Canon vs. Nikon: Who’s engaging their fans?

Nikon vs. Canon

One of my LEGO community friends is an amazing photographer and has been a Canon fan for years. I remember him using Canon before I even knew that there was a Canon vs. Nikon struggle happening amongst photogs. (Think Apple vs. PC, Coke vs. Pepsi)

He and I recently exchanged emails and I was telling him about my newest lens, the Nikon 18-200mm lens. It brought home the irritation he has for Canon that they’ve largely ignored the desires of their non-professional consumers, while Nikon is delivering success after success because they’re listening and responding.

Ah, the famed 18-200VR– you see, that’s one of those products Canon fans keep saying they need to introduce, yet Canon is content to sell that lens broken in two–  a 18-55mm IS and a 55-200mm IS.

Canon has a very strange relationship with photographers.  They have a high end seeding program and beta setup– word is the Annie Leibowitzes of the world Canon often betas new cameras with.  Yet for the fans and enthusiasts there’s virtually no contact.

That’s because unlike Lego, where no one is really a professional (eg makes a living from it), some photographers are and others aren’t.  Also, there are many varying outfits– press who have their equipment supplier by an agency/newspaper versus the mom and pop wedding studio.

Canon operates a program called CPS-Canon Professional Services, for lens rentals/loans, priority service, loaners etc.  Membership varies by country– but generally required to have at least one pro body and three pro lenses.

So for working photographers, Canon seems to know its base well and caters to them.  It handles relationship building in the typical industrial customer way.  It does -not- however do any fan or user community base marketing.

Canon’s sole contact, or at least it appears online, is a guy named Chuck Westfall.  He’s some sort of “Manager of Technical Services or Information” but you’ll see his name all over in forums, blogs, websites where he’s explaining issues Canon has to the online/photographer community.  Stuff like why a product is being recalled, what’s going on behind how their products work, etc.  He seems very dedicated.

But otherwise Canon doesn’t really manage their enthusiast base.

Canon seems to be thinking in old school photography terms where there are two distinct audiences with hard lines between them: Professionals and hobbyists. Nikon seems to fully recognize that the line between those two audiences is disappearing quickly. More and more people are buying DSLRs that have lenses that change between the low end DSLR bodies and the high end bodies. If you’re a pro, why wouldn’t you choose the brand that allows you to do hand-me-downs to your friends and family? Why not choose the brand that has a larger presence in the used marketplace through both pros and hobbyists?

By going after the tourist crowd, so to speak, they’re indirectly targeting (or perhaps creating) more Nikon-based semi-pros and pros. Canon seems to be sticking to the formula that has worked for them in days gone past, and I can’t imagine it’s going to be healthy in the long term. Especially when you have reactions like you see from long-time Canon loyalists like my friend quoted above.

I applaud the fact that Canon has a rep working the forums and blogs for technical issues, but where is their version of the D80 Blogger Outreach Program? Where is their version of the Flickr contest? W
Even as a Nikon guy, I’d love to see more competition in this area between these two great companies. It’d be good for all involved.