A decade ago we all felt anxious to get the latest model of digital camera. There may or may not have been an element of hubris about it but there was certainly a good practical reason – it was a whole lot better than the previous model. This happens with new technology and many other things, rapid improvement at first, then less and less as a sort of perfection is approached. I kept my first digital camera only 12 months but my last I had for 5 years and it still commanded a good price secondhand.
The digital SLR is probably virtually on that plateau, where improvements are very hard won, hard to justify an upgrade by the consumer. Other forms of the technology, such as mobile phone cameras and mirrorless cameras may have a little further to go but soon they too will level out.
Unless we have a major new technical advance, such as a radically different sensor, there will be little incentive for us to buy the latest model. We are already seeing a change, manufacturers are tending to get us to buy a host of new lenses to fit our plateau cameras, rather than depend on new model sales.
This phenomenon of diminishing returns has already caused a change in the software business. Adobe realised a few years back that they could not continue to get people to upgrade because the improvements they could offer were simply getting smaller. So they now rent the software.
In a way, this is all good news: if the camera you have now is a near-the-plateau model it is probably good enough, and if it is the latest model certainly is good enough to last for years, just as film cameras used to. It also means a capable camera is within reach of most of us.
Even the budget DSLRs create good quality images now. I think the main advance now is in manufacturers developing more noise and grain free sensors that can use higher ISO with finer grain. All the top makes are quiet similar in quality but it’s still the lens which makes the most difference and the quality of lenses is also at an all time high. Then there’s the software profiles that can fine tune there defects. We’ve never had it so good.