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Friday, September 20, 2013

Canon Sings The Blues - No More Announcements for 2013?

Apple recently introduced their iPhone 5S and the new iOS 7 operating system with much improved camera capabilities. Samsung and other smart phone manufacturers are not far behind with their new offerings to take advantage of the upcoming holiday season.

One would think camera manufacturers like Canon and Nikon will also try and cash in and compete in this arena but word is Canon may be almost done with new product announcements for the rest of 2013. If true, that is a major relief for me. The past announcements from Canon, like the Rebel T5i, SL1, EOS-6D were rather misguided, packed with dubious technology and willfully under-priced to attract the 'wrong' segment of the market.

Canon recently announced their second quarter profits were flat and lowered their projected earnings for the rest of the year despite the depreciation of the Yen. On the other hand, Apple Inc. is still the most valuable company in the world and they have barely lowered their premium prices on their flagship products like the iPhones and iPads. A high technology camera company rarely makes good profits by selling more features for less money. But that is exactly what Canon has done in the last few years.

Ever since consumer digital photography was introduced at the turn of the 21st century, and the gradual price reduction of point-n-shoot and DSLR cameras, almost anyone with the time and dedication to learn and practice, can become a good photographer. There is little cache left in photography anymore except in high end, sought after features like full frame sensors and top-of-the-line professional gear.

Canon introduced their first consumer digital camera, the D30 in 2000. It changed the landscape of photography and ushered in a whole new era. It used to be the dreams of many photographers to aspire to own a full frame DSLR or buy a second hand EOS-1 camera. Then, in 2005 Canon introduced the EOS-5D full frame camera. I bought all three cameras when they first came out and it cost me plenty but I had a great experience and was satisfied with all the purchases. Fast forward a few years and now it seems there are 'new' product announcements every few months. Many of them come with frivolous features backed by boring sales hype. The products with true innovations seem to take 'forever' to come to market.

When the Canon EOS-1Ds Mk III first came out, it retailed for $8,000. Now one can buy the EOS-5D Mk III for less than $3,000 and it beats the 1Ds handily in most technology and features. Is there any wonder why there is a consumer fatigue in new product offerings? Where is the fun and incentive to buy new products when every year something comes out and it is better and cheaper? I have argued in the past Canon has blurred the difference between their high and middle end equipment so much, there is less profit to be made from their premium products.    

I have some friendly suggestions for our friends in Tokyo. Take a leaf from the Master of Marketing, the late Steve Jobs of Apple. Pack your products with superior technology and do not be afraid to charge a premium for it. Do not try and be all things to all people and go with the herd. There are small signs Canon may be rethinking their 'lower prices' strategy. The EOS-1D C Cinema camera and the EF 200-400mm f/4l IS USM Extender 1.4x lens are technologically superior products and command a premium price over its competitors. Canon may also want to seriously consider the following :

  • Shelf the idea of introducing a Medium Format camera. The market is too small to recover the investment.
  • Introduce the successor to the EOS-1Ds Mk III by releasing the full frame, mega-pixel camera as soon as possible.
  • Release the EOS-7D Mk II camera by making it into a 'baby' EOS-1D X. With the APS-H sensor discontinued, many photographers are looking for a 'professional' cropped frame body.    
  • Announce a new Super telephoto lens with the Diffractive Optics (DO) technology. The current EF 400mm f/4 DO IS lens is almost 13 years old.

Canon is still the largest camera company in the world and should act like a leader in the industry. Go back to their roots and stop releasing too many products with little real technological advancement and start wowing the photographic community once more with genuinely interesting and innovative products. The rest will take care of itself. I have been using Canon equipment for about a quarter of a century and have watched this company evolved over the years. You can visit my website and see my works below.


Unknown said...

The difference between Apple and Canon are its prices.

You argue that Canon isn't releasing new DSLR products fast enough but you're overlooking the majority of Canon DSLR product prices are not accessible to the general population. $2300 for a 24-70 L MkII is a lot of money as opposed to the newest $800 IPhone.

Additionally, Canon lens hold much more of their value than any of the electronics Apple sells (look to the Canon 50L F1.0 ebay prices). Thus, Canon can release fewer products into the market (so as long they are good enough to last through generations on one iteration).

Michael Daniel Ho said...

Hi Ken. I stressed Canon is releasing too many also-ran DSLR products but not fast enough with meaningful cameras, like the EOS-7D Mk II or EOS-1Ds Mk III's replacement. The difference between a high end Canon lens and a high end Apple phone is the former can produce images better than most and thus can produce revenue for professional photographers while the latter is an expensive 'toy'.
Most Canon 'L' lenses do hold their value well but the 50mm f/1.0 you used as an example is not representative because it is a 'cult' lens, much like the EF 1200mm f/5.6L.