Now that Sony has come out with its A7s III, some Canon users are pointing to its 12 megapixels as a “stills failure.” Of course, people don’t buy the Sony S video rigs for stills. But turnabout may be fair play, as Canon has won the great majority of the internet’s camera criticism recently for launching what might be the world’s best stills camera with a video capability that has heat limits. Fans of both brands can cast stones at the other, and that appears to be making everyone happy. And that is the point of this editorial: that the two major camera stories of 2020 have been buried by a largely manufactured set of controversies; and that the camera media environment needs to change.
Years ago, when a camera launch success was determined by an advertising plan and carefully placed reviews, things were somewhat predictable, so the “news” was focused on the new capabilities. Today, launches start well before the camera comes out, with rumor sites helping define expectations that can jar with the actual camera specs when released. Reviewers typically don’t have editors, and they are rewarded less for the quality of the review as the exposure the review wins.
There isn’t much of a photography trade press anymore for a camera companies place ads adjacent to knowledgable, respected voices. The voices that are out there today are those who succeeded on social media. This isn’t a friendly space, even for firms coming out with innovations, as both Sony and Canon have done.
Incidentally, the camera makers abandoned the print publications at the point in time when they were selling four times more cameras than ever before in history. Search advertising, and social media dragged them not just to micro targeting, but away from supporting the information ecosystem that they didn’t realize at the time they depended on.
In 2018, the Nikon Z series was the better of the new mirrorless bodies coming out at the time, yet a firenado of concern regarding having just one card slot caused many to write it off as an option. Months later, the Canon R came out – with one card slot – but everyone had already yelled themselves hoarse, and it didn’t seem to hurt Canon. Too late, companies are realizing that they’re now dependent on tinder box of algo-gaming YouTubers with names like “Potato Jet.”
Canon’s R5 heat issue consumed almost all attention on it – so much so that when Gordon Laing released a couple comprehensive videos describing the photography capabilities of the camera, he found his traffic exploding. That traffic was from people who have been waiting for years for a real 5-series refresh from Canon, hoping to use the R5 for photography. Laing’s excellent review filled the void, and even weeks after the launch, it is still by far the best, most complete review.
Many commenters blame Canon for having “marketed” the camera to the video side of things, but this deserves some examination. Canon hasn’t really marketed anything. There was a press release that bragged about a couple video features, and this was the spark that set off expectations. In point of fact, Canon’s R5 does what they said it would do, but it didn’t meet the “whisper number” created by opinion- and speculation-oriented social media.
Camera companies are almost all Japanese firms that conduct product development outside of the US, and have never been very good about involving market feedback from North America, despite superficial efforts to make it appear otherwise. They create products and have local corporations, like Canon USA, that attempt to translate the benefits into messages that appeal to the local market. When you work in the US for such a company, as the staff at Camnostic have, you understand that there will be some pretty odd requirements coming from Japan. I mean “See impossible”? Come on. It’s just a cultural thing; just as US companies inflict dumb messages on audiences in other continents. But you roll with them and, ultimately, the products live or die based mostly on the market needs they do meet. And it’s that last bit that the current camera media serves quite poorly. Camera buyers don’t care a great deal about how a company positions a camera, or what they told the bloggers two months before launch. But little else surfaces past that on YouTube once the algorithm got a hold of the first few dozen reviews.
The upshot? Thank goodness for Gordon Laing. The trade press will come back around to facts and beat reporting and authority borne of steady, consistent accuracy. Maybe not for a while, but eventually. Even the algorithm will find it beneficial.