Thursday 25 June 2020

So Who Survives? Deathrace 2020 Camera Maker Edition

Tree on the River
D750, Laowa 15mm f4 Macro

With yesterday's news about Olympus, the next question that comes up is 'who next?'

It's a safe bet that Sony and Canon will stick around. Both are large corporations for whom cameras are a sideline. Sony could abandon the market if the numbers don't make sense (JIP, who is taking on the Olympus Imaging group made their name taking over Sony's PC business when Sony abandoned it). Canon however is a safe bet. They're an imaging company at the core and the camera business is synergistic with the rest of their business, plus it's core to their corporate identity (they started as a camera company). Unless it becomes a boat anchor, Canon will continue to make cameras.

Fuji is also in the same boat business wise as Canon, and I expect they're safe. Based on current CIPA numbers, they've also been the most insensitive to market contraction over the last 8 years, showing steady and significant growth every year through 2019 and the only maker without double-digit contraction between 2019 and 2020.

As to Panasonic, I also expect them to stick around. They're a huge player in video and they gain a lot from their stills cameras for hybrid shooters. Don't be surprised if they move m43 to a pure video platform as they become the only major player though. For Panasonic L makes more sense for stills if they can bring out some cheaper & smaller bodies and lenses. Their 20-60 is an amazing start and needs a SX body to match (where SX is the L equivalent of the GX series).

Ricoh/Pentax has too many camera brands and too little sales. Frankly I can't understand why the Pentax brand isn't either already gone or now the parent brand for all Ricoh cameras. I don't see this business group surviving 2021. However it is just a hobby for Ricoh, so anything is possible. If it sticks around, I see a transition to online sales only.

Hasselblad and Phase/Mamiya? Fuji is eating their lunch at the low end of the MF market. 'Blad is just a luxury brand for DJI anyways and Phase's software business keeps them in the game, but I see them likely killing the Mamiya branding at some point. I see the MF market becoming basically Fuji at the low end and Phase at the high end.

Leica? Their business model is solid as long as there are people who are willing to pay for Veblen goods. That also provides an anchor for the L mount alliance. Not going anywhere except to higher pricetags.

Sigma? Cameras are not a business for them, but a hobby, so they don't care as long as the camera business is small enough to not impact the lens business. Their lenses are the other anchor for L mount.

Now the big question mark. Nikon.

Nikon is traditionally one of the major players. But with the transition to mirrorless they seem to be condemned to fail. Nikon 1 was a slow motion disaster. Z on the other hand is pretty good as a system from a technical standpoint, but the combination of bad pricing, the poor decontenting decisions that have plagued Nikon since the D7500 launch, the DX Z line might as well not exist right now and just plain bad communications (Nikon not addressing complaints and not listening to users) have kept the Z stuff on the shelf rather than out in the wild. 

Nikon simply needs to get their crap together. They're acting like they have years to transition to Z. They don't, they need to get Z moving ASAP or they simply will never make it to the point where Z is carrying their imaging group. Essentially Nikon needs to move the consumer sales to Z ASAP, then clean up the pros and wildlife guys later. That needs them to move on DX Z much faster, get the Z5 out for an aggressive price and make Z lenses that are economic (the f1.8 primes are VERY good, but the 35, 50 & 85 are too expensive compared to the G's and not really smaller, and the 20 & 24 aren't any better than the G's). They've spent too much time chasing margin and forgot that margin doesn't matter if you aren't moving boxes. 

Nikon isn't dead yet though. The rumoured Z5 could kickstart things if its priced aggressively and paired with some reasonably priced lenses (aside from the 24-70/4, which is a great kit lens). A 70-300, an 18-35 and the compact primes can all fill this gap. I'll freely admit the Z5 is on my radar as something to pair with my D750 in a way the Z6 simply isn't, if only for the SD cards. I see no reason to invest in XQD/CFExpress today as they bring no meaningful gains for my work, while having significant cost and compatibility issues.

I don't see hope for DX at all right now though. It's too little, too late. I cannot see any real reason to bother when Fuji, Sony, Canon and Panasonic all have full systems here. Nikon can't rely too much on legacy glass, especially in the DX market where they already are a decade behind where they should be on lenses for F mount.

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