If I were CEO, part two

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Continued from the first hacked metaphor: the post-Ming camera company. Standout ducks in a blue ocean. (I think I may have spent just a little too long in consulting.)

In part one of this article, we covered some basic organisational/ structural elements that go into making a good camera company. I’ll conclude today by discussing in some detail about what I’d turn into my cornerstone tenets/ strategies I’d use if I were to suddenly take over – thorough examination of the financials notwithstanding, of course.

Figure out what to kill. There will be product lines that are simply unprofitable, or not worth the hassle – a well-structured product offering will mean you have something to offer to every potential customer that doesn’t result in internal cannibalism (still, better than losing customers to another brand) and the supply chain, production and inventory management/ distribution advantages associated with simply having fewer products. Currently, you need one entry level, one midrange and one high end/ professional/ niche model in every class – that’s about nine products, by my reckoning – fixed lens, mirrorless and DSLR. In the future, that may well streamline to just a mid-entry level and mid-pro; firstly because there may not be an entry level market after initial saturation, and secondly because the features that previously differentiated tiers have now slowly migrated down the price scale. The same should be true of lenses – in fact, even more so: one low-mid priced offering, one mid-high offering, and perhaps a halo piece or two. Example – the Leica 50/0.95. Nobody needs it, but most want it and owners probably have one or two of the other 50mms – but theres no need to have 0.95, 1.4, 2, 2 APO, 2.5 and 2.8 flavors – that just complicates production and inventory management unnecessarily, and confuses the hell out of your customers.

Seriously evaluate product types previously thought of as too niche. The market is reaching saturation point for DSLRs and compacts; for most people, it’s either-or between mirrorless and DSLR. Image quality, even in compacts, is already past the sufficiency point for almost all users. I’m not saying discontinue these products, but if you don’t get a jump on R&D now, then some niches may be too small for many players – especially big ones – at the moment, it’s a land grab. So I’d use the size and financial muscle of my company to ensure owned several niches.

Feel matters. Since we are already at the point where spec sheets matter less and less, the cameras themselves have to appeal to buyers as desirable objects – it doesn’t necessarily mean they have to be beautiful, but care should be taken in the design, choice of materials and quality control. There’s a reason why we are drawn to luxury goods aside from the societal recognition that goes with openly displaying an X watch or a Y handbag, they appeal to our other senses on a subconscious level – the texture and feel of the materials, the heft in hand, the feedback of the buttons, the quality of the finishing and tolerances. Do not underestimate this.

Focus on the ownership and usage experience. If you pay four or five figures for any discretionary purchase, it should damn well be an enjoyable experience: that’s a significant amount of money. Customer service should be exemplary. If something is wrong, it should be fixed – and publicly acknowledged, not initially denied and then quietly updated later. Customers hate feeling like paying beta testers. Effort should be spent on making the packaging and supporting materials/ accessories feel of a commensurate quality to the cameras. There’s no excuse for charging extra for relatively cheap but necessary components (Olympus – lens hoods; Sony – manuals; etc.) especially when the camera is a premium item. The only brand that understands the importance of packaging to the whole experience – and even then not entirely – is Leica.

There’s untapped potential in the ecosystem, if made seamless. There comes a point where your basic customers – the average Joe or Jane – is going to have as much camera and accessories as they need or want (ignore the enthusiasts for the time being) and your revenue streams are going to have to be increasingly diversified in order to survive and grow. We’ve already seen this in the mobile phone market: it took a game change (the iPhone) to significantly increase market growth. And even then, this run is slowing down; just look at Apple’s quarter-on-quarter sales volumes. The recurring income is in consumables – just like printer ink and razor blades – we’re talking apps, sharing, printing, fashion-driven accessories like straps, cases and bags. Remember: Apple weren’t the first to do most things, but they were the first to do it in a way that was sufficiently easy to lower barriers to adoption to the point of being negligible.

Remember, you’re making cameras, not computers. Success of the product should be judged by the technical quality of the output (composition is entirely on the photographer) – it should be easy to achieve the full potential of the camera. Things should not have stupid settings out of the box: you really only need one well-sorted ‘ready to use file’ setting for B&W and color JPEGs; and a nice, flat RAW file for postprocessing. Forget all of the stupid scene modes that don’t work, but implement ones that do – for instance limiting focusing range if it detects that the camera is aimed at a distant subject only, for instance, or automatically enabling macro mode if the default limits don’t achieve focus. Above all, the cameras should be easy to use.

Don’t sell on specs alone. What this should really read is: don’t let R&D listen to marketing. More isn’t always better, but if you lack the technical knowledge to understand that, there’s no way you can communicate and sell it to the end consumer.

Don’t abandon your existing customers. Where practical, support older systems and cameras – especially the higher end models, which people are less likely to treat as disposable consumables. In fact, none of the products should really be designed with obsolescence in mind to begin with, though – this angers customers and doesn’t result in higher repeat purchases unless you make a unique product – which isn’t the case for photography. Older products could stay in production but be sold at a lower price, which helps cover different market segments, in addition to maximizing return on initial investment. Develop a system to its end conclusion before abandoning it – a good example of this would be Four Thirds; although it isn’t officially dead, it’s been comatose pretty much since Micro Four Thirds showed up.

Work closely and visibly with influencers. Brands have traditionally worked with famous name professionals for the marketing and associative benefits; the era for this is rapidly passing as the people influencing purchasing decisions are diversifying. Celebrities and bloggers are the immediately obvious candidates; the problem is that most of them are selected based on their popularity in their respective fields, not as photographers: this doesn’t give your brand any credibility. In fact, the opposite: it makes it look as though you have to resort to having a spokesperson hawk your wares, because your wares themselves have no merits. Furthermore, working with people respected by the camera buyers means access to two things: user feedback and new product/ feature ideas, and consumer insight information on your target demographic. Why no manufacturer is making the most of this is an absolute mystery to me – it’s one of the few industries in which this is still the case.

Cut out the middlemen where possible. Vertically integrate where practical – this both saves money and fosters product differentiation through exclusivity of components/ parts. Pass some of these savings on to the consumer, or preserve margins but increase the amount of value delivered. Eliminate distribution layers by having a local presence to distribute directly to end retailers, or even have brand stores in key markets. In smaller markets, sell direct online – implementing an exclusivity period – say a week or two – or keeping some products exclusive – will result in instant conversions, especially for the consumers who must have the latest now.

Eliminate pricing arbitrage. Control end prices worldwide: this will stop your margins eroding, prevent price wars with the competition in which ultimately everybody loses (only the consumer wins, and even then, only in the short term before everybody goes bankrupt). Give the option of direct distribution – at least this way customers with no local retailers can still buy the full range of products. Offer international warranties to further discourage cross-border export.

Take lots of small risks on left-field products. This may seem at odds with the initial strategy of cutting down to a well-thought core range of offerings, but it actually makes sense as you never know which of the crazy ideas takes off in a big way: people don’t know they want something until they’ve seen it. So, deciding for them beforehand is like saying ‘there’s no point in competing this race because I might not win’. Furthermore, having a reputation for innovation isn’t a bad thing: not only does some of the halo rub off on the rest of the product line, but it also means you’re more likely to have people buy subsequent releases because they don’t overlap with any existing products.

Go for broke. Don’t dribble out incremental advances in subsequent product revisions: get it right the first time, and build the best product you can that fills the design brief. We’re already at the stage where incremental improvements are seldom sufficient to trigger an upgrade purchase; however, if the product is already perfect, then it will not only encourage purchase becuase there are no forseeable improvements, but it also engenders consumer loyalty: they know they can trust the products coming out of that company. Furthermore, longer product lifespans are not a bad thing: if something is well-engineered, not only does its longevity serve as a testament to the quality of the product, but it also means you can sell it for longer to increase total volume. It might not be able to hold its new price for the entirety of its sale life, but it doesn’t have to, because the initial investment is already depreciated.

And if any of the manufacturers happen to be both reading and taking this seriously, yes, I’m open to consulting engagements – I did spend the better part of the last ten years doing it in some form or another. MT

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Comments

  1. Let’s help to improve also laptops for photographers:
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  2. It has been an interesting series, and curious to think about (especially in regards to how digital cameras are produced as opposed to the film cameras) But I think the great conspiracy of the deficiency of digital cameras is built into them to ‘help’ consumers upgrade to the next great thing.
    This is also another reason that explains why many of the great camera styles (from the mechanical days) have been largely killed off. TLR, Panoramas, field cameras, etc… Especially when I look at my humble collection of film cameras, there is a camera for a specific purpose. Cameras were built to a particular purpose, no different than a toolbox of wrenches. And they were built to last. In digital terms, that means plastic wrenches that wear out quickly. And the digital camera is mean to do everything (i.e. stitching, tilt shift lenses and focus stacking, etc etc) which replaces the medium format SLR, or instant camera or the TLR’s, or the field camera.
    I think I prefer my film cameras because I do see it as a specific tool that fit a specific situation, where as a DSLR seems to lack focus and direction. A jack of all trades that doesn’t know what it wants to be. This is probably why I sold off my DSLR collection more than a year ago, stuck with a fuji x100 for digital stuff and keep my focus on the film stuff.

    • Thanks Jason. I think the main difference we have to deal with now is that image quality is no longer body-independent: I also feel that until recently, the initial outlay costs of digital have still been much higher than film. The only thing bringing costs down is volume: now we have mass consumers buying pro lenses etc. which would have been unthinkable 15-20 years ago in the heyday of film.

      I’ve been saying this for ages now: we’re well past the point of sufficiency. A DSLR may lack focus and direction, but it can replace a lot fo gear to get just about every job done – if you bought into the right system. On the basis of technical qualities alone – most of today’s high end compacts will do a better job than film on every measurable metric anyway! They may lack character and the same tonal response, but for most users that’s not really a consideration anyway – especially given that almost nobody bothers to take control over their film processing these days.

      That said, my D800E/ OM-D are for work and teaching. Of late, when I shoot for myself, I’m usually carrying something loaded with film now.

  3. Nolan Haynes says:

    An excellent post that sums up the problems and potential solutions nicely. This is usually what many customers of any technology related producer of quality products (Lenovo with their ThinkPads and HP with their Elitebooks, I’m looking at you) have been saying for years.

    Tom Caldwell from Ricoh Forum sums it up quite well when talking about Ricoh: “One of the things I have always liked about Ricoh is that they seem intent on making the very best camera of its type that they can make at the time of manufacture. You don’t ever get the idea that they are holding back a feature or two so that they can include it as something that will sell the next model. Surely they can always brush up what they have made and usually release this as their makeover next model whilst they are working on the very next substantial demonstration of their technical capability.” The post can be found here: http://www.ricohforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=66&t=10277&start=20#p58030

    • I agree with Tom: and even though they’ve been doing this, we’re now easily on revision eight or so of the GR line (GR1, GR1s, GR1v, GRD I-IV, GR). Undoubtedly this lack of compromise is why the company has so many loyal fans – myself included – if only others would do the same…

  4. Nespresso comes to mind…..

  5. Seems to me that Nikon was on the right approach when the Nikon 1 System was introduced. I saw this great series with video interviews of the designers behind the products. Wonderful stuff, yet the ad campaign in the US ended up being Ashton Kucher mucking around like usual. Perhaps bringing the Geica cavemen out would have worked better. 😉 Then there was the uproar of the internet about features and lack of “controls”; almost seems like the Nikon V2 was a reactionary product, as if more buttons would sell more cameras. Meanwhile the heavy discounting of the V1 drove forward the idea that the launch pricing was too high. I bet quite a few people are waiting for the (inevitable?) drop in pricing on the Coolpix A.

    You stated in part one: “Sorry, I have bad news for you: what you want has ceased to exist a long time ago. Consumers now want more megapixels and the ‘pet smile beauty retouch mode’. Honestly…your best bet is to look on eBay and buy another one of those AE-1s. It’d be a whole lot cheaper, too.
    People got better images out of their cameras back then because they were forced to think when they used them. That isn’t the case today. Our mass instant gratification society wants it now, bigger, better, more spectacular…nobody is willing to put in the effort themselves, but throwing money at the problem is just fine.”

    It reminded me of a conversation with a creative director at Sony, who told me that megapixels were number one survey response for what consumers wanted in their next new system. Smaller cameras and smaller lenses were other popular responses. I suppose that reinforces mirrorless with pancake lenses..

    Seems to me when companies just react to consumers, then they miss the chance to create something that wows people. On the few times a different approach was put forward, a lack of effective advertising limited interest.

    I mostly agree with all your points, though I would add another. Rather than look at smartphones, I would take something from the automotive industry. Acknowledge the heritage of the company, while identifying the human aspects of using the products, and promote the lifestyle behind photography. Seems that Leica is moving slightly in that direction, with new M models going for a type designation and not continual numbering. When the new models don’t appear that different, then you don’t alienate previous users as much. Finally, there are just too many choices from most camera manufacturers, so simplify line-ups and make decisions easier.

    • Paul Stokes says:

      Hi Gordon
      I think as cameras have become available to anyone and everyone there is a desire by many for the camera to do it for me. In camera jPEG’s with what ever kind of filter is required. At one point all of this took considerable time and skill. Perhaps as a consequence only ‘good’ photographs were printed and circulated. Not so now a days which has probably diluted the impact of the medium. That and the need for it now, immediately if not sooner.

      We have different strata within our photographic society these days. Many are going back to experimenting with film as an adjunct to their digital efforts.

      We cannot put the cat back in the bag nor should we want to but education through exhibitions, and various other programs to involve young people in photography may see the burgeoning of new talents, especially among those for whom it is a relatively new discovery.

      Certainly some camera makers could take a leaf out of Leica book in terms of making more of their fine heritage. The first digital F [regardless of the film v digital nomenclature.

    • Nikon were on the right track with the 1, but mis-marketed it and didn’t have the right sensor or lenses from the outset – if it had a decent set of primes and the sensor from the RX100, I think pros would be looking at it very differently. I know I would – phase detect AF, compatibility with my current DSLR accessories and an EVF in a small package are very attractive indeed. Too bad the price was too high, too.

      It’s not just the masses that get better results from manual cameras because they force you to think: I find it’s true for me too, and I’d like to think I have a by more knowledge than the average punter…

      • The Nikon 1 isn’t priced right for who it is aimed at either. I looked seriously at it and even purchased one during the fire sale time in hopes that my children would get interested. I liked the camera however the lenses were much too slow for how I would need to use.

        • Agreed. At fire sale prices, it made sense: but I’m sure they were losing money on every one at that point. Nikon recently released that 32.5/1.2 – which would be interesting, except for the price! Again, a missed target, I think: too little, too expensive, too late.

          • Funny you bring that up. I hadn’t thought about the Nikon 1 in awhile and WAS interested in that lens when it was announced. Then I saw the price and wasn’t anymore. Maybe they will have a fire sale on that at some point either.

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  8. Dr. Elliot Puritz says:

    Interesting and relevant comments indeed Ming. You are making a convincing argument for film capture……:}…yes, tongue firmly in cheek for digital capture and the immediacy that such allows cannot be equaled. However, the old excellent camera and lenses need never be replaced. Ditto for the enlargers and equipment in the darkroom.

    Keep up the stimulating and challenging comments. While you are at it, let us know your feelings about the Adobe decision to charge $500.00 a year for a subscription to PS….perhaps pros can justify the expense. However, the bulk of amateurs will surely find the cost(s) a burden. Lots of film can be purchased for $500 a years….:}

    Pax,

    Elliot

    • Thanks Elliot. I’ve started shooting and developing film for my personal work – and it’s spread to some client work too. My workflow is no slower, and the hit rate is higher because I’m forced to think more. Not a bad thing at all.

      As for photoshop – I wrote a piece on that a couple of weeks ago. My solution would be to buy CS6 while you still can, and then just use the DNG converter. I really can’t think of anything that newer versions will offer me in terms of functionality that I don’t already have in CS5.5; and I’m a pretty heavy duty user – including for layouts and illustration work.

  9. Tom Liles says:

    Go for broke.

    Hard sell to end all hard sells.

    I’ve never really met a corporate high flyer [I mean the true royalty], but my imagination tells me they’d NEVER have the balls to do something like this.You have Ming; what do you say? Would they have it in them?
    The proposition supposes a genuine enthusiasm for the product and the company… in the west, corporate aristocracy seem to chop and change jobs and companies like musical chairs; Japan seems a bit better — perhaps just an illusion — but I guarantee you the above rings NO SALE in massive red letters in those deeply blue, conservative heads… so either side of the compass, not many takers, surely.

    When it’s the guy who started the company from scratch who’s running it, or a guy who was there at the beginning, or a guy who started at the very bottom and spent his whole working life there, then I think you get the enthusiasm and spirit for challenge necessary.

    Being bold and going for broke is not a proven winner, by any stretch though…
    [wanting proven winners, a-priori, is whole problem with everything, it seems. Just on semantics it’s absurd, never mind in practice!]

    • When it’s somebody on a three year contract whose bonus is dependent on immediate results, then they’re quite happy to do anything for short term sales. It’s the wrong motivation. However – as you point out – it’s mostly founders or ‘lifers’ who have a real love of the company and a long term desire to see it prosper.

      • Steve Jones says:

        Exactly! The nail on the head, as it were. I’ve noticed ( painfully sometimes) that over the past two decades, the decreasing number of long term employees in all kinds of occupations has led to poorer quality products, whether you are talking about banks,camera companies or bicycle shops. With this comes a lack of experience and knowledge for the services or products companies provide, a mistrust on the part of the customer and drastic mis-steps in policy and development for the sake of trying something new to make a quick profit.

        • It’s sad, but I feel we’ve gone from the era of the master, to the craftsman, to the cheap disposable industrial piece of garbage…what’s next?

          • Paul Stokes says:

            There still appears to be a wide spread of photographic equipment available from the make your own Alpa system through to the $150 compact. The problem for many of us is that we really want to functionality of an Alpa system in a small system camera and at that price. Sadly, to get less we need to spend increasingly more and more. The digital FM3a you have referred to is still something many people ‘want’. Yes it will cost money but so does a Leica. Would a DSLR of that quality be less likely to sell? A camera that could continue to be made and sold over a longer period along side other iterations of it and other products as a mid-level pro camera. Something like that with Zeiss lenses. Would you want to change.

            The other thought is one LLoyd Chambers raised. When you are setting up your camera you choose RAW, Raw =JPG or JPG and the menu system then only provides the options relevant to your choice with the option for manual addition or subtraction.

            • Bingo. I think even if Nikon charged D4 money for the FM3D it’d sell – and with the D800E sensor in there, it would comprehensively outperform the Leica too. Pair that with ZF2 glass, and I’m all set.

              As for the Alpa – I admit I have been looking at those lately…

      • Tom Liles says:

        We were talking about Olympus a fair bit on these two threads… they put a guy who cut his teeth in sales, a lifer, in at the top; he asked some questions about accounts in tax-havens and the rest is history!

        Dammed if you do… 🙂

        Perhaps it’s in the interest of the business eco-system that these giants that have become too sclerotic to catch their own food should just meet their ends. A kind of mirrored darwinism for the corporate universe. Though, that’s definitely not in the human interest of the people which populate the system.

        Difficult stuff.

        I want the Star Trek version. No more money. Do it for the betterment of us all. Peace, love, unity & having fun. And the prime directive. Make it so!

    • Paul Stokes says:

      I agree with you Tom because if it is the guy who founded the company and has a firm grip on its running, preferably around the throat, all successors generally have too much to worry about starting with how their current job will look on their CV when they apply for their next job. The product the company produces may be someway down the list of concerns they face as generally the main concern of most companies is making money here and now, not in the future.

      • Tom Liles says:

        Hi again Paul,

        making money here and now, not in the future

        It seems like we’re all subscribed to this being the problem and we’re all subscribed to adopting the opposite tack, i.e., build for the future: forgo pleasure now, put effort and time in for no immediate reward, but do it for payoff in the future [and we all value that payoff as better — certainly qualitatively, perhaps quantitively — than the one we could get now].

        You know, I’ve never really met anyone who doesn’t say all this. I’ve had the cursory group bellyache about this with everyone I know…

        We’re either 1) under the cosh of truly untouchable corporate overlords and nothing can change without their say so [v.v.doubtful; the strongest argument against conspiracy theories like that is the sheer incompetence of people—too many agents in too many places would all have to be right on it, to make it work… but I just don’t believe any one mammal has it in them to be a step ahead ALL THE TIME and control so many. Even Hitler, Napoleon, Caesar, Khan’s closest generals and cheerleaders weren’t averse to cattiness and ignoring orders on purpose! And as a matter of fact, we know how it ended up for Hitler, Napoleon, Caesar, Khan, etc., so so much for “untouchable!”], or 2) we’re trying to change things but are paralyzed by the incremental differences in the way everyone wants to do it, or 3) we just say we hate it, i.e., when put in the same position we all do the same thing—go for the fast buck, the easy buck.

        On reflection, I think it’s perhaps a mix of them all!

        Just like with taking photos [as discussed the other week]—I’m convinced the people that are successful: in this case escape 1, 2, 3 and make companies from scratch and killer products we all love and that stay loved for years and years… I’m convinced all these guys HAVE A PHILOSOPHY, right or wrong. Guys, and girls, who know what they want. And are going to get it, make it happen.

        Money is not what they’re thinking about [principally].

        What do you reckon?

        • Paul Stokes says:

          Compromise means no-one is happy.

          I think some of problems we see come from the size of the company. The bigger it grows the more it needs to produce and the more it needs to employ and then the hubris kicks in and they think they can take on anything and do anything. At least someone does. Does the company break up into a number of fiefdoms with each group leading a semiautonomous life and harder and harder to reel in. Each appointed sub-leader has their vision and their idea of how things should be done. The chairman/leaders orders or there to be interpreted or a starting point for the person on the groung or with greater experience or simply incompetent or to fond of drinking.

          There is also the ‘we need to do something this is something lets do it’ syndrome to cope with.

          Sony is a good example. From making walkmans and excellent televisions now they make everything in a half-assed way which sees Samsung and LG taking over the lead in TV, their films losing money and the huge head start they had from acquiring Minolta disappearing slowly but surely.

          It might be better, or more kind, to see some of Sony’s cameras as merely poorly thought through. The NEX idea was a good step away from the traditional or retro style and perhaps if they had Olympus’s range of prime lenses or even the Zeiss lenses ready to go it might have been a stunning success. Ah, what might have been. Still at their best they are still capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat as they did with the RX1 and RX100. Few saw the RX1 coming.

          • Sport on, Paul. The question then becomes how do the leaders encourage acting in the best mid to long term interests of the company without stifling innovation?

          • Tom Liles says:

            Seconded, that was good stuff Paul.

            Does the company break up into a number of fiefdoms with each group leading a semiautonomous life and harder and harder to reel in

            Whether it’s the right thing for a business or not, I’m convinced this is the natural order of things [one look at the natural world to draw a line under it]. Divergence not convergence. Speaking of NEX:

            The NEX idea was a good step away from the traditional or retro style and perhaps if they had Olympus’s range of prime lenses or even the Zeiss lenses ready to go it might have been a stunning success

            I’m still a beginner, so what do I know, but, yes certainly, even without the Olympus primes [woof!] they seem like great cameras to me [most cameras are though, as we’ve spoken about, c.f., what’s “sufficient”]. the double dial approach was, is, innovative; and Ming reminded me that “innovation” is what Sony is all about [and should remember]. So what’s the problem? My problem, just me, is the badge. Simply that. Do I want or feel like a chancy camera with “Sony” written on it? If I’m John Q Public, maybe I do. When I’m Tom Liles taken up photos seriously as a hobby I don’t. But the product seems like it tries to have its cake and eat it too by going for both me and J.Q.P. And it hasn’t been a disaster… And it hasn’t been a roaring success, either. It’s the worst result of all because middle managers and co., can argue either tack endlessly and procrastinate. But unequivocal success is all we’re interested in. You know it when you see it [even if it doesn’t appear in the bottom line straight away; I know that’s ever so slippery, but there you have it]. I don’t get that sense from NEX, it’s sucking my money and time, as Ming said, just be ruthless: KILL IT.

            Still at their best they are still capable of pulling a rabbit out of the hat as they did with the RX1 and RX100. Few saw the RX1 coming.

            Absolutely. That’s the Sony we all know and love. I’ve been an acolyte since I can remember, because of a Trinitron that my parents had bought soon after getting married [i.e., before me]. It was still going strong — perched on a unit in the kitchen, the most heavily used set in the house — when I left home for good as an adult. That’s over twenty years of uninterrupted service! We’d gone through five “this is the family TV” TV sets in the living room in the same period [all lost to critical parts malfunctioning or breaking down]. None of them Sony. Guess what the only brand my parents ever buy is since. I’m the same [though it’s not very cost efficient, or often satisfying, to be frank].
            The Sony of “planned obsolescence” or the “2 year rule” [exactly when the warranty ends] is so foreign to me, but that’s what they let themselves in for by spreading themselves too thin, perhaps? It’s really stupid mistake because as any old Tom Dick and Harry knows—a reputation is the easiest thing in the world to lose [and the most difficult to regain].

            So if they simply must have market presence in cameras, I’d stick to showstoppers like the RX1 and quietly amazing things like the RX100 [no longer amazing, could do with a mk.2 sometime as Ming pointed out]; but, no, the real business and where I’d really go for the money is behind the scenes, under the hood—the sensor business unit. Maybe even develop user interfaces and sell them [like the double dial stuff on the NEX 7?]. But anyway, sensors: a lot of the hard work is already done!

            I realize I’m talking like there is money in it…
            [But I don’t like this “what’s the market worth” viewpoint as a default setting—what was the market for Coca-Cola the day before John Pemberton stocked it on his shelves?.. If you have a good product — and before the punters get to vote with their wallets this HAS to be a matter of faith — then the rest is hard work, simple communication and luck. Even then chances are against you. But no business school metrics will ever model and predict this. What coffee&biscuits type would’ve green lighted the Epson R-D1, say, on CBA grounds, etc..?]

            Back to work! 😮

            • Paul Stokes says:

              Continuing the fiefdom analogy perhaps those with a suitable background in the photographic side of the business be they from Sony or Minolta or x have more say in what is done. Certainly the appearance of the RX1 and RX100 point to there being some sharp and intelligent minds at work. Perhaps their reward should be the opportunity to work on ‘something else’. This is of course assuming they aren’t already. Reward for positive response. Using Ming’s breakdown into compact, consumer and pro the RX line has produced two excellent cameras that span these three groups. Suppose their next camera is a Slightly larger RX with interchangeable lenses?

              I realize you probably can’t just let the boffins run the fiefdom but a sympathetic manager with a balanced view of quality/innovation and the money is probably what is needed. A what is our core business after the obvious making money angle.

              The other ‘problem’ is the I have to do everything approach’ or the ‘reinvent the wheel’ approach. If the lenses are the problem talk to the people with expertise in lenses, if you have a problem with developing a good program system for the new camera talk to an expert or hire an expert to help sort it out. [Is the program in one Sony camera better than another? Maybe someone needs to be in charge of them all.] You do not have to do it all yourself. Some sort of symbiotic relationship with other companies may work for everyone for certain product lines or some components. Everyone is looking to grow their business but it is important to know your strength and work to them. Certainly as with Sony and televisions you do not want to lose sight or your strengths and core business. Where will the money come from otherwise.

              I won’t start on Sigma which, as you know Tom has camera producing the most beautiful images, but. What goes on in the management there?

              • The interchangeable lens RX would kill NEX. However, given the excellent sensor inside both RX100 and RX1, if it were up to me I’d make interchangeable lens versions of these cameras – slightly larger or similar sized body and Zeiss primes – you could have an incredibly pocketable and high quality system that would span a couple of niches. Even smarter if you could make them share mounts, so the normals for the full frame system would be fast teles on 1″…

              • Tom Liles says:

                Brilliant Paul. Thanks for your thoughts.

                Yeah, Sigma. So, honestly, I only know the cameras [and then through a glass, darkly], but this is about the zillionth time I’ve heard people whose opinions I respect say, or imply, that the management at Sigma leaves something to be desired…

                Was this connected with the SD1 pricing? In Ming’s case I know bad QA practices on the lenses dissolved a lot of goodwill.

                As I understand it, they did switch drivers a while back, and the new guy running the shop seems better [only imaging what it was like before]. He’s putting out mirrorless lenses [not afraid of new business], as well as some quite big news Canon/Nikon glass; he rolled out a pretty aggressive “lock in” strategy for the Merrills, too: if you owned one already, when you bought another, Sigma gave you 300USD back. No strings. I took them up on this and that’s how I managed to afford to have two DPMs. I can imagine a few would’ve gone and bought a new Merrill, got the cash back, then sold the new purchase straight back to a camera shop. As savvy as that sounds, I bet not many people did that—that was the smart part of the promotion, I think, you had to be a Merrill owner already. It is a niche brand, so these are not casual consumers to begin with. Merrill owners are more likely to want to keep the new camera rather than get rid. It all goes to strengthening the ties even more. Good move I think [we’ll see though!].

                My first boss in advertising likened retail to a military campaign [he’s not the first!]. The most important tool of a General, he told me, is his map. Know the lay of the land. Pick a spot. Invade. Take it. Keep it. Own it. Then move on to the neighboring spot, do the same. Not a spot all the way over there at the other side of the map. The one next to. Invade, take it, keep it, own it. And then the next one. Then the next one. Sooner or later, you control the country. All along it gets harder and harder to attack you [unless you try and take over the World; for more see every empire ever]. If I were working at Sigma — if any Sigma honchos are watching, YES PLEASE! — [and then I wouldn’t have a 1.5 hr commute everyday either 🙂 ] I’d be doing just this exact sort of promotion. And going slowly [remember Sigma = lenses, not cameras; so does, did?, Leica, so that’s what we’re aiming at, our unique version of, that is]. We want the sales graph to look like an airplane’s take-off, not a rocket ship’s.

                I thought previous comments about having decent promo material—“show me what the camera can do” is important. Well, Apple reminded everyone about that, didn’t they. The ads are just product demos, simple as that. In Jerry McQuire terminology: show me the money. I’d be careful about consumer cynicism on the print campaigns though [and this is when you’ve managed to get people to even look at advertising/promotional material]; we live in an age where “photoshopped” is now a common part of the parlance. The trust in images has fallen through the floor. How many people, from layman to pro, would believe what they see is truly just the camera?
                If I was Sigma, I’d actually ignore all the “make it faster, more user friendly, higher ISOs” stuff. I’d DO THE OPPOSITE. Well, no, that’s hyperbole. I wouldn’t intentionally make things harder, but certainly not round off any edges anymore than they have been [the most recent DPM firmware update put face recognition in; I wanted to do one of those Macaulay Culkin Home Alone screams when I noticed]. I don’t know about the SD1, but the DPMs are real “straight no chaser” cameras. That’s why I love them [and bought one before I even knew a thing about taking photos]. You want scene modes, go elsewhere. You want lightning quick AF, go elsewhere. You want a gazillion shots per bat, go elsewhere [Mark actually put very nicely on his blog, and I agree, one DPM battery is like a roll of film. And it perhaps makes you shoot that way too], you want flawless ISO 800 go elsewhere — you want the option of always useable ISO 1600, go elsewhere — you want reversible lens hoods, built in flash, user-friendly ergonomics, touch screens, great WB, all round convenience and the granddaddy of them all—you want workflow on any platform you desire, go elsewhere.

                You get a black, basic box that does DROP DEAD GORGEOUS pictures. And it’s going to do them its way goddammit.
                There’s going to be no “bend to my will” transparency or saccharine touchy feely friendliness here. DPMs are a kick in the gut.

                I mean, Leica make a killing on [their version of] this.

                I don’t see any of the above as problems, or things to address asap. They’re only problems if you frame them that way. There’s an old saying: you only feel embarrassed with your own consent. I think we can hijack that phrase here. Only a problem if you admit to it [i.e., accept the paradigm from without instead of making and marching to your own tune].
                I would position the Foveons simply for what they are: the first of a kind. Something never done before. And shout about that until my voice goes [not that they are “the best” etc]. There’re people who get it, those who don’t—that’s for them to choose, freely. If people don’t get them or like them, hey-ho. Here’s quote of the century, from David Geffen, music/film mogul [man you do not want to be on the wrong side of; man who the song “I bet you think this song is about you…” was written for], closer to the end than the beginning now, David says:

                —“It’s not about the ones who say no. But about the ones who say yes. Your life isn’t made up of people who aren’t in it.”

                Works for brands too.

                • Paul Stokes says:

                  I think I see the Sigmas as complementary cameras. We all have a variety of needs [substitute wants] when we go looking for a camera. We all have several cameras. I feel you could pair a SIgma DP1 with a Sony RX100 [200] and be able to do street photography, landscape/cityscape, birthday snaps, etc ad nauseum. Perhaps we should look at this as an extension of what Ming says when he talks about when considering a camera that it needs to fill a gap not repeat something he already has and think about how we can advertise by showing how our product fills a gap you may not have realised was there. I do think this is the case with Sigma and the Merrills. I have the D800E and OM-D but Im still a little peckish.

                  I have been seriously tempted to buy one but I felt the same about the Ricoh GR and the Nikon Coolpix A and the RX1. Somehow when the fever abates the Merrill is what floats to the surface. Whether that Means I will eventually buy one or not remains to be scene.

                  That said sales are important and I hope that Sigma can make a slightly more accessible camera but given their quite outstanding lens work recently I hope they continue to grow and develop.

                  The military tactics is what we used to call the salami approach, taking thing slice by slice so no one would really notice or couldn’t really object to such a small thing.

                  Finally for bureaucracy and its amusing workings you do need to watch two British comedy series; Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.

                  • I’m in the same boat as you, Paul – I have the D800e and OM-D, and while this covers me for just about every logical situation, they aren’t the kind of quirky focused tool that encourages experimentation. Maybe they’re *too* good…it’s why I picked up the Ricoh and enjoy using the Hasselblad immensely.

                    • Paul Stokes says:

                      Perhaps there not enough of a challenge after a while with the ‘modern camera Ming. I really admire what you are doing with the Hasselblad but have neither the technical proficiency or understanding partner to engage in film to the extent you do. I will drag out the old F90X but again it is perhaps still too good. The challenge of taking up and using a camera that makes demands of the photographer is I believe a good thing. Very keen to see how you go with the Ricoh.

                    • I suppose a halfway point is to use your DSLR entirely in manual…self-developing B&W really isn’t that difficult or space-consuming, so perhaps still worth giving it a shot?

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Yes Paul, Yes Minister is on my list. 🙂

                    I also enjoy the 2000s political version, and viciously funny [as in vicious], THE THICK OF IT. Not for watching while your wife and kids are in the room, that’s for sure. And on a more serious tack: THE WIRE, in particular season five, was AWESOME with the subject of bureaucracy. The writer, one of the best there is, Mr David Simon, picked up on the higher echelons of big organizations, like the Police, like big Corporate, like Newspapers, versus the employees who actually do the organization’s work as being just like the Greek Gods were to the Greek mortals in the famous tragedies. A lightning bolt from Zeus hits you for no reason whatsoever, so begins a story…

                    Military Approach
                    Yes, like the Salami; but a tougher metaphor and perhaps more in tune to how it is on the ground [on the shop floor]. Branding really is a battle—it’s the battle for your mind. But also has a very real and physical dynamic too, i.e., actual shops, actual products, actual experiences and actual customers. A lot of it involves bare-faced wrestling customers away from other people. There’s not much pretense. This is why battle-hardened brands are desirable; the competition takes a look and thinks again. Who is really going to try and knock Coca-Cola off their perch? It’s “step up if you want to get hurt” territory, and Coca-Cola makes sure the market knows it [does Coke even need to advertise anymore? etc]

                    All this said—you obviously know a LOT more about all this than me, Paul. I am quietly taking notes [for all the appearances of sparring]!

                    Sigma
                    Well I hope you join me in Merrill-ville. No, Merrill-land… nnn, I want to say “Merrill Country” but it sounds a bit too homely and Marlboro [originally a ladies’ brand!]. “The Kingdom of Merrill” [plus trumpet salute]. OK this is getting silly: Merrill-town… Merrill-ton?… Merrill Borough, Merrill County, aha! Merrill Central. No. No no. The Land of Merrill…

                    I hope you buy a DP1M, too Paul.

                    Yeah, actually “complementary camera” is a good way of putting it. I certainly don’t use mine as main cameras anymore, and I think this pattern will continue. I was talking to Ming about it the other day, but I actually see myself entering an anti-GAS phase—I intuit that two cameras is the right number [but will never feel satisfactory]. In my case: a big Nikon [FX, proper man-size body] and something RF [pretentious], probably DRF. I have an Epson R-D1s and was dreaming about an M9-P [me being able to afford one is part of the dream]… that downgraded to M8.2 [which for some truly inexplicable reason, even when daydreaming, appeals to me MORE now than the M9, M9-P or ME. Go figure]; but, I have to say, I went out with the kids to the park on Sunday, the R-D1s looked nice to me that day, so I picked it up and went with it. I got some really good pictures with it. Not DROP DEAD GORGEOUS territory, but you know, you open up the file and pleasantly go “ah.” This seems to happen a lot; almost every time I use it. The photos aren’t super sharp, they aren’t well composed [I don’t experience this magic oh, a different way of seeing, oh stuff with rangefinders, I must admit] and the metering is usually WAY under-egged, but, yeah, I dunno, maybe it’s to do with the shorter shutter lag or the way RF mounts and lenses go with the sensors, or something… because the photos are usually different, different as in interesting. The R-D1s has really grown on me. It’s like a little limpet, or a stubborn bacteria. In the end you just have to sit back and give it its due.

                    So two cameras is right…

                    But I can’t imagine getting shut of the Sigmas…

                    To be continued!

                    [Maybe the second act reversal will be Sony, of all people!, swooping in with a killer camera 😮 ]

                    • Paul Stokes says:

                      Having a camera you enjoy using is a very important aspect of camera sales I think. From the haptics, to the look, to your ability to engage with what the camera maker is trying to do. Perhaps this is why Ricoh, Sigma Merrills and the R-D1 have such loyal adherents despite their ‘faults’ or because of their character. As you said earlier its all in how you see it. I would prefer to see character in the photos I take than beauty all the time though I hope to have some of that as well. Certainly there is character in Leica. Why else would they make so many different lenses. I think there are five 50mm lenses at the moment.

                      Perhaps its the lack of character that makes it easy for people to change cameras so readily these days. As George Moat said further down many camera makers forget their heritage and what attracted us to their cameras in the first place. Long may you enjoy your choices.

                      Wait for that Sony RX2 with interchangeable lenses.

                    • Bang on, Paul. Though I’m not sure character is the difference for Leica lenses; I think it’s price: the Noctilux and Summilux work just fine stopped down, but why pay so much over the odds if you’re never going to use anything wider than f4? The Summarit is optically as excellent at that aperture, much cheaper and lighter.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Hi Paul,

                      Thanks again for your thoughts. Enjoyed them.

                      Why else would they make so many different lenses

                      I think we can all imagine a few reasons 🙂

                      Well I am a believer in the “Leica Look” (TM); but not for the reasons many give. I work in advertising. I’ve seen psychological research [wine tasters and Riedel glasses] that confirms a plethora real world experience, anecdotal evidence and a mountain of marketer’s practical knowledge [that I crib on the regular]: that even when there is no objective difference there still is an objective difference, so to speak… a glass from the pound shop or a glass from Riedel makes no difference to taste of the wine, blindfolded tasters confirm… the same tasters, UN-blindfolded, swore a difference in taste and scans of brain activity confirmed they were experiencing a difference, not just saying it, i.e., we see a psychosomatic response. Chefs, Magicians, Salesmen, Politicians and others, have known about this for centuries. It’s not really news. Though it is now becoming more and more legitimate. The effect may still count as a form of “tricking yourself” — though that is a very philosophical question — but as the response is almost involuntary, this changes the picture entirely.

                      With the Leica lenses, people aren’t just saying they see a difference, they really are [some would say tricking themselves to] see a difference. I believe them. Though I don’t really see it myself. Not a barb, my eyes aren’t photographically trained enough yet: I can barely keep up when words like “micro-contrast” and “lens signatures” start getting bandied about. I keep it simple I just look for Ming’s four criteria:

                      Quality of light
                      Clarity of subject
                      Balance of composition
                      Transmission of the idea

                      QED

                      Yeah, I agree with Gordon’s point too. I found the original optical engineers explaining the genesis of some of Nikon’s most famous Nikkors fascinating, over at the Nikon homepage. Why is this buried in the backwoods. And why presented so half-heartedly? A bit of lore goes a long way… people LOVE stories. My personal view is that our brains are hard wired for it: “cause and effect” is a kind of two beat story, but I don’t need anything so philosophical, literature critics worked out a good while ago that we go for stories so much it’s embedded all over the place, it permeates the language—the sound of a clock — “tick tock” — is structured as a narrative… Stories = POWERFUL.

                      All the stories these historied makers have. And not just “then” but “now”! Who’s interested to know the story behind the 800E, the Coolpix A, the high ISO performance of the D3S, and on and on… yes you have to balance that with the necessary bit of mystery, mystique to the brand, keep a very definite sense of “how do they do it!?”… but where the slider is now is WAY too far over on the uncommunicative side. Stupido.

        • I was at a great seminar listening to Alex Bogusky of Crispin, Porter & Bogusky (behind the Burger King “King”, VW ads, et al) talk about decisions on advertising products. One example he gave was the ideas that the marketing department at Mini (small car) had to present their new car to the public in the United States. Anyway, the one thing he stated that really stuck out to me was: “Fear ruins good work.” The idea behind that is often choices are made that appear somewhat safe, or obvious, or driven by features, but those are not necessarily going to build interest, a following, nor successful products.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Interesting Gordon. I vaguely knew who Mr Bogusky was, but confess to not really knowing. Have just spent 10 minutes poking about… I still don’t know enough to know, he seems a bit better than Seth Godin [not the guy I rate the most in the world]. I am suspicious of bright young things [or bright middle aged things] that have a new project every few years—they just strike me as the “creatives” schizo version of the 3yr contract phone-it-in corporates Ming mentioned earlier. I am quite jaded though as I meet these advertising types all the time, and have to endure them evangelizing me on “the new paradigm” which will be another new paradigm the next time we meet and different to the one they said was it last time; and the company, collective, website, or whatever they set up to do the old paradigm is not really mentioned again once they find a new boom… Guess what I always choose to ask them about!

            Sorry, I’m in Walt Kowalski mode tonight!

            The best thing I’ve ever heard w.r.t advertising was an old Dentsu mnemonic [“Dentsu” is the largest ad/PR company in Japan]: called “AIDMA”

            A-attention
            I-interest
            D-desire
            M-memory
            A-action

            [There is an updated “information age” version but I prefer this classic, tried and tested one. My inner-engineer shining through, perhaps…]

            AIDMA is quite a plastic and open ended tool, but I think of it as the route a person goes from “target” to “customer” [someone advertised to; someone who buys something]. It has never failed me, ever. Whenever I’m stuck, on anything [in this industry], I reach for AIDMA and it helps me parse, and gets me the answer. The best ads can do it all — first A to last — in one swoop; usually you’re just aiming for one or two bits of it, in my case the “M” is what I typically concentrate on and go for: so my style of copywriting nearly always incorporates the brandname and usually rhymes something with part or all of it. It’s cheesy, but it works. This is why the great poems came down to us from the depths of history; but all the stuff that didn’t rhyme, doesn’t.

            But “fear ruins good work” is a good one. I agree. Wholeheartedly. And add that that “ruining” also works preemptively—in the industry we all complain about how no-one makes ads like they used to, because we can’t, we’re not allowed to, etc. Client, and Agency, fear of failure [because of unreal expectation] is to blame.

            Go for broke.

            [as I say, v.v.v.hard sell]

      • Catch 22, though: there is no future if the company doesn’t produce something people want to buy today…

  10. Jock Elliott says:

    It’s my feeling that the companies that really care about their customers are the most durable. In corporate-speak, this is known as being customer-centric or customer-facing. Economies of scale also factor into corporate decisions. A few years ago, I was on assignment, interviewing the president of Crosman Corporation, which makes and sells airguns. At the time, Crosman’s product line included an exotic English airgun that cost over a thousand dollars and 50-dollar mostly plastic gun sold through the big-box stores. I said to the president, “I bet if you sold a thousand of the exotic guns (which would have been an astonishing number), it wouldn’t equal the money you make from the cheap guns in a year. He said, “It wouldn’t equal what we make from the cheap guns in a month.” Sometimes the low-end goods underwrite the high-end stuff.

    • Often the flagship products do two things: give a halo effect to the lower end of the range, and serve as demonstrations of capability. They seldom make money – think of the Bugatti Veyron’s position in the VW group lineup…

  11. Interesting that Olympus is apparently going to trim its camera line up to concentrate on M43 and the tough cam markets, and quit the low end market ( where it looks like all the cameras, regardless of brand, come from Sanyo …). Hopefully it wont be “too little too late” and frankly I would respect them more for *not* having cheapo cr@p with their name on it.

    • It makes sense. The margins are better for system cameras anyway; you can sell lenses and accessories which you can’t do with a compact.

      • Paul Stokes says:

        It appears it is not just Olympus that is abandoning much of their compact line. It appears both Panasonic and Fuji are headed in the same direction. Whether this is a result of the spread of smartphones as photographic devices or not I don’t know, though I should report tourists have been seen using their iPads to take photographs and make phone calls.

        Perhaps the ‘collaboration’ between Olympus and Sony will see a sharing that will benefit both companies in the long run. Sony will get the 5 axis image stabilisation and good lenses and Olympus the pick of the sensors. We can only wait and see.

        • Tom Liles says:

          Hi there Paul,

          Just a quick one on the Sony sensors, it seems like they have the fab game down—but the optimization seems like something Nikon rules the roost at. So, I’m not sure Olympus gets the better end of the deal there.
          [But what choice do they have!]

          Since going for broke and left field, etc., are on the table — and we’re pretending to be CEOs! — I’d LOVE to see Sony resurrect the Minolta brand [I wasn’t there for it before]. Give it to some old Minolta guys, along with a lump of cash and the keys to the Sony R&D labs, plus those Minolta archives, let’s not forget—and give broke a go.

          NEX and all that are fine [the worst thing ever actually = moderately successful], but point one on Ming’s article: DROP IT. All the Alpha system stuff: DROP IT. Keep RX1 [halo], keep, maintain and perfect the RX100 series [niche; up against GR, A, etc—actually pocketable pocketable compacts that only photogs want, c.f., this article part one] and concentrate everything else on sensors and understanding why Nikon does a better job than you do—retake that ground, own it, take more [mirrorless speciality sensors/microlens tech, medF, cameraphone] and so on—this last is, should be made, the “money maker.”
          Honestly, though, if I could shout one thing at Sony it’d be to drop all these “me too” business units: the camera lines, the MP3 players, the smart phones, the laptops, the movie studio, etc and GET THAT TV BUSINESS BACK. The Koreans have almost wrestled it entirely out of their hands.

          We talked about branding and holding the mental [perceptive] ground, being number one there, being the first name that pops up in relation to a category…

          When I say “Sony,” what does it even mean anymore?

          [= Problem!]

          • Actually, Olympus is doing a pretty darn good job at optimisation too – the jpeg output from the E-P5 is stunningly good; to my eyes preferable to the Fujis.

            Sony used to mean innovation: completing your thought, Tom, dropping the me-too business units and getting back to innovating – testing and being willing to experiment – is probably what they should be doing. The RX1/RX100 were the first of that kind of successful innovation in a long time. NEX and SLTs missed the mark. The trouble is keeping the momentum going: we’ve had another generation of SLTs since the RX100 was launched, but there’s no sign of a follow up anywhere on the horizon. Ditto the RX1. They know the market exists…so why not run with it before the rest catch up?

  12. great. btw, Joe McNally and Cliff Mautner showed me what is possible with nikon. i love my dslr although it’s to big for everyday carrying around in the summer. you (and not olympus which should have) showed me what is possible with the smaller sensor in a smaller package. i fell in lovewith the pen e-p1when i first saw it, but decided for the d90 because of the lenses available and the lighting possibilities. well, things have changed and i can’t wait much longer for the e-p5 with some of the real good stuff. fuji marketing made some right decisions having a beautiful print campaign here in europe. olympus (and most of the other camera companies) should do the same: show me the quality with great pictures. nikon did the opposite when presenting the nikon 1.

    • I wholly agree: compare the initial response to the Leica M 240’s first samples, and the response on this site to what I produced in Myanmar. In any case…we as photographers can only do so much. The reality is that demonstrations of a camera’s potential in the right hands are valuable, but those of us who can get nothing out of it from any of the brands, even though we’re doing them a huge favor. I can’t speak for McNally and co, but I’m certainly not on any kind of sponsorship or retainer.

      • Tom Liles says:

        The reality is that demonstrations of a camera’s potential in the right hands are valuable, but those of us who can get nothing out of it from any of the brands, even though we’re doing them a huge favor

        This is very slippery in one reading; and highlights the problems with the way the whole thing is set up on another.

        You value your independence. We value your independence. The right hands [yours] showing the cameras potential is very valuable. Definitely translates to money for the makers downstream. The instant this loop is closed [money goes back to you] the music stops [or starts!].
        So you can’t have it both ways: you’re either paid by the brands, or a brand, and we all know you are [I know you’d be the full disclosure type Ming, so there’s no problem there]; or you’re the independent hero that we all listen to because you’re going to tell it like it is, and there’s no corporate money to taint that rep…
        [but you almost bankrupt yourself on gear because who’s going to give loaners of anything to truth-tellers]

        This is exactly the tail-spin that magazines, any category you like, have gotten themselves into.

        I don’t know what the way out is—hence it serves as a highlight on problems with what we’ve got now…

        Light at the end of the tunnel?

        • None, so far as I can see. The referral business helps some, but it isn’t the kind of thing one can live off. Or perhaps it might be if. Was willing to evangelise – but that would compromise objectivity, and defeat the whole point.

          The only conclusion that I can come to is that it’s probably my knowledge, experience and images that attracted most of my readers, and presumably also what keeps them returning. So, I have to monetize that…

          • Tom Liles says:

            Well for me, a guy that can talk anti-matter apples as easily as he can relay anecdotes about high ISO weddings in Nepal; talk big fat chromed up ‘blads, people pawing up the RF windows, sushi orders, or taking up unicycling as a hobby [lainer1 is my hero for all time for that one] => that’s a guy you pay attention to 😀

            This is before we even mention the art.
            The reviews.
            The articles.
            The knowledge.
            The comment community.

            Worth more than money.
            [which doesn’t help!]

            • No, it doesn’t, but I’m flattered all the same. And it was an anti-tomato, dammit! :p

              Also…what happened to the *photography*?

              • Tom Liles says:

                Gah! Another reply lost to the ether (train goes through a tunnel)

                And Gahh! I’m hopeless; it read back “tomato” in my head yesterday… I think I need to visit the neurology unit 😦

                Yes! The photography — your art as I call it — is reason número uno. Though if I can be slippy now and say your personality and writing is too.

                Who else’d write — I’m talking topic, style and delivery — The Photographer as Philosopher 1 & 2? The color articles, the composition ones, the Defining a Personal Style piece? The film diaries stuff, Camerapedia, etc, etc = ALL OF IT

                [presses play, “nobody does it better” 007 closing theme comes on; looks to heavens, holds arms aloft and sways gently]

                😀

                • Actually, I notice a lot of the other bog photography sites are now starting to abandon gear and get back into photography and/or philosophy…even TOP recently ran a similar ‘future direction’ feedback post to help figure out where to go next…

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  15. Cameras are being launched with incremental changes each year. The best time to buy a camera today is when the previous models are being unloaded prior to a new model launch. Camera companies should look to smartphone app stores as a way to sell additional features, bring in more revenue and extend the model life. A model such as this would allow new trends such as focus-peaking to be added to respond to competition. Third-party apps would provide innovation too.

    If my camera did not have a Sepia filter it would have made no difference to my buying decision but I might pay $5 at some time to add it. I bet there are readers of this blog who would pay for a Ming B&W filter for their camera.

    • And therein lies the problem: I can’t make that filter because I make conscious exposure, tone and processing decisions for every situation that are also *different* in every situation – because no two images are the same. And that simply cannot be programmed…

      • Steve Jones says:

        and thank goodness for things that cannot be programmed otherwise cameras wouldn’t need photographers anymore!
        I find all of the things in life that can’t be programmed ( or haven’t been yet) to be the most interesting.

        • But there are plenty of people who think technology has outmoded artistic/ creative sufficiency too…just look at Marissa Mayer, or any one of a whole bunch of companies here who hire price, not quality.

          • Absolutely. Marissa Mayer stated what many average people think about photography. I think some of this has been driven by past marketing efforts designed to sell cameras; a perception of easier to use trumped highly controllable and customizable.

            • Until they seriously try it themselves, of course…and then either one of two things happens: they can’t tell the difference, or they realize just how difficult a job it is sometimes.

  16. Mr. Ichiro Sony says:

    I am not sure why anyone would want to run a camera company. Such huge corporations are some of THE most unwieldy, least responsive organizations around. Only two are making any money, Canon and Nikon. The rest are losing tens of millions of dollars every year.

    • And there are many reasons for precisely why they’re not making money. I definitely wouldn’t want to run something with so much baggage I can’t make a difference. In any case – I am doing what I’m doing now by choice. Had I stayed in my previous job, I’d eventually be running a large company anyway; I am far more efficient with far less now. If I ran/ owned/ started a camera company, it’d be the same.

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