Introducing New Camera Customers

Over a decade ago I began assigning labels to camera customers I was finding through my regular surveys. I tried to use descriptive labels that imply each customers' intent or goal. Through the years I identified the following sub-groups:

  • Samplers — A Sampler is someone with a brand-specific gear closet—e.g. a Nikon DSLR user—who when time came around to potentially upgrade or they had some extra disposable income to put into their hobby/business, they picked a different system, often a mirrorless one for a DSLR user. Samplers are curious as to what they might be missing in their current gear, but they tend keep their old gear intact. At least initially.
  • Leakers — A Leaker is a Sampler that continues investing in that new brand/mount that they sampled. They obviously liked what they sampled well enough to continue putting money into that new system instead of their older, established system. They may sell some of their old gear as they find they no longer need it, but they tend to keep at least some of their older gear. The real interesting thing to study about a Leaker is how often they use the new gear versus their older gear. One of the most common leaks was from Nikon DX DSLR to Fujifilm X mirrorless. The leak occurred because of lenses for the most part, not change in usage. I've tried to point this out for well over a decade now, but Nikon's decision to stop making pro quality DX lenses and to only iterate lower-end consumer lenses as well as not fill out the DX lens lineup cost Nikon body sales. Leakage started from Nikon DX because Nikon didn't provide the proper products to keep all of their user base happy.
  • Switchers — Some Leakers eventually become Switchers (i.e., the use of the new gear starts to exceed the use of their old gear, and they decide enough is enough and just commit to the new system. But sometimes a customer simply swaps out their existing gear for new without having first leaked. Indeed, early on in the DSLR era we saw outright switching from Canon to Nikon (D1 generation), then Nikon to Canon (D2 generation), then Canon to Nikon (D3 generation) as people—particularly pros—perceived major changes in sensor capability and felt that they needed those to stay competitive. The difference between leaking and switching is this: Leakers keep at some of their old gear but slowly accumulate new, different gear, while Switchers completely give up their old gear and buy new, different gear to replace it. Often, a Switcher uses money obtained by selling their old gear to finance the new. This tends to depress the used market for the brand they switched from.
  • Last Camera Syndrome — This customer bought a camera and lenses that at some point they decided was "good enough" and is content to continue using that for as long as they continue to take photos. A customer who has entered Last Camera Syndrome either already has the last dedicated they will buy, or is about to buy it. The more people that enter this state, the more the camera market will collapse, as there aren't a lot of completely-new-to-ILC buyers out there, and much of the rest of the market has been driven by upgrade cycles. 
  • Upgraders — The corollary to Last Camera Syndrome are folk that are committed to their current system and upgrade it from time to time. The problem for camera makers is that they used to regularly upgrade every camera in their lineup on an 12 to 24 month cycle, which offered lots of upgrade possibilities over time. Couple those model upgrades with the number of models each maker had on the market, and the camera makers had two up-sells (1) upgrade someone to the current version of their last camera; or (2) upgrade someone to a higher end camera in the lineup. Nikon especially tried to use #2 on DX DSLR users, attempting to get them to upgrade to FX DSLRs. That effort reached its highest mark with the introduction of the D600 (likewise, for Canon it was the 6D). Unfortunately, models are now being cancelled and update cycles are getting longer. So the true Upgrader is having less and less to tempt them to spend their money on cameras (fortunately, they do tend to keep buying lenses). Even at the pro camera end, this has happened. There are still plenty of pros shooting with Nikon D3's who never saw the real advantage of spending so much money again to upgrade to a D4 or D5. 

If you didn't catch it, all of the above groups are bad news for camera makers, particularly the two long-time duopolists, Canon and Nikon. The Last Camera Syndrome user stops buying. The Leaker/Switcher stops buying what they were previously an Upgader for. The Upgrader buys less often. (And if you Sony fans are getting gleeful, the same problems are coming your way soon.)

Today I introduce two new groups, which are slightly more beneficial to the camera makers, at least if they know how to hook them: the Gypsy and the Transitioner.

  • Gypsies — A Gypsy is a Switcher that Switches again. And maybe again. These folk seem to be chasing after any new perceived gain from one brand/mount and are willing to just clear out their gear closet and start over to get "the shiny new thing". They obviously have plenty of disposable income, which is another trait that makes them desirable to camera makers. When any new round of cameras gets introduced, the Gypsies switch again. And again. A Gypsy has no brand loyalty. None. A Gypsy moves from brand and mount always in search of something "better" but apparently never willing to commit to it. The good news for camera makers is that you only need something that none of the other makers can claim to have in order to entice a Gypsy. Of course, you need all the other stuff that the Gypsies' current camera has, and you need a good enough marketing department to make the Gypsy salivate, but you just need some new and unique feature to get the Gypsies' attention and money.
  • Transitioners — Unfortunately for Olympus and Sony, this ship has sailed for them. They already transitioned their previous customer (who typically was an Upgrader). In Olympus' case it was from 4/3 to m4/3. In Sony's case, it was from DSLR to SLT to mirrorless. Now it's Canon's and Nikon's turn to chase Transitioners, and they had the biggest previous groups of existing customers to start with (though made smaller by leaking and switching). With Canon, the transition is clearly from EF to RF. Nope, M doesn't apply, as it's not a transition from anything, and you can't transition anyone from it safely within the brand (e.g. the RF mount can't use M mount lenses via adapter). With Nikon, the transition is simply from DSLR to mirrorless: D8xx to Z7, D7xx to Z6, D5xxx/D7xxx to Z50. Transitioners are easier to keep happy if: (1) they can use their current lenses via adapter without penalty; (2) they get all the benefits of mirrorless without losing something from the similar DSLR model; and (3) there's a clear future ahead (e.g. Lens Road Maps, model predictability). Canon messed up with #3, I think, particularly with M, while Nikon has not been optimal with #2. Still, both companies are now dealing with plenty of Transitioners, and will likely be putting even more emphasis on this group in the future. Unfortunately, like Switchers, Transitioners ultimately have a negative impact on used camera prices, as when they go to replace their older gear with new, they flood the market with used product.
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