I recently looked at the different camera lines from major manufacturers and it confuses me – and it’s my job to know the differences!
Recently some friends asked me to recommend cameras of all kinds because they know what I do for a living. I also researched on my own, keeping an eye on things in case I want to replace my S1 with something with a higher burst frame rate or better autofocus. In doing so, I found the market increasingly confusing, with micro differences between models.
There is a proven theory, the paradox of choice, which states that if someone is faced with too many choices, they often give up. I often have this feeling about the current camera market, especially when it comes to mirrorless cameras. Taking Canon’s full frame range as an example, we have the EOS R, EOS R3, EOS R5, EOS R5 C, EOS R6 and EOS RP.
On the other hand, Sony offers the A1, A7 III, A7 IV, A7 II, A7 C, A7R IIIA, A7R IVA, A7S III and finally the A9 II. Fuji also has an equally confusing lineup.
Fortunately, Nikon and Panasonic’s ranges are much more clear and concise, which works in their favour. After all, if your product line is simple to understand at a glance, a potential buyer might well consider buying one instead of the much more confusing competition. I defy anyone to tell me what the differences are between Sony’s and Canon’s mirrorless lineup without first looking at the specs on a website.
However, it is clear that companies generally know what they are doing; they wouldn’t make all these cameras if they didn’t think there was a need or a market for them. But that doesn’t change the fact that for a consumer, or even a professional, things have become confusing to say the least.
The Sony A1 is a flagship model with a price to match. But is it so easy to tell the cheaper models apart?
Do we need so many models?
Sometimes the differences between models are incredibly minor. One camera may have a feature that the other does not, and vice versa, requiring a potential buyer to spend some time determining whether it Really need a special ability or not. Product naming conventions don’t help either. Yes, there is a price difference, which is a factor. However, several models have very similar prices.
I don’t know what the solution might be, because as I mentioned, manufacturers clearly see the need for this diversity. I remember once asking one of the product managers of a major manufacturer how many different models they offered. That was when it came to camcorders back then, long before mirrorless came onto the scene. His response was that they were saturating the market on purpose, giving just enough with one model, but not enough to hurt sales of the product that was teetering just above it. It was a carefully orchestrated dance of competition between their own products and those of rival manufacturers. As for naming conventions, there was no solid answer, except that if you were lucky enough to attend product meetings, you might get a list of the reasoning behind them. tends.
All this does not help the unfortunate camera buyer, who now has to scratch his head to know which model to choose. If not at all. The micro camera differences are one of the reasons I didn’t update my S1. I would like better autofocus and higher burst rates. I would even like a lighter camera body with more lens choices. But, after using some of the alternatives as part of the RedShark review process, I would either have to give up features in other areas or pay a lot more money for the equivalent. So for now, it looks like I’ll be biding my time until something offers me a clear and clean upgrade path.
less is more
The point for me in all of this is that if, as someone who writes about cameras all the time, I don’t remember all the differentiations, what chance does the general consumer have? This is a problem that is not unknown in other industries. In the past, companies were known to go back to the drawing board because they realized their product lines were too complex to easily understand. Even GoPro achieved this achievement, and its lineup was hardly in the same league as some of the manufacturers mentioned above.
Often the ability to produce such a large number of poorly differentiated products may be the result of firm size. It just can afford to do it while a much smaller company can’t. Yet the idea of product simplification can also be hugely beneficial for larger companies. Apple is a good example of this, with clear lines between product lines. Although it has moved away a bit over the years, with several iPhone models diversifying what was once a single model line. That said, it’s still clear to see the differences between them, and the naming conventions say it all.
A “MacBook Air” definition and a “MacBook Pro” definition gives a clear space between the models. The “Air” moniker gives a vision of something light and portable. Would anyone care to give me the clear dividing lines between Dell XPS, Inspiron, Latitude, G Series and Vostro laptops? They all have different goals, but it’s not clear from the start, and there are crossovers between some of them.
It could be argued that I am somehow arguing against variety and choice, but to say that would be very far from the truth. All I want to see is more clarity in the ranges of what companies are offering, as well as much more defined or at least easy to see differences between the lines. For me, personally, complex product lines are off-putting and may prevent me from considering this company’s products in the first place in favor of something much easier to understand.
In today’s climate of supply chain issues and rising costs of living everywhere, maybe it’s time for more companies to think about simplification.