I claim that watching people photograph the Big Island is effective camera-futures research; and camera futures are interesting now. So here’s some research. Oh, and Big Island photos.
Those camera futures became interesting with the arrival, this past few years, of “mirrorless” and other compact-format high-quality cameras (overview here). Check out I've Got Good News, I've Got Bad News for some data on sales trends; it suggests SLRs are doing well but compacts aren’t much of a factor.
Why Hawaii? · People go to the Big Island to see things. (This probably applies to Kauai too). If you just want to lie on the beach, Maui’s the place. For civilized funk and surfing, Oahu. But the Big Island is all about lava and canyons and Saddle Roads and botanical gardens and coffee plantations and paniolos; most people would want to come home with pictures. In fact, I suspect a Big Island vacation is a common factor motivating new-camera purchases. And since it's not a particularly cheap place to go or stay, a lot of those purchases will be high-end, thus a useful indicator of which way the market’s heading.
What I Saw · This is uncontrolled anecdotal scavenging, not real data collection. But still:
Astonishingly few point-&-shoots.
A huge number of iPhones and Androids (more of the former, but plenty of both).
Unsurprisingly many big honking CaNikon SLRs.
Surprisingly, a waterproof compact or two at most pools and beaches.
Memorably, a few iPads, held up to shoot Mom & Sis in front of the waterfall or whatever. The photographer looks dorky but I don’t think cares because you preview and shoot at the same time, if it weren’t that awkward it’d sweep the planet, but it is that awkward.
And then, in the places where photos matter, compacts. Lots of compacts; maybe as many as SLRs. Panasonics and Sonys mostly; I had the only Fujifilm I saw but it got called out by savvy-seeming photogs carrying way heavier metal. I kept having to say “No, it’s not an X100.”
Instinct Call · I can’t encourage you, honestly, to trust mine. But it’s shouting in my ear, saying the future is electronic viewfinders and small bodies.
SLRs are really hard to shrink because of their lens legacy and prism-size requirements, neither of which get help from Moore’s Law. The mirrorlesses are doing all sorts of innovation in sensors and lenses and ergonomics, and their viewfinder systems are going to improve every year because they are in Moore’s-Law territory.
And also, once again size matters. The whole point of a camera is that, to be useful, it has to go with you. The lighter and smaller it is, the more likely it is to be there.
The corollary, of course, is that more and more photography is going to happen through mobile phones because they’re the most likely to be there. So cameras have to find the sweet spot, where they take significantly better pictures than phones, but aren’t so bulky they get left behind.
Is my new Fujifilm X-E1 a complete replacement for the Pentax SLRs I’ve been carrying around for years? Not entirely, because I don’t have a lens longer than 55mm, and really no urge to get one, because once you get up into the big lenses, you’re kind of trading off portability anyhow.
But for tourism, particularly if there’s some serious walking involved, the Fuji trumps the Pentax, big-time; the image quality is about as good, the ergonomics are mostly better, and the size decides it.
Just Getting into Photography? · Go mirrorless. Don’t even think about an SLR. It’s a no-brainer.