If Nikon and Canon were customer oriented

May 19, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

If Nikon and Canon were customer oriented

Nikon and Canon (Canikon) have lead the way for the last 15 years in the transition from film to digital cameras and hold the global market share for DSLRs.  They are the leaders because they already had market share, comprehensive lens and attachment lineups and some of the best image quality available.  The bottom end of their camera sales are quickly being eaten up by cell phone cameras, which provide convenience and connective sharing.  For every serious photographer there are legions of customers who just want to record and share a moment.  Canikon need to concentrate on the serious photographers from two perspectives: add value for the existing photographers and lure more people into serious photography.  What could they change to do this?

The raw file debacle

Ever since the beginning of the digital transition Canikon have created new, proprietary file formats for each camera released.  Third party imaging software literally have to decode the formats, which are all based on TIFF, for each camera that is released.  And how is this in the customers interest?  I know, let's sell a camera with secret encoded files so our customers will have to use our crap software or wait for the files to be decoded.  A lot of serious photographers will have cameras from several manufactures, and almost all serious photographers use third party software to post process their images.  They want to be able to use the same software, with their hard won processing skills, for all their cameras.

This issue obviously does not factor into customer decision making at this point in time.  No one is saying I'm not buying Canikon because I don't like their proprietary file formats.  But what would happen if Canon or Nikon worked with third parties on a standard format, be it DNG or another, and explained to their loyal customers they were doing this to:

  • make it easier for their customers to own multiple cameras.
  • enable their customers to use any software from day one, instead of waiting for the software engineers to decode the latest files.
  • make the files more archival by ensuring future software will be able to decode them.

I'm pretty sure this would receive a positive reception.  So why on earth would Canikon continue to pursue a policy that is so clearly antithetical to their best customers interests?

The camera operating system

Cameras are computers with optical peripherals today.  However, all the camera operating systems are proprietary and closed.  Why don't the camera companies release a SDK and encourage their customers to customize their cameras without having to use an external device, making them even more valuable.  For example, many photographers are making HDR images, requiring multiple exposures several stops apart, to capture the entire dynamic range of the scene.  The cameras can take bracket bursts, but only up to one stop different.  This would be an easy tweak to make.

Magic Lantern, an open code development for Canon cameras, does just this thing, making a number of customizations available.  However, Magic Lantern is essentially a hack, with perhaps tacit approval from Canon.  This is a good thing from the customers perspective.  If Canikon were truly customer driven they would be leading the charge, making their cameras extensible and programmable.  But they are not doing this.

Camera ergonomics

The DSLR, following from the SLR, has had 60 years of refinement, so one would think they should be the epitome of ergonomics by this time.  Let's take a look at this, building up from the basics.  

Customers come with different sized hands, a thumb and four fingers.  This is so fundamental it is mind blowing that DSLR cameras are not customized to hand size.  How hard would it be to make the hand grip modular, and make different sizes optimized for different hand sizes.  When a customer slips their hand around the grip and it fits like a glove I'm thinking a sale is that much closer.  It is hard to overrate the value of having a tool that is just right.  This is sort of like having cars today without adjustable seats.

All focus and exposure adjustments need to made while looking through the viewfinder.  Since the left hand is often being used to support the lens this means all adjustments need to be made with the right hand.  This has resulted in a cluster of buttons and dials around the grip, but even after 60 years of refinement, there is still lots of room for improvement.  Most of the controls are accessed by the thumb and forefinger.  Very little use is made of the other three fingers, and any buttons accessible to the latter three fingers are always awkward to reach.  The principal adjustment method is to spin a wheel, using various buttons to modify the wheel behavior.  The manufacturers need to start over and build an interface that allows the user to easily adjust exposure and focus parameters: aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure adjustment, focus, focus method and focus spot while wearing gloves.  Add in the ability to pick a custom adjustment and we have eight core adjustments, one thumb and four fingers.  Let's look at the thumb first.  It appears that a eight way selector works best to select the focus spot and clicking it in the center returns to the center focus spot.  Sony has managed to also include a spin command dial which works very well.  The spin could be used to modify ISO, exposure adjustment or focus method.  For this discussion let's assign ISO to this dial.  Also, most seasoned photographers use a thumb button to focus, isolating focus from the shutter release.  The rear and front command dials on Nikon work well, dedicated (without modifier buttons) to control aperture and shutter speed.  Okay, where are we?  We have direct control of everything except exposure adjustment, focus method and custom setup.  All we need is a single modifier button on the front of the grip used in conjunction with the command dials to directly make these adjustments.  This control arrangement requires six controls: a multi-selector surrounded by a command dial, a thumb focus button, rear and front command dials a la Nikon, a shutter release and a modifier button on the front.  Looking at my D4, it has 10 controls within easy reach  and the Canon 5DIII has 14!  Neither camera can make all the simple adjustments enumerated above.  I thought about this for half an hour.  Surely the big guys can do better!

Almost all serious photographers use tripods.  Most serious photographers immediately buy an L bracket to attach to the body, permitting landscape and portrait setups with a swiss arca quick release mount.  So, why isn't the mount built right into the camera?  

Quality control, parts and repairs

Some camera companies, like Nikon, are restricting the availability of parts and repairs.  This increases the cost to the customer and increases customer frustration having to deal with less than competent Nikon outlets.  Canon isn't doing much better in this regard - stories of returning a body or lens three times to get it fixed abound.  It does not take much word-of-mouth, especially in the internet age, for this to get around.  Buying something as expensive and complex as a modern DSLR without any confidence in the sellers ability to service and repair is not a good long term strategy.  It is interesting to watch Sigma at this point in time.  They are tightening up their quality control, have lower prices and excellent, customer driven service.  Look out Canikon - at least in the lens arena.

Supply and demand

The large camera companies seem to be having considerable inventory control difficulties, exacerbated by regional sales distribution issues.  Why can't a customer get any Canikon camera serviced anywhere?  Their current policies are so out of touch with global realities that it boggles the mind, and totally ignores what would be best for their customers.  Canikon should be moving their product to wherever the demand is, and not have shortages in one location and surpluses in another.  When they release a product there should be enough batteries to go around...  

Honesty and trust

At the end of the day, it all comes down to customer trust in the manufacturer.  Refusal to admit errors, blaming difficulties on the customer and not honouring recalls of cameras for manufacturing errors builds up a huge resentment within the companies most valuable resource - its existing customers.  Both Canon and Nikon, but especially Nikon, are damaging their brands when they fail to respect and they ignore their customers best interests.  I think it is safe to conclude they both have significant room for improvement in looking after their customers.


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