Profits Over Product

If you've been getting a signal from much of what I've written lately, it should be this: the camera makers went for profits over improving their products. Instead of pressing hard on every real gain they could at the product level, most of the time the camera makers have been trickling out predictable, small incremental things while stripping out costs every place they could find.

Sure, the internal bandwidth gets upped a bit, new video features get added, maybe the pixel count goes up, a couple of mild still photography features get added, plus the whole image quality chain gets a slight tweaking as a new generation of ISP chip is made. But there's been no sense of urgency at creating the greatest-ever product that delivers compelling and useful surprises to the camera user.

To a modest degree, one of Sony's successes has been their fast run from being well behind Canon/Nikon in performance and feature set, to parity, to in a couple of cases, moving ahead. But even that comes with complete neglect of lots of functional details that aren't getting done. Sony raw file sizes are abysmally large. They've not yet bothered to add a lossless compressed file format that comes close to matching Canon and Nikon. Things like focus shift are ignored. Pixel shift is an incomplete implementation. PlayMemories came and went. The Sony menu system is still the poorly organized and strange worded mess it has always been. The list of things that Sony's engineering team is neglecting that would make their cameras really exceptional is just as long as Canon's list and Nikon's. 

Moreover, Canon and Nikon seem to be thinking that they need to protect their DSLR sales as best as they can, which makes them water down what they have done in mirrorless so far. 

And we haven't even yet gotten to the thing I most often get up on my soap box to proclaim (that would be "lack of 21st century communication and Internet integration"). 

I call this lazy iteration. I call it sloppy and mismanaged product development. I call it mismanagement.  

The Japanese call it cost reduction and profit improvement. 

Who's looking after whom here? 

Clearly, the Japanese camera companies are not looking after their users. Then they wonder where those users went. That's one of the clearest forms of self-defeating practices I've seen.

Anyone that knows me and has talked to me about cameras knows that I can tear apart every camera on the market and show you all the things that the camera makers missed and should fix. I'm not the only one that does this. I note that Lloyd Chambers just did a subset of this on his Web site recently. There are plenty of photographers that understand exactly where the Japanese have been short-changing us.

Worse still, we get the camera makers changing things that don't need to be changed. Buttons/controls move, disappear, appear, or get modified, and overall things are no better than before. Card slots get added, then get dropped. Lots of "shoot with heavy-handed filter" presets get added, tweaked, changed, redone, moved, and overlap with other functions in ways that can't be resolved (e.g. want to add a "bleached" look to the Picture Control you've been using? Nope, can't be done. You have to pick Bleached and start from scratch). 

Put succinctly, there's a lot of engineering flailing going on that doesn't make cameras better. Meanwhile, features that might make a camera better, such as raw exposure tools or a well thought out focus stacking facility just don't exist. Can you set a 47.5 second exposure if you want? Nope. Even though your camera is a computer that understands time in milliseconds and has a dial you could twirl to set a value with. And, oh, by the way, is a 30 second exposure actually a 30 second exposure? Nope, it's nearly 32 seconds. Whose crazy math world are we in?

There is so much not done, not completed, and not refined in our cameras that it boggles my mind every time I pick up a new one to find that, no, we still have the same problems in our gear.

This is only possible because: (1) the engineers and decision makers designing our tools are not photographers; (2) corporate bean counters (accountants) are more important than customers; and (3) the Japanese camera companies simply don't talk to enough photographers, in any form, to understand what we want. Wait, no, that last one should be "talk and listen to..."

As much as some malign Apple for constantly pulling older features and pushing really hard at the leading edge of tech, you know what? They make good products, and one reason they do is because they use them themselves. If they screw up an iPhone, an iPad, or a Mac, they know it just as much as you and I do, because they use them every day just like we do. Granted, their uses don't perfectly match up to ours, but it's close enough so that they know when they've put too much form over function into a product. 

I actually don't mind Apple pushing hard on the leading edge, because they've proven to understand where tech is going and what it should be like when it gets there. I'm not sure that I can say that about any camera company. 

It's time that we customers hold the camera companies nose to the grindstone. Mild and phoned in updates? Avoid them. Don't buy them. Not the lens you need? Don't buy it. Totally braindead UX, like Nikon's 3D Tracking in the mirrorless cameras? Pepper their Websites, Twitter feeds, emails,, with demands to fix it. Make Tokyo realize that we're the customer, we've mad, and we're not going to take it any more. 

The only way that any camera company is going to survive long term is to figure out what the smaller number of remaining customers actually want and need and to provide that. If they can't do it all at once, then they need to say so and show us the plan they have to get to the promised land of the perfect photography product. Anything short of that is just suicide on their part. 


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