The Economist article on mirrorless cameras

Started 5 months ago | Discussions thread
Eamon Hickey
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same companies, 15 years ago
In reply to Eamon Hickey, 5 months ago

Eamon Hickey wrote:

Dandrewk wrote:

If Sony continues its technological edge over its rivals, it will continue to be the market leader in this segment.

You make a good point that market leaders can be overcome by new technologies if they are slow to adapt. But you're cherry-picking your examples; it's not inevitable.

It occurred to me that if we go back 15 years we can find a case study using the exact same companies we're talking about here:

Did you know that in the late 1990s Sony was the world's #1 manufacturer of digital cameras by unit volume? And #2 was Olympus. Both had begun serious digital camera businesses in 1996 -- 2 years before Nikon got serious and 4 years before Canon did.

In about the year 2000 Canon realized they were fumbling a big technology transition (Nikon had not really missed it -- they were #3 behind Sony and Olympus), so they embarked on a crash program to get serious about digital. Within 24-36 months, they dominated both the digital point-and-shoot and DSLR businesses, returning to #1 by unit volume and by sales value, the position they have occupied ever since.

So, you see, Canon has already done it (more than once, but I won't belabor the issue) against the very same companies you say are going to bury them now. And they did it in response to a technology disruption that was much, much bigger than what we're talking about here.

Now again, nothing is 100% predictable and, as the financial companies like to say, past performance is no guarantee of future success. Canon could blow this one, even though they've successfully swept aside disruptive innovators in the past.

But being late to a camera market is not a big problem for Canon because Canon is so much better at the camera business than anyone else. Nikon isn't as good overall and my bets on them would be more conservative but, on the other hand, they've already jumped into mirrorless ILC's with a big investment.

And anyway, the really big disruptive problem that Canon and Nikon face is from smartphones, from connected devices, and from computational photography. Mirrorless ILC's are small potatoes. Tiny potatoes. But note that every other camera company also faces this disruption. I think Apple and Samsung may be the biggest threats to Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax, et. al (less of a threat to Sony).

For anyone interested, further reading on Canon's very late entry into the serious digital camera business.

Canon CEO Fujio Mitarai, acknowledging the company's trailing position in digital, in an interview in 2000:

"Canon introduced a digital still camera in the early '80s, but it was too early and was not successful," said Fujio Mitarai, president of Canon. "Since then, we have been concentrating on analog cameras and have let our competitors get ahead in the digital still camera market. But while we were behind, we used the time to develop key components, and now our digital still camera strategy is in good shape," he said.

(Source: http://www.eetimes.com/document.asp?doc_id=1184615)

Mitarai and other Canon executives on their ability to catch up when they fall behind, in a Reuters story from 18 months later -- Oct. 2001:

"Catching up. Canon said the new products complete its line-up of digital cameras, an area in which it got off to a slow start while rivals such as Sony, Fuji Photo Film Co Ltd and Olympus Optical Co Ltd took an early lead.

Company officials have played down the possibility of any lasting repercussions from the late arrival, arguing that Canon's brand and the market's rapid growth would give them plenty of opportunity to catch up.

Mitarai said Canon had now taken the No. 2 spot in Japan's digital camera market, after not even making the top four last year."

(Source is an Oct 6, 2001 Reuters article retrieved on Lexis-Nexis and unfortunately not available anywhere free online, as far as I can tell.)

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