Thursday, March 13, 2014

Calumet closing

Today was going to be an entry on another matter. That has been put back a day or two in light of today's events.

About an hour ago, the news broke that Calumet Photo - one of the largest camera chain-stores remaining in the continental US is closing after 75 years in business. There are no further details on this at the moment. This should not come as a surprise to anybody. Even the Calumet website is down with Google unable to locate the server.

According to rumors received, managers of various branches knew that this was going to happen, months ago. These things just do not happen overnight; closing an entire chain usually takes months of planning.

The photography industry is today in its greatest crisis ever. Cameras have been so oversupplied to the market that they have totally lost their value to the consumer. They have become expensive throwaway items. The public has tired of being scammed into upgrading and replacing, hurling more and more money into an abyss for maybe just a few measly extra pixels or features (that they were happily living without until some advertiser told them that they were thoroughly miserable without them).

What is happening is just like the sub-prime mortgage scandal that caused the great depression that we're currently wallowing in. Camera manufacturers conspired to be like the phone companies, producing new cameras on an ever increasing replacement cycle. Then after years of taunting customers with truly minuscule "improvements" they encountered a roadblock. Just about everybody now has a camera with an adequate number of pixels and they just don't want to upgrade or buy a new camera until their old camera dies. I myself use a Canon XT (2006) and a Canon 30D (2006). I also still have and use a Canon S1 IS (2004). So there we have it - my cameras range between 8 and 10 years old. They still work just fine.

In combination with this, people's requirements have changed. People want to post their photos online. They use their smart phones to take photos and to post them online. People don't want massive prints any more. They prefer all their photos to be in the cloud for instant access from anywhere. They don't need massive resolution any more. Most photos displayed are at most 1024x768 pixels. Even 10x8 tablets don't display at much greater resolution than that. Going to greater resolution is just incredibly anal because most human eyes cannot determine individual pixels at that resolution without pressing one's nose against the screen and looking like an idiot.

So, we have a proliferation of smartphones that take pictures of adequate quality which in themselves are of far higher quality than most film photographs were back when film was still used. We have a lack of requirement for prints. We have a lack of requirement for excessive resolution. We have a need for instant sharing of images.

This does not look good for camera manufacturers or for camera resellers. I posted a few days ago about my complete failure to sell Canon flash units. It seems that the resale value like that of cameras, because of the incessant replacement cycle has plummeted so much that people are beginning to put a halt on their equipment purchases. Years ago, lenses and cameras were an investment. They didn't change much. I remember buying cameras and lenses years ago and then selling them a few years later for pretty much what I paid for them. People are now realising that the technological treadmill is a scam. Look at the way people have stopped buying laptops and desktops and are now making do with what they have. I use an elderly Macbook from 2007. It's 7 years old. It does everything I want and bar flash no longer working on many websites, it's fine. It does my word processing, my web browsing, my email and my photo processing. I don't need more.

So the honeypot has run dry for manufacturers and resellers. Calumet is vanishing as did Ritz. Camera manufacturers are desperately trying to make their cameras more user-friendly by producing bolt-on wifi options etc. It's all too little, too late and at too high price.

Why should Joe Soap buy a camera that costs $300 when he can get a smartphone for about the same or even less and have all his photos upload instantly to Picassa, Flickr etc? The image quality is just fine. The phone has a capable LED flash. It photographs scenes and documents in enough resolution to be able to read the print. I myself have photographed legal documents and sent them for review, with my smartphone.

What can a camera do? Well, it can take photos that are nicer when viewed at greater size. The camera has to be connected physically to the computer to upload the pictures or the memory card has to be transferred from the camera to a reader and the reader connected to the computer. Then the photos can be uploaded. Then they have to be uploaded to the file sharing site. That's an awful lot of extra steps. Not to mention the extra cost of the camera.

The days of the mass camera market are numbered. The days of the mass camera retailer are numbered too. It echoes video rental stores and music stores. Videos and music are still produced. Nobody buys them in stores though. This is all part of an industry-wide adjustment.

Anybody that goes out to buy an full priced digital SLR or a full priced interchangeable lens compact is a fool. In ten months the price will be half what it is now. For the vast majority of people, a smartphone does everything better, faster and easier. I use my smartphone more for casual photos than anything else.

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