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Odious comparisons disrespect customers

As a (admittedly slightly jaundiced) aficionado of new camera press releases, I’ve been noting an odd but growing trend in recent offerings – a tendency to bag older models in the company’s line-up to boost the credentials of the latest release.

The press material for the Fujifilm X-T4 is focussed on telling us how much better it is than the X-T3. And the X-H1. Why?

This is very stupid marketing communications. You are showing no respect to your existing customers when you effectively state that the camera they bought 18 months ago is now a mediocrity, only worthy of a negative comparison to the latest and greatest new release.

When digital camera technology was less mature, it was unsurprising that the newest model would have way more megapixels, processing power, battery life, AF responsiveness or whatever, that what went before. Camera technology was a fast-moving target.

Ten years on from those days, when a camera company comes out and claims model Y is twice as good as model X it released last year, it tends to make the buyers of model X (existing customers, don’t forget) feel a bit dudded, and inclines prospective purchasers to sit and wait for model Z, which they have been trained by the marketing communications spiel to expect to be twice as good as the latest new release.

Perhaps the problem is that there really isn’t all that much to say about these mostly iterative new releases. Few new cameras of late have been real technological breakthroughs, but rather modest improvements to the model which came before. It appears the life of a camera on the sales shelf is something like 18 months to two years. With a relatively mature technology like digital cameras, maybe this is too short a period to enable real innovation between models. Is the marketing tail wagging the technology dog?

The press release which came out this week for the Fujifilm X-T4 was chockablock with references to its superiority to other Fujifilm cameras, which would be more than a little disappointing if you had just invested your hard-earned on one of those now apparently obsolete cameras. A quick review of recent new camera press releases indicates Fujifilm is a serial offender in belittling its previous models to promote its latest releases. But doesn’t this simply give existing customers cause for regret, while creating unnecessary caution among those thinking of buying a new camera?

Here’s some examples from the press release for the Fujifilm X-T4:
It [the X-T4) offers…newly-developed gyro sensors that boast approx 8 times the detection accuracy of the IBIS unit in the X-H1.
– Which would make any X-H1 owners seriously wonder whether the 5.5 stops image stabilisation Fujifilm claimed at the time for this camera was fair dinkum. And ‘8 times the detection accuracy’ by the way, only delivers an extra stop of stabilisation, and only when used with certain lenses, so what does it all mean anyway?

And why compare the X-T4 to a camera released two years ago, which is now discontinued? (The answer seems to be that Fujifilm hasn’t offered IBIS at all – not even the inferior IBIS in the X-H1 – in any recent models.) Wouldn’t it be better to compare the X-T4’s image stabilisation to that of one of its recently-released competitors? Olympus seems to have the gold standard in IBIS – how does the Fujifilm X-T4 perform against the comparative Olympus model?

The new IBIS unit uses magnetic force rather than springs, which boosts functionality while making it approx. 30 percent smaller and 20 percent lighter than X-H1’s image stabilisation mechanism.
– Not only do X-H1 owners have an IBIS system seriously inferior to what’s available now, but it’s making their camera heavier. Whether it’s an irrelevant 10g or 100g lighter we aren’t told, leading one to assume this is a BS spec.

The shutter unit also boasts double the durability with 300,000 actuations and offers shutter noise approx. 30 percent quieter compared to the X-T3.
– So that means the $2500 (body only) X-T3 was only good for 150K actuations? Sheesh, they didn’t mention that in the specs! Luckily, both cameras also have a non-wearing electronic shutter, so probably no big deal these days, but that X-T3 shutter performance isn’t worthy of a $2K+ camera body. (That said, unless you are a pro giving the body a real hammering over several years, you are apparently unlikely to wear out a shutter capable of 150K actuations. Let along 300K.)

But how annoying for X-T3 owners to know they’re stuck with such a clacketty shutter mechanism!

Tracking AF performance has also undergone serious enhancement. The tracking success rate has been doubled compared to the X-T3. The Face / Eye AF performance has also been dramatically improved.
This might be particularly galling for X-T3 owners, as one of the main features presented for that camera – released less than two years ago – was vastly improved AF performance over its predecessor. In fact, Photo Review Australia gave the X-T3 an ‘Editors Choice’ award with AF performance cited as its most impressive feature: ‘The most impressive aspect of the new camera was the speed with which it could focus – and also the focusing accuracy, regardless of whether the 18mm prime lens or the 55-200mm zoom  lens was used,’ wrote reviewer Margaret Brown.

Yet now Fujifilm is saying that the X-T3 is only half the camera the X-T4 is when it comes to tracking AF performance – how would that make the average Fujifilm X-T3 owner feel? Especially if super-responsive AF was what they bought it for?

And here’s a couple more doozies from previous Fujifim releases:
– Enhanced for better resolution and lower distortion, this lens is a significant step up from the ones used in past X100 Series cameras;
– It is able to process data 3.5 times faster than the X-T100, reducing the rolling shutter. AF performance in X-T200 is also dramatically enhanced through the use of phase detection autofocus pixels across the sensor.

In the Olden Dayes any form of comparative marketing – which is what we are talking about here – was seen as unwise and unclassy, as it would invite counter-comparisons to the product to which the comparison was being made. But if camera companies must make comparisons, it would surely be more useful to compare a newly-released camera with those from other manufacturers competing in its price/performance range. Now that would make for some interesting press release content!

So why do some camera companies put the boot into their own range as a means of selling more cameras? It just seems such a dumb and unimaginative way of marketing anything.

…And while on the subject of new camera press releases, here’s a few more tips:
1. There is no such thing as a large 3-inch LCD. Three inches is three inches. Likewise a large APS-C sensor.
2. Ditch the footnotes. When a camera press release is followed by 10 or more instances of dense, near indecipherable fine print qualifying the bald claims made in the text, it all seems a bit tricky. Here’s a recent beauty from Olympus qualifying what its Starry Sky mode is capable of: Starry Sky AF works with Olympus Micro Four Thirds lenses except the following: (A) Lenses with open aperture larger than F5.6 and (B) End-of-life lenses M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 and M.Zuiko Digital ED 17mm F2.8. Starry Sky AF is a shooting function dedicated only for starry sky, it does not work for other general subjects. AF may not work under bright shooting environments such as town lights are in the frame. See the website for further details. Or this one relating to IBIS performance claims: When 5-axis sync IS used. Lens used: M.ZuikoDigital ED 12-100mm F4.0 IS PRO. At a focal distance of f=100mm (35mm equivalent: f=200mm), halfway release image stabilisation: Off, frame rate: high speed. Conforms to CIPA standards, when corrected on 2 axes (Yaw and Pitch). Current as of February 18, 2020.
3. No one except the marketing communications manager wants to read (or sub!) 8 pages of advertising copy when they are simply looking for the features and benefits, written in plain English.
– Keith Shipton






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