Dealing with Sony Envy


Summer panic sets in amongst Nikon users.

Original: 9/5/2009

Sony's recent explosion of DSLR bodies and aggressive pricing seems to have stirred up a new round of "I'm switching" commentary on the net. Or as I like to put it, a resurgence of low self esteem amongst Nikon users.

Before I get to the remedy, let me comment about Sony's announcements, as several were made while I was off in Africa and away from the Internet.

Good job, Sony. It looks as if you may have made the leap from player-without-a-future to one of the three DSLR makers that will do okay in the coming years (there's room for one more, and my bet is that it will be Panasonic, who will likely take over the Olympus line, too). As I write this, Sony has a more extensive low-to-medium DSLR line than Nikon or Canon (A200, A230, A300, A330, A350, A380, and A500), though it seems that some of those models are destined to be retired. Curiously, Sony seems to be taking a shotgun approach at the market, and an inexpensive one at that. I really have to wonder how that will play out.

The Sony brand is not really known for depth, breadth, or low-cost, all things that you can see in the recent DSLR offerings. Thus, what I see is a change in how Sony wants to be perceived. Changing a brand position--Sony used to be known as a high-quality, high-price player--is always a bit dangerous. And going downstream to pick up market share makes it doubly dangerous. Sony is risking becoming a commodity player, and commodity markets do strange things and tend to be dictated by the sales channel not the manufacturer. When Walmart and Target and Best Buy become Sony's biggest sales outlets for cameras (I'm using US examples; apply appropriate ones for your region), well, the jig is nearly over.

Sony has other limitations, too. The lens lineup is still slim and doesn't reflect the same value pricing. Others are getting better results with the same sensors, which shows that Sony still has some Bionz to count. And I've heard too many comments about the "plastic nature" of the low-end offerings. Personally, I happen to like the new designs--they're clean and functional--but I've heard the "too cheap looking" comment too many times to discount it. Sony also doesn't have the installed base that Canon and Nikon do for upgrades, so they are stuck trying to do one of two things: appeal to new DSLR users, a population that's decreasing; or convert Nikon or Canon users.

Which brings me back to the Internet forum posts that go something like "if Nikon doesn't do X, I'm switching to Sony."

This seems like an appropriate time to repeat my oft-made and quoted remark: "If you can't take good photos that print to the maximum size of the desktop inkjet printers (13x19"), then it isn't the camera." That quote applies to all current DSLRs I see available, whether Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus, or Pentax. Thus, I don't get the "I'm going to switch" comments. Moreover, it's not economically reasonable to switch, no matter how inexpensive the cameras on the other side are. Doesn't anyone do cost/benefit analysis any more?

So, to help those of you who are panicked about Sony's offerings, I offer the following (slightly tongue-in-cheek) advice:

  1. You haven't mastered your current camera yet. I'll bet all of you that you can take better pictures than you are with your current equipment. Switching to another brand isn't going to help that problem, only make it worse as you'll have to learn new controls and procedures just to get back to where you are.
  2. You have too much debt, so losing money on switching is foolish. Didn't you get the message? Saving is the new in thing to do. If you're going to buy a new camera with a credit card and not pay off the bill when it comes, you really didn't get the message. We can fix that. Spend more time taking pictures. Ironically, it helps with #1 and means that you have less time to go shopping.
  3. FX is a selling point, not necessarily a useful feature. I hear the following comment all the time: "my next camera is going to be FX." When asked why, the speaker hems and haws and no coherent answer is heard. "It's the same as film" is not an answer. Nor is "it makes lenses work the way the used to." There are some minimal differences that FX makes over DX, but most of you reading this don't need those. Indeed, most of you reading this are better off with a DX (cropped sensor) camera. And if you're also waiting for a redone 80-400mm lens, you just revealed you're not an FX candidate (otherwise you'd want a 120-600mm lens). I hope you realize that there are some name professionals that are still using cropped sensors. Hmm. There must be a reason for that, right?
  4. Sony just announced new stuff. Yep. The game is called leap frog and you learned it in Kindergarten. First one player jumps, then the next, then the next, and so on. Canon jumped first, Nikon second, Sony third. The jump will eventually come back around, so if you're just going to say "I'm going to switch back to Nikon unless Sony does X" in the future you really must like to spend money uselessly. Perhaps I can interest you in a book? Less expensive and probably more useful ;~).
  5. The equipment isn't the picture. My hypothesis is that you buy cameras to make pictures, not to buy more cameras. But I may be wrong. If you buy cameras to make pictures, it's the picture that's important, not the camera. Some argue that some feature or another will allow them to take better pictures. Most people arguing that aren't taking pictures as good as they should be (see #1 and repeat the loop until you get it).

So, Nikon users, stop panicking. Everything is fine. Your camera didn't stop working. Someone else's camera is not making better pictures than you can make. It's time for you to start chasing better pictures, not better cameras. I think Aesop wrote a story about that once:

A man who left the Nikon equipment camp boasted very much. On returning to a group of users of his former equipment, he spoke of the wonderful and heroic feats he had performed with other equipment. Among other things, he said that when he was using a Sony the pictures just took themselves, and many other Sony users would attest to that. One of the Nikon bystanders interrupted him, saying "there's no need for us to ask other Sony users. If what you say is true just set your Sony down here on the table and let us see it take pictures by itself."


 

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