Mistakes Made and Lessons (Not) Learned by the Photographic Industry

Mistakes Made and Lessons (Not) Learned by the Photographic Industry

The big names in the photographic industry have made some mistakes. Some have been addressed, while others are rearing their ugly heads. It's time they cleaned up their acts and served photographers and not their investors.

Remember when we thought that 2016 was one of the worst years ever? Little did we know what was around the corner!

The Camera Money Grab

That year, I won a contract that required me to use a full frame camera. So, I bought a Sony a7 Mark II. I was soon disappointed with it. Apart from the expensive lenses, there was the requirement to purchase apps to give functionality to the camera. Those functions were regular features of cameras I already owned.

To me, this was the worst money-grabbing exercise I had seen in the photography world, an attempt by Sony to copy their in-game purchase and gaming microtransaction strategies for the PlayStation. Their monopoly of the PlayStation Store and the 30% commission they charge is something that Sony is currently being sued for under competition law to the tune of £5 Billion. That's because, here in the UK, there are claims that allege it "ripped people off." That was precisely how I felt after spending a lot on the camera and then having to pay more for basic functionality.

Don't get me wrong. Apart from that issue, I thought the a7 II was a good camera. But at $1,700, eight years ago ( equal to $2,004 in today's money), one would expect it to have standard features like time-lapse and multiple exposures to be included as standard, as they were with much less expensive cameras from other brands.

They have since changed their strategy and no longer charge for the apps.

An otherwise superb camera, but having to buy apps for additional but basic functionality seemed exploitative.

Lightroom's Big Issues

Lightroom has a spot-removal tool for ridding your images of sensor dust. It did work okay if you tried to use a single spot removal on a plain surface, like the sky or a wall, although it would often automatically select the wrong sample area. If you tried to brush the selection, the place it sampled would always be somewhere totally inappropriate. The clone tool was even worse.

Adobe has finally upgraded that appalling feature. It is still far from perfect. Still making some strange selections, albeit less frequently, it forces you to go into Photoshop to repair the image; the tool is excellent there.

That isn't Lightroom's only problem.

The big-brand cameras had, and some still have, anti-aliasing (AA) filters on them to reduce moiré. That is the interference caused by the overlaying of two patterns. If you don't know what it is, pick up a fine sieve from your kitchen and look sideways through the overlapping meshes. You will see a moiré pattern of wiggly lines. The regularity of the photo sites on a sensor can produce the same effect when photographing a regular pattern.

AA filters fix that. But they have the undesirable effect of softening the image. That can be addressed artificially by sharpening the image. Lightroom's default sharpening was always set far too high for the cameras I used. I remember tutorials in digital photography magazines a year ago, suggesting that the sharpening amount value should be set to 100. That always left nasty artifacts on my pictures.

That was because the cameras I owned around that time had a much weaker AA filter. Since then, they have had none. That results in much sharper images. Consequently, Lightroom's default sharpening was miles too high, as its defaults were set to the more common brands that produced softer images.

Adobe has since reduced the default value to 40. But as more cameras are finally catching up and not building an AA filter into their camera, that still needs to be lowered. I must apply a preset on import to remove the sharpening, which slows the import process down.

The ugly digital artifacts seen at Lightroom's default sharpening settings. These disappear when the amount is reduced to zero.

As Lightroom detects the camera and lens that are used and automatically applies lens profiles, you would think it could do the same with sharpening. Or maybe it's time for Adobe to set the default to zero and let photographers decide how much sharpening they do or don't want to apply.

Adobe's noise reduction is within the same Detail panel as Lightroom's sharpening. The algorithm is just horrible. Given the outstanding results from ON1 NoNoise and Topaz DeNoise, one wonders why Lightroom and ACR are still years behind the rest of the industry. It's a shame because Lightroom can otherwise give superb results. It's okay for minor adjustments, but if you wind the ISO up high, it isn't up to scratch. Photographs are left looking soft and muddy.

Quality Control Is Not Good Enough

Canon has been plagued with multiple product failures and subsequent product recalls. Mirrors fell out of the Canon 5D, and insufficient lubrication on the drive mechanism caused increased wear on the EOS 1D C. The EOS-1D and 1Ds Mark III flagship DSLRs had oil lubricant leaking out of the mirror box. The EOS-1D Mark III was recalled because of adjustment problems with the mirror for autofocus. Skin rashes were caused by the rubber grip on the EOS Rebel T4i (650D in Europe) and the Powershot SX50, and there was excessive focus hunting on some EOS R5 Cs. The EOS 70D recall was because it produced error codes 70 and 80 for reasons unknown. Then there was the light leaking from the LCD panel on the 5D Mark III, and finally, the whole EOS R5 overheating debacle.

When I've pointed out shortcomings before, Canon users get riled and start to spit venom at me for pointing them out. Instead, when they should be aiming their ire at Canon for letting them down.  

The overheating issue is now fixed, but many were disappointed by the fault on an expensive and otherwise fabulous camera. If you spend $3,600 on a new camera, that it works faultlessly is a reasonable expectation.

Do a Google search for the most well-known brands; you will find some recalls appearing for their cameras. In 2020, Nikon recalled the 2004 F6 in Europe because of the use of the toxic substance Dibutyl phthalate, now banned under EU law. Sony recalled the Cyber-Shot DSC-T5 because the case could warp and scratch your hands.

When you buy a camera, especially a high-end camera that costs you a couple of limbs and it's something you rely on to do your work, you expect it to function correctly. Manufacturers should thoroughly test the gear before releasing it to the unsuspecting public. That is something they still don't get right.

Let us hope that manufacturers consign poor quality control to the annals of history.

The Curse of the Entry-Level Camera and Where Manufacturers Still Must Change Direction

One of the biggest mistakes many parents make is buying their children the cheapest art materials. In the discount store, they see giant tins full of different pencils, crayons, and paints. What a great deal! Regrettably, they are rubbish. How can young people start to create good art when low-quality materials limit their talents? No matter their potential, they cannot succeed to the best of their abilities with these poor tools. Often, they conclude it is them that is not good enough and become disenchanted.

I get to hold and use cameras of every level as part of my work. Occasionally, a new client will turn up with the cheapest DSLR they could buy. The build quality is rubbish, the viewfinder is small and doesn't have a diopter adjustment, and the functionality is limited. Consequently, they outgrow it too quickly and must buy another. That's what the manufacturer hopes for; they'll make more money that way. I have also met people who lost interest in photography because their cameras were inadequate and uninspiring.

Producing poor-quality entry-level cameras is a marketing approach used by some manufacturers to hook clients onto their brand because they know they will want, probably very soon, to upgrade and will probably stay with the same manufacturer. The manufacturers that do this do not serve their customers, but their shareholders. I would argue that manufacturers should be producing beginner cameras that are a delight to use.

Some retailers don't help because they bundle these cameras with dreadful cheap filters and tripods.

If you are considering buying a new camera for the first time, don't fall into that trap. Spend a little more and find a camera that will last you years with plenty of features you can learn over time. Avoid bundles, as you will be buying rubbish you don't need.

Things are changing for the better. As awareness of the environmental impact of consumerism is growing and available cash is shrinking, smaller manufacturers like Fujifilm and OM Digital Solutions are concentrating on making better-quality, longer-lasting gear with more functionality. Competition from fast-growing rivals like ON1 is making Adobe sit up and take notice too. As usual, small, innovative companies are pushing the boundaries and changing the industry. Let's hope a combination of market pressure and a return to meeting customers' needs instead of just pursuing profit changes the industry for the better.

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20 Comments
Hans J. Nielsen's picture

Ivor Rackham, do you feel better now that you got all that resentment toward the industry off your chest?

Ivor Rackham's picture

They were just interesting points that I thought were worth discussing; thanks for joining the discussion. I don't resent the industry at all, I am part of it and I think it's great, but it's also worthwhile assessing where it makes mistakes so we can learn from it.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "The big names in the photographic industry have made some mistakes."

Fair enough, but, why not also cover the mistakes of the smaller names. They are part of the photographic industry. Are they not? And, maybe there's a reason why they remain small.

--- "Lightroom's default sharpening was miles too high,"
--- "Adobe has since reduced the default value to 40."

That is incorrect. LR sharpening used to default to 25, then increased to 40. If sharpening was higher than 40, it's the user that set it to that, not Adobe.

Ivor Rackham's picture

It was just a matter of word count, Eddie. I could have written much more on the topic but had to choose when to stop.

If you say that LR's sharpening was lower, I'll take your word for it. I'll have to see if I can dig out my old versions and load them on a laptop to check if I have time and can find them. I'll get back to you. The old magazine tutorial CDs I used as reference from back then show it being 100. If, as you say, Adobe raised the sharpening default, that's even worse.

Thanks for the comment.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

--- "It was just a matter of word count, Eddie. I could have written much more on the topic but had to choose when to stop. "

How convenient. Surely, you could have chosen a middle ground to represent all sides, otherwise, your opinion looks very very very very biased.

--- "The old magazine tutorial CDs I used as reference from back then show it being 100"

No, as per your own wording, "I remember tutorials in digital photography magazines a year ago, suggesting that the sharpening amount value should be set to 100." The MAGAZINES are SUGGESTING YOU set to 100. Adobe NEVER set it 100.

Ivor Rackham's picture

That's actually a typo on my part. It should have said "from years ago". My original word document says that. Very odd.

I still remember the setting being 100, but maybe it wasn't and I am misremembering and I'll stand corrected. Whatever, I still stand by my main point that a setting of zero would be better, especially as Canon's next release is supposed not to have a AA filter. If they did increase the sharpening default from 25 to 40, that makes even less sense.

The CDs were attached to the magazines and were supplementary to the written articles . Perhaps you didn't get those there as we did (and sometimes still do) here.

I covered the brands that hold most of the market in the article. I actually looked for recalls from Fujifilm, Pentax, Olympus, and Leica and couldn't find many because they were few and far between in comparison and were mostly irrelevant. But If you are really interested:

Fujifilm recalled a power adaptor for point and shoots in 2018
Olympus recalled point-and-shoot film cameras in 2006,
PENTAX K-3 II Digital SLR Camera in 2016 and a three-pin cable in 2006
Leica had an issue with their sensor becoming corroded on the M series and recalled a faulty battery.
The only Panasonic recalls I could find were for a tablet because of its battery, TVs, and other non-photography items.

Really, the Pentax and the Leica were probably relevant to the article, but they are tiny players. I could have spent hours looking for more and there are probably a couple of others to discover, which no doubt you will find if you have the time to waste.

I could then have looked at flashes that were recalled, and tripods too, but a couple of examples were sufficient to illustrate the point I was making: if we are being expensive gear that we rely on for work, then we expect it to not fail. It has nothing to do with one brand more than another. But, now you want to discuss that angle, the odd failure for each of those manufacturers does seem a drop in the ocean in comparison to those listed above. It's a good pointer to where people should go if they want reliability. Thanks for raising it and joining the conversation.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Did these tutorials that came with the CD have LR catalogs or XMPs for the images? It's possible that's how the sharpness of 100 was set.

IMO, a mistake these smaller brands made was they were slow jump in the Eye-AF and sticky AF bandwagon.

It goes to show, when you have a superior product and is fullframe :), consumers will overlook "mistakes".

Stuart Allen's picture

Lightroom's sharpening definitely increased from 25 to 40. It was never 100.

Also your comment about Lightroom's clone tool 'forces you to go into Photoshop to repair the image; the tool is excellent there' is also incorrect. You simply have to move the sample area in Lightroom sometimes. That is a very easy fix which saves you having to open up Photoshop.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Yes, the first was my mistake based on a bad reference. I know you can move the sample area, but even then the results are often pretty shoddy compared with Photoshop and the cloning/repair tools of other software.

chris bryant's picture

Camera companies are not charities, neither are they in existence to serve photographers. They exist to make money by selling to you nice shiny very expensive things. It's a dystopian symbiotic relationship of sorts.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Very true, Chris. Sadly, many businesses have moved away from serving customers to serving their shareholders. All the training I got setting it up my business encouraged me to be the same way. However, I think a lot of smaller businesses are changing direction again. Money should be just the byproduct of business and not the motivation.

Thanks for the comment.

David Pavlich's picture

You need money to run the business and as Chris stated, it's not a charity. A business will make choices based on how it will sustain that business and earn a decent profit to keep the people that are invested in the company happy. Bad choices will, at some point, cause hand wringing with the investors, and if not righted, the investors flee. The business flounders and poof! It's gone.

Serving the customer is part of the plan. How much is invested in service is a calculated number with hopes that it will be correct to keep those pesky investors happy and the customer happy as well. It's a balancing act and can change course in a hurry.

In the end, earning money is at the core of a successful business. Without it, the business becomes a footnote.

toni 2's picture

The problem today is that people are very complacent. You can't be critical because people catch you mania. People are not capable of being critical and analyzing things. Today marketing is everything.
It's like Windows or MSOffice: always bugs, so buy next release. Twenty years with the same excuse.

Nigel Voak's picture

The internet, with forums such as DPR, has given us all the opportunity of finding out about the various gremlins present in camera gear we are interested in buying or which we have bought. I soon learned that my Nikon D70 might suddenly die with the "green light of death". I avoided upgrading my excellent Olympus EM5 to the EM1, which had strap lugs which fell out and dials that died, if users on the M43 forum on DPR were to be believed. I was awaiting an upgrade to my EM5i to a more powerful 20MP sensor variant. But the tripod socket failures put me off and I went elsewhere. I hope OM read the posts and acted.

Nikon lost me for a while when my D300 started to shed its grips and the side door distorted so much it would not close. The rubber focus ring on the 17-55 that expanded and became loose was a disgrace too. With the D850 and Z line, they seem to have got the quality control back under control.

Most of us do a due diligence research on internet before buying expensive gear these days. I even check out reviews of books that seem interesting. Who does not take a look at Trip advisor before booking a restaurant or hotel? Poor quality goods have nowhere to hide these days.

If you check out articles about old analogue camera gear, you will find that camera gear has always suffered from bouts of poor quality control.

Stephen Strangways's picture

Loose rubber focusing rings are an easy fix - put it in boiling water for a few minutes and it will shrink a bit. Boiling water cannot get hot enough to melt rubber, so there's no risk of melting it by putting it in an oven, as is often recommended instead.

C Taylor's picture

Ivor, I welcome you calling it like it is. No point in defending the camera manufacturers if you want them to change their ways. Software companies seem to be following suit as well, I'm looking at you Capture One and DXO. Both now want you to buy upgrades in advance, w/o even telling you what's new or what's fixed, and often the upgrades are minor.

DXO has for years ignored repeated requests from its users to provide the ability to flip, or mirror an image. You can rotate one, so what is so difficult to make it flip an image? I like to scan negatives from the non-glossy emulsion side. Using DXO, I can't reverse images. Many other bugs remain in their softwares and new ones constantly pop up in the "upgrades".

M Hector's picture

Your Sony experience sounds a little like how automobile manufacturers are beginning to charge for subscriptions to enabled features. You know, the subscription model is by far the most lucrative model, far beyond buy once and then the manufacturer hopes that you buy again after a new release. I had no idea that Sony did that, by the way.
I own cameras and lenses from several vendors. With luck, so far I have had no major issues and I am not familiar with any recalls. I would say that as long as the manufacturer has a well-accepted process in place for doing recalls, it is helpful. It doesn't speak to having excellent engineering and design to begin with. One would expect this (or maybe not). But with more widely accepted practices that span several industries, it does seem to help the consumer in terms of both setting expectations and what is acceptable behavior.

regan albertson's picture

In 2008 I bought a Nikon D50 from my son, who bought it from a friend that had lost his job at BestBuy and needed some money. My son used that primitive entry level DSLR and he fell in love with photography, and hit the limits of the D50. He bought a D80 and I got the entry level D50 from him. Entry level, limited editions are great for, well, entering, and you'd find that they are quite sellable when you hit the limits and go to upgrade. I moved to a D300S in 2010 and was getting offers on the D50, which I still was using for going where I wasn't taking my new camera. Oh, and forget Adobe, Affinity has some killer programs that you pay for once.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

One of the biggest mistakes that has likely served to ruin much of their long term growth, is the unnecessary crippling of lens calibration of their entry level DSLRs. Nothing puts someone off of photography quite like spending $600+ on a camera and kit lens only to get legitimately worse results than what even a $300 smartphone is giving because the camera won't stop back focusing, and the camera maker (looking at you nikon, but this issue is not quite limited to nikon) won't fix it in a RMA because it is still within their acceptable tolerances for their 5000 series. They essentially decided to push for short term profits by selling off defective stuff knowing that beginners will potentially blame their their technique rather than the hardware until it is too late to return the item to the store.

It is downright sinister to intentionally allow defective products through by redefining what defective is, and then intentionally blocking users from adjusting calibration to compensate for the company's incompetence and evilness.

toni 2's picture

The fact that you can't adjust the microAF on entry-level cameras is a big trick.

And the fact that entry cameras are not sold with fixed bright lenses means that they cannot compete with the colors get with a smartphone (probably with F2.0 of better lens).