struggling in spite of the challenges by Abu Faisal AL-anezi

“There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.”
– Mark Twain

I react one of two ways when a “shocking” statistic or graph about the photo industry is sent my way. I either 1) Ignore it completely and go about my day; or 2) Approach it with the kind of skepticism I usually reserve for political speeches.

It’s not that I’m all that cynical, it’s that I took stats in high school (even passed the AP test… so you know I’m an expert) and know just how easily stats can be manipulated; or, even unmanipulated, how they can paint a chronically incomplete picture.

Few places is this more the case than on those “most popular cameras on *insert photo sharing site here*” lists.

You’ve no doubt seen one of these lists covered on photography news sites under a headline that goes something like:

Smartphones Now Top 5 Cameras Used on *Popuar Photo Sharing Website*

This headline is then used to hail the death of the professional camera as if the DSLR is vinyl and the smartphone is iTunes. But this stat, unsurprisingly, doesn’t tell the whole story, as I discovered when I dived into these data on 500px.

If you look at the past two months — during which tens of thousands of photos have been uploaded to 500px… a significant sample, I believe — a whooping 3 of the top 5 cameras used to upload images were iPhones. The exact list is:

1. Fujifilm X-T1
2. iPhone 6
3. iPhone 5s
4. Sony Alpha a7
5. iPhone 5

On the surface that’s a pretty damning list. Considering the higher quality nature of 500px, it may even be surprising (although people like Husain Ujjainwala and Ben Von Wong have proven beyond a doubt that you don’t need a pro camera to get pro results).

But this list doesn’t tell the whole story, because ‘most used’ is just one parameter.

The fact that you always have a smartphone with you, and just about every smartphone has the ability to upload straight to 500px (or any other major sharing site) automatically, makes the above list a no-brainer. Of course the iPhone has surpassed the most popular SLRs and mirrorless systems — they’re always connected and ready to upload.

But what happens when we look at the average quality of the images uploaded to 500px. A very different story emerges. If we assume that highest pulse = highest quality (trolls please bear with me here), the list of top cameras on 500px changes dramatically.

Here are the highest rated photos by brand of camera used to capture them:

1. Pentax
2. Nikon
3. Canon
4. Olympus
5. Sony

Where in the world are all the Apples and Samsungs and Googles!? After all, Apple makes three of the 5 most used cameras, right? They’re found on another list. The lowest rated photos by brand of camera used to capture them:

1. Apple
2. Google
3. Samsung
4. Panasonic
5. Leica

Now, don’t take this to mean that iPhone photos are all terrible, and that the camera makes the photographer. If you still think that in 2015 you’re turning a willfully blind eye to the incredible images being captured every day with smartphones.

Simply put, the stats above are also an indication of the fact that your phone is always connected and ready to upload. You’re more likely to upload a snapshot, which is totally and completely fine, but it doesn’t mean that less people are using high-end cameras, just that more people are getting into photography using the best camera they happen to own.

The fact that this is a fantastic thing — that more people experiencing the joy of photography, no matter the camera they use, is a wonderful development — is a different conversation altogether. I point it out simply to say that those lists of “most popular cameras” are sharing an incomplete picture at best.

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 11.51.11 AM

Let’s throw out one final stat to further fill in this still-incomplete picture: the cameras responsible for the most sales on 500px Prime.

1.2 million photos have been added to the 500px Marketplace since its inception a little over a year ago. Care to guess what cameras the top sellers are using? No need, here’s that top 5 list:

1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II
2. Canon EOS 5D Mark III
3. Nikon D800
4. Nikon D7000
5. Canon EOS 7D

People will inevitably use this post to bolster their anti-smartphone rhetoric, or point out that this, too, is an incomplete picture.

To the first group, I’ll say that you’re missing the point. To the second, I say that you’re completely right. I’m not trying to paint a complete and completely objective picture because, frankly, that’s impossible.

I’m just trying to discuss a MORE complete picture — one that doesn’t focus on a single statistic and use it to prophesy the end of the professional and prosumer market.

With that goal in mind, I hope I’ve landed a little bit closer to “lies” or maybe “damned lies.” After all… statistics bother me.