The Upside of Brand Loyalty For Photographers and Filmmakers

The Upside of Brand Loyalty For Photographers and Filmmakers

Sometimes, loyalty is the gift that keeps on giving. Now, before a large sector of the reading audience skips straight from the title of this essay to the comment section to tell me I’m a fanboy or being foolish for proposing the idea that committing to one brand is sometimes a good idea, let me start off with a few concessions.

We live in a modern world saturated with more amazing technology than any one person can ever keep track of. And just because you’ve used one brand for a long time doesn’t mean that you should continue to use that brand in the future. Brands evolve. But, more importantly, artists evolve. So, the tools that were right for you ten years ago may no longer be the best option for your current interests. I, for one, am constantly reassessing my gear needs as my work continues to move in new and exciting directions, some of which were planned, others not. So, I am not here to tell you not to change brands if that’s what suits your needs.  

But having been put in the blessed position of being able to have used almost every brand on the market over a long career, I can say with 100% honesty that changing brands isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. In fact, more often than not, you’ll find that staying put with what you have will end up saving you time, money, and a great deal of headache.

But What About the Feature Set?

As I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons to blow up your gear collection and shift to a different brand to address shifts in your practical needs. But, if we’re being honest, most of the time that we find ourselves peeking over the fence into the neighbor’s yard, it isn’t because our current system is completely devoid of the tools we need to do our job. Another brand may have a better implementation of a particular feature. Or perhaps one brand has a reputation for being better at a certain thing than another. The hours of video produced deifying a marginal increase in autofocus speed between brands comes to mind as an example. But truth be told, outside of YouTube videos and social media posts, in the real world, these differences, while they may exist, are generally marginal in their effect. Yes, things like that matter in a lab. But, in the hands of a photographer or filmmaker who knows their craft, has taken the time to know their gear, and is working from a place of creativity rather than lab testing, those differences never seem to matter as much as brands would like us to think they do.

Even if we accept that certain brands are better at certain things than others, using that as an excuse to jump ship ignores another firm reality of technology. It’s all cyclical. What is one brand’s strength today is the same brand’s weakness a year from now. The major brands are all trapped in an endless game of leapfrog. Each sits on the throne in one way or another for a limited amount of time before abdicating months later when another brand releases their own counterargument. So, for the most part, if you are heavily invested in any of the top brands, all you really have to do in order to upgrade your feature set is wait long enough for your chosen brand to release its newest gear. Sure, that might mean that you won’t have the best feature set today. And for the next six months, you’ll have to subject yourself to hearing brand rivals extol the virtues of their system at your expense. But, trust me, it’s far more expensive to keep changing your entire system just to keep up with the Joneses. Especially when, with a little patience, you will likely get a comparable feature upgrade within the brand you’ve already chosen.

Saving A Heap Of Cash

“Why even wait six months,” you might ask. You’ve got the money to spend. Why not spend it? And, hey, if you’ve got that much disposable income then by all means spend away. But for most of us, changing brands is expensive. You not only have to think about the price of the new camera itself, but you also have to think about all the lenses, accessories, and third-party items that may or may not play nicely with the new system.

I’ll use myself as an example. After being Nikon-only for the entirety of the DSLR days, making the change to mirrorless has been a real adventure. Because I was going to have to eventually consider investing in a new lens set regardless of the mirrorless brand I chose, I put pretty much every brand through its paces to make sure I was making the correct decision. This led me to not only sample, but purchase different camera bodies from different brands in addition to Nikon. All the brands had their own strengths in relation to the other. But each body also required the purchase of at least one or two lenses fundamental to my workflow.  

With every disparate purchase, the results were almost always the exact same. I’d fall in love with the new brand for about three months. Then, I’d slowly start to find things that weren’t so great for my workflow. Then I’d start to see if there was yet another brand that better addressed those issues. Eventually, I’d fall out of love with the new brand, and, more often than not, find myself right back shooting with my Nikon anyway. It was certainly fun to explore all those other brands. But gee willikers it was expensive. Especially since all that money was essentially spent to find out that I already had the best system for me all along.

Once the Z9 came along and allayed any hesitation I had about which brand I wanted to stick with in the future, I went all in. I purchased two Z9 bodies and the key lenses I needed, sold off all of the older Nikon DSLR gear as well as the rival bodies and lenses, and decided to stick with this single system. And while that might sound like a heavy investment, doing so allowed me to sell off everything not directly related to the system, so the net investment was not nearly as much as one might think. Better yet, because I am dedicated to one system, every investment I make, like a lens or accessory, can be utilized system-wide rather than just on one camera in the system.

Will there be times over this product's lifecycle when another brand will come out with a camera that exceeds the Z9’s specs in one way or another? I’m sure there will be. But, is that advancement likely to be so transformative that I won’t be able to do my work without changing systems? I highly doubt it. I’m sure I’ll hear about a new camera here or there and a specific feature will turn my head. But there is absolutely zero about my current system that doesn’t address my needs, so I can be confident that buying into something another brand, while it might be fun, won’t be necessary.

Brand Familiarity

Do you play an instrument? I don’t. No matter how hard I tried as a kid, my attempts to successfully learn to play an instrument resulted in little more than my parent’s aggravation and my neighbors praying in desperation to make it stop. But the thing about learning an instrument is that, while at first it might be all “Chopsticks” and just trying to remember which key is which, after a while, it becomes second nature and you can just play. Cameras are much the same way. You go through the initial onboarding process of figuring out where the menu items are and how to make the camera do what you want it to do. But, once you’ve committed the camera keys to your subconscious memory, you, at some point, can just play.

While a fear of trying something new is no reason to hold yourself back from growing as an artist, sometimes, having a tool in your hand that essentially allows you to forget that it’s even there is a greater boon to your creativity than all the megapixels in the world. Sticking to a single brand is akin to residing in a city where you are a native speaker. Everything over time just makes sense. You might move from one body to another within the brand. But most brands do a solid job of keeping their basic layouts familiar, so going from Mark I to Mark II is usually not a dramatic shift.

This is one of those benefits that fall into the intangible category. But getting to know a system, really getting to know it to the point of being able to play blindfolded, allows you to get the technology out of the way and get to what actually matters; creativity.

Now, surely many of you have read what I’ve just written and have still come to the conclusion that you simply cannot take adequate pictures without always having the most recent camera announced. And, by all means, that is your prerogative. But for those of you out there in the pursuit of artistic excellence, not just an influencer merit badge, know that you don’t have to constantly change systems to get the best results. Sometimes it’s best to cherish what you have, open your mind to creativity, and just play.

Christopher Malcolm's picture

Christopher Malcolm is a Los Angeles-based lifestyle, fitness, and advertising photographer, director, and cinematographer shooting for clients such as Nike, lululemon, ASICS, and Verizon.

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I wholeheartedly agree with the primary point of this article. I have been shooting Canon DSLRs for over 15 years. I have looked very seriously into switching over to Olympus and Sony. But ultimately I decided to stick with Canon for the time being, for the reasons that you cited in your article.

With only one exception, the reasons for switching brands are either temporary or overrated. The one exception would be if Canon is obstinate in their stance about not permitting 3rd party lensmakers from making lenses for the RF mount. If Canon continues to prohibit this, then I when I switch over to mirrorless I will also switch from Canon to another brand. But if Canon agrees to allow 3rd party lensmakers full access to the RF technology, then I will stick with Canon for the foreseeable future.

I found non-Canon RF mount lens on B&H. Most of are Cine but a few are standard.

I doubt they have electronic contacts.

With autofocus? Really? If it doesn't have autofocus, and work in all of the automatic modes as well as the Canons, then they are useless for my purposes.

Fair point about the lens selection

I don’t understand the term ‘brand loyalty’. I prefer the term ‘brand pragmatism’ I switched from Canon 5Dmk2 to Sony A7R2 seven years ago and built up a collection of Sony lenses over the years.. I’m now on my third Sony body the A7R5 and am totally delighted with the results this camera can deliver. I’m under no illusions that offerings from Canon or Nikon or any other manufacture could not produce similar or possibly better results. I also imagine that the differences if they exist are so marginal to make any little or no difference in the real world. The fact that I have stuck with Sony should not imply that I feel any loyalty to this nebulous human construct. I don’t. I don’t really care what name is on the front of camera or lens caps. All I care about is the images I end up producing. I and not my camera is the biggest determining factor to how good or not so good any image will be. If I want any improvements in my photography then it’s mostly going to come about from the way I go about it and the techniques I employ. Though having said that there is no doubt that certain technologies such as the new auto focus systems on the A7R5 are for me a bit of a game changer. Though I’m sure given time all manufacturers will have cameras that will have equal functionality. I stayed with Sony as I seen no reason to change or gain to be made. The financial hit of changing all my lenses at this time would be considerable. Plus all the hassle and for what! I seen no real advantage to be gained unlike the time when I made that original brand and technology switch from what was then a fairly oldish Dslr to a new mirrorless system. Had Canon produced an offering like the A7R2 at that time I would possibly have stayed with Canon. Sony just had the right offering at the right time that suited my needs. At no time have I felt either being loyal staying or disloyal moving. Unlike many Sony detractors I’ve never had a problem with Sony’s menu system, their ergonomics nor their allegedly poor colour science. I still shake my head in wonder at that one! My photography friends all shoot with a wide range of systems while we will comment at length about images comments about camera systems are rare. The one case in point that stands out is Sony’s lack of native in camera ability to do blended multiple exposures. That particular lack prompted a friend to shift from Sony to Nikon as it was a particular feature he required for his photography. No disloyalty was involved, rather it was a pragmatic wish to gain an important feature Sony lacked. Moving and upgrading from old tech of one brand to new tech of another is understandable when the gains are obvious and many. Moving or cross grading from one brand to another where the gains are marginal at best is for me a mystery and a waste of money.

Familiarity is one element. I just acquired a R7 after years with a 7D. Reading reviews many referred to having to relearn and awkward button layouts.
I was hesitant but once the camera was in hand it took about 30 minutes to be totally comfortable.
For me IBIS and APS-C format was a requirement so I could use all my R, FL and FD lenses with the IBIS.
Also the 100% compatibility with all EF-S and EF lenses which no other system can say about their non mirrorless lenses from the past like Nikon.