The Future of Underwater Photography

The Future of Underwater Photography

Aug 09
The Future of Underwater Photography

The future of photography is bleak… Just kidding! It’s actually looking pretty great. I’m not just saying that. 2018 and 2019 has seen innovation in photography at a rate faster than we have seen in the last decade. In a nutshell, the world has gone mirrorless. In fact, it’s pretty clear that full-frame mirrorless cameras are all that any camera manufacturer has been thinking about. And for good reason. Mirrorless cameras are just all around better systems than increasingly outdated DSLRs.

For those of you that have been out of the camera loop for the past couple years, a full-frame mirrorless camera is similar to a full-frame DSLR with a few key modifications. There is no mirror which means the autofocus system, viewfinder, and body design is quite different. Mirrorless cameras feature hybrid phase detection AF systems that work seamlessly in live view with the LCD. They also feature viewfinders with live video feeds instead of optical viewfinders. Finally, many of these systems feature top of the line systems like thousands of AF points covering 90% of the field of view, AF tracking, 5 axis in body image stabilization, 20 fps burst, silent shooting and more! It’s a great time to be a photographer. Although Sony was a few frames ahead in the full-frame mirrorless game, Nikon, Canon, Fujifilm, and Panasonic are all in burst mode.

But as with any swift technological movement, there are whole spheres of photography slowly being left to the wayside. Some blame it on the rise of the cellphone camera, but it’s pretty clear that the lower end camera market is loosing steam. But in fact, I believe the mid-range camera market – like APS-C (cropped) sensor camera, micro 4/3rds mirrorless cameras, and entry level DSLRs – is in the most danger of decline. In the underwater camera world, compact cameras are become more and more advanced, making it a better option to gear up on accessories rather than switch to mid-range cameras. This has instigated a race to top the market in high end and low end cameras. In the high-end world, mirrorless has been opening new technology and innovation, and frankly the DSLR framework has not. This doesn’t bode well for DSLR shooters. Eventually, everyone is going to have to get used to and adapt their art form to some amazing advancements in photography. Here are my predictions for the future of underwater photography, but don’t quote me on this:

A wolf eel photographed with the new Olympus TG-6 compact camera

  • DSLR cameras are going to be defunct within the decade.

An anemone captured with a Nikon D850 DSLR

There just isn’t enough innovation happening with DSLR’s anymore. The bodies are too crammed for essential tools like in-body image-stabilization (IBIS) and their mirrors can’t keep up with modern burst shooting speeds. But beyond that, even AF point are limited to the center of the field of view, and lens mount systems are being completely overhauled. It’s not a bad time to be a DSLR shooter since there are still amazing options available. However, sooner or later, every major camera company is going mirrorless and using new lens mounts at that.

  • Compact cameras will get more advanced, but the market could shrink and get more expensive.

Future of Photography

A wolf eel photographed with the new Olympus TG-6 compact camera

Compact cameras, because they share design similarities with mirrorless cameras are already getting some of the amazing features you can find in high end mirrorless cameras. The release of the Sony RX100 VII with the autofocus and burst capability of the Sony a9 mirrorless camera is a testament to this. Once a camera manufacturer develops a new technology, it’s in their best interest to integrate it in their compact systems to make their compact cameras more enticing to people that would otherwise shoot a cellphone. Because these new compacts are very capable, they are also rather expensive. Therefor the average price of compact cameras may go up. With more people taking cellphone photos, the compact camera market may shift towards more professional photographers who want a smaller tool to bring around. For underwater photographers this can be seen as a benefit. Instead of needing to upgrade to a mid range camera after getting used to a compact camera, since compact cameras will become more advanced it might make sense to keep your starter kit and upgrade with accessories. Image quality in some compact cameras is already approaching the level of 4/3rds mirrorless cameras.

  • Mirrorless cameras will see leaps and bounds of innovation. Full frame will become more affordable and accessible. Higher-end mirrorless cameras will become even more high-end and unaffordable.

Clown dorid captured with a Nikon Z7 full-frame mirrorless camera

This is where we are really going to see amazing improvements in camera technology. Full-frame mirrorless technology, originally spearheaded by Sony, is the future. As I mentioned before, these cameras are already include tools that high-end DSLRs can’t adapt to. Because a lot of this innovation is on mostly full-frame cameras, full-frame technology is going to become more accessible and affordable. Already we are seeing relatively cheap full-frame models with amazing capability – like the Nikon Z6 and Canon EOS RP. When full-frame becomes affordable, the low and mid range mirrorless market, especially 4/3rds and APS-C sensor cameras, are likely going to become less popular over time. New lens mounts available for these new full-frame systems are going to produce some very high quality lenses. Overall the new mounts have a smaller flange distance which gives manufacturers more room for optical improvements and quicker glass.

  • Medium format camera will become more affordable and accessible.

The recent release of the Sony A7R IV – a 61MP full frame mirrorless camera – is pushing the limits of how many megapixels you can cram in one sensor. Eventually, it just won’t make any sense to add more megapixels to a full-frame sensor, and people are going to start taking a look at medium format cameras. In fact, medium format is becoming more popular and affordable with the release of the Fujifilm GFX 50R – a camera that is at a similar price point as other high end full-frame cameras.

  • Video will see even more innovation than photography.

Recently, video has seen even more leaps and bounds when compared with innovations in photography. I expect this trend to continue. Most photographic innovation recently has been in the area of megapixels and autofocus. Well many modern cameras have AF updates that provide just as much benefit to video functions. Moreover, video files are relatively primitive on many high-end cameras – even Log profiles. It’s only a matter of time that RAW video formats will become accessible to the general public and high-end mirrorless cameras will start matching the video capability of cameras currently 10 times their price. Of course, this is just a prediction….