Should Camera Makers Fear The Changing Market?

So…. the camera market boat is getting a pretty good shake up this last month, and while the changes may seem sporadic, here and there, I think there a big underlying scheme that is starting a paradigm change in the Camera industry (no, not 4/3 :).

Not a week ago Sigma announced a lens mount conversion service. This joins a new/old strobe from Phottix, the Mitros. Which was a Canon only Strobe until recently and now has a Nikon flavor (and Sony coming soon). I would say that it could be a 99.99% replacement to the Nikon/Canon flagships the SB910 and 600EX-RT.

Should Camera Makers Fear The Changing Market?

I think that those two independent events mark a transition in the camera industry and will force camera makers to rethink their strategies. Here is why:

It’s Never Easy To Switch Systems

If you look at the single onetime expense of a photographer it is probably the camera, lighting and glass. A pro body with several pro lenses and 1 or two hot shoe strobes can easily set you back a good $15,000 to $20,000. Actually, you don’t even need to make this expense at a single trip to the store. This expense can accumulate over the years as you get more lenses and more lighting and a second body and so on…

Then comes a day when you need something that your system does not provide. Maybe you owned a Canon and need CLS (in the first days when Canon did not have the equivalent features yet) or Maybe you are a diehard Nikonian but really want  RAW video, and you start thinking about switching systems.

For the sake of this post, I am going to assume a pro body, 5 lenses, and 2 strobes. Let’s look at the cost of switching a system.

This is the usual path:

  • A – you start doing the math and get a hard attack
  • B – you sell your body and lenses at about 60%-65% of what you paid for them. (with the estimation above this is about 8K-10K greenies)
  • C – you get a new system with all the bells and whistles that you wanted for a new 20,000 greenies.

I estimate that switching systems a few years after you’ve started photographing will set you back a small car.

Sigma’s Global System

Sigma introduced a service where they will change you lens mount for $80-250 providing it is one of their new Sigma Global Vision lenses. Currently the line has only 5 DSLR lenses (and 3 mirrorless lenses), but the line will probably grow.

I would also be surprised if Tamron did not follow suit and initiated a similar service, so the lens selection will be pretty decent in a few years.

Now, waaaaay back 3rd party lenses were considered of lesser quality to the Nikkor and Cannon original lenses. This does not seems to be the case anymore. 3rd Party lenses are now getting superb reviews (both Sigma and Tamron) and are driving innovation into the lens market (see the first 1.87 zoom lens – the 18-35mm F1.8 from Sigma for example), and are taking over the high-end lens market.

Mitros and LumoPro

Here are three strobes that don’t give a squat about the system they run with. The LumoPro180 is manual so it’s use is the same, no matter the camera system. They also boost similar power rating, similar remote control options (CLS, eTTL) and similar or better (or worst) warranty.

The Phottix Mitros has flavors for both Nikon and Canon that come in two separate boxes. I have no internal info on this, but if I had to make an educated guess, the mechanics, electronics and optics are similar between the two and system selection is done by firmware upgrades or firmware flags.

I would also guess that there is a pretty short line of sight between the situation now, and a possible future where Phottix either suggests a “conversion service” or enables in-strobe / USB system-firmware upgrade.

[There is a pretty good write up on strobes, OEM and 3rd parties on Strobist, though from a more technical aspect]

Let’s Recalc

So now, your five lenses are $1,000  tops (estimating $200 per lens) and the strobe is a shipment or USB wire away. That kinda changes the picture of switching systems doesn’t it?

If I was a major camera maker I’d be putting my thinking cap on and seeng what can keep/turn over users in my direction.

What Will Camera Makers Do Now?

That is a good question, and as usual there are several paths the industry can take. Either way I can see them resisting to this change.

Some recent cameras (The Nikon D800 and rumored new Canon) hint on renewing the megapixel race (though popular demand is for better low light performance and focusing).

Another option is to fight 3rd party lenses with compatibility updates – making each new camera only compatible with its makers lenses and leaving 3rd parties to find the a new hack with each new camera announced.

The third option (and my preferred one) is for camera makers to get back in the race and start creating some innovation.

So with the future of camera systems seems less relevant than ever, what are your thoughts?

image (CC) by Philipp Lücke

  • Nikon Shooter

    Open Innovation, Open Standards, Open Source! Because Nikon & Co. can’t employ every one willing to make a contribution. They better embrace it or somebody else will (cling to old school vendor lock in will only work as long as there are no other alternatives for us consumers).

    • Paganator

      There’s really no good reason why all lenses for the same sensor size don’t share the same mount. It works great for micro four-thirds.

    • Jon Peckham

      I agree, Look what Magic Lantern can do on a T3i. THese huge greedy corporations need to be kinder to their customers.

  • imme

    In my opinion Sigma is going to win the race. Reason is not only this article……Sigma’s new lenses are awesome and they are beating Nikon/Canon and even Zeiss lenses. With this new mount changing feature its a game changer and Sigma is definitely going to beat all.

  • Jason

    I think you don’t really understand the market at all. The camera market is not supported by pros or by super knowledgeable enthusiast. It is powered by hobbyist and parents wanting to take better pictures of their kids. Phottix has almost no name recognition, and won’t have much of an affect on the market. Not that there is a very big market for flashes. A very very small percentage of interchangeable lens camera users have an off camera flash, and even a smaller percentage of those would ever own a manual only flash. The rest of the flash owners are mostly made up of people that don’t know enough so only buy same manufacturer flashes. I also doubt the hardware between flashes is the same on the mittros, reasoning is that Canon uses a different trigger voltage than Nikon.
    Now, though I found the Sigma announcement huge, the amount of people that buy sigma lenses that are worth converting is small. Again serious shooters don’t make up most the market. Sigma is not selling enough big lenses that would be worth converting to threaten Canon and Nikon as a whole. Most what they sell is all-in-ones and lower end stuff. Also most people don’t like switching camera manufactures, more learning curve.

    To top it off who is to say manufactures can’t both raise pixel count and low light performance they have up till now, and from what I hear there are earth shattering ISO advancements in the relatively near future.
    You are most definitely right. The big guys are under high attack, but it is not from Sigmaor Phottix. In fact, I would assume, both of those composites desperately want Nikon and Canon to do well. They’re instead under attack by cell phones.

    • udi tirosh

      Hi Jason,
      I cold not agree more with your closing statement :)

      As for the mid-range market, I can see what you are saying, and I think Sigma and Phottix are just starting a trend. What was once high end, slowly trickles down to everyone.

      But, as you say, we’ll see how many DSLR-ers are here in a few years :)