The mirrorless camera industry is about to blow up and we have Sony mirrorless to thank for this. This is how they achieved their massive success.
This is the story of how one company built an industry from the ground up leaving everyone else behind.
Sony’s mirrorless camera success is much like the success of Apple in the late 90s. Apple had been focusing on the professionals, creating hardware and software for the top professionals in the world. They built the best computers and the most powerful software, a strategy that worked, but only partially. In 1997, few people were buying Apple products, and they were failing. At the same time, Microsoft created groundbreaking success by creating things for the masses.
Apple sold tens of thousands of products, Microsoft sold millions.
But in 1997, things changed. Apple launched their consumer computer and leapt feet-first into the consumer world. Why sell 100,000 very expensive pro computers when you can sell 15 million fairly expensive almost-pro computers? Apple’s new products were nearly all the things professionals wanted but packaged for consumers. And this changed the game.
Apple Changed the Game
In 2001, Apple dictated another industry. We stopped hearing about portable music devices and instead, we just spoke about Apple’s iPod. They dominated the industry and Sony’s infamous Walkman just disappeared into dust. 6 years later in 2007, they hit a home run with the iPhone.
Smartphones had been around, but they were only really used by business professionals. Apple delivered to the consumer and they delivered fast. Later, with the additions of products such as the iPad and the Apple Watch, other companies struggled to keep up.
Apple had flipped the trend — they had learned that the consumer was king and they capitalized.
Each product having almost yearly updates allowed for huge revenue growth, which funded research and development and most importantly quick feature upgrades and releases. This put them on top. If you’re not an Apple fan, keep watching — there’s more to come.
It’s About the Looks
Everything Apple put out looked cool and sleek, and they created hype and desire. The products themselves looked so great people obsessed taking photos of their products. Apple created leaks and stories about what ‘might’ be coming next, and they found out how to market within the world of social media. They innovated at every step, creating products for the next generation by pushing boundaries creating new technologies and of course making mistakes along the way.
Through all of this Apple became the most profitable company in American history and is now worth more than 1 trillion dollars.
Now It’s Sony’s Turn, and They Chose Mirrorless Cameras
Well, this is Sony of the last 5 years. They took command of a new industry, the mirrorless camera world, and focused on the consumer first. Like Apple, this world already existed, but Sony dominated.
Like Apple, Sony created hype, launched products almost yearly, and created a marketing storm every time. Their products looked good — no, their products looked incredible. Although they were cameras themselves, they photographed well.
Sony built a community of people who wanted to show off that they had a Sony mirrorless. Sony focused on the new world, their products were socially viable. Search for a Sony a7S camera on Instagram and you see hundreds of photos of the camera itself. The perfect marketing.
Companies like Nikon and Canon have not capitalized on this. When was the last time you saw a great photo of a Nikon camera? Nobody does it. Sony has beautiful sharp shiny, sleek edges. They look strong, angular and sexy. They look like the new shooter, the young, the hip, the early adopters.
Search for a Nikon camera like the D850 and you just see the photos taken on the camera, not of the camera itself. You might be thinking, well they are cameras and image quality is what matters. Wrong: Nikon is a company, sales is what matters. Remember Apple in 1997. You can sell 10,000 professional cameras to the top professionals, or you can sell millions of slightly cheaper nearly pro cameras to millions of consumers. If you don’t bring in the money, you can’t fund research and development, you won’t stay relevant, and your business fails.
In the past companies dictated to the consumer what they should want. Sony was different. People say to Sony we want better focusing, they do it. Better batteries, done. 5-axis sensor stabilization, done. Perfect the first time? Not at all, but hey, they were listening, trying, and often delivering.
Just sitting back and saying we have done this for 100 years just isn’t good enough. We the consumer don’t care what you did, we care what you are doing. You can create the world’s best DSLR, but mirrorless is what everyone is talking about. It’s like launching a Sony Walkman with all the latest tech when everyone is talking about the iPod. Cameras are going to go mirrorless and that’s why Sony is currently winning.
The Future of Mirrorless Cameras
Apple doesn’t necessarily make the best smartphones, but they are the company that drove the industry forward, forcing innovation and creativity. Now we have Samsung, Google, Huawei, and many others fighting to be on top of the smartphone industry. Who knows who is on top, and who really cares, we the consumer have won. No matter what company you buy from, our smartphones are more advanced today than we could have ever imaged 10 years ago.
The Future is Mirrorless
I think this is the next era for mirrorless cameras — in fact, for cameras as a whole. More competition, driving innovation, pushing technological boundaries. The more players in the game, the faster the innovation. Thanks to Sony, we are going to see the fastest technological advancement in digital photography we have ever seen. With more companies bringing out mirrorless systems, we will start seeing features we never dreamt about. We will see companies fail and see products fail, but we will see the bar raised higher, leaps made larger and progress made faster.
So… thank you to Sony for starting the mirrorless revolution. Thank you to all the companies who will challenge you.
Who knows who will stay on top. For me, well, I don’t care. I’m just thankful for the companies who fight among themselves so that we, the humble consumers, can use the most technologically advanced camera systems the world has ever seen.
About the author: Ed Gregory is a photographer and the founder of Photos in Color. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Gregory teaches tutorials on Photoshop, Lightroom, and photography, and you can find more of his videos on his YouTube channel. This article was also published here.