Does Competition Really Benefit the Consumer?

“Competition benefits consumers, spurring manufacturers on to create better and better tech and keeping prices in check.” We hear this so often that I’ve come to doubt it. But I think each company’s idea of what exactly remaining competitive means is just encoded in their DNA.

For example, Fuji hit one out of the ballpark with the X-T2 and slam dunked with its successor, to mix metaphors. And aggressive price cutting. And the acclaim has been nearly unanimous. Not to mention some of their brilliant new optics. So Fuji meets or exceeds our expectations. Proof that competition drives companies to excel and keep pricing in check, right? Read on…

The a7 III gave photographers excellent value with dual card slots, a super-duper new battery, high burst rates and improved AF while making minor compromises in other areas like the EVF, as well as offering all this at a very attractive price point. And Sony wisely called this beast their ‘Basic camera’. At the time of its release, Sony still had no viable competition in the full frame mirrorless field, and they received tons of praise. Many wondered at the time how CaNikon would respond. With centuries of combined experience, surely they would kick Sony’s butt, right?

Canon and Nikon’s strategies instead seemed more intent on stopping the bloodletting than on attracting first-time buyers. You might be forgiven for thinking that the Z6, Z7 and EOS R would most certainly have had dual card slots – just one small (or huge, depending on your outlook) example of how certain manufacturers seem to heed their accountants more than their customers. And the EOS R’s multi-function bar has been a complete and utter flop according to most reviewers. Did these two venerable companies even bother to consult with professionals during the design process?

Furthermore, many believe that Sony has held off announcing the a7s III because of the S1, but I think they dance to the beat of their own drummer. I see no proof for example that the GH5 had any influence on Sony’s design (ergonomics, anyone?) and features even though many were predicting that Sony would have to ‘up their game’ now that Panasonic was offering full HDMI out, 10-bit 4:2:2 and so on. Not a few reviewers still chose the a7 III as the best full frame mirrorless camera of 2018, and seeing Nikon and Canon’s first lackluster efforts, Sony probably feels little pressure to refresh their winning lineup as we enter 2019.

I do believe that Panasonic’s entry into full frame mirrorless has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty among die-hard micro four thirds users, many of whom either aren’t interested in a larger format or who simply can’t afford the new system. Meanwhile, the cost of flagship Olympus and Panasonic cameras has been steadily climbing as they gradually eliminate their midpriced models. Not benefitting the consumer, who expected a successor to affordable cameras like the G85.

So in the final analysis, each company’s business philosophy is so different, that it becomes difficult if not impossible to predict even six months in advance what they are planning to release. We can be sure that companies will continue to focus more and more on high end gear at ever higher costs and will move all their manufacturing to Thailand, China and Vietnam to increase profit margins, if they haven’t done so already.

In the end, I think competition has just made lots of photographers psychotic and apprehensive that their system will be obsolete in the coming years!

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