Entry Level Cameras

With all of the changes happening in the imaging world, it makes one ponder if entry level cameras will disappear over the next few years.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/1000, ISO-400

It was that many years ago when camera manufacturers could count on a predictable progression of purchases from consumers.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/400, ISO-400

Many folks would get their first experience with photography by purchasing a point-and-shoot camera. Then if they were bitten by the photography bug, they’d buy their first interchangeable lens camera with a kit lens or two. These entry level cameras and lenses were competent enough and offered improvements in image quality and more photographic options.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 72 mm, efov 194 mm, f/5.6, 1/800, ISO-800

Unless a camera manufacturer was asleep at the switch, they could often squeeze more money out of their customers over time by offering them a series of cameras with incremental improvements. Camera model updates were frequent and often focused on sensor improvements.

Belvedere House Ireland, Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 6.7-13 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 13 mm, efov 35 mm, f/5.6, 0.8 seconds, ISO-3200

Eventually real improvements in sensor performance slowed, and camera manufacturers shifted their incrementalist approach to create a mega-pixel competition. It was a variation on the same, old dusty marketing approach.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikkor 10-100 mm f/4-5.6 @ 10 mm, efov 27 mm, f/8, 1/15, ISO-400

After the mega-pixel craze started to fade, another new mantra was pushed into the market… larger sensor cameras became the goal at the end of the never-ending road of incrementalism.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/8, 1/3200, ISO-1000, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 5.8 metres

While all of this was happening consumers were leaving the dedicated camera market by the millions and moving over to new imaging technology being offered by smartphone manufacturers.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H mode, subject distance 6.8 metres

Increasingly the majority of consumers were getting their first taste of photography from a new and different source, their smartphone.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 10mm, efov 27mm, f/8, 1/125, ISO-400

Traditional camera companies saw their sales opportunities shrink to smaller and smaller segments of the market. Their futures becoming narrow and questionable.

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon 10-100mm f/4-5.6 @ 25.7mm, efov 69.4mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-160

All of this leads us to look at the camera market differently. Since the predictable spiral of incremental up-selling is breaking, what’s the point in producing entry level cameras?

Nikon 1 J5 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810mm, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-800

Developing low priced, entry level cameras eat up precious R&D budgets, which are likely in a declining state in most camera companies. It seems to me that camera companies would be much further ahead to really examine why people create images. Then, figure out how to bring consumers into the dedicated camera market, after they have had their initial photographic experiences with smartphones. Entry level cameras don’t help camera companies do that task.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 12-40 mm f2.8 @ 40 mm, efov 80 mm, f/5.6, 1/8, ISO-200

I think there is a predictable outcome for camera companies that continue on the path of incrementalism. Now is the time for true innovation and creativity with cameras and lenses. Dedicated cameras need to offer more capabilities in order to stake out niche markets that don’t compete head-to-head with smartphones. They need to help consumers create photographs that are not possible with their smartphones. Not just bigger sensors or more megapixels. Those are the tools of battles that have already been lost.

Olympus OM-D E-M1 X + M.Zuiko 60 mm f/2.8 macro, f/5.6, 1/400, ISO-6400, Handheld Hi Res Mode, subject distance 460 mm

If camera companies want to grow, they need to develop new approaches to the market that offer more value to their customers than what simple incrementalism can deliver.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Herbertville, New Zealand, Nikon 1 V3 + 1 Nikkor 10-30 mm f/3.5-5.6 PD @ 17 mm, efov 45.9 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-400

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2 thoughts on “Entry Level Cameras”

  1. Tom,
    I have been reading your recent posts with considerable interest. In the process of trying to make a decision as to which way to go, I have read a number of posts on the camera you are using at present.

    Once I get rid of the ‘haters’, two things come up. The first is that some are not as impressed with the viewfinder and think one found on other models in the brand are better. They wonder why Olympus seems to have put a better view finder in lines other than their flagship camera. Is this a fair criticism?

    Also, some suggest that with the sensor and shorter DOF, creating a background that isolates the subject is harder. As I look at your BIF images, that does not seem to be a problem for you. Am I correct?


    1. Hi Ron,

      I’m am not technically oriented at all when it comes to cameras so I’m likely not the best person to ask. Here is a link to a review done by Imaging Resource: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KbDvTEvENOA There is some discussion of the viewfinder that starts at about 21:20 in the YouTube video. I don’t personally have any issue with the viewfinder, but that’s just me. I’m new to the Olympus brand so I have no previous experience with which to compare the EVF’s on other Olympus cameras. I always look at a camera as an integrated tool. There is no such thing as a perfect camera. Everything comes with some kind of trade off. I look for the camera gear that best meets my needs with the fewest number of acceptable trade-offs. The EVF was a non-issue for me, given everything else that the E-M1X provides to me for the work that I do.

      The sensor does not directly impact depth of field. Lens focal length, aperture, distance to subject, and subject distance to the background are the key factors. I have a few articles on my website that discuss this and show how to achieve very shallow depth of field with a M4/3 sensor camera. Here is one such article that you may find of interest: https://smallsensorphotography.com/shallow-depth-of-field

      Since a M4/3 camera uses a shorter focal length to achieve an equivalent field-of-view as a larger sensor camera there will be deeper depth of field when identical apertures are used. So, one can create shallow depth-of-field, but the technique required is different than when using a larger sensor camera. When I’m doing bird photography I look for specific situations where I can use a long focal length, and where the background is not right up close to the bird. I think that’s a common approach used my most bird photographers anyway. I think it comes down to understanding how to adapt one’s shooting style to the gear that one is using.

      To me, a feature like Pro Capture that allows me to confidently create ‘precise moment’ captures that I simply could not achieve with other gear is a far more valuable capability than worrying about subject separation from time to time. Read some of the material from professional nature photographers like Andy Rouse, Petr Bambousek and David Tipling to see how they use their Olympus kit and why they left their full frame gear behind.


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