What the DSLR Companies Failed to Do

Since it’s looking as if Canon and Nikon are winding down DSLRs, it’s probably a good time to consider what the companies managed to accomplish and what they failed to do. Every company should do a post-analysis of what did and didn’t work, so that they learn from their product past. 

I’m going to be tough in my analysis here. Very tough. Because I see a lot of things that weren’t done well and caused both companies to execute poorly at times. Certainly less than optimally. Which means that money was left on the table. That's actually one of the worst sins a company can commit (leaving money on the table), as ROI/ROE impacts what they can do in the future.

Let’s start with some positives:

  • Both Canon and Nikon quickly recognized how fast and how much that DSLRs would take over from film SLRs. Nikon moved more quickly and more organized initially, but Canon quickly caught up. The Nikon D100, D1h, and D1x was a rock solid introduction that offered some clear choices for the first DSLR purchasers. 
  • Canon pushed to full frame early. The number one question in the 00's was "what's this crop factor thing?" and by simply making the image sensor the size of 35mm film, that stumbling point went away. Nikon didn't get to a full frame emphasis until about 2009, when they went full in (full range of products from D600 to D4 within three years). So Nikon thus made a committed and organized attempt at transitioning as many people as possible to FX in the second decade of DSLR, starting with the D600. 
  • Nikon continued to support film SLR users for a long time during the transition, even to the point of introducing a top end film SLR with their second generation of their DSLRs.

But the negatives are a longer list:

  • The missing Nikon D400 totally lost all the momentum that the D100, D200, and D300 progression made. A lame D300s update didn’t help. By the time the D500 rolled out, many of the people who would have been in line to upgrade had gone elsewhere. Couple that with a very short term marketing effort on the D500, and the D500 underperformed in sales despite—to this day—being arguably the best crop-sensor camera on the market. 
  • Neither company did much with crop sensor lenses in the last decade, despite the fact that crop-sensor DSLRs were the bulk of their sales. Nikon, in particular, seemed to stubbornly emphasize FX lenses because they wanted to sell FX cameras. This, too, didn’t help the D500. 
  • Canon’s Rebel/Kiss lineup got 100% confusing. I couldn’t tell you the difference between any two cameras with those names without consulting a chart, particularly once we started getting deep generational overlap. This couldn’t have been efficient, particularly once peak DSLR was hit. But it continues to this day.
  • Speaking of peak DSLR, it seems that neither Canon nor Nikon correctly anticipated there being a peak, let alone when it would occur. Remember, I predicted peak DSLR with an accuracy of within six months almost a full decade before it happened. That wasn’t a random guess on my part. It was based upon both historical data and examination of household penetration potential, using a methodology I developed in my PhD work. Both companies were late with a strategy to thrive post-peak. Some might say they still don't have one.
  • Both companies have apparently punted on making further DSLR sales by updating bodies, and simply are concentrating on forcing customers to transition to mirrorless. When you do that, you’ll always lose some customers. I’m not suggesting that Canon or Nikon should continue making full DSLR model lines, but by not telling customers what will continue onward and some idea of how long, that is basically the same as telling them that nothing will carry on. I know plenty of folk that want a D500, D850, or 5D update, for instance. The minute you hint that there won’t be one, they lose confidence in their chosen brand and feel free to consider all competitors. That alone will change the duopoly from Canon/Nikon to Sony/Canon. 
  • So let’s consider what updates haven't happened in DSLRs that should have. Until the D780, no one made a DSLR whose Live View was as absolutely as good as the mirrorless choice. Pentax is the only one that’s put sensor-based IS into a DSLR. Pentax is the only one that’s put pixel-shift shooting into a DSLR. The list goes on and on of things we never got in a Canon/Nikon DSLR, and now probably never will. 
  • Removing DSLR lenses from the lineup while still trying to sell DSLRs is a really bad signal to customers, and counter productive to selling off DSLR inventories. Moreover, failing to talk about that discontinuation strategy is even worse. "Shun me now, shun me later" is what that customer is thinking. They'll go elsewhere instead of migrating with you.
  • Ironically, the parts shortages and other issues caused by the pandemic make the inventory of DSLRs more viable, but the camera companies haven't picked up on that, let alone done any marketing to adjust their sales balance. After all, that would be counter to the "transition to mirrorless" strategy they've been pursuing with customers. Unfortunately, it's difficult to sell DSLRs when the message you're sending (see above) is "no more DSLRs or DSLR lenses coming."
  • Nikon NX Field is a good example of "well, we finally got around to it for the few of you still using your top-end DSLR." Only works with a D5 or D6. Was needed five years ago when the D5 was launched. Worse still, I'm an NPS member and still don't know exactly what it will cost me, let alone when I could start using it. Terrible execution.
  • Do we have any Ambassadors or Explorers left who aren't shilling for mirrorless now? It was inevitable that once the companies decided to transition from DSLRs that they'd enlist their closest pros to help them with that. But they neglected to leave a few "Hey DSLR users I'm still here and here's why" spokespeople around. (This also points to the previous bullet: had NX Field been introduced and touted as a top DSLR improvement at the time of the Z mirrorless launches, the lack of an A9 competitor wouldn't have been so painful. In other words "pros we're still helping you with your top-end DSLRs, but you in the middle without such high needs might want to transition to a new experience.")                                                                                                                            
Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

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