The Everest Problem

Every year when I come back from my retreat, I spend a lot of time catching up on reading. Here’s an article that was published just as I was getting ready to turn everything off—When the Internet Came to Everest—but didn’t read until later.

Now this was an interesting article in and of itself. You don’t have to be a photographer to find it interesting. But the following lines caught me eye: "I crested a ridge and walked into a clearing strewn with rock monuments and Tibetan prayer flags—a memorial to the hundreds of mountaineers claimed by Everest. While we rested, a group of trekkers came over the ridge, their necks laden with bulky DSLR cameras. They snapped selfies with their iPhones and wondered aloud which Instagram filters would best capture the mood of the place.

Those last two lines I quote above are exactly the camera makers’ dilemma in a nutshell. The same dilemma I first contemplated when I found myself on Kilimanjaro in 2007 with an iPhone and a brand new cellular network installed around the mountain, all of which led me to my articles starting in 2008 about the coming problems of workflow for the common person. (I really want to write “common man” because it’s such an established phrase, but Hillary says I need to revise my thinking.)

But boy when the Internet gets harsh, it sure gets harsh. “…their necks laden with bulky DSLR cameras.” I wonder how many in Tokyo truly understand the way Internet memes get started and multiply into product problems. The writer here is trying to be descriptive (a good thing I applaud), but in doing so is just adding to the headache of the camera marketer. 

DSLRs are now getting labeled as bulky and heavy. I can cite article after article that’s establishing that in the minds of the public, and it’s morphed from being just a bunch of grumpy SLR/DSLR users getting old and not being able to deal with the weight to being a common theme across all generations. 

This must be stopped. It may be too late to do so, but Canon and Nikon have to reverse this or risk being marginalized forever. Ironically, Canon has a small, light DSLR, the EOS SL1. Not that the SL1 by itself  solves the problem—you still need small, light lenses to truly reverse the perception—but you wouldn’t really know it from Canon’s marketing. The problem, of course, is that to truly market a “smaller, lighter DSLR” you’re marketing it against your own products ;~). Moreover, this is a double conundrum marketing problem. You have to market how much smaller and convenient this “small DSLR” is against your established bigger ones, but you also need to establish that you need a DSLR instead of a smaller mirrorless camera (which Canon also markets ;~). 

Canon’s is in a “see what sticks” mode of product management—I note that the SL1 hasn’t been updated quickly, so they probably think it didn’t stick—but that also means that they aren’t listening to what’s happening in the characterization of DSLRs in the Internet media. Remember, the Internet works and amplifies fast. What’s being amplified more and more is the “…necks laden with bulky DSLR…” kind of comment. See any retaliatory response from Canon’s marketing department? (And you thought I could only criticize Nikon’s marketing ;~). 

Didn’t think so. 

Which means one of two things: (1) Canon and Nikon don’t see the problem; or (2) Canon and Nikon are incompetent at solving the problem. Heck, it could be both of those. But my bet is on #2. I’m pretty sure that they both see the problem. Yet I’m not seeing them directly attack it and try to fight back.

Look, the reason why you buy a DSLR is because you want the absolute best quality. You want that quality because forever is forever. Capture a moment with a cruddy camera and when the walls of your house are big flat panel displays you and your children are going to see a lot of pixelization, noise, and other crud on your walls. Kodak’s marketing team understood this and asked us to trust their precious images to their products. Canon and Nikon, no, I’m not sure they get this. That smartphone image of Everest sent to social media from the smartphones in the article looks fine on small screens. How will it hold up for posterity?  

The ironic thing is that all those tourists the author of that article referred to that had those DSLR necklaces at Everest brought those DSLRs for the reason I just gave in the last paragraph. Unfortunately, as they watch the others all post directly from their camera on the trail, they’re not feeling so great about their choice. I wonder how many of them actually stopped using the DSLR necklace completely and just pulled out their smartphone as they walked the trails. If that article is accurate in its description of what happened, the damage is done. Word of mouth will have those folk saying “I shouldn’t have brought the DSLR” to their friends, Facebook contacts, and blog readers, and that, too, will rush around and get amplified on the Internet. 

The more the “bulky, heavy DSLR” meme circulates, the harder it will be to market them effectively in the future. Basically, you end up having to break down the stereotype in order to sell DSLRs to the mass market. Yet Canon and Nikon marketing can’t even break through tissue paper at the moment...

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