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Sony vs Nikon and Canon — Lunch is Served, but WHO WILL EAT IT?

Sony is both a literal and a proxy for forward thinking creative companies that could eat the lunch of Nikon and Canon, by moving aggressively.

The DSLR is dead as a bread and butter offering, one that can offer up reliable profits and future growth. This should not be taken as meaning it will go away, or that I don’t want a DSLR— I still do. But as a major profit-making market, the DSLR is dead. It’s just that the body is still warm and the heart still beats sporadically. But it’s dead in its historical form. The damn things can’t focus very well, and the optical viewfinder (as nice as it is and yes I like an optical), well it’s expensive and bulky and limited in functionality.

I was struck by how innovative Sony has been lately: the 20-megapixel RX100 super compact (the *only* super compact that has ever made the grade for me), the 24-megapixel full frame RX1 with Zeiss 35/2, the A99 mirrorless with EVF, the NEX-VG900 full-frame camcorder, etc. WOW.

In short, behemoth Sony is not a sleepy company afraid to take risks or afraid to innovate, this is an existential thread to draft-horse-with-blinders Nikon and Canon, pulling the same DSLR cart they’ve pulled for decades. Well, Canon at least has made much more significant forays into video. But the me-too Canon EOS M is BORING. The Nikon 1 series is BORING. I rest my case. Where is the Sony RX100 or RX1 from Nikon or Canon? The best Nikon can muster is more megapixels with miserable autofocus and mangled Live View, and Canon probably will offer a 40-50 megapixel me-too-megapixels competitor. How exciting.

...

Think about what it means to produce an expensive specialty I-sure-as-heck-want-one-if-it-was-half-the-price product like the Sony 24-megapixel RX1: with some flaws, it is nonetheless a groundbreaking combination of features, a VERY risky product given its high price and strictly limited functionality. It will never sell many units. Why the hell would Sony produce such a camera? The Sony bean counters must be shitting their pants.

For one simple reason: a company that wants to dominate a market has to infiltrate it at every level. That means attracting and maintaining the attention of influencers, chalking up the profit or loss on the products that do so to a marketing cost of remaking the industry. The RX100 and RX1 do that, the A99 does so somewhat, but there is more to come, I’m sure of it.

In short, Nikon and Canon are well positioned in market share, but appear to be institutionally castrated in terms of innovation. Nikon J1, Canon EOS M? Please.

Let’s imagine a few products that Sony could make to dominate the conversation:

  • How about an RX2 with 48 megapixels available in 3 focal lengths or with interchangeable lenses? (The RX100 sensor shows that the megapixels are possible already by scaling up the sensor).
  • How about an A100 with 148 megapixels (the RX100 sensor scaled up, another year or two of sensor advances...).
  • Add 3-5 new ultra high performance lenses from Zeiss for Sony mount to seal the deal for Sony mount, make them all work on all Sony models with interchangeable lens mounts.
  • How about an RX200 with an Micro Four Thirds sensor (RX100 sensor scaled up to 48 megapixels) that can use all existing MFT lenses? Olympus, are you awake?
  • A Sony SEX1 medium format fixed lens Mamiya 7 II digital equivalent with 240 megapixels?

Why not? This is what I would do— take the industry by storm, take no prisoners, and eat the lunch of everyone else in the industry. Rapidly advancing technology means that no company is safe and the companies most at risk are those that are currently dominant.

Sigma DP1 Merrill
Sony 24-megapixel RX1

Chris L writes:

This is one of your best lines ever (and there's a lot to choose from): “a company that wants to dominate a market has to infiltrate it atevery level. That means attracting and maintaining the attention of influencers, chalking up the profit or loss on the products that do so to a marketing cost of remaking the industry.”

In other words, this is Sony's APPLE MOMENT. They look like they have digested a whole chapter from Apple's book, and they are playing Apple to the rest of the imaging industry. Isn't it paradoxical, since they recently have failed to do precisely that on their home turf, consumer entertainment electronics, as well as in their chosen hobby, mobile computing?

At any rate, the RX1 looks as disruptive as the original iPhone or iPad, or the Retina MacBook. The limitations of "version 1" are clear, but so is the potential. Let's hope Sony can keep the momentum, never mind the corporate bean counters wetting their pants, and continue what they have been doing so well with the NEX range: iterate.

DIGLLOYD: Absolutely. Sony is a huge company, it would be no surprise to see one division be led by a visionary and with its own world-beating culture, and another division led by someone with the wrong set of skills.

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