A Camera Industry Dragging Their Feet?

Bengt Nyman
By BENGT NYMAN

The camera industry supports a number of rumor sites to influence as well as to opinion-fish among their customers. Ford Motor company did something similar years ago when they came up with the Edsel, the biggest new car flop in automotive history.

The problem with the camera industry today is not that they don’t know what customers want; the problem is that they are greedy and afraid to loose market share, revenue and profit margins.

Meanwhile mobile phones are taking over a big part of the market. They have done this not by asking people what they want, but by giving us new technology that we haven’t even known to ask for.

Something fundamental needs to happen in the rest of the camera industry. The DSLR needs to go, to make room for high image quality mirrorless cameras.

The technology exists today. Sony offers the industry’s best image sensors as well as excellent electronic viewfinders. Nikon uses exclusively Sony image sensors. Canon rumors to be considering doing the same.

Sony is also dabbling in making cameras. Many Sony fans think that Sony is trying to become a dominant player in the industry. I claim that Sony already is, by supplying image sensors to all the big players. I claim that is exactly what Sony wants to do, no more and no less.

By dabbling in cameras Sony can demonstrate the superiority of their image sensors and EVFs, thereby forcing the industry to accept and buy their components.

This strategy has been working well with a few exceptions:

  1. Sony does not intend to become a lens manufacturer. Sony camera buyers are consequently forced to find their lenses elsewhere creating a new market for Zeiss and others. On the other hand, camera buyers are not Sony’s primary market, so it is not of major concern to Sony as long as they sell enough cameras to demonstrate their component superiority.
  2. Canon and Nikon have been very slow to give up the added value offered by their optomechanical DSLR. The reason is probably exactly that. A camera with no optical viewer and no moving parts (except for a shutter) and with key components purchased from Sony offers very little proprietary protection for Canon and Nikon. High-end mirrorless cameras from Canon and Nikon have consequently most likely been stopped in respective boardrooms.
  3. While Sony makes the best sensors, Nikon makes the best autofocus lenses. So why not a Sony camera with Nikon AF lenses? Answer: Because Nikon won’t let it happen. Nikon can easily prevent any uncomfortable competition from Sony in the fine print of their sensor purchasing contracts with Sony.

Canon does not even have to stop anybody, they can just wait until something forces them to jump on the bandwagon.

So, what is going to happen?

Nothing.

The probability of a newcomer effectively entering the shrinking market for pro quality cameras is small. Until Canon and/or Nikon can find a way to create proprietary, protectable, mirrorless technology and make more money selling this than selling DSLRs, they will probably stay with the DSLR.

Mirrorless can’t be the next Edsel, or can it.




  • Sony has made some great inroads in a relatively short amount of time. A lot of what Sony is doing is driving innovation in the technical aspects of digital photography, giving other manufacturers sleepless nights. Yet not every photographer is a friend of their cameras’ haptics and aesthetics. Or why not the other way round…:

    Years ago there were persistent rumors about Apple trying to reinvent the camera or photography per se. Well, they did, not by designing a completely new digital imaging device, but by understanding the end user. The iPhone forever changed the face of photography, creating behaviors and a market people were not yet aware of.

    Don’t just write off the DSLR yet. Completely happy with my antique mirror box optomechanics with crystal clear viewfinder. Still haven’t yet seen any electronic version that makes me want to shoot at night or arts portraits in dim light with lots of skin.

  • Passageways

    With all due respect, and speaking as an old fuddy duddy unable to extract his foot from the past, WTF difference does it make?

    The photography industry has become just that: an industry aimed at selling as many units to as many people as possible to make as much profit as possible.

    95% – 99% of users could do as well with any P&S they have in their hands and never know the difference.

  • Honestly I think that it should be none of our business what Companies are trying to do with their products. Ok, I’m exagerating.
    My point is: do we really NEED new tech and options to take photographs?
    I’m not saying that we must stay stucked with the old gear, but sometimes we need to keep the feet on the ground.
    Sony is “offering” three new ICL cameras each year, each one with a different sensor: do I need to buy each year three models, just to be sure that I have the “best thing around” and take my photos with a relieved heart? Not at all.

  • Perhaps the most interesting premise here is that Sony makes its money as a component provider to other brands, and that it doesn’t really need to make its own cameras, and even less lenses.
    I am not sure about the first statement, but it certainly explains why it is in no hurry to make its own lenses.
    It might also be that Sony interest in FF is explained by the need of providing sensors to Nikon, say.
    One wonders what is the sensor strategy here, if they consider FF transitional or not, if they see ‘cropped’ sensors as the future.
    A provocative article anyway. Like.

  • Jaranu Schuldheiss

    Nikon & Canon have both entered the mirrorless market with the Nikon 1 system and the M or whatever from Canon. They’ve not shunned the technology completely, just haven’t jumped into fully for their professional lines. It will come, one way or the other. Either everyone will jump ship to Sony, thus deflating DSLR sales further, or they will grab the bull by the horns and embrace the winds of change and innovate something better than Sony.

  • RobertTarabella

    I don’t own one, but I’m told that Nikon has a cracking focus system in their 1″ sensor cameras. True, there are no lenses, but there’s nothing stopping them from taking the same system in dropping it into a new mirrorless line that could replace their DX format. Canon, appears to be working on a so-called full frame mirrorless design. Good for them. That’s smart.

    The lenses are the problem. Look at the size of Leica rangefinder lenses compared to any Nikkor or Canon primes. Shrink the flange distance and the lenses shrink. Smaller is a real benefit. But Nikon and Canon each make 40 different lenses, plus a boatload of legacy glass. When they jump in, they’ll offer pro mirrorless that is the same thickness as current gear to be compatible with their current lenses. Maybe later — if their mirrorless gear catches on — they’ll make slimmed down systems with a new lens mount and without the half inch of unnecessary flange distance. They’ll offer a native adapter to maintain compatibility with all the old lenses. That’s what Sony has already done, though. It may be too late at some point.

    Hard to predict who wins this fight.