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Regular site visitors will have seen a series of interviews on dpreview over the past couple of weeks, during and after the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan. There’s a little more content on the way but the bulk of my conversations with executives from major manufacturers have now been transcribed and published. 

It’s always informative to speak to the people in charge of major companies, and even though most conversations are conducted through a translator and what I like to call the 'PR filter', it’s rare that we don’t get the chance to publish at least a couple of interesting insights after each interaction.

This year, what was most telling was the consistency of the themes that came out of my conversations. I spoke to eight manufacturers in total over the course of several days and the general message was the same. The market is tough, especially the mirrorless market in the USA and Europe, and smartphones have all but killed the market for low-end compact cameras. I was reading somewhere recently that more people in the world have access to a smartphone than have access to a sanitary toilet. I’m not sure what that says about humanity, but it’s undeniably true that smartphones are here, and they’re here to stay.

The importance of differentiation was stressed by almost everyone I spoke to at CP+, perhaps most eloquently by Kazuto Yamaki of Sigma, who told me simply that his company has outlived countless one-time competitors because 'we make unique products'. 

Best known for manufacturing lenses, Sigma was showing off its latest camera, the dp2 Quattro at CP+.

I sat down with Kazuto Yamaki, CEO of Sigma, for a chat about the Quattro, as well as the challenges of the modern photography industry and what it's like being the head of a family business.

Read the interview here

Enthusiast photographers are clearly very important to all of the camera manufacturers. They're taste-makers, and they invest in systems rather than just sticking with what's in the box, making them more valuable in the long run. In fact, a lot of off-record conversations focused on you, the dpreview audience, and what you want. Even though I can’t report on exactly what was said, rest assured that your feedback is hugely important to senior figures within these companies. 

Moving on - another consistent theme that emerged from my conversations at CP+ was the importance of China. As one of the world’s biggest developing markets, China represents enormous potential for camera manufacturers, and when the Chinese economy wobbles, they get worried. Inland China represents a massive and largely untapped market - one that the world's major camera manufacturers are scrambling to try and capture. 

Nikon executives at CP+ were very open about the challenges they face in a tough marketplace, and the need to respond to the changing demands of enthusiast and professional users around the world. 

Read the interview here

Speaking of Asia, I also learned that as well as being more open to the adoption of smaller mirrorless cameras, Asian consumers’ photography habits are a little different to Americans and Europeans. According to representatives from several manufacturers, Americans and Europeans are often more interested in videography than their Asian contemporaries, whereas customers in Asia have taken to image sharing from their cameras more quickly than those in the west. 

A common theme that emerged from discussions about the mirrorless interchangeable lens market was that Western customers also seem to base their purchase decisions around the size of the products more than those in Asia. Several manufacturers pointed specifically to the American market as one in which small interchangeable lens cameras tend to underperform. Canon representatives were unusually candid about lower than expected sales of the Rebel SL1, although off-record, one Canon executive did confide that the camera’s high-ish MSRP might also have had an impact.

Canon's Rebel SL1 is one of our favorite products from 2013, but according to Canon it hasn't sold as well as expected in the USA and Europe. 

Read the interview here

Speaking of Canon, and small cameras specifically, the topic of when the camera giant would enter the mirrorless camera arena in a 'serious' way came up a few times, and not just in conversation with Canon. From the manufacturer’s point of view, mirrorless is a risky prospect outside of Asia, where its EOS M and Japan-only M2 have (I’m told) done relatively well. In the USA and Europe, where mirrorless has less of a foothold, Canon is strong in the DSLR and high-end compact market and seems unwilling to jump (yet) into the comparatively small mirrorless interchangeable lens camera sphere.

The same is true of Nikon, although as a less diversified company I do wonder whether Nikon might have more to gain here than Canon, if only in the sense of having more to lose by not joining in. Could the next generation of Nikon's 1-series cameras be more enthusiast-focused? That remains to be seen, but I hope so. 

Olympus is betting on its enthusiast users for the long-term success of its Micro Four Thirds line, prioritizing the OM-D lineup which now consists of three models (plus a special edition OM-D E-M5).

Read the interview here

Fujifilm and Olympus, both of which are releasing mirrorless products on a pretty aggressive schedule told me in no uncertain terms that they’d love Canon and Nikon to release some serious mirrorless cameras, if only to stimulate the market. This makes a lot of sense. If it’s true that small cameras really do come with a certain stigma attached in the USA and Europe, then one thing which might help would be for the 'big two' to jump in with some enthusiast-oriented products. In theory, everyone wins - especially since Canon admitted to me that in some respects it’s easier to design lenses for mirrorless systems than it is for DSLRs. 

Fujifilm's Toshihisa Iida was very open with me at CP+ about the company's philosophy, goals and the steep learning curve that Fujifilm experienced launching an all-new interchangeable lens system. 

Read the interview here

Will it happen any time soon? I’m not a betting man, but I’d be surprised if Canon and Nikon aren’t looking at the positive response from dpreview readers to cameras like the Fujifilm X-T1 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 and incorporating that feedback into their future product planning. Naturally though, they won’t move unless a) the market looks like it’s getting bigger and b) they think they'd gain more from having a bigger share of the mirrorless market than they'd lose from falling sales of their DSLRs. Perhaps, as Mr. Imano of Olympus suggested, Canon and Nikon’s reluctance to enter this market is a deliberate strategy intended to protect DSLR sales as long as possible.

One question I always like to ask, whenever I’m speaking to senior executives from a major manufacturer, is what they think is coming next. Not specifically in their own product lineup (that line of questioning rarely works) but in the industry as a whole. For a couple of years, the line that a lot of manufacturers have taken is connectivity - cameras will become more like smartphones by incorporating Wi-Fi and integrating into a ecosystem which includes smartphones, tablets, connected devices like printers, and of course 'The Cloud'. 

Masaya Maeda, Managing Director and Chief Executive, Image Communication Products Operations pictured at Canon's headquarters in late 2013. Mr. Maeda told me that he doesn't consider smartphones to be 'the enemy' of cameras.

Read the interview here

This year though, a lot more people were talking about video - specifically the emergence of 4K video technology, which is slowly creeping in from the professional sphere into the realm of consumer digital imaging via products like Panasonic’s DMC-GH4. In theory, 4K video is a photojournalist’s dream, allowing multiple ~8MP stills to be taken from video footage in a single second, satisfying the need for still and moving images of breaking news or sporting events.

It’s worth remembering that although 16MP+ is now almost standard in dedicated stills cameras, 2MP is enough to fill a HD television screen, and 6MP is enough for a magazine spread on most paper stock. As such, even though enthusiasts might baulk, a lot of professional news-gatherers would be perfectly happy with an 8MP grab from a 4K video stream.

Panasonic's DMC-GH4 is a MIcro Four Thirds stills camera that can shoot 4K video. I got the same message from several executives at CP+: 4K video is coming, and it could permanently change the way professional photographers think about image making. 

Read more about the GH4

Panasonic is getting on board with the GH4, and if rumors are true that the camera will be priced around $2000, it represents an aggressive move towards a future where stills and video fully converge - at least for some photographers. Even though neither sees dedicated still cameras going away in the short term, Canon and Nikon executives both mentioned that their professional users are increasingly focused on video, and as such they're very aware that they’ll have to react to that need when planning the next generation of high-end cameras.

Interesting times indeed. What are your predictions for the future of digital imaging? Let us know in the comments.

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