We Don't Need Lots of Consumer Cameras

Here's another reason why you're going to see the primary camera makers head fully upstream with higher-priced models: they don't want to compete with themselves.

One of the oft-ignored aspects of digital cameras is that they've been highly competent for a long, long time. Canon and Nikon, in particular, sold millions upon millions of Rebels/Kisses and DX bodies. Most of which are still capable of taking excellent images. Indeed, the Nikon D3xxx series, which dates back to 2009, is a solid, basic, well-defined entry interchangeable lens camera, of which several million are in circulation.

A question I've gotten from some readers lately has been this: "don't the camera makers have to make entry-level cameras to find new users in the future?" My answer is no, because they can't top what they've done and make the price and profit right. A near new D3300 on the used market is going for US$250 right now. That's the 2014 model that featured 24mp and to this day is still a competitive APS-C based camera. A lot of those sit in closets, and will eventually find new homes. 

What I think will happen is that the big camera makers will likely have to collapse their entry level products down considerably in the future, and they'll still have troubles competing with themselves due to the large installed base of used gear that's virtually as competent that could serve as an entry camera for the cost conscious. If I had a graduating high schooler who I wanted to gift an interchangeable lens camera to I'd be looking at what I could get in the like-new used market for the US$500-1000 range. And in the Nikon lineup I'd be comparing that to the US$1000 or so that a Z50 or Zfc would provide.

A lot of you already know this. The hand-me-down market is huge, and mostly unseen because it doesn't generate revenue for anyone, so why measure it? Yet hand-me-downs are one of the primary drivers of new users of interchangeable lens cameras. Nikon, for instance, would be well served to increase the availability and compatibility of the FTZ adapter, because doing the opposite would undermine one of their better sources of eventual mirrorless purchasers. 

One problem corporations in the consumer markets have is that they get myopic to current sales. They don't see a long-term customer. They see the sale of a box. Some boxes sell better than others, so emphasize those. When you can't sell that box, try a different box. 

I know quite a few of you are averse to SaaS (Software as a Service), but the good part of that is that for a company to survive charging a monthly tithe, they have to embrace the customer. Not only do they have to provide initial value, but they have to provide on-going value and continually enhance that value. Adobe got off to a rough start with Creative Cloud, but I'd say that they got the products eventually percolating correctly. What they've continually gotten wrong is support, which continues to be poor to fair. 

I mention that because imagine this scenario: Nikon declares the D500, D780, D850, D5, and D6 as FaaS (Firmware as a Service). That they undertake to keep customers of those bodies happy by refining, tuning, and enhancing what the camera can do over time. They keep parts in stock so that hardware problems can be rapidly fixed. How many of you would pay US$5/month for that if it were done right? Thought so. Take it one step further: periodically replacing or updating the image sensor or digital board for an upgrade cost.

Unfortunately, Nikon won't even consider such a thing, and they're not a company that has the right personnel and policies to pull it off if they decided these were things to do with the DSLR lineup. Which brings us back to the question of how do the camera companies hold onto existing customers and find new ones? 

I don't think that will be by offering a full line of consumer products, at least any time in the future I can see clearly. Canon and Nikon will have to rely on the hand-me-down and used market introducing new folk to their brands. Fujifilm and Sony will have to rely upon Canon and Nikon getting that wrong, or doing things that turn customers off that got into Canikon this way. 

The days of the lower end of the camera offerings dominating the dollars brought in and going after market share are, at least for the time being, gone. Nikon has just proven that they can be more profitable off lower volume at higher prices. What don't they like about that? So they'll continue that strategy moving forward. Sony seems to be headed the same direction. When will Canon catch on?

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
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