The Camera Wars are dead – All of them

Feb 12, 2024

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

The Camera Wars are dead – All of them

Feb 12, 2024

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The “megapixel wars” began as soon as DSLRs started appearing on the scene. Nikon’s flagship D2h could only shoot 4.1 megapixels. Then came 6, then 8, 10, 12, 16 and more. But it’s died down a lot lately.

This is just one of the “camera wars” that have happened over the years. But are they all now over? That’s the belief in this interesting and thoughtful video from photographer Matt Irwin, following the hype of Sony’s A9 III global shutter CMOS sensor.

What are the camera wars?

Over the years, there have been several different wars in photography. The most famous of which being the whole Nikon vs Canon… thing. But there have been wars based on more than simply brand loyalty. Like the megapixel wars.

The Megapixel Wars

The race to produce the highest-resolution sensors was a big deal in the 2000s. Even into the early 2010s, resolution was still fairly low. 2010’s Nikon D7000, for example, was only 16-megapixels. Only Nikon’s flagship Nikon D3x had more, at 24.5 megapixels.

Canon, too, had similar resolution cameras, although bodies tended to offer slightly more, on average, than their Nikon counterparts. Over time, the base level standard increased, to the point where pretty much everybody is making the same thing now.

Nikon, Canon and Sony all have sensors in the 45-50 megapixel range. The vast majority of the planet’s population will never need any more than that. Even Sony’s new A9 III (buy here), containing its world’s first global shutter CMOS sensor is only 24.6-megapixels.

The Frames-per-second (FPS) War

This was something else that even in the early days of DSLRs, people wanted more of. I mean, I had a 35mm SLR that could burn through a 36-exposure roll of film in four and a half seconds and I demanded the same of my DSLR, damn it!

Or at least, that’s how everyone seemed to feel at the time. Most of my shots, although of animals, were quite staged. They were for illustrative and documentary purposes. But it felt like every other DSLR owner I knew wanted to be able to shoot at least 10fps for some unknown reason.

DSLRs topped out at 16, with the Canon EOS 1DX Mark III (buy here), but mirrorless cameras now go up to 120fps and as Matt shows in the video, most people will never even need over 30. And for those rare scenarios that do, just get the camera that does more. Rent it if you don’t need it often.

The Autofocus War

While there have been a number of autofocus wars over the years, the most recent has happened since Nikon and Canon joined the mirrorless fray. Before, Sony only needed to keep up with DSLRs. Now that they’re all making mirrorless, the competition hotted up.

Along came AI-powered autofocus systems with subject recognition and intelligent predictive this and that and it was just… Well, yes, it’s all very nice and good, but pretty much all the manufacturers have it now. Even Panasonic finally joined the 21st century and adopted PDAF.

Yes, each one has slight advantages and disadvantages over the other, but overall, they’re pretty much all equal these days. This was a very short-lived war that got as good as it needed to be for everyone and then just fizzled out when everyone was happy.

Global Shutter War?

Matt doesn’t believe that global shutter vs. rolling shutter will become the next war in photography. I have to say, I largely agree with him. I’ll admit that it’s possible, but unlikely.

The tech’s not quite there yet. Despite Sony’s claims during the Sony A9 III (buy here) announcement that it produced this global shutter CMOS sensor without any performance hit to low light or dynamic range, DPReview’s tests show that it does. The Sony A9 III has many compromises that not all photographers will be willing to accept.

However, some will accept it because the other benefits it offers far outweigh those below-par specifications. They’re not important to them. And those are the people who’ll buy the A9 III.

For most applications, the rolling shutter CMOS sensor is going to remain standard for a while to come. Unless there’s some big surprise breakthrough in global shutter CMOS technology over the next couple of years, it’s just unlikely to.

So, what’s next?

Now we just all get on with shooting, I guess. That would be nice, huh? Never going to happen. People are still always going to complain and lust after more gear. And there will probably be a new race popping up that we don’t even know exists yet.

We’re already starting to see it with some of the AI-powered feature implementations we’re seeing on some cameras. Most autofocus systems are now also powered by AI. Who knows where that particular rabbit hole could lead us?

But what about core photography features? I think we’ll start to see some better high-ISO performance. Or, perhaps first, an AI-powered assistant while the real feature is being developed. With the exception of perhaps the Sony A9 III, I think the dynamic range of cameras today is also pretty good for most use cases.

Even looking at video, which has been a huge race ever since it was first introduced to DSLRs with the Nikon D90, is starting to peak a bit. While 8K may have been thrust upon us, 12K isn’t coming any time soon.

We’ve already got just about every camera on the planet now able to record raw video into an Atomos Ninja (buy here) or Blackmagic Video Assist (buy here), with 4K, 6K and 8K resolution and frame rates all the way up to 240fps on some cameras.

I’m not saying nobody will ever need anything faster or higher resolution, but we’re a long time off those sorts of things becoming mainstream, if ever.

What do you think the next photography war will be? Or if there’ll even be another one at all.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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23 responses to “The Camera Wars are dead – All of them”

  1. Chung Dha Lam Avatar
    Chung Dha Lam

    People dont need such big mega pixels, the next war will be affordable global shutter and this is gonna show which brand can keep up with the development and those to last to adapt be left behind.

  2. Carter Tune Avatar
    Carter Tune

    Well, the article got about 50% correct.

  3. Azem Koleci Avatar
    Azem Koleci

    Well the best camera is the one carriers with you, and that’s the phone!

    1. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Azem Koleci If the only camera you carry daily with you is the phone then you ain’t much into photography at all.

    2. Azem Koleci Avatar
      Azem Koleci

      Petar Maksimovic
      Well we all carry the phone at all times so we do use it.
      I didn’t mean photographer or not though.
      However camera no matter what type of won’t make you photographer so.

    3. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Azem Koleci Yes but, but we are talking photography here, not ordinary people and casual snappers. I agree, but a photographer will have at least one proper carry-on camera with him.

    4. Azem Koleci Avatar
      Azem Koleci

      Petar Maksimovic
      No there isn’t any more such a definition of photographer, where a man with camera goes around taking pictures.
      Now everyone one is or be a photographer because has the tool that produce an image.
      We are on digital age that photograph is made different shape and format.
      But you lost the trail a bit now.

    5. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Azem Koleci Those are ordinary snappers, photography takes a lot more than touching a screen. Just like not every commuter with a car isn’t a racedriver.

    6. Azem Koleci Avatar
      Azem Koleci

      Petar Maksimovic
      Well I talked about camera and you mention photographer.
      You need to know the definition of photographer first then maybe an artist if you are trying to say, even though that in photography is debatable.
      If then you still stick to your ‘photographer’ I’m afraid you are behind in time as is a different era now.

    7. Abel Buenconsejo Avatar
      Abel Buenconsejo

      Azem Koleci Exactly. Which means the next war will be MILCs that can be used as 6g mobile phones!

    8. Abel Buenconsejo Avatar
      Abel Buenconsejo

      Petar Maksimovic Nah. Photography is all about taking photos. It does not matter what tools you use.

    9. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Azem Koleci The fact that millions of little girls take selfies for social networks by tapping on screen (actually waving at it) doesn’t make them a photographer or changes the definition of it, they might be the authors of those selfies, but they ain’t photographers. Also there are a lot of photographer that aren’t artists or photographing artistic stuff – think sports photographers – yet they are photographers and a little girl taking instagram selfie simply isn’t.

    10. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Abel Buenconsejo That is true and I agree, but not everyone that takes photos is a photographer. THere are some photographers that prefer their phones, there is that niche, but my mother isn’t a photographer because her phone happens to have a builtin camera.

  4. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
    Petar Maksimovic

    All wars are rather irrelevant, they are only important to the marketing department and youtube pixelpeepers.

    1. Conor O'Leary Avatar
      Conor O’Leary

      Petar Maksimovic file this under the most reductionist and simple bollocks on the internet. What?

  5. Jason Ferdinando Avatar
    Jason Ferdinando

    god awful background music

  6. Donn R. Nottage Avatar
    Donn R. Nottage

    On “The Avengers” in 2011, they were using a bunch of Canon 5DMkII’s to shoot footage FOR THE FILM. So…

  7. John Nixon Avatar
    John Nixon

    That background music!!! I want to pull my eyebrows out! It’s never ending, I thought it would stop. I think I will just read instead. OMG….

  8. john Avatar
    john

    how about a less ISO noise war

  9. Adrian J Nyaoi Avatar
    Adrian J Nyaoi

    It never started.

  10. Alek Traunic Avatar
    Alek Traunic

    Technically digital photography has always been really slow video; and now things have come full circle so that the photography equipment has eaten that market. So look to high-end video products for the source of many new features. I also suspect LIDAR and similar 3D space recording technology has matured enough that it may be a feature to arrive in standard photography kit before too long. Also don’t get caught in the 640KB trap, there is always a market for more, even if Bill Gates can’t imagine why.

  11. circleblue Avatar
    circleblue

    Like him or not, I think Tony Northrup identified the next camera war. He states that people want their interchangeable lens cameras to have all the benefits of their mobile phone cameras such as; GPS, in camera editing, applying pre-sets and filters, uploading directly to Socials etc. He goes on to say that camera manufacturers will race to load iOS and/or Android as the adaptive OS for their next gen models or risk getting left behind. I think he’s probably right that that will be the next war.

  12. John Beatty Avatar
    John Beatty

    Wait, I’m not over the Cola Wars…