With the recently released Samsung NX1, the world’s second largest consumer electronics company (following Apple) surely has a winner on its hands.
With a world’s-best 28-megapixel APS-C back-side illuminated sensor; unmatched and blistering 15 frames per second continuous shooting at full resolution – including Raw capture; 4K video; a range of 16 lenses to date, including fast primes and two glass-rich professional-standard zooms; some ground-breaking workflow features (especially when used in tandem with the latest Samsung smartphones); a price point which shouldn’t give keen enthusiasts or professionals sticker shock; and early thumbs-up reviews, the NX1 has a lot to recommend it.
It also boasts 802.11ac Wi-Fi functionality, delivering wireless transfers rates up to of up to 433.3 Mbit/s, while its competitors are still using 802.IIg (2003 vintage) which is much slower, at 22 Mbit/s average throughput. It has an Auto Shot feature which combined with that 15fps burst rate could appeal to professional sports shooters looking for that perfect ‘decisive moment’ image of the ball coming off the bat, the athlete breasting the tape, or the motorbike skimming the curve at 300kph.
In short, it’s a seriously high-specced bit of gear – on paper, at least, the best enthusiast camera to date.
Here’s what DPReview concluded : ‘…the NX1 surpasses those cameras [Canon EOS 7D II and Nikon D7100] in terms of continuous shooting speed, movie recording, and Wi-Fi functionality, while image quality and AF performance remain to be seen.’
And a local review in Gizmodo concluded: ‘…for taking great photos and sharing them with the world, the Samsung NX1 is just about as good a camera as I’ve ever seen.’
But on the other hand, respected trade newsletter Photo Imaging News rated Samsung as a ‘Not’ in its latest issue, in a listing of camera companies which are Hot: ‘It’s difficult to establish a strong foothold when going up against the big boys. Solid features sometimes get overlooked when the wannabe professional photographers see Canon and Nikon cameras hanging around the necks of seriousness.’
And closer to home, a senior marketing executive with a leading Australian photo retailer had a similar reaction when I began to extol the virtues of the NX1 at a recent industry function. His response was along the lines of, ‘Yeah, maybe, but it’s too hard a sell. Our [enthusiast] customers aren’t interested in Samsung.’
This, in a nutshell, is Samsung’s wicked dilemma. It has an apparently superior product, but lacks street cred with the target market and across the photo counter. In the enthusiast sector, it lacks both demand push and pull. (And let’s face it readers, given the collapse of the mass market for snapshooter compacts, the enthusiast sector is the consumer photographic market.)
If a similarly specced camera had been announced by Nikon or Canon at this price point ($1899 body only) it would be lauded as just the shot in the arm the photo industry has been looking for, after 2014 proved largely a year of re-iteration of existing camera technology: ‘Now with extra megapixels and Wi-Fi! And in a choice of colours including rose-petal pink!!’
The NX1 project has been three years in development from concept to delivery, according to Samsung Australia’s head of Digital Imaging, Craig Gillespie, with a brief that ‘it had to be the best of the best’.
‘The NX1 camera represents latest pinnacle of Samsung’s research, development and innovation in photographic technology,’ he is quoted as saying in the NX1 press release. ‘We’re extremely proud and excited to announce the launch of Samsung’s latest professional-level camera in Australia. It will provide passionate photographers with amazing photographic capabilities and features that we feel will change people’s understanding of our camera portfolio.’
Samsung’s communications challenge is twofold: it has to motivate high-end camera buyers to desire the Samsung NX1. It also has to motivate photo retailers and their staff to recommend the NX1 when qualified prospects are in their store.
‘The NX1 is head and shoulders above anything else in market,’ said Craig Gillespie in an interview this week with Photo Counter.
– Which it may very well be. But Samsung’s marketing communications performance will have to be head and shoulders above anything else in the market if the NX1 is to gain the pride of place on the shelves, and in the hearts, of photo retailers around the country. So far, that hasn’t been the case.
Judged from the chair of a humble photo retail trade editor, it’s been a C+-pass in Marketing 101.
There was a three-day media junket in Queenstown, NZ, last November for around 10-15 photo/IT/CE writers, with helicopter flights laid on and plenty of NX1’s on hand to trial. That will in time deliver 10-15 reviews, which given the quality of the camera should deliver a ‘positive net impression’. But with the price of junkets these days, that will work out to around $10,000 a review. (Note to marketing managers reading this: Samsung and other camera makers will garner a lot more love from struggling enthusiast publications by sinking that cash into an advertising buy with said publications, rather than consultancy-driven PR extravaganzas.)
There was some advertising on enthusiast websites before Christmas, and one would presume some ads in enthusiast magazines to come in 2015. But so far it’s hardly been the thumbs-and-lightbulbs, ‘the-future-of-photography-has-arrived’ extravaganza Samsung is capable of and the NX1 deserves and needs. This isn’t like launching a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, where you put out the press release and watch the column inches grow into ecstatic column yards.
Internally, Samsung has appointed a few knowledgeable people such as Andy McFeate (ex-Adeal) as national account manager, and indeed Craig Gillespie himself (ex- Nikon), to key roles to complement the stable of Fast Moving Consumer Goods-type marketing folk you might usually bump into at Samsung’s Olympic Park head office.
Other initiatives include the appointment of ‘brand ambassadors’. The trouble for Samsung is that most of the higher profile ones have already been secured by other brands. The other issue is that it looks a bit ‘me too’ in 2015.
Samsung internationally has forged associations with professional photographer-oriented organisations such as National Geographic, where two photographers trialed the NX1; with stock photo behemoth Getty, where images taken with NX1s will be identified accordingly; and with Magnum photographer Alex Webb, who features on the Samsung US website.
So most of the standard Product Launch Action Items have been ticked off. But the release of the NX1 is more than just another product launch – it’s an attempt by one of the largest technology companies in the world to establish a beachhead, foot in the door, whatever, in a new segment of the market (after several indifferent previous attempts). Samsung presumably has the marketing budget to create the cut-through required to do this. It can buy in imagination and creativity. But the strategy has to be there, and that’s where it all looks just a bit dusty.
When asked about how Samsung was to challenge the incumbency of Canon and Nikon in that high-end enthusiast segment and at the same time compete with other camera makers – notably Olympus and Panasonic, who are much further down the track in taking on that challenge – Craig Gillespie pointed out that five years ago Nokia was the top phone company in the world. That is, Samsung knocked Nokia off its perch, so…
(It’s interesting to note that Nokia also boasted it was the biggest camera company at that time. Hubris, you gotta love it!)
But for Samsung (with Apple’s assistance) to topple Nokia in the fickle, mass-market world of mobile phones is one thing. This is not a mass market, and enthusiast and professional photographers are anything but fickle.
In my estimation, the biggest obstacle to the Samsung NX1 achieving the success is deserves is that so far, few photo specialist retail staff believe it’s a winner. (Or believe their customers believe it’s a winner.) But they’ll be more likely to give it a shot if they – and more so the store owners and managers – believe that Samsung is genuine in supporting them to sell it.
Olympus has been down that path. It’s done the hard yards with the photo specialist channel and is reaping the rewards. Panasonic has spent a lot of face-to-face time with retailers showcasing its new releases and in doing so making it clear that the channel is front-and-centre in its ‘going to market’ strategy.
Will the world’s second largest consumer electronics company – which enjoys first or second place in most of the product categories in which it competes – be sufficiently humble to recognise that it’s nowhere near that rank in enthusiast cameras, and has a lot of work to do to get there? It’s not that easy. Kodak wasn’t able to dismount its high horse when the world changed from analogue to digital, instead poncing around bellowing it was the ‘World Leader in Digital Imaging’ when it should have been saying ‘we’re new here, and we are here to learn. How can we help?’ It’s a corporate culture thing.
‘The photo specialist channel is where all our efforts have gone,’ said Craig Gillespie when asked what channels it saw distributing the NX1. He added that Samsung was working with ‘a select number of photo specialist retailers’, mentioning Ted’s, Camera House, Michaels and Dimonds.
But how hard have they been working? Check out the Ted’s home page and it’s all ‘Canon Double Cashback’, ‘Prints & Enlargements’, ‘Nikon Summer Cashback’….Scroll down ‘below the fold’ where the Latest Releases are featured and the Samsung NX1 isn’t there. Click to view All Latest Releases and it’s still not featured.
Likewise, the Camera House homepage features its Australia Day Sale …Canon…Nikon…Olympus…Sony. Below the fold there’s still no NX1 – only cameras from Panasonic, Nikon and Canon.
Michaels? Nada. Do a search of the Michaels website and the only reference to the NX1 is its announcement at Photokina last year.
All this evidence-based absence of presence could simply be a matter of timing. We might see a massive campaign on TV, radio, billboards, buses, a dedicated Facebook page, general interest and enthusiast magazines starting next week for all I know. Lavish POS material in stores. Big fat SPIFs. But if there are plans afoot for such a campaign, Samsung wasn’t willing to share it with the photo specialist channel this week.
Not even a, ‘I can’t tell you the details right now, but just watch this space.’
Those of a certain age will remember the VHS versus Betamax battle. Sony knew Betamax was better. All the technology insiders knew Betamax was better. One of the reasons Betamax is now a footnote in audiovisual history was that Sony was arrogant in its dealing with potential partners – in that instance other manufacturers.
Reflecting back, Sony’s then chairman Akio Morita explained the failure thus: ‘We didn’t put enough effort into making a family. … The other side (VHS) made a family.’
The ‘family’ Samsung needs to make in this instance is not other manufacturers but the photo specialist channel.