I’m becoming more puzzled and concerned about new products released by hardware and software companies that invariably get poor reviews and need to be “fixed”. We’ve seen that lately in the Apple 15 inch MacBook Pro (which has been “fixed” by the 16 inch released Nov 15/19). We’ve seen that in Skylum’s Luminar 3 (which as of this writing, has been “fixed” by Luminar 4, released Nov 19/19). We’ve also seen that very recently in Adobe’s Photoshop for iPad, which as of this writing, has not yet been “fixed”, after having been essentially trashed on its release in Oct. First-release mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon both needed firmware “updates” (i.e. fixes). And lastly, ON1’s Photo Raw 2020, released in October, seems to have a bug that causes it to do what should be background file management tasks in the middle of a photo edit, preventing any meaningful work from getting done. As of this writing, that has not been “fixed”.
There seem to be four main factors contributing to these problems.
First is the sheer pace of new technology, mostly on the hardware side, but also now with the advent of “artificial intelligence” or AI that seems to be flooding all software and requiring more and more hardware resources. I used to be able to make good use of hardware for a decade. Now the timeline seems to be half of that.
Second, the engineers that find new ways of making things work – more miniaturization, more standardization, more communication, better cooling, better data transfer, more speed. They don’t just build on what has come before; they replace it. These efforts create obsolescence even before you can remove the previous generation’s hardware from its shrinkwrap.
Third, retail marketing machines that have convinced us that perfectly good hardware ain’t no good no more. More cores, more threads, more cycles, more megapixels, more speed, more immersive, more real. Supposedly, we need it. The hype is getting ridiculous.
Fourth, an uneven pace of change between hardware and software, forcing software to often be released before it has been fully developed or tested on either existing or new hardware platforms. Competition contributes to that too, with everyone trying to beat each other out on release dates and trying to get consumer attention. Software just can’t be fully tested if it has to be released earlier and earlier to meet an artificial window of artificially created demand.
Related to this is that not all of us will replace our hardware and software at the same pace anymore. We just can’t keep up – financially or time-wise. It used to be the case that switchouts were much more predictable and came with new releases of operating systems – remember Windows XP? Many companies have recognized now that they have to build products that serve both new and older platforms if they want to stay in business. But how many previous generations do you include? And frankly, there is no real way to test every possible use case.
Last, a generation and a society that has convinced us that the knowledge economy is the only economy of the future. The majority of our young people want to be in this economy. Many of the top corporations are in this economy. With so much energy directed here, there are drawbacks. This might be controversial, but I think sometimes that we can have too much competition, so that all products are cheapened and are released before being fully tested and risk-assessed. Some claim that the price of breakthrough innovation is mistakes and failures. Maybe so. But that doesn’t mean that I should be asked to buy it and be the one to have it fail.
Another “benefit” of the knowledge economy is that every guy in their garage now claims to be able to take apart and analyse the performance of a new component or system. They give me the “real truth”. They even offer hacks for making things better, and document the effort on YouTube. How can I make an informed choice about a product when this is my sounding board?
All of the above has changed my personal outlook on technology a lot. I used to be at the front of the line, drooling over the latest toys. Now I don’t pay much attention at all until a product has been out for at least a year. I also physically make a list of needs and wants, and abandon products that cover little of the former and only the latter.
By way of example, I recently decided to invest in a full-frame mirrorless camera system. I did my homework, looked at several makes and models and applied my needs/wants test. What came out the winner for me: the Canon EOS R system.
This camera has been panned by many pundits, who suggested that Canon took a safe route and didn’t build in the bleeding edge technologies that many were craving. It doesn’t have full resolution 4K capability for video, frames per second performance for shooting action or moving subjects is middle ground at best, its main processor and electronics seem to parallel if not copy the technology in their last DSLR, including the pioneering dual pixel autofocus system from 2013. When I picked up the camera, I was skeptical as to whether I would find anything redeeming. Now I’m about to purchase it. It is solidly built, reliable and gives me amazing image quality. No glitches, no “why did they do that?”, no strange workarounds to compensate for something they tried but didn’t get right. All the features important to me have been thoroughly tested, sometimes in other generations of cameras. They did, however, like other manufacturers, have to issue a firmware update to address the recent ransomware issue for WiFi capable cameras. But so did everyone else. The one bleeding edge change: the multifunction touch bar. Also panned by many. I actually like it. Not too bleeding edge – just a way of addressing a lack of space for a joystick.
To confirm my choice of camera, I also looked at a bleeding edge contender, which I won’t identify here. Features like the ability to get extreme high resolution images on demand, in-body image stabilization, full resolution 4K video recording with no time limit, and the world’s highest resolution EVF were all cool to see but didn’t make my needs list. More importantly, they didn’t justify the additional cost or the additional physical weight of the camera. And I didn’t have the interest in or time to check what the performance of the camera has been since its release.
Personally, I think Canon got it right for me. I “needed” a camera with better dynamic range and colour reproduction. I had moved away from Canon 3 years ago but still had some of their equipment tucked away. I’m able to use it all with my new system – another tribute to their understanding of the equipment fatigue I and many others are now experiencing.
That said, I’ve heard that Canon are working on a pro version of the EOS R that will include twice as many megapixels, along with other “pro” features. It’s my experience that the race to be first and feature rich comes at the expense of reliable performance. I’d rather have the latter. And remember, after your base needs are met, it ain’t the gear that makes a photograph, it’s the photographer.