Bunker Strategy

(commentary)

It’s the worldwide economy. It’s the rise of smartphones. It’s the mature market. It’s that Americans aren’t using their credit cards. It’s that digital cameras are “good enough” now. It’s the slower growth in the BRICs. 

In the last year or two we’ve heard pretty much every one of those things and more to explain why camera sales are on the decline. 

It didn’t help that the decline came almost immediately following the Japanese quake and the Thailand floods. The 2007/2008 Great Recession before that didn’t help either, as growth was already stressed when the natural disasters hit. Yet…

Look around and you can find companies and industries that are healthy and growing, including some that experienced direct impacts from the recession or disasters. So it’s not the economy, or credit card use, or slower growth in the BRICs. While I’m sure the macroeconomic picture took a few percentage points off the camera market overall, it didn’t take 33 points off, or 17 points in the case of DSLRs. Cameras have simply become less desirable goods to spend disposable income on. 

If you look carefully you can see evidence of a bunker strategy being put in place. Pull back, hunker down, and hope to endure whatever is causing the industry’s problems. Proclaim that something you’re doing today will turn the numbers around tomorrow, even though you said that last quarter, and the quarter before that, and the quarter before that. 

At this point, every compact camera maker has said they’ve cutting back models, investment, production, and have stopped projecting anything but decline (though usually less decline than we experience). At this point, every DSLR maker has noted declining sales and has issued the “we’re going to cut costs” and “we’re going to emphasize products with good margins” statements. A couple of optimists are saying they’ll increase sales of various models of cameras, though one of those did admit that over 15% of their future estimates were a “sliding factor,” whatever that means. Probably “slide off a cliff and disappear.” 

Moreover, despite over a decade of trying, no one has unseated Canon as number one, nor Nikon as number two. Those are our two last remaining profitable camera companies in Japan. Both are trying to fight off any further decline in their profits. 

The funny thing is: we live in a time of abundance in terms of good cameras. Heck, abundant great cameras. I was looking at some of my older 6mp images the other day, images that are still good enough to wow you, and here I sit with a 36mp camera that will run rings around that. And a bunch of 24mp cameras, too. And even a large number of 12-20mp cameras, some of which fit in my shirt pocket and can out perform that old 6mp camera I used to shoot with. 

So why isn’t anyone happy? 

Right, the camera makers aren’t happy because they have no growth prospects and may not be able to stay profitable, but why are you unhappy? Every day I get piles of “but I need” or “but I want” or “but I can’t” emails to answer. You can. Truly, you can. 

Just because the camera makers have bunkered down for a long siege doesn’t mean you have to. Take that darned 36mp camera out, learn how to get everything out of it that it can produce, and start producing it. 

“But it doesn’t have 8 fps.” Tough. Get over it, learn how to time things right with a single shot or settle for 5 fps. 

“But it isn’t DX so it doesn’t have enough reach.” Tough. Get over it and figure out how to get closer, how to take more than just head shots of distant lions, or just buckle down and buy that 800mm lens. I hear it’s fantastic.

“But it doesn’t have a vertical grip.” Tough. Buy the extended grip if you must and stop complaining.

“But its files are too large.” This is a problem how? Storage is cheap and it’s never been cheaper. But okay, get a 24mp camera instead. There. Storage problem reduced 33%. Still better than my old 6mp camera I was using not so long ago.

“But it’s not mirrorless.” Are you kidding me? Okay, then buy a Sony A7r, but don’t come running to me when you don’t have any lenses you like for the next year or that it can’t follow focus on complex, rapid motions.

Truth be told, there’s no reason for you to get in the bunker with the camera makers. I see so many people agonizing over small details, but when I prod them they can’t explain how some missing element is making their pictures worse; it’s just missing, so they want it. 

Since this is primarily a Nikon site, let me state a few things:

  • Nikon does not make a bad DSLR. Even the entry level D3200 can take amazing photos. 
  • Nikon doesn’t even make a bad mirrorless camera. I can get better shots with my V2 than you can get with your old D200 you still think is great. 
  • Nikon hasn’t made a terrible lens for, well, I can’t remember the last terrible lens they made. Sure, we can find some chromatic aberration or linear distortion if we turn off the corrections in our camera or software, but if you want to see chromatic aberration, I’ve got some slides you might want to see…  Meanwhile, if you want an even better lens than Nikon makes, Sigma or Zeiss might have what you’re looking for.


Don’t get in the bunker with the camera makers. Get a great camera and use it. If you have a great camera, get it out of the closet and use it. (You know it’s in the closet. Admit it. It’s sitting there on the third shelf behind the extra linen and bath goodies your spouse bought.)

Me? I’ve got eight cameras with me right now as I sit here typing this, and I used three of them this afternoon to take pictures; I’m enjoying every one of them. Except for all the controls in the wrong place, the menus I don’t understand, the battery I need a new charger for, and so on. ;~) 

No camera will solve world hunger or create lasting worldwide peace or discover a new miracle cure for a deadly disease. But it can put a smile on your face if used properly. That seems like a good reason to pull it out and take some photos, don’t you think?

Maybe that’s what the camera makers need to do again: take some pictures. With their products. And try to get those photos where the rest of us can see them. The exit out of the bunker is obvious… 


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