Monday, March 12, 2012

Are Camera Companies Screwing Us Over or are We Just Stupid?

The Sigma SD1: corporate greed made reality, but are we always getting ripped off?

In case you didn't hear, photographic company Sigma has just finalized plans to give users the equivalent of a nearly $5,000 rebate for early buyers of its flagship SD1 dSLR camera, which was initially announced with a $10,000 MSRP and which hit streets at $7,000. Why? Well, thinks to, according to Sigma, a change in production, costs have dropped and the camera can now be sold at $2,300. Really? That 'production change' is probably more thanks to a wave of complaints than anything else, which brings us to a big question: are camera companies screwing us over or not?

Well, in the case of Sigma, the answer is all but certainly a 'yes.' Think about it: how could a company claim that a camera is so expensive to produce that it suggests a $10,000 price tag, which retailers cut to $7,000, and then change the MSRP to $3000 overnight (from which retailers cut another $700)?

That sounds more like plain and simple corporate greed to me.

As for the other companies, they're ripping us off, too. Take Canon and Nikon. Both companies offer a ton of cameras for sale, including (until recently) a split flagship series: The D# and D#'x' for Nikon and the 1D and 1Ds for Canon. The pricing story is very similar for both companies in that they offer a high-speed, lower resolution model for about $5,000 and then offer a high-res version for $3,000 more. Question: does it really cost $3,000 to produce a sensor with double the resolution of that in the $5,000 model? I'm sure it doesn't, these companies simply do this because they know that they can get away with it as professionals will buy the cameras regardless of price. Another example: Nikon brings out a 18-200VRII. The only addition from the first version: a barrel lock to prevent zoom creep. Apparently, this amazing bit of technology costs an extra $200, as evidenced by the price difference between the lenses when both were still selling new.

Olympus is ripping us off, too. The just-announced $1,000 OM-D equals or bests the company's supposedly better, $1,600 E-5 in just about every area that matters. Heck, the OM-D even feature an all-new sensor and an OLED viewfinder to the E-5's archaic optical one. Naturally, one would think that the new sensor and OLED screen would make the OM-D just as expensive as the E-5. Well, nope, the superior OM-D sells for $600 less. Why does Olympus do this? Easy, the OM-D is not marketed for pro use while the E-5 is. As has always been the case, the company knows that working pros will pay anything and so it prices accordingly.

Another company that also once ripped us off was Sony. When Sony announced its $3,000 A900 in 2008, many people jumped for joy. However, come 2009 and the A850, many A900 owners felt as though they had been pick-pocketed. Why? The A850 was a clone of the A900 except that it only did 3fps (vs. 5 on the A900) and had only 98% viewfinder coverage (vs. 100% on the A900). Oh, yes, the A850 was priced at $2,000 and remains, to date, the only $2,000 FF camera in the world. So, Sony, did cutting that extra 2% of viewfinder and 2fps frame rate really lower the cost of production so much that you felt safe to drop the MSRP by $1,000? Probably not, you were just really greedy with the A900, that's all.

Now, for the second question: are we all stupid?

First thing's first, since the majority of camera users live in capitalistic countries, we have choice as to what we choose (or don't choose) to buy. This is especially true of luxury goods like cameras, which we don't truly need. So, with the power of choice in a free market, why do we choose to buy such goods when we know they're almost certainly way over-priced? Well, because we can! We see stuff and want it, the manufacturers know this and price accordingly, high enough to have a comfortable profit margin (which they have the right to do) but low enough that we can afford them (this is why 'prosumer' cameras typically cap out at $3500) if we want to buy one (which is a great thing about having freedom to use one's own money as one pleases).

Bottom line: no manufacturer can force us to buy anything we don't want and/or think is priced unreasonably. Even better news: in a free market, the consumer have the choice and, if we collectively refuse to buy something because of price, one of two things can happen: the manufacturer essentially admits it was gouging us (like Sigma did) and lowers its prices or things stay unsold and the company makes no money.

The great news: there is absolutely no shortage of cameras on the market at all different price ranges to suit all needs. Want a camera? Well, look a little bit and you're guaranteed to find one that fits your budget, yet another great thing about a free, competitive market.

A final bit of advice: quit drooling over that new camera you can't afford yet, go out, and take some pictures instead.

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