Why I Think DSLRs Still Sell Better in America

Mirror-less cameras are great. Just about every mirror less system out there matches, or in some cases surpasses, the image quality possible with more-traditional DSLR systems with APS-C sensors, while forwarding a fraction of the weight and bulk. In Japan and many other geographic locales, mirror less system cameras are catching on rather well, but the American market has been lethargic to its purchasing patterns despite the clear advantages.

One reason for this phenomena might be that the bulk of the American photographic market sees no particular advantage to a smaller camera. Or, perhaps more accurately put, the bulk of the American camera buyers experience no inconvenience from a larger camera. America is a big country, so big cameras are part and parcel. In Japan, space is a much bigger issue, so a smaller camera for the same job is a huge boon.

Samsung poignantly demonstrated another key factor with their “I Am Smart” video: the American market, or at least the majority, immediately assumes that there is a direct correlation between camera size and image quality, specifically that the larger the camera, the greater the image quality. For those who haven’t seen the particular video, Samsung took two identical rangefinder-styled nx cameras and placed one into a dummy body which looked like a small DSLR. They then asked passers by which one produced better images. Most people said the larger camera, despite the results being identical of course. The demonstration concluded with many shocked onlookers as the Samsung representatives opened the dummy camera to reveal the other’s doppelgänger. The point here is that American camera buyers largely don’t take the time to research and understand the technology, opting for the easy “bigger is better” approach, which leaves them with a big camera that most will never fully implement or understand.

Segway to point three: the market often doesn’t understand mirror less cameras and the marketeers at the big companies often don’t understand how to market their products despite their clear advantages. Big stores like Best Buy or Adorama usually don’t care to educate their customers, which doesn’t help the situation. I overheard a Best Buy sales associate a while back who was helping a customer with what sounded like a first serious camera purchase. He went straight for the DSLRs without even mentioning the lovely Sony NEX display just a few feet away. I would guess that DSLRs offer higher profit margins, though I don’t have solid information on that.

Over time, I think people will gradually catch on. It will definitely take some time though. What do you think? Will mirror less systems eventually become the American mainstream for “serious” cameras?

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9 thoughts on “Why I Think DSLRs Still Sell Better in America

  1. If you are right and consumers don’t do any research before buying, and salespersons don’t inform their clients of all the options available, then NO, they will never catch up. Simply because the people are kept ignorant.

  2. You’re right about this, Boyd.

    Take a quick trip over to 43rumors.com or the DPreview.com forums and you can bask in thousands of comments written by the people who got suckered in the Samsung commercial. They usually say:

    1. Nice try Olympus/Panasonic, but for $1399 I’ll buy a real camera.
    2. Pros would never use this camera. I want to use a pro camera. Pros only use full frame.
    3. Have you seen the high ISO performance? Above 6400, it’s CRAP. Everybody knows that pros need to shoot at ISO 204k.

    And those commenters mostly:

    1. Have never owned a “full frame” camera.
    2. Don’t understand that a Canon 1DX and Nikon D4 have between 18-16 megapixel resolution and do not need anything more than that.
    3. Have never printed an image larger than 8 x 10.
    4. Don’t know that their kit lenses are degrading the quality of their APS-C sensor images well below the quality of a smaller sensor with great lens combo.

  3. The first issue for Micro-FourThirds is, who are they selling their camera to? I don’t know they have figured that out yet.

    I believe the issue in the USA has to do with branding. Nikon and Canon have brand recognition while Olympus has very little unless you are in the life-science community or are a camera geek. Panasonic is seen as a Television and VCR company. Add to this the fact that Big Box Warehouse stores (Costco, BJ’s & Sam’s Club) feature HUGE displays for Nikon and Canon and often have a store representative or factory representative in store showing off the equipment and I only see Olympus and Panasonic point in shoot in those same places and more likely than not I often see no Olympus. Go to Best Buy and Olympus and Panasonic are 3rd class citizens and store employees get spiffs to pump Nikon and Canon where their is NO incentive to sell Olympus and Panasonic.

    In the United States, you cannot build it and they will come. YOU MUST GENERATE BUZZ! In a large country, you must be noisy to get attention and you must target your audience.

    Go to Baseball stadium and the chief sponsor is either Canon and Nikon again pumping their products. Same for a majoring golfing event, motorsports event, etc. etc.

    Olympus when it first released the PEN has some great advertisements in what I believe was a great segment. They had ads on the Travel Channel. An excellent demographic and it showed with the initial sales of the early PEN-1s. Then, they stopped! Panasonic? Who is Panasonic? I saw one half backed TV ad some time ago in a non-prime time spot on some obscure show. Then, even when there is great interest in a Panasonic product, there is ZERO product on the shelves. This fact has been well documented by Thom Hogan.

    Some argue, “Well, humph, Olympus and Panasonic do not have the same marketing budget as Nikon and Canon” First off, Panasonic is HUGE! They market their TVs like there is no tomorrow especially during Football season. I agree that Olympus is not as large, but knowing several doctors, they market their bread and butter life science products like there is no tomorrow. So, they could, but I do not understand why they WILL NOT market their cameras in the same way. Many efforts have been half hearted. For example, similar to Sony’s Digital Days, Olympus “tried” a few years ago to have photo events where you learn about photography. You pay money to go to an event in some nice location like Central Park and you could even borrow a camera for the even to take pictures — it was an utter failure. I personally tried to sign up because one of the draws for me was that you could get to use they just released EP-3. Both of my events I signed up were later cancelled not due to interest, but because the guest photographer pro cancelled and for my trouble, they sent me two cheap Olympus ball point pens. Then, they did nothing the following year. An “A” for effort and a big “F” for execution.

    They do not even need a large budget, they just need to be creative. If you do a little research on the Mini car brand owned by BMW. Compared to its BMW mark and all other marks in the auto segment, Mini spends the absolute least BUT, what they do spend is done in very, very, very creative ways. In terms of world brands, Mini went from zero, to being in the top 10.

    What could Olympus and Panasonic do? First of all, do not market to the OFWG of the photo world. Start by marketing to the younger generation to help create the buzz. Have a photo contest and Comic-Con or the X-games where they hand out cameras to be used. Sponsor a photo segment on GMA on the weekends where all the pictures are taken with an Olympus camera. Do something with the late night hosts like Jimmy Kimmel or Jimmy Fallon. Even more simply and cheaper, offer up contests on the photo sharing social media sites like Pintrest, Instagram, SnapChat, etc. and make it so your cameras can upload to these sites without needing a cell phone in-between.

    In short, the m43 cameras are innovative and creative but NOBODY knows who or what they are. Without an established brand, nobody will care. Better to go with the devil you know versus the one you do not. Lastly for Panasonic, people cannot purchase products that they cannot purchase right off the shelf. Buzz and availability are important in the USA because there is too much noise and too much competing products and consumers will choose which is ever they think they heard about and what is available when they walk into the store. Photo geeks and photo enthusiasts and hobbyist are a different animal but not a large enough segment for the sales that Olympus/Panasonic wants.

  4. “The point here is that American camera buyers largely don’t take the time to research and understand the technology, opting for the easy “bigger is better” approach…” This sounds exactly like the mentality towards big crossovers and SUVs. For 99 percent of the usage, smaller vehicles serve just as well (or better in congested cities), but the mindset among most suburbanites is that bigger is better. Also, there is the bargain mentality: more tonnage per Dollar or camera bulk per Dollar must equate to a bargain.

  5. I think your last point is spot on. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive is the selling price, the higher is the seller’s profit. DSLRs, on average, sell for higher prices than mirrorless. Therefore stores are more incentivized to sell them rather than a cheaper mirrorless. This is a classic example of what an economist might call “incentive-induced bias” (e.g. there’s a similar anectode with Xerox here: http://www.rbcpa.com/Mungerspeech_june_95.pdf). What’s the solution? Mirrorless makers need to make more expensive cameras with higher profit margins! Of course, silly commenters need to stop saying mu4/3 is inferior to a DSLR because of smaller sensor (latest oly mu4/3 sensors are as good as, say, canon APS-C sensors or better in terms of noise & dynamic range).

    • Mirrorless cameras are cheaper than DSLRs? What world do you live in? Especially m43 is expensive. I like them, but they are not cheaper. In particular not if you want a view finder.
      And given the same technology, m43 will always have slightly worse image quality than larger sensors. That’s just physics. It’s true, though, that we’re to a point where it doesn’t matter for 99% of situation.
      I agree with the previous posters that lack of store presence, marketing, and no size disadvantage are the main issues. Price doesn’t help either.

      • Here’s the world I live in: I bought my Pany GF3+14mm for $300, Pany GX1 body for $200, Oly EPM2 body for $400 (EPM2 shares the same sensor with OMD EM5… same AF, same image processor, same menu options etc… so it’s as good as EM5 for my purposes). *ALL NEW* at the time of purchase.

        Canikon low-/mid- or high-end DSLRs don’t sell at these low prices. Canon mid-end DSLRs bodies still sell for ~$1k several years after their introduction. Their prices depreciate very little even after several years. These brands have pricing power & maintain low inventories. Mu4/3 depreciates like nothing else. If you wait a year or two, you can buy mu4/3 bodies at dirt cheap prices, just before the line gets updated.

        This would be my shopping advice to you if you still claim mu4/3 is expensive.

        Regarding the IQ gap between mu4/3 and APS-C DSLR, I’d suggest you to compare Oly EPM2 ($400 body) with Canon 70D ($1200 body, top-of-the-line) on DxOmark. Also do the same on DPreview and imaging-resource.com. You’ll find that the two cameras are more or less equal in low and high ISO.

        Don’t assume APS-C will be better. Look at data, and try to pixel peep a little.

  6. Getting traction in a particular market place is not easy. Changing peoples concept of what a product should be, look like and do is equally difficult.
    Changing customer mentality is however not as difficult as changing the seller mentality. (Apple comes to mind here)
    Most products that dominate in many western markets are not purchased by a buyer. They are sold to the purchaser through a retail system that lives through the ‘product of the day’ mentality. Sometimes the ‘product of the day’ is a real product of the day in terms of value. But mostly its what the retailer has most of or bulk purchased at very good discount. Often due to manufacturers over supply.
    That does not mean the product of the day is always cheaper, mostly it is not. It simply means that all the sellers effort is directed to that ‘product of the day’. The only thing that will override the ‘product of the day’ sale is to show interest in a top of the range bigger margin product, often sale staff miss this as they are specifically trained in the ‘product of the day’. The ‘product of the day’ may be a product that is the ‘product of the day’ for weeks or longer. ‘Product of the day’ is the mentality more than the product
    Be honest now, how many have been into a store to buy a particular item. Only to have the sales person keep trying to get you onto their ‘product of the day’ and then buying the ‘product of the day’

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