things we want going, ranging from workshops to galleries, and including the infrastructure we need in photographic equipment and camera stores. Most importantly, we can make images of the world as we would have it be – photography (including, but by no means limited to, video and film) has possibilities to inspire and help build whatever world we wish to see.

Dan Wells

January 2022

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Dan Wells, "Shuttterbug" on the trail, is a landscape photographer, long-distance hiker and student in the Master of Divinity program at Harvard Divinity School. He lives in Cambridge, MA when not in wild places photographing and contemplating our connection to the natural world. Dan's images try to capture the spirit he finds in places where, in the worlds of the Wilderness Act of 1964, "Man himself is but a visitor". He has hiked 230 miles of Vermont's Long Trail and 450 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with his cameras, as well as photographing in numerous National Parks, Seashores and Forests over the years - often in the offseason when few people think to be there. In the summer of 2020, Dan plans to hike a stretch of hundreds of miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, focusing on his own and others' spiritual connection to these special places, and making images that document these connections. Over years of personal work and teaching photography, Dan has used a variety of equipment (presently Nikon Z7 and Fujifilm APS-C). He is looking for the perfect combination of light weight, ruggedness and superb image quality.

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