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The Last Camera Syndrome and Canon
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The Last Camera Syndrome and Canon

Thom of ByThom fame wrote a thought-provoking article, and I thought that I would write my own thoughts on this.

DSLR shipments in 2019 have significantly struggled, and the pundits across the internet are either twisting their fingers worrying that the bottom is falling out of the market, or that mirrorless is finally taking over.

Canon and Nikon both with their DSLR’s have hit a point in time where any camera you purchase in the lineup if the camera is suited for what you are shooting, it’s potentially the last camera you need to purchase. It either matches or exceeds your needs as a photographer.  There will also be those that chase the specifications and desire the latest and greatest.  Or those that chase the more niche characteristics such as video.  However, for most photographers, any camera you pick up, you don’t really need anything better.

While this is great news for consumers, the product lines are rich with full featured options, and you literally can’t go wrong with any modern camera that you pick up.  However, this is a problem for Canon because they get a significant amount of their revenue from people purchasing cameras.  The last camera syndrome is a problem two-fold;

  1. People don’t need to upgrade from their current cameras to newer ones.
  2. People can purchase used cameras that exceed what they need, and don’t need to purchase newer cameras.

In either of those cases, people don’t purchase anything from Canon, which for them, is a huge and difficult problem.  As Thom put it, people in this syndrome basically only need a new camera, if they fall into the following categories;

  1. You lose or break your camera
  2. A new camera comes out with a feature that solves a critical problem for you
  3. You succumb to the marketing and purchase a new camera (GAS – Gear acquisition syndrome)

I see many people blame smartphones or mirrorless for the demise of the DSLR shipments this year, however, that is short-sighted because it’s not taking into accounts the preferences of the average user that has purchased a camera in the last 4 to 8 years and simply does not need anything better, and can’t justify spending another $1,000 to $4,000 on a new camera.  Even more worrisome for Canon and Nikon is the used market is full of cameras from the prior generation of cameras that are extremely competent. So not only do you have people not upgrading, but you also have people purchasing from the used market instead of the new cameras.

Canon and Nikon both came out with mirrorless full frame cameras, partly because of market pressure from Sony, but also partly due to the last camera syndrome. They needed to change people’s mind about not purchasing a new camera, and the new mounts allowed them to do this.  They are pushing the new mounts and cameras hard, trying to get as many people as possible in the #2 or #3 segments with their new cameras.

If you notice, both Canon and Nikon extolled the benefits of their new mounts, and both announced at least one halo lens for their respective mounts.  Canon and Nikon are both hoping that you will decide to migrate from your existing EF or F mount and into the new RF and Z mounts respectively.  Nikon was more forceful with their messaging than Canon was.

“By creating a mount with a large inner diameter and short flange focal distance, compact lenses can be designed that allow more light in, to hit the sensor. Using the latest in design and optical innovations, NIKKOR Z lenses are able to deliver improved low-light performance and edge-to-edge detail in both stills and video.”

There’s a great deal of internet static that Canon and Nikon are doing the new mounts in response to the Sony A7 III.   That’s simply ridiculous.  Both companies would have been planning their new mounts for years.  It takes many years of planning, research, and design to come out with an entirely new mount.  We discovered a core patent application back in June 2018, which discussed Canon creating a mount that would “switch” between two different protocols depending on the lens connected.  This is exactly what the RF mount does as it switches between RF and EF protocols depending on the lens.  While this patent was made public in 2018, Canon filed the patent in December 2016.  We also discovered full frame mirrorless UWA lens patent that again, Canon filed back in 2016.  Canon was working on the RF mount at least 2 years before the EOS R was released.  The decision to go with the RF mount was most likely made even before that time.

You can keep piling technology and more technology into your cameras and hope that there’s a significant core population that simply loves upgrading based upon technology.  This is basically what Sony’s game plan has been with the A7 series cameras.  Sony continues to adopt leading-edge technology in the hopes that it sells itself based upon technology.  Sony themselves stated that in an interview where they basically said, we’re all about technology.

Sony is a technology company that provides technology in which customers may find value. I want our technology to be the reason people are attracted to Sony”

Even with that, you get to the point where your technology is mature enough that your user base simply doesn’t want to upgrade to the next camera.  In Sony’s case because their technology is so unique and leading edge they are getting customers from other user bases as well as their own users' upgrading.  Their products have value both by price and the technology in the cameras and ecosystem. However, as time goes on this will be more difficult to do, as diminishing returns will end up occurring with the technology and there will be no major disruptive technologies left to encourage the users to upgrade.  With this, competition will increase with similar technology making the uniqueness of Sony’s offering disappear.

Is Sony there now? The A7 III, especially after the last firmware update, is nearly there.  For most people that will be the last camera, they need to buy.  The Nikon Z6 and Z7 provide excellent cameras with significantly high-end technology.  Nikon, however, is lacking in the ecosystem with far fewer lenses than Sony.  Canon is lagging in the technology behind both Nikon and Sony, however, that also gives them the most wiggle room to continue to upgrade their systems and get their users to upgrade.  So while the A7 III is a great success for Sony, they may find themselves suddenly in the same position as Canon and Nikon have been in with DSLR’s for the last 4 to 7 years.

What is Canon doing or can do? Canon could be seen as lagging seriously behind the other mirrorless full frame vendors and you wouldn’t be entirely incorrect.  Canon’s only technology claim could be dual-pixel autofocus in their sensors when the other companies rely on phase detect pixels scattered over the sensor surface.  People claim that Canon lags in technology and features intentionally to protect some other camera or other business lines such as their Cinema cameras.  That drives me insane every time I hear it. Frankly, Canon wants you to purchase a Canon camera, and often.

If we ignore the fact that they may have technical problems to resolve that they can’t right now, we could also make the case that Canon is looking forward to the EOS RP Mark II for instance, and what they can offer on that camera to make it one in which you’d want to purchase, and purposely leaving features off the EOS RP.  In other words, they aren’t doing it to protect a current camera or camera line, they are doing it solely to help protect against the last camera syndrome with the next model, not to mention segmenting the camera into the right target market by features and price.  The EOS RP or EOS R wasn’t done in a vacuum, Canon knows approximately at the time of development of the EOS R what they are doing with the RP, the EOS R Mark II, and any other EOS R camera they are releasing in 2019 or 2020.  These development timelines aren’t short.  They take years. Canon seems to take more of a long view towards camera releases.

There is no easy answer for the last camera syndrome, sooner or later we all have the camera that we need and unless it breaks, we don’t need to get a new one.  Each manufacturer seems to have a different take on this.  Canon seems to be planning for the eventual time where we are firmly in this syndrome and is still looking actively for new users and markets for their cameras.  When you look at a new camera release and try to puzzle out why Canon did it a certain way, consider the last camera syndrome and where this camera fits in now and possibly in the future when Canon releases updated models into the ecosystem. 

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