Canon and Nikon at the Crossroads

Yes, both Canon and Nikon recently cut their sales forecast as camera users are tired of buying nearly identical camera updates and more and more people switch to phones. But let’s not forget, Canon still estimates a massive $3.6 billion operating profit for the year. Nikon’s situation is worse with a 41% drop in operating profit to $222 million, mainly due to depressed overseas sales for pricey DSLRs. They make money, however the golden days are gone and their situation seems a bit like Apple’s in the 90s. The company went downhill when Steve Jobs left in 1985 as Apple just kept rereleasing the same device with a minor modification. It was Jobs again who turned around Apple’s fortunes with designer products that appealed to a larger segment of the population. People to this day are willing to pay a premium “Apple tax.” Now what does this mean for Canon and Nikon? Yes, they both lack vision and leadership. Can they still reverse course?

Computer are no cameras, even in these digital times with cameras driven by processors and technology. We’re willing to upgrade to a faster computer that looks nearly the same as the old one. Because a faster computer makes life easier and increases productivity. Most upgraded cameras, however, don’t make that much of a difference. Let’s be honest, many camera upgrades are pure giving in to gear lust.

Please please camera makers, please us. |
Please please camera makers, please us. |
Now Nikon made a shrewd move with the retro Df. Preorders might be below expectations, as Nikon Rumors reports. But this camera was never intended in the first place to compete with a D800 and the likes. The Df brings non-Nikonians into the Nikon flock; collectors, lovers of mechanical gear, people with enough money and last but not least the occasional Nikonian who can’t resist.

The D800 is a completely different beast. The Df is a transition camera, a designer product with a marketing value; a value-adding camera no other Nikon camera ever had. Love the concept or hate it, but it sure is as groundbreaking as the marketing mechanics behind it. For once Nikon thinks outside the box. It’s basically what Jobs did when he returned to Apple. We’ll have to see about the next Df iterations, but the Df has to be understood as part of Nikon’s assurance earlier this year to, yes, reinvent photography:

“We want to create a product that will change the concept of cameras,” said Nikon president Makoto Kimura. “It could be a non-camera consumer product.”

The Nikon Df doesn’t change the concept of cameras, but it’s a first step in the right direction while the major quality Canon pleases its users with at the moment is the lack of new products and therefore upgrades. Canon doesn’t give photographers even the choice to upgrade. Innovation-wise and in terms of thinking ahead the world’s camera leader seems at a standstill while Sony, Fujifilm and in a why Olympus push ahead and create. The 70D‘s Dual Pixel was the last real innovation since some time. Whether Canon’s EOS M or its DSLRs that are often announced a few weeks after similar Nikon cameras with near identical names, Canon seems to have become a massive colossus with huge muscles and little brain. Or they just observe and lie in wait?

People don’t need yet more pixels and even higher sensitivity. They want something that just works and is a pleasure to use. Make cameras that are cameras. No compressed computers, but well built tools that are a pleasure to look at, hold and shoot with.

Release a rangefinder, go medium format, do something. The time of milking passionate photographers with incremental same-sameness is over for good. That’s why your sales drop like a stone from the sky.

Make cameras that people want to use. A camera you want to pick up every day just to feel alive. Leica? They’re still standing because they found their niche. Leicas are overpriced to the point they’re a status symbol rather than a serious tool. There’s no way you can afford redundancy with that system — it’s just too expensive, but unfortunately necessary since they’re not exactly the most reliable cameras either. Leica is going to milk the rich dry for as long as they can. But that’s Leica. We’re talking Canon and Nikon, the people’s camera makers.

Don’t pair down features to meet price points with state-of-the-art cameras obsolete a few months down the road. If you can build a better camera now, then build a better camera now.

And for the sake of us photographers and your employees that don’t want to lose their jobs, bring passion and joy back into photography. I don’t want a cold precision tool. I want a camera that’s a pleasure to use.

Just an idea: full-frame, world’s first mirrorless with a big bright optical viewfinder (must be doable), metal body, classic design, manual controls, made in Japan. Build this thing and you can’t produce enough of it.

The fact that no camera maker thinks of the obvious might lead to suspicions they’re intentionally manipulating the market. It worked for so long. Old wine in new skins. Now photography and cameras drift apart. When the only thing that really changes is the model’s number, then don’t blame your own downfall on smartphones and users’ ignorance.

(inspired by PetaPixel)

  • Passageways

    Maybe, just maybe people have started waking up to the marketing scam that has been successful beyond the initial dreams of camera companies. From amateur to enthusiast to professional…all but a few have bought into the Spiel.

    And at the opposite end of camera companies convincing buyers of the importance of the number of pimples to be counted are somebody’s nose, we find the software to, well..soften the harsh effects of digital images to hide the pimples on people’s noses.

    99% (probably 99.99%) of all “photographs” taken with digital cameras either get deleted in-camera or live the life of a firefly on a computer screen.

  • Harry Briels

    Approx. a year ago I did replace my Leica M9 with its excellent Summilux 35 and 50 mm lenses, with a Sony RX1.
    The basic reason has been that it took too long to receive the Leica M 240 and it remained unclear how long I still would have to wait eventually.
    I can only say that I didn’t regret my decision!
    The RX1 delivers the best image quality I have ever seen, and this brings me to this report about the Canon Nikon future: the RX1 also brings portability that in this kind of top image quality camera did not exist!
    All comparable Canikon cameras are so much larger and many times heavier that taking them on a trip etc. is far away from a pleasure!
    I feel that making the combination of high image quality and portability is thé formula to future success!
    I also noticed that the majority of my shots taken with my Leica outfit were in the
    35mm field. The 35mm RX1 fits therefore quite well. Its incredible high resolution makes extensive cropping possible, which makes its fixed 35mm top Carl Zeiss lens in most cases all I need!

  • Bengt Nyman

    Owning a camera has in the past been shrouded in a comfortable mist of self deception. The virtues of Canon, Nikon and others have been enthusiastically debated since there were no facts available to objectively tell them apart question.

    However, DxOMark has changed all that. You can no longer hide behind a label, no matter how expensive, and claim, or even think, that you have “the best” camera.

    The camera industry is in for a painful shakeout.

    Pocket cameras and compacts are loosing out to smart phones which are gaining in image quality and lighting up the Facebook sky with one second communication flashes.

    Left is $1,000 cameras for documenting the life of your child and $3,000 cameras for professional use and wannabees.

    Canon will initially get hurt the most. If and how Canon manages to solve the remaining image sensor PDAF challenge will most likely determine the fate of Canon for the coming 5 years.

    Nikon is presently clearly on top as far as camera image quality supported by Sony image sensors and a wide selection of Nikkor quality prime lenses, with a possible weakness in long range zooms. The latest Nikon Df is only chum in the water for rumor and glimmer feeders and will not measurably contribute to neither Nikon sales nor reputation.

    One thing is for sure, the bulk and noise of the DSLRs have outlived their welcome and mirrorless alternatives will be taking over. The only remaining question is who you will be buying them from.

  • Richard Owen

    Nikon, IMO, did not go far enough. I recently sold all my Nikon DSLR gear that I used as a newspaper photographer in favor of the Fuji X-System. When I first saw the Df, I was very interested. But, in the end, they left out the split prism VF and put the price point out of reach. I think the Df will sell as it will yield technically good images but I was looking for something more “old school” as I enter retirement. Nice try, Nikon, but take it to the next level!!!

  • Drazen B

    “…Left is $1,000 cameras for documenting the life of your child and $3,000 cameras for professionals and wannabees….”

    Funny but you seem to have missed the category most of us who come here on daily/weekly basis to read, belong to…the enthusiasts.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Excuse me … professionals and enthusiasts …

  • Ronald Stevenson

    Poor form, Bengt…

  • IQ and portability, there you go. Still, for users who don’t frequent this and other photography sites a DSLR with bulk and weight is still the epitome of a good camera. Lately I see more and more women with big gear, as if they want to say, “Hey, I’m dead serious about photography.”

  • Excellent points, digital photography as just another excrescence of our throwaway culture.

  • Tomorrow’s successful cameras are less about technological advancement and more about character, style, individual statement. Today every camera is perfectly capable of delivering outstanding quality. But there’s a lack of cameras that are appealing, pleasing, emotive.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Hi Ronald,

  • Bengt Nyman

    I am sure that is true for a handful of enthusiasts but it’s certainly not what drives the evolution of the industry. If it was, Gucci cameras like L and H would lead the sales and they are not even visible in the statistics.
    The reporter on a mission, be it a war, a national park, or a wedding is looking for the best tool to accomplish the task.

  • I reckon we’re establishing that these best tools — and I’m talking strictly technology, not usability — already exist.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Not at all! We are in the middle of a technological revolution in camera design.

  • Passageways

    I don;t think so. The photojournalist is looking for the tool fast enough to get the images back to home base. Speed has become an important factor.

    With film cameras it would take at least several hours before ; hours before developing, drying/scanning and sending can be done.

    With digital gear several minutes.

    News outlets are hardly concerned with art or much else of what traditional MIGHT be used to describe “good photography”. They want whatever they can get: NOW.

    So the best tool may (note I say ‘may’) actually have very little to do with the image quality resulting from the best tool. Or, the best tool means getting the images and getting them net ASAP.

  • Guest

    Again, and please do not take this as a confrontational comment Bengt, I disagree with you. The idea of “technological revolution” within photography is something crammed down our throats by the industry and the better they sell this idea the more sales they get.

    We could say we are in a technological revolution of weaponry. That actually means simply weapons are becoming more effective. It does not define anything other than that.

    And by effective I mean kill potential. We are not awed by kill potential, are we? At least we should not be.

    And within the context of arms manufacturers the same Spiel is played convincing people of the need to keep up with the competitors.

    If we just all unarmed and gave up our most devastating weapons we would be better off. But the arms manufacturers would lose money and that, they have not done for at least the last century on a mass production scale.

    All the stuff we are constantly bombarded with about how the latest upgrades are indispensable is just hype, sales pitch. Napalm bombing of the mind.

    I mean go back three models of any major camera manufacturer. Three models ago it was “fantastic never before” then came “super fantastic must have” and the “super duper fantastic never before seen cannot live without”. What next? Damn Webster!

    Come one, this ridiculous game is utterly transparent. But we are somehow under the influence of this magic spell that keeps us hypnotized.

    I know a couple of wedding photographers. One told me “back then “well you know this new model I can shoot at iso 6400 and the couple got a shot they would never had had for their album had i not upgraded”.

    So basically, the had 8001 images for them of one weekend to choose from rather than only 8,000.

    Good grief.

  • Bengt Nyman

    Weapons? Arms manufacturer? Kill potential? Napalm bombing?
    Are you sure you’re on the right forum?

  • Passageways


  • Ironymous

    “The company went downhill when Steve Jobs left in 1985 as Apple
    just kept rereleasing the same device with a minor modification. It was
    Jobs again who turned around Apple’s fortunes with designer products
    that appealed to a larger segment of the population.”

    Guess what? Apple has been back to doing that for the last few years (when was the last time they changed the Mac Pro at all? How long have they been using the same designs for ALL their products? etc). More so since Jobs departed. Maybe it is a bane of corporations to ride on past glory. Their version of purgatory.