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Insights & Thoughts

Do Mirrorless Companies Really Listen To Customers More Than Canon/Nikon?

By Anthony Thurston on March 1st 2015

I had an interesting conversation with a friend the other day regarding the state of the SLR vs CSC markets and how the companies behind them do things differently. But the interesting thing, which I wanted to share, was the disagreement over whether or not Mirrorless/CSC companies really listen to their customers more than Canon and Nikon do.

fuji-evolution.jpg

It is a common line of thought (I have mentioned it myself if my posts here on SLR Lounge in the past) the idea that companies like Fujifilm, Samsung, and Panasonic listen to their customers more so than their SLR counterparts. My friend disagreed thinking and presented an interesting point which I thought was worth sharing.

If you look at the current state of the professional photography market, the overwhelming majority is still dominated by SLR cameras. Mirrorless cameras on the other hand, represent a small fraction of that. The point that my friend was trying to convey, was that it is not a case of Canon/Nikon not listening to their customers, it is a case of them having so many customers, with so many needs/wants, that they can never please them all.

Do You Agree That Mirrorless/CSC Companies Are Better Listeners?

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The sampling of CSC/Mirrorless owners is much smaller, which allows companies like Fujifilm, Samsung, Panasonic to focus their efforts on broad issues in their systems/cameras that the majority of their user base give feedback on.

I have never looked at it this way, but it makes a lot of sense really. The needs of the many, outweigh the needs of the few, and all that jazz. I am curious to see what you all have to say on the matter. Do you agree with the line of thought that CSC/Mirrorless companies are better at listening, or do you agree with my friend in that Canon/Nikon listen, but serve so many that for every one person they make happy, several others feel they are not being listened to.

Leave a comment below!

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Vince Arredondo

    I would say at least Fuji does.

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  2. Dave Haynie

    I do think the mirrorless companies are more responsive. But even more clearly, more aggressive. I just bought an Olympus OM-D E-M5II, which seems to have inherited a whole slew of nice little tweaks over my E-M5, and nearly everything that was improved on the E-M1. Contrast that to Canon, who’s even limited features between their higher end and midrange models that only just exist in software — zero additional cost to offer at the mid or lower levels. Or Panasonic, with the first 4K ILC for under $10,000.. and under $2,000. And they weren’t joined in this recently by Canon, who pretty much started the whole thing (Canon being happy to sell those $13K models that do 4K video), but Samsung.

    On the other hand, this has absolutely nothing specific to do with mirrorless and everything to do with the fact that it’s kind of lined up as a contest between the traditional successful film camera companies and”the other guys”. Ok, Olympus made some nice SLRs in the 70s and 80s… I still have my OM system, including OM-1 and OM-4, but they got out of that business. So they were basically a reboot. Sony bought the Konica-Minolta leftovers, but they sold fewer DSLR/SLTs in 2014 than Pentax. Fujifilm did a couple of Nikon-mount DSLRs, but it never went anywhere. Panasonic has been one of the big boys in video for ages, but only got serious about still cameras in the digital age. All of these “other guys” have one main problem: Nikon and Canon have mostly owned 75% of the ILC market since the 1960s.

    To change that, they can’t just be a lesser Nikon or Canon, that have to be something different. That means being aggressive, however they can swing it. Canon wants to protect their higher end models by leaving features out of the lower-end models — most of CSC guys are being much better about features, figuring they’re doing well if you buy anything from them rather than Canon/Nikon. And this has to mean being more proactive on model upgrades. I mean, can anyone really tell the difference between a Canon T3i, T4i, and T5i?

    This is hardly unique to the photography world, either. The guys on top are always the conservative ones. They’re currently successful, and they’re probably thinking how to maximize that success, how to get existing customers to spend more with them, and how to not alienate existing customers. It’s the same in the smartphone market: Apple and Samsung don’t take any real risks with their flagship phones. Samsung does some experiments in their sideline models, but most of the really interesting stuff is coming from “the other guys”. Nokia put a 1″ camera sensor in a phone. LG has a model that bends — intentionally. Motorola made one out of Kevlar that lastest twice as long on a charge. Hungry companies take more risks.

    And you can see this split along mirrored/mirrorless lines, but that’s probably part of the leaders’ conservatism. The SLR companies, Canon, Nikon, and Pentax, have each launched a mirrorless camera line. But none of these were “serious” efforts meant to compete with their DSLRs… none of these were intended to suggest that a mirrorless was a good alternative to a DSLR. They’re basically doing it as a hobby. Sony’s the only one who’s really done both, though it’s hard to say if their hearts were ever in the A-Mount, that was inherited from Minolta of course. And it’s increasingly looking like Sony’s firmly in the mirrorless camp, even with the A-Mount series not yet abandoned, when you see, what is it, five or six new E-Mount bodies released in 2014, versus just the A77II for A-Mount.

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  3. Aidan Morgan

    Much of the reputation for mirrorless camera companies “listening” to their customers comes, I think, from Fujifilm’s efforts to incorporate user feedback into their products and support existing cameras with firmware updates that breathe new life into older bodies. Their concentration on retro styling and getting a good lens lineup out the door speaks to their ability to focus on a very particular market (enthusiasts and certain professionals). Mind you, Fujifilm is able to do this in part because their customer base is relatively small and they’re not contending with putting out massive volumes of product like Canon and Nikon. The R&D required for firmware updates is apparently expensive and time-consuming; if Fujifilm (or Sony, or Samsung, Or Olympus etc.) ever achieves the scale of the Big Two, then the qualities that set them apart may be the first things to go.

    The question I have, though, is what do we mean by “listening”? Do we mean good marketing research or doing genuine outreach? I think that mirrorless companies listen, as Steve Vansickle pointed out above, because they need to – they’re trying to make inroads in a market dominated by a different style of camera, so they have to determine what kinds of people would be interested in something different. And they need to provide cameras that will intrigue enthusiasts and persuade professionals to rejig their budgets.

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  4. Steve VanSickle

    There’s undoubtedly many layers of complications to my “YES” vote, but I think it mostly boils down to this: When you’re not one of the two industry juggernauts, listening and innovation aren’t choices, but necessities.

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  5. Michael Old

    I think that most mirror less options have a few issues that a majority of users would agree that need to be addressed, like AF speed for example, which typically isn’t as good as the DSLRs, but everyone wants it to be and use that as a goal.

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  6. Martin Francis

    Interesting question. I’d say, “it’s complicated”.

    Interchangeable lens digital cameras without a mirror box aren’t a new endeavour, it’s just that the company who occupied the market longest is the one that listens only to it’s “core” customer base- and that would be Leica. These guys listen to the people who say “I dearly love my M9, but it would be nice if it had a paint job that brasses easily and a significantly higher price tag” but ignore those who say “how about some innovation to match your premium pricing?”

    Panasonic and Olympus kickstarted the current mirrorless trend. Olympus’ first model was a surprise hit for what was initially merely a commemorative anniversary camera, and every model of PEN and OM-D since has seemed like a reaction to customer demands. Panasonic, however, have mostly seemed to react based on what technology becomes available, or what competitors are doing.

    Fuji seem responsive to customer demand, but I’d say that Fuji are really working to a predefined plan. They also appear to be rather effective at doing so. Samsung, on the other hand, give the impression that they are listening to what their competitors are doing, and then making their own version.

    Sony are quite clearly the brand who act most on feedback from customer focus groups; it seems like they release a product in every single imaginable niche, and are very quick to release new models of products in response to their audience’s demands. In my opinion, this leaves them looking somewhat unfocused, and gives a very strong sense that early adopters are sure to be frustrated. Also, I’d argue that they often listen to requests that are best ignored; for example, when the NEX range was launched, they obviously heard that “metal barrel lenses” were what the people wanted, which left them with fantastically compact camera bodies and big, unwieldy lenses.

    That leaves the old guard, Canon and Nikon. I wouldn’t say they don’t listen; they just don’t necessarily give the answers that the vocal majority hope for. They are both accustomed to working in the old Apple model of “make it your way, and the customers will adapt”. Nikon’s response to mirrorless is almost to pretend they invented it, and that other people’s cameras don’t exist; it seems like the focus on speed isn’t exactly the same priority as customers have. Canon, on the other hand, are just putting a tick in the mirrorless box. They make solid, high quality cameras and lenses in the EOS-M range, in keeping with their reputation in DSLRs, but market them like they don’t want you to buy them.

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    • Aidan Morgan

      Agreed, particularly with regard to Sony. They shoot out new camera bodies like popcorn kernels but can’t seem to come up with a good lens lineup.

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    • Stephen Jennings

      Which is sad. I love Zeiss lenses and their partnership with Sony I expected some phenomenal glass.. but from the ones I’ve handled there was no wow factor at all. The biggest drawback to Sony is certainly their lens lineup.

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    • Graham Curran

      I wonder how much is response to customer demands and how much is natural evolution of the type. Every new feature comes with a cost which tends to diminish through each generation. You would hardly expect a new system to arrive fully formed and models which do not fulfil what the public want don’t sell as well.

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  7. Jason Markos

    I’m wondering if it’s got more to do with the fact the CSC cameras are simply less mature, so there are more opportunities to make changes that will appeal to more people.

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  8. Felipe Garcia

    It seems to me like there is a lot of perception coming into play. With a much smaller user base, there is a higher chance that an idea will make it into production, simply because there are less ideas to choose from.
    (I am assuming similar percentages for everything ).

    I suppose that something important to consider is that Canon and Nikon are probably not too concerned about loyalty, while mirrorless cameras are still trying to build a user base. If Canon disappoints me with a certain product, I can spend a little more and complement my gear with the Nikon version (for example, a D3/D700 + 14-24), but the chances of me dumping 2 1D’s, 2 7D’s, 3 L lenses and other assorted gear over the lack of a 14-24 or 16-35 IS (took Canon how long to catch up?) are slim.

    I bought my X-E1 last December, installed the latest firmware and suddenly had some extra functions, like the ability to use custom file prefixes. Not sure when the X-E1 was announced (I’m thinking late 2012), but it took Canon 3 years to bring this functionality to the 7D, and so far I believe it hasn’t made it down to the 6D (and the one reason why I won’t buy a 6D -Going back to what I said above, Canon probably doesn’t care about my opinion, and this probably helped their bottom line because I bought a 7D Mark II about a month or so after it hit the shelves).

    The X-E1 has the same price point of a Rebel, but I’m guessing that custom filenames will not trickle down to the Rebel. A question for the Nikon users, is this possible to do on the 4 digit bodies? I seem to recall, from playing with the displays at Costco, that either the D7100 or D600 had this function.

    Do they always listen… probably not. I see that Sony has released 3 different flavors of the A7 plus the A7II and yet there seems to be very little options for glass. Their roadmap says that their short term goal is to have a 20-lens lineup for FE mount, but share very little details, so as a potential customer I’m not too confident to invest in this system, especially considering Sony’s track record of sticking to their ideas (original Memory Stick / MS Pro or A mount DSLRs anyone?).

    Even though I won’t replace my collection of DSLR equipment, I certainly want to have at least a small kit for other uses, so I got the X-E1 kit and will eventually buy a lens or two, Fuji’s lenses and roadmap certainly look better from the user standpoint. I do realize that the systems have slightly different audiences, but Fuji is definitely aiming at consumers and pros alike, but I don’t see Sony aiming at the higher-end market with the APS-C E mount.

    And as far as SLR equipment goes, it seems like a lot of people want lenses that have all the latest technology and the price of a kit lens. Yes some of the announcements have been disappointing in terms of product cost (Canon’s 24-70 f4L IS), some seem to be fairly spot on (24-105 STM, even the 11-24L ).

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  9. Stephen Jennings

    “Do they listen” .. mm .. I think that depends on the consumers perspective. I wanted professional quality bodies and glass, to me, in my opinion, the mirrorless companies have not brought much to the table that would cause me to switch brands. And Nikon has listened exceptionally well in my opinion to their pro-sumer and professional consumers. I think most companies spend too much time and effort trying to create super awesome all in one cameras for amateurs with deep pockets.

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  10. Colin Conn

    Zero mention of Sony… =(

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    • Brandon Dewey

      I agree, I think Sony is way head of the other major brands when it comes to mirrorless cameras.

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    • Derek Schwartz

      Honestly, I think inclusion of OSny in this list might have skewed the results. There’s no doubt that they have some great offerings right now – but Sony as a whole is both a gigantic corporation AND there is definitely a culture of hubris present there (i.e., Memory stick format, rebranding TV’s with no real added value, IT security being a joke). In other words, while Sony has some great offerings right now, I don’t know anyone that would say as a whole Sony listens very well to their customers.

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  11. Hannu Siika-aho

    “If you look at the current state of the professional photography market, the overwhelming majority is still dominated by SLR cameras. Mirrorless cameras on the other hand, represent a small fraction of that”

    I think “professional photography market” is only a fraction of the general photography market. Recently published statics show that in 2014 in Germany over 27% of the sold interchangeable-lens cameras (DSLR+MICL) were mirror-less (MICL). It is quite respectable figure:

    http://www.photoindustrie-verband.de/presse/deutscher-foto-und-imagingmarkt-2014

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