Saturday, February 28, 2009

Casualties in the megapixel wars


Seriously: how long did you think camera companies could churn out higher- and higher-megapixel cameras before consumers became fatigued with it all?

They're figuring out that a new 12- or 14-megapixel camera isn't a necessity when jobs, hours and salaries are getting cut.

That 6- or 8-MP camera most of us bought a year or two ago will do fine, at least until the recession moderates.

As a result:

  • Ritz Camera filed for Ch. 11 bankruptcy protection this week. Hundreds of stores, stocked with Fuji, Nikon, and Olympus cameras that no one's buying. Most Ritz stores were mall-based, within easy clobbering range of the Target or Best Buy across the parking lot. If you bought a camera from Ritz, I hope you didn't pay extra for a Ritz warranty.

  • Ritz's court filings say they owe Nikon USA more than $20 million. That kind of liability isn't going to make things easy at Nikon. Take good care of that D90 or D300; customer service may get whacked.

  • Olympus downsized a portion of its U.S. sales and technical staff this week. The last Olympus digital camera I adored was the C-5060. Today's crop of pocket Olympus models have a few interesting bells and whistles. But no one raves about the quality of their photos, and it's all about getting great photos.

  • Kodak's 3,500-4,500 layoffs by mid-year have a lot to do with the recession, but fewer shoppers in fewer retail locations don't create an optimal situation for the inventors of the digital camera.
Bottom line: I'd expect the digital camera business to re-set in 2009. Slower shipment of the new models announced at CES and PMA, in order to preserve pricing. That may mean more deals on current inventory, but I wouldn't be the first person in line to buy a new Canon D10.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Photo Marketing Tip: bigger call-outs


Blundered into a Wal-mart this week, and found a clerk and a customer in the photo department, sorting through cameras. The customer wanted a camera that would stitch together multiple photos to make panoramas. (Many Canon and Kodak cameras do this, or come with stitching software that makes it a breeze to do it on your computer.)

The customer and the clerk were baffled. This feature wasn't in the little camera cheat book that Wal-mart gives its photo departments. Because I've actually used this feature on a Kodak Z1285 camera, I picked up a box. After a good 5 minutes of squinting, I found the "call-out" on the box -- in a type-size that an ant would have trouble reading.

I helped sell Mr. Customer a camera that met his needs, and that's a good thing. But here's a word of advice to all camera manufacturers: USE BIGGER PRINT on your packaging! The people buying your products do not walk into Wal-mart with magnifying glasses or photographer's loupes. Want to sell a feature? Make it easier to find the features they're looking for.

End of rant.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Review beat: Objectivity, where art thou?


When you're researching a digital camera, there are many sources of independent, serious reviews: Stevesdigicams.com, dcresource.com, dpreview.com. If you can wade through the tech-geek speak, you'll come away more knowledgeable about your particular camera.

Want real-world customer opinions? Try Amazon.com. Semi-professional video reviews can be found on YouTube, although it's sometimes painful to put up with the shaky video quality.

But I draw the line when sites such as Buy.com and TigerDirect.com tout their videos as "product reviews." There's no objectivity involved when the video clip features a sales rep from the camera manufacturer talking about the "great features" of his or her employers' camera. In the real world, this is simply an infomercial, and not a good source of objectivity.

Full disclosure: I work for Kodak. I like some Kodak cameras, and don't care for others. When I offer an opinion, I try to keep do so with a minimum of hyperbole.