Fewer Cameras, More Options

I'm not sure if the component supply issues are driving this, or whether the camera makers simply are scrambling for rock holds, but a trend is developing that should be noted: most new cameras are slotting new product announcements into unique positions (both for the overall market as well as the camera vendor). In a little over a half year, this is the full list of newly announced cameras:

  • Canon R7, R10 — Opens a new APS-C DSLR-like category for them
  • Canon R5C — Takes an existing camera more into the video realm
  • Fujifilm X-H2S — Attempts to compete with the full frame flagships, but with an APS-C sensor
  • Leica M11 — 60mp, simplified UX, yeah that's unique
  • Nikon Z30 — Nikon goes vlogger hunting
  • OMDS OM-1 — Hey, a real existing camera update
  • Panasonic GH6 — Another real update, though in an already unique niche

The grumbling has already started ("where's my Z6 III, A7R Mark V, X-T5?" etc.). It grows louder every day.

In the golden days of digital, iterations went like this:

  • Consumer DSLRs — 12 to 18 month cycles
  • Enthusiast DSLRs — 24 month cycles
  • Pro Flagships — 48 month cycles

Here in the "can we still sell 4m units" world, things are going to be different. Of course, we haven't gotten to that world yet. The pandemic-triggered supply chain issues have cameras selling under current potential demand. Were the supply chain suddenly able to provide every needed part, we'd likely have a sudden influx of camera updates and line extensions, and ILC sales would almost certainly breach 6m units again if that were to happen. Temporarily. 

4-5m units is the ILC reality in the foreseeable future, at least until the Next Big Thing triggers a whole new round of transitioning. And at that lowish buying level, I'll bet that we see something more akin to 36 month cycles on a lot of key products. Plus, of course, the true consumer products will tend to disappear (there's no way they survive with 24+ month cycles, and you can't afford to iterate them faster with unit volume so low). 

I keep hearing from Nikon users that more Z models are needed. I keep hearing from Fujifilm and Sony users that more models need to iterate faster. I keep hearing from Canon users "what are they doing?" ;~)

I'm not sure any of that's true (or in Canon's case unanswered). I'm not really feeling like my six year old cameras are really past their prime photographically. That's even more true of my two year old cameras. Is there a model missing that would completely solve a problem that I'm having with the existing choices? No, not really. Many of the requests I hear from readers are FOMO- or Dream-driven, and completely unrealistic to the way the market is working right now. I own six cameras. Collectively they're capable of anything I need them to do. I could probably cut that down to three and say the same thing. Pragmatically, I'm using two most of the time, and I'm not complaining about something I can't do. 

The tech world goes through cycles that consumers don't always realize. Marketing masks the reality. For instance, most people using a computer are basically using it for Web browsing, email, and some Office-type content production. Those of you reading this would add "basic image processing." All that's a very low bar that was long ago passed by the computer makers. In order to get you buy a new computer they have to convince you that you might be missing out on something (FOMO). Apple right now is promoting computers (e.g. Studio and high-end MacBook Pro models) that easily surpass the existing high-performance workstations being used for data intensive analysis, 3D design, and much more complex tasks almost none of us do. The majority of people would be fine with even the base MacBook, Mac Mini, or iMac models, but those don't bring in the dollars the higher end product does, even at Apple pricing. 

It's clear to me what the next cycle is that the tech companies want to promote (virtual/augmented reality), but it's not clear to me that this will be the one that drives the products that most customers buy. Many are still trying to digest the tech they've already purchased, putting a clear friction on moving to something new.

It's also clear to me—and has been for 15 years (!)—that cameras need to move into the 21st century. That means full connectivity to your home, your car, your office, your cloud (and that includes social networking). Unfortunately, the camera companies aren't seeing that. ("But Thom," they say, "we added Bluetooth and a crude mobile app.")

So instead we're getting slower cycles of iteration of the products we already use, coupled with fitful jabs at crevices in between existing product categories. Fewer new cameras, but more platform options, basically. I'm pretty sure that's not what you want. 

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