Type of Buyer Comments

I was a little surprised at how many emails I got in response to What Type of Buyer Are You? That article really was really more of a short thought piece trying to point out that the camera makers and the camera buyers aren't fully aligned, using a slightly tongue-in-cheek categorization.

Not only were your comments back to me plentiful, but many of them were long essays. I was struck by one comment, which I'll shorten and edit here:

"I am a #2 and would have bought a 7D Mark III or 5D Mark V almost instantly, depending on the improvements. That way, I would not be facing sacrificing my existing investment to get into mirrorless. I could have moved into mirrorless gradually. Now, all bets are off. I am waiting and looking around."

Here's another similar one:

"I want to replace a dated full frame 6D. If canon had given me some 5D Mark IV body update with a movable LCD at a reasonable price I would have snapped it up. For my workhorse camera I would be equally fine with a DSLR as a mirrorless.  I tried the RP...the dynamic range is pathetic. I tried the R, the interface was so....weird and slow.  I might consider the R6 if they priced it at 2,000, even though I’d really rather have more megapixels for landscapes. But no, Canon wants to gouge us for another $500. And there’s no way I can afford an R5. So, can Canon really wonder too much why I hold on to my hard earned money and sit on the sidelines or consider switching brands?"

Precisely my point, and I do think I've been consistent on this. There are a handful of DSLRs that, were they upgraded properly in the right time period, would continue to sell in enough volume to justify producing. It would be interesting to do the work to figure out what those models are, and we could argue about a few on the margin, but I'm near certain that both Canon and Nikon have at least two, and probably three or four, models that should live on. 

Unfortunately, the dearth of DSLR updates is sending a signal to DSLR users about their future, and many of them are just sitting around and waiting to see what happens, as you can see from the above comments. So the camera maker doesn't sell a new DSLR, nor do they sell a new mirrorless camera. And, of course, Nikon isn't able to supply their new mirrorless models to meet the demand that is there, which makes for a double whammy on the bottom line.

The problem for Canon is the somewhat clear marketing messaging they've been making lately. They've said in far too many ways that their future is entirely mirrorless. They're going to regret that. Partly because they now have a huge portfolio of DSLR models that they've sent "don't buy" signals on, partly because EOS M isn't compatible with their main (RF) mirrorless thrust long-term, partly because they have only two highly competitive models in the full frame lineup, and partly because no matter whether they "fix" and totally align their mirrorless products, Canon is going to see a huge volume decrease for the foreseeable future. Canon will likely have to do the asset write-off thing and incur a loss at some point soon.

The problem for Nikon is conflicting, incoherent, and non-existing marketing messages. In essence, they're making the same mistake they made 10 years ago with their conflicting, incoherent, and non-existing marketing messages surrounding DX and FX. Internally, Nikon wanted everyone to upgrade to or buy FX. That's the reason that the D600 (low cost FX) was created and no D400 (high cost DX) appeared. Then someone finally got it into their brain that one of their biggest successes was the D3/D300 combination intro, and eventually we got the D5/D500 echo. 

That dual launch is actually what Nikon needs to do today, except with DSLR/mirrorless. Nikon hasn't actually linked the Z6 and D780 in their messaging, but they're essentially the same camera made as mirrorless or DSLR. Let the user decide if they're ready to transition or not, and Nikon would have them covered either way. The same thing should be true of a Z7 and D880, as well as a Z70 and D580. 

It's really only the lower end consumer customer that couldn't care less if a camera is mirrorless or DSLR. They just want a near all-automatic product that does things they can't do with their smartphone. If you want to pursue the low end, clearly an all mirrorless lineup is the way to go there. But abandoning your DSLR customer at the enthusiast/pro level is dangerous. 

There's too much panic going on in Tokyo and not enough rational thinking. As I've suggested for a long time now, Canon and Nikon rode the consumer DSLR horse far too long and it has now rolled over and died on them (but that's not true of the high enthusiast/pro horse). Moreover, the messaging coming out from the camera companies is causing additional problems. Rather than easing customer anxieties, both Canon and Nikon are now increasing them. 

Lest Sony fans attempt to gloat, Sony has its own problems, and it won't actually be nearly as good for them if Canon and Nikon weaken more than they have. The camera market needs three strong companies with great products and clear messaging to survive long-term. As I noted a couple of years ago, I expected the rock bottom of the camera market to be 4m units of ILC a year. Below that would be a disaster. In 2020 the market got very close to the 5m mark with no flattening of the decline in sight (I think it stayed above 5m, but we won't know for another few weeks). Of course, 2020 was an unusual year due to the pandemic. I actually believe that 2021—assuming the pandemic comes under control and travel resumes sometime during the year and the camera companies don't implode under their own anxieties—will show some growth in camera sales over 2020, perhaps strong growth (6m+ units isn't out of the question). 

Still, we're awfully close to the limbo bar being knocked over and the dance stopped. 

It's time for the camera companies to man up (person up?) and get not just their product lines rationalized but their marketing messages clear, strong, and persistent.

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