The Thing About Brand Loyalty

No matter what brand camera system you're using, you're going to have complaints. Simple as that. 

The problem stems from a number of sources. For instance, patents and intellectual property may protect a feature or attribute of a particular brand. Though that's a bit less true in Japanese consumer electronics than elsewhere, I still see instances of it, and some of the licensing that is done across competitors is done only as horse-trading. 

But the real issue facing the Japanese camera companies that impacts us as users is simple: lack of volume coupled with lack of customer engagement. Those two things are related. Because the Japanese companies are so bad at engaging customers globally, they don't hear complaints and issues directly or in a timely fashion. The lack of volume means that the cost of engineering something new is high and reduces product margins. Together the whole thing creates a sort of "take what you get" attitude from the camera makers. 

During the last year I tried to compile a list of the "customer complaints" for each mount. In sorting through that, I found two common ones: poor quality control, and degradations in service/repair.

Actually, it's also the way the customer sees the problems. One real problem with quality control is that at 60mp FX—which is about the state of the art in terms of pixel density across all dedicated camera sensor sizes—manufacturing tolerances are exceedingly small. So much so that "perfect alignment" isn't exactly possible. Moreover, maintaining the tolerances we do get is tough given the abuse that many subject their gear to.

Putting it another way: the camera makers have hit a ceiling they're bumping their heads against, something I predicted back in 2009. At the moment, nobody has figured out a way to raise the roof and get some more breathing room. (I'd point out that alignment tolerances aren't the only ceiling that's being hit, but it's the one that's coming up more and more as the most determined users try to figure out how to get the most from their gear.)

Meanwhile, in terms of service, support, and repair, it's okay to move more of that to the Internet, but the problem is that this is almost always done as one-way communication (company to customer), and much of that gets hung up in bureaucracy or translations. When the customer has a question, it isn't answered directly (or is answered wrong in many of the cases where the camera company did decide to reply). 

On reason I maintain my Web sites and create my articles and books is to act as a conduit for "better answers." But I'd be happier if the camera companies would just up their game.

So, on to the specific aggregated brand complaints I compiled in 2020. Here's how I structured the primary complaints that were not feature specific (every brand had feature-specific complaints):

  • Canon M — no M5 update, lack of lens choice
  • Canon RF — sensors on older cameras, overheating on newer cameras, speed up the lens introductions, price
  • Fujifilm XF — various model specific issues, model line clarity, lack of telephoto lens choice
  • Fujifilm GF — too small a volume to have concentrated complaints
  • Nikon F DX — no D500 update, no higher density image sensor, lack of lenses
  • Nikon F FX — D6 didn't feel like a true update, D780 too high priced, lack of compact lenses
  • Nikon Z DX — lack of lenses, no Z70
  • Nikon Z FX — focus feedback (esp. AF-C), missing customizations, speed up the lens introductions, quality control
  • Olympus m4/3 — what's really happening? 
  • Panasonic m4/3 — no GH6, stalled product offerings
  • Panasonic S — focus performance, price
  • Sigma — no new Foveon, performance issues across the board
  • Sony E — A6### ideas seem aged and not improving, menus, lens option issues (e.g. 16mm still needs redesign)
  • Sony FE — A7 update needed, menus, price creep

Jumping from brand to brand as your most important complaint is addressed is both expensive as well as not actually dealing with the real problem. You're just going to find the new brand has something different to complain about. Just as I documented Leakers, Samplers, and Switchers in the 2007-2017 period, I'm now seeing Returners. Returners are people who left a brand because of a complaint only to find that their new brands created new complaints while the old brand finally got around to addressing their problem.

We as customers are going to have to make our voices heard more clearly. The camera makers don't have as many folk "listening" to us due to cutbacks in staffing, so we're going to have to be louder and more directed in our complaints if they're to be heard at all. 

I'm not 100% certain how we do this—and it's something that many readers will realize I began attempting over 20 years ago in regards to Nikon—but if we don't the bean counters in Tokyo will slowly eradicate all enjoyment we do get, and the net result is that we'll stop buying cameras and find new professions/hobbies.  

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