Canon’s camera business was pronounced dead on August 25, 2016 when they made the official announcement of the Canon 5D Mark IV.
Until that day, there was still some hope that the rumors and leaks weren’t correct, and that Canon might realize that they had to deliver something great for their flagship camera. Instead, the camera world let out a huge collective groan on that day, as Canon released an overpriced, underfeatured dud of a camera.
The reaction from the camera blogs, tech press, and actual users, has been very interesting.
How Tech Blogs Reacted
Tech blogs wrote articles about the announcement that call the 5D Mark IV a worthy successor to the previous 5D, and were generally re-hashes of the specs from the press release. On sites that aren’t photography-specific, the actual reviews have largely been comparing the camera to the Mark III, and finding that the new model is – shockingly – an improvement to a camera from 2012. None of the reviews I’ve seen on tech blogs have really hit the 5D hard,
I think the main reason for this is that these reviewers may be nerds, but they just aren’t camera nerds, and they don’t grasp how far behind the times the 5D Mark IV is. A lot of the reviews are fairly tepid, but I think Canon have gotten away a bit easy on these venues, because of two reasons:
- These blogs are not in the business of really criticizing tech. Sometimes, a product by some small company will be bad enough that they can really rail on it, but for the most part, they’re not looking to offend anyone, or get to the heart of things.
- I reckon that a number of reviewers actually have had the feeling that the 5D Mark IV is a dud, but they’re a little nervous of saying it, in case they’re missing something. Saying that the product is good in certain ways is a lot safer than saying it’s terrible and then potentially getting a lot of blowback.
Having said all this, the commenters on a lot of these articles have not held back, and quite a lot of the posts I looked at had readers really ripping the 5D to shreds.
How Camera Blogs Reacted
Camera blogs live and die based on how many people they can get to read them. If they get too critical of any company, readers go crazy and call them shills, say they’re biased, etc. Of course, Canon are the biggest traditional camera company, and the 5D is their flagship DSLR, and the Mark III was insanely popular among professionals. This means that professional photography websites have a very, very tight line to walk when reviewing the Mark IV.
On one hand, the camera sucks badly, and the writers know that it sucks. On the other hand, if they make a big deal about how much it sucks, a huge amount of their readers will get mad at them, and they might even experience problems from Canon themselves. It’d be very tough to run a big photo blog without early access to Canon’s cameras, or contact with their PR machine.
I believe it’s for these reasons that the photo blogs have largely focused on comparing the Mark IV to the Mark III, and pointing out its few strengths, and then mentioning its insane price at the end of articles, as if that’s a separate issue to the crappy specs. (Let’s be honest, if Canon released this camera for a third of the price, it still wouldn’t be great, but it would at least be somewhat competitive with what else is out there).
How Actual Users are Reacting
This is the most telling part. On almost every website review I’ve seen, the commenters have been absolutely brutal in their criticism of the 5D Mark IV, despite the actual reviewer being diplomatic and downplaying the (many) letdowns and lackings of the camera.
If you look at Youtube, apart from professional reviewers (who have to play it safe, at the expense of being brutally honest), video after video after video mocks the 5D Mark IV. Many of these photographers are saying that the 5D Mark IV may be the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced them to switch systems (usually to Sony).
Who Killed Canon?
So much talk about the death of the camera market these days points to smartphones. Of course, it’s true that these have become the #1 way for most people to take photos, but it’s tough to really blame them for Canon’s death, no matter how many sales of cheapo point-and-shoots they ate up.
The next obvious suspect is Sony. Their A7 line of full-frame alternatives are released and updated often, and they offer a way bigger feature set than the MarkIV, while still allowing the use of Canon lenses.
A recent Twitter poll by Dave Dugdale showed almost 50% of respondents switching from Canon to Sony – more than the number who said they hadn’t switched:
So are Sony the culprit? Nah, Sony just came along at the exact right time and ate up what was left of Canon’s lunch, but the damage had already been done.
Canon Killed Canon
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the damage was self-inflicted. Canon have done almost everything possible thing wrong up to this point, and the 5D Mark IV was the last nail in their coffin.
Before the 5D MarkIV came out, they were releasing a lot of unremarkable cameras that nobody was too enthusiastic about, but those were just the side offerings. People sort of laughed them off. “Oh haha, Canon’s mirrorless system is pathetic, sure, but just wait until they update the 5D, then you’ll see Canon what Canon does best!” photographers said, across numerous forums, in camera stores, etc.
And Canon definitely did have a chance to pull things out. They could have made the 5D MarkIV a real beast, with usable 4K, a decent EVF, good buffer (1000 other things). And they could have lowered the price to reflect current market pricing, but nah, nope, no deal.
The Innovator’s Dilemma
There’s a very interesting book called The Innovator’s Dilemma. It talks about how successful companies, who dominate their industries, often fail when someone else comes along with a disruptive product. These new products are usually nichey to begin with, and don’t seem like a threat, but then they explode and take over the industry.
The obvious example in the camera industry is the smartphone. When the iPhone was released, the camera was terrible, and traditional camera manufacturers were not worried about it. But it got better and better, because Apple/Samsung/etc were willing to put a lot of work into it, and were fanatical about making it as good as possible. After a while, the stupid little camera that seemed like a joke to serious photography people was what everyone on the planet was using to take pictures.
At first, I did think this was what had happened to kill Canon, but the more I thought about it, and researched, the more I realized that it’s more than that.
The whole theory behind the innovator’s dilemma is that the existing company just focuses on improving their product and meeting current customers’s needs, while the insurgent, niche product anticipates the future needs of consumers, and then dominates when it meets them. But that’s not really what happened to Canon.
Canon were hit on 2 sides, by the iPhone, and just by better, less greedy manufacturers like Sony and Panasonic, who didn’t hold back key features from their cameras arbitrarily.
When Panasonic released the GH4, and when Sony released the A7r (and most of the other A7 models),the amount of features it provided for its price were amazing. For years, people had become used to the slow, lumbering update cycles of camera manufacturers, even as every other piece of consumer electronics got better and cheaper on a constant basis.
Once Canon saw that their careful, and slow, meting out of new technology had been shown to be a greedy, lazy move, they could have sped things up, gradually lowered prices, and continued to dominate the industry, but they didn’t. The announcement, and release of the 5D Mark IV was their final grand gesture, giving the middle finger to photographers who still thought they might help them out and catch up with the industry.
When you read the current reviews about the 5D Mark IV, remember what you’re reading, because it will be interesting to see them change. I guarantee, I mean absolutely guarantee, that in a few years, the Mark IV will be remembered as a colossal failure, one of the biggest mistakes that a camera company ever made, and possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to Sony’s camera division (and Metabones).
Canon are dead, and it was suicide.