Innovate or Die: What Camera Companies Could Learn from a Vacuum Manufacturer


In a short appearance earlier today in Japan, inventor and Dyson founder Sir James Dyson dropped a line that is worthy of its own headline and should be forwarded to every head honcho at every camera company in the world. According to Engadget, he said, “A company that doesn’t double its R&D team every two years, I think, is in trouble.”

I’m not going to spend any significant amount of time elaborating on this because — particularly to those of us in the photo industry — we already know how true that statement is.

Year after year, Apple, Samsung and other major tech companies are pouring more and more money into R&D because consumers aren’t satisfied with incremental improvements, and yet the world still demands a new gadget on a regular basis. It’s why Sir Dyson’s statement is so profound, why the mirrorless camera market is so intriguing, and probably why Canon and Nikon have received criticism about lagging behind while other brands shine in their innovation.

As competition within photography becomes an increasingly global affair, Dyson reminds us that “in order to be competitive, globally, you have to have better technology than all your competitors.”

Dyson: ‘A company that doesn’t double its R&D every two years is in trouble’ [Engadget]

Image credits: James Dyson by Eva Rinaldi

  • ryfter

    It’s sad, that with Magic Lantern, home users can get more out of their camera than Canon gives us access to. Why they haven’t hired some of the ML developers full time is beyond me.

  • Adam Sanford

    Let’s flip your argument to this:

    “Were all the dollars to my heart’s content committed to R&D at Camera Company X, we would finally get the ________ we’ve always wanted / the world has always needed.”

    Everyone: fill in the blank.

    To some folks, it’s an F/2 zoom lens. To others, it’s a sensor with two more stops of DR. To others, it’s a universal lens mount system. To other folks, it’s a more radical take like a Lytro, a LensBaby, etc.

    We, as a user base, have such a spectra of wants — coupled with a supremely stubborn/loyal streak re: what we each think ‘proper photography’ is — that it’s hard for true innovation/breakthroughs to be realized.

  • Egg

    Because then their top end DSLRs will have functionality similar to their professional cinema series cameras at a fraction of the price. I can continuously record 1080p raw with my 50D, for ~£250, or i can spend thousands on a similar black magic setup, with less functionality!

  • Ed Rhodes

    and the Rebels would have the functionality of a 5D (smaller sensor of course).

  • Jonathan Maniago

    I used to ask that question myself, but I’ve had ML choke on me a number of times already. It seems that pushing hardware closer to its limits tends to result in less reliable performance.

    Of course, it’d be nice if Canon did give their hardware a bigger push. For quite a while now, they’ve been behind in both megapixel count and dynamic range.

  • ryfter

    There is expanding capabilities, and pushing the hardware to its failing point. There are a lot of features in ML, that are hacked together. If they were properly integrated, you would not have the performance issues.

    I DO understand that some items in ML push too far. I accept that in ML. But, there are capabilities that could be easily integrated (Wider range of stops, greater number of stops, intervalometer, to name a few). That is more what I am talking about. Very little (if any) innovation needed. Just opening up capabilities that have been there, and unexploited.

  • roadtripboy

    Interesting…since I think Dyson’s success has more to do with clever marketing than product development.

  • OtterMatt

    Doubling the R&D sounds logical, but it’s an ultimately untenable situation whether your sales are driving it or not. Customers really are driving the market – in various markets – right out of business. We demand too much, too fast, and most of what comes out isn’t even FOR the majority of the consumer base.
    As much as I like seeing new tech come out, I know deep down that I’m at least 10 years away from being able to afford it when it comes around refurbed or used, and photography tech seems to trickle down even slower than most tech.

  • TSY87

    All I know is, ever since the dyson vacuums came out, pretty much every brand vacuum has come out with designs that look and work extremely similarly. And in actuality, the dyson vacuum I have now does in fact work better and picks up way more dirt than my old vacuum.

    Anyway you look at it, Canon and Nikon really need to step up their game in the consumer-prosumer market. They have a stable enough market with their pro models that they can afford to get more adventurous with their consumer lines.

  • imajez

    I was just about to write the same thing. Dyson’s marketing puts their rivals in the shade.
    However they also skirt on the shadey side of things and like Apple have had to retract adverts in the UK for being misleading.

  • markz

    of course… you actually have to convince people that all the wonderful stuff is as wonderful (or more wonderful) as it is …

    Until they told you how safe their new fans were you were probably happy with how safe a normal fan was with it’s close grill safety guard….
    Until they told you how their new fans don’t produce choppy air flow you probably never thought about it (or kind of enjoyed the buffeting)

    Dyson’s fans are wonderful pieces of design, both from an engineering point of view and an aesthetic point of view … but are they really 20 times better utility than a normal desktop fan? of course not…
    maybe, in some ways, at most they are double or triple, and in some ways worse, than a desktop fan that costs 1/20 of their price.

    In fact I’ve had this very conversation twice in the last few days about Dyson fans (one of my co workers wanted to buy one but found many of the big appliance stores don’t sell them ’cause no body is buying them)

    much the same but to a lesser degree with their vacuum cleaners… does their fancy technology make me want to bin my Volta vacuum (which functions well enough to exceed my requirements) and buy something 3 times the price? …. probably not…
    would I buy a Dyson’s vacuum when my Volta eventually dies?… for maybe a 50% increase in utility for a 200% price increase? again…probably not

  • Rob S

    Wait What? When has Apple been accused of deceptive advertising?

  • Rob S

    I hear what he is saying but there are just a few issues:

    1 – Exponential growth – doubling every two years – is only sustainable for a very short period of time. Pentax is 95 years old. Had they started with 2 R&D people they would no employ every person on the planet in R&D. If Dyson had done what he recommends, he would employ over 2K people – half his workforce – in R&D.

    2 – As others have pointed out, even if you had unlimited R&D what would you ask for? ISO 2 million? Infinite DR? Personally the only thing I REALLY want is a digital version of the Pentax LX system, The rest is just gravy. I can already shoot ISO 1600 – far more than I ever could with film – with no ill effects. What R&D does for you in consumer electronics is offer more for less. But much of photography – lenses – resists the more for less of electronics. Glass grinding will never be cheap. Had made lenses will never be cheap. R&D won’t do much to change that.

    3 – FInally, If I were a camera company like Pentax or Nikon I would say “nice, get back to me when you have been in business for a century.” As John Wooden said “Lots of guys win one in a row.”

  • arachnophilia

    some of the frustration, as of late, has been that some camera companies are actually trying to innovate TOO MUCH, resulting in too many new and confusing product lines, and neglecting previous, historically popular product lines.

    for instance, the nikon D300 was among nikon’s best selling cameras ever. and yet today, there is no crop sensor nikon in a rugged semi-pro body, no nikon with a crop sensor and decent buffer performance. the only truly capable nikon sports camera sold at the moment is the D4s, and $1700 for a D300s and $6500 for a D4s are simply not the same markets.

  • araczynski

    i own a dyson (great vacuums, no doubt about it), but think this doubling statement was planted there to merely get their competitors to spend themselves out of business :)

  • DodgeMiniVan

    For years, I have used a Minolta 5000 Auto Focus I have had great success with film however, I have been using a Kodak 723 Easy Share and find it to be great! My enlargements 8×10 – – 8.5×11 have no distortions in resolution. My memory cards are 1 and 2 gbs. I download all my pictures to my computer and share them with my family and friends. I have toyed with the idea of buying a more expensive camera as of yet, I have not found one in my price range.

  • imajez

    Try drying your face or anything other than your hands with one of Dyson’s hand driers that you get in public toilets. There’s a reason why nozzles of rival products rotate.

  • imajez

    Just more marketing to get Dyson’s name out there.