Airbus versus Boeing

A decade or so ago the two big airline-producing companies came to the Farnborough Air Show with two competing visions of the future. Airbus bet that long hub-to-hub flights were the future and that airlines would want an efficient huge plane to create economies of scale. Their proposal: the behemoth Airbus A380. Boeing, on the other hand, thought the future was opening up new routes that weren’t currently being run, but with more efficient, smaller planes. Their proposal: the 787 Dreamliner and updates to the 777. 

This was one of those interesting moments that come rarely with duopolies in a market: the two bets were nearly opposites. Both companies eventually put in place upgrade plans that hedged those bets (Boeing made a modest update to the 747, Airbus decided to upgrade their mid-range jets), but it was very interesting to watch them play out: one company was probably wrong. As it turns out, that was likely Airbus, as sales of the A380 are so anemic that it’s unclear that they’ll ever turn a profit on production, let alone the entire development and deployment. 

I’m reminded of those bets with the Canon and Nikon Photokina announcements. Canon has placed another bet on the pro/prosumer crop sensor (7DII), while Nikon keeps betting on a huge variety of FX cameras (D750). Who’s right?

I’d say Canon. My surveys have long shown that a pro crop sensor camera continues to be in strong demand. Meanwhile, Nikon’s FX lineup is now a somewhat confusing mess that doesn’t sort itself out so easy in the minds of potential purchasers. Nikon appears to want everyone to move from DX to FX, despite the fact that such moves will be expensive for the consumer and not necessarily give them something better.

I need to qualify that last statement. 

I just spent August in Africa shooting with a D7100 and a D810. I used the D7100 more. Why? Because it was the right tool for the job (except for its crippled buffer, which can be extremely frustrating for a highish end camera). It’s the old pixel density issue all over again: some shooters need pixel density, others need pixel integrity. All shooters have to pick cameras that balance those needs correctly for what they’re doing. Many enthusiasts have multiple bodies so that they can select the right tool for the thing they’re doing today (landscape, wildlife, sports, events, etc.). 

So I’m a bit perplexed about Nikon’s launching yet another FX camera, as good as it might be. We now have the Df, D610, D750, D810, and D4s to choose from, with four of those being in a fairly tight pricing bunch at a non-consumer price range. It’s one thing to have tightly bunched pricing at the true consumer level, but the same tactic generally doesn’t work nearly as well at the high price points. 

Canon still has relative clarity in their lineup. Nikon has blurriness in their lineup. One of the companies is right. Time will tell which one. But I’m betting Nikon is Airbus.   

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