I’ve been noticing two camera related things when I go out recently – firstly there are a huge number of people carrying SLRs around these days, and secondly they appear to be almost exclusively Canon.
Last weekend I decided to quentify the second point with a little test. I walked down the (crowded) Embankment in London from St Paul’s Cathedral to Westminster Bridge on a sunny afternoon and counted up every brand I saw, 25 SLRs in total over about 20 minutes split like this:
If you were to take these stats at face value, it would look like Canon are outselling everyone else in the market combined by a ratio of two to one – no mean feat! Three of those Canons were serious / pro-grade (L lenses), compared to one of the Nikons (and possibly some of the Others – I don’t know enough about the other brands to be able to say).
This is a very small sample taken in one place, but that one place was the middle of a very connected cosmopolitan city during tourist season so it probably represents a reasonable slice of the international market, with obvious UK bias.
I suspect the real global sales figures are not so extreme, but I still find this an interesting trend that quantifies something I’ve been thinking for a while. Whilst Nikon currently has a signficantly higher mindshare among professionals than its overall market share, how long could they keep that up if most of the entry levels being sold into the market were Canons? This generation’s pros are already set in their ways, but the next generation will be picking up whatever camera they can lay their hands on – either 2nd hand or their parent’s unused SLR bought back when they thought having an SLR would automatically make your pictures better. Chances are it’ll be a Canon.
Anyone setting out to buy their own SLR will often end up buying whichever brand their mates have, because of advice bias from those friends – they’ll understand their brand better than the other – and also the potential to share kit. This would again seem to reinforce market dominance for any brand that can gain signficiant market share.
The other effect this might have is to generate a skew in resources available for R&D. No manufacturer can afford to have many new lenses being developed simultaneously, but if the sales skew generated significantly greater revenues for Canon it would over time start to pull ahead in the range of lenses it can offer, which might presumably have something of a feedback effect on its proportion of sales. I have no idea how much of an issue this would actually be – both manufacturers have an excellent array of glass covering most needs, and 3rd parties like Sigma plug a lot of the gaps (like long tele-zooms); once you go above the really basic kit lenses though, most are sitll geared towards full frame sensors and a manufacturer who could make a more compelling upgrade path for crop sensor bodies might be able to do better. I’ve no idea really but you can potentially see how Nikon might get upset.
However, it’s worth remembering that nothing stands still and a disruptive technology can easily humble a market leader within a few years – Apple is busy proving this in the mobile phone market, after all.
The most obvious candidate for that in higher-end photography would seem to be EVIL bodies – basically, everything people think of as “SLR” (interchangable lenses, easy to access manual settings, etc) without all the actual tedious and expensive bulk of aSingle Lens Reflex moving mirror and prism. Canon haven’t expressed any interest in that market that I’ve seen, because their SLRs seem to be selling very nicely thankyou and they’d probably rather not cannibalise those revenues before they have to – who knows if that’ll turn out to be a mistake. Then again, they may have a crop sensor EF/EF-S compatible EVIL body just waiting in the wings for the day that their competitors have made the case for the concept to consumers, which will flood onto the market backed up by Canon’s entire lens catalogue. I’d buy one as a backup body immediately.