Kirk's 'Visual Science Lab' is one of my regular Web-stops. As a rank, non-professional amateur who only shoots as a hobby, I would tend to agree with his posits in this column.
For the 90% who shoot pictures (your Moms, Pops, Grandmothers, girlfriends, etc.) with point+shoots, the cellphone has replaced them. These are folks who want PICTURES of graduations, fishing trips, baby's first steps, and on and on, and they want NOTHING to do with the hows and whys of photo technique. They don't know their f-stops from a hole in the ground and that's exactly the way they want it. All they really want is to keep them in their smartphone, throw them up on Facebook, et al, and that's the end of it: IF they're ever printed, it'll be on copier paper from their $50 H-P printer.
A sub-set of this bunch is all the Sam's and Costco customers that bought the packaged DSLR kits, which slays me. In the film days, we could never give away even beginner SLR's to your Dad or Uncle, yet you see big bunches of them, especially places like here in Nashville, neck deep in tourists. And yet the above applies: They have NO interest in using these things at any thing besides the green AUTO setting . . . . . and both of these groups are NOT hanging on the 'Rumors' pages breathlessly awaiting the next, latest, greatest thing: Most likely the only replacement they'll get is the next SmartPhone cam when they re-sign for their next wireless plan.
That leaves the other 10% of us who try our best to learn the craft and make PHOTOGRAPHS. But a big bunch of this small remainder is so busy pixel-peeping, fanboy arguing with huge rudeness on the various online forums about all manner of technical minutiae, that real images are the last thing anybody talks about in these online battlefields. And I certainly agree the technology has come so far, so fast, that this arguing is pointless: It's very hard to find any really bad cameras anymore.
When I first became a semi-pro musician in the late 70's, analog ruled. You had to learn to play your instrument, recording was an exacting process, and a sense of craft and practice was a prerequisite. Now in a digital music world, all the barriers are broken: If you can play just a little, you can digitally build recordings from next to nothing, even sample older recordings or instrument tones, and build out from a computer driven standpoint. Recordings are done remotely, parts E-Mailed in from wherever, the rhythm and pitch corrected, and sculpted in a digital realm. I think those of us who came from long roots in film photography would see the similarity.
I often wonder what my Dad would think of my X-S1. My Dad was a WW2 veteran who used to develop war photos using GI helmets as trays in a tent at night, from pics shot on a Super Ikonta. If he saw my camera with that zoom range, all the different automations, etc., it would be like stepping from the B17's his squadron serviced into a B2. We have all the technical advantages that were pipe dreams only a few years ago, but where are the amazing photographs these technologies can now so easily produce ?
Well, I don't know, Rico. While camera sales have been flat over the past few years, I do think there has been a relative boom since the digital era really got rolling a decade or so ago. At least compared with camera sales in the last decade or two of the analog era.
It's pretty simple, methinks. We've reached a point of diminishing returns with camera improvements and 16mp really is a kind of sweet spot. So those who are pretty serious about photography - whether pro or hobbyist - have less reason to upgrade.
For the masses, smart phones - which themselves have reached a sweet spot in terms of price, availability and picture-taking ability - offer the convenience that really is the most important thing for them. These people were Instamatic and Poloroid camera buyers in the 1960s and 1970s.
Add to this the economic situation. True, the U.S. is technically in a growth cycle, even if a weak one. But I can only use myself as an example. I weathered the financial crisis and recession fairly well. But it is in this year - 2013 - that I find my flat salary and rising expenses have caught up with me. I have far less money to blow now than I have had in quite a while. so camera purchases go on the back burner, especially since I have a nice kit already.
Perhaps now we'll go back to something closer to the more-sane world of photography prior to the digital age. But, with a camera market that's shrinking as fast and as much as it is, some players are likely to fold.