Camera Companies Are Really Bad at Promoting Why Their Cameras Are Better Than Phones

Camera Companies Are Really Bad at Promoting Why Their Cameras Are Better Than Phones

There’s a lot of press about how phones are hanging right in there with “real” cameras. And while sometimes this is true, for the most part, a Canon EOS R5 is still going to be much more capable than a cell phone. It’s just a shame that major camera brands’ marketing departments haven’t figured out how to show that.

Part of my job as an educator and a photography industry writer is to be on the receiving end of press kits that companies release. To the layperson, these are generally news “articles” from the company that makes the product, along with accompanying images, data, and videos that show off the product and/or what it can do.

While these “newsrooms,” as they are often called, from these companies are aimed at journalists, it’s quite possible that anyone from the public could stumble across these pages. Moreover, journalists are the public, and so wowing a journalist is a good way to get some earned media.

Which brings me to how badly the big two (Canon and Nikon) are bungling their product releases, at least as far as trying to get folks aware of what’s possible.

For comparison, here is what a typical Nikon press release looks like for a new camera (which is not all that different from what Canon does):

A typical Nikon or Canon press release includes a lot of text and a few token images of the camera, but nothing shot with the camera.

Big wall of text. A few token images of the camera that are what you’d find on the all-around views on the B&H photo page. For a camera billed for “creators,” there are no images or video created with the camera on the page. How is this going to get someone excited enough to want to explore these cameras?

By contrast, here’s what Apple does for its iPhone 14 Pro:

There are more examples of photography on a phone press release than a camera one.

Bold, beautiful images of the phone. It looks downright glorious. Lots of photo and video samples to show what the phone is capable of.

Read that last part again: photo and video samples on what’s a press release for a phone. Apple is doing a better job of showing the imaging capabilities of its phones than Canon and Nikon are doing with their dedicated cameras that are certain to blow away any iPhone.

While I know that on the back-end, Nikon and Canon reps send large prints, posters, and specialists all over the country to authorized dealers and work hard to train sales folks to be knowledgeable about the company’s products, the reality is while foot traffic in stores is important, most consumers are going to get their information from online, and why not work to make that presentation better straight from the horse’s mouth? It’s good for enticing consumers to buy and journalists to write alike.

At the very least, if the camera companies want to enter the public’s consciousness through the media, they have to be doing a better marketing job than what they’ve been doing forever, or Apple will have made a convincing case that their phones can outshoot “real” cameras and the industry will further decline from where it is.

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21 Comments
Bhargav Sharma's picture

No offense to the writer, but I think they just don't need to. Anyone looking to buy any sort of interchangeable lens camera, is more than likely not considering an iPhone as an alternative. Such a person has more than likely understood that a phone camera is simply not as good as a "real" camera. Such advertising would be even more useless for any Prosumer body like the R5, A1 or A7IV.

Gary Pardy's picture

This is it in a nutshell^^
The shrinking number of interchangeable lens photographers is in part a result of smartphone cameras becoming so darn good. There's almost no room left for "entry-level" interchangeable lens cameras anymore, except as a learning tool. I think most photography enthusiasts understand the basic advantages of an interchangeable lens system, but for those on the fence it's an increasingly hard sell to get an A6100 with a 16-50 over an iPhone 14 Pro Max.

Edo Photo's picture

To say that they just don't need to because the audience knows that cameras are better just kind of sounds... bizarre.

The author makes a very good point to a certain point. Recently I've absolutely been bombarded on YouTube by Canon ads. Not an ad for one of their regular bodies, but for one of the video oriented bodies. Generally speaking it doesn't seem like Canon markets cameras to the general public even though the general public has various uses for cameras.

I was in B&h 2 weeks ago and someone walked in and asked which camera they should buy so they can use it for their business. He wasn't a photographer and wasn't interested in being one, he just needed high quality pictures of the end process of production chain. Basically, there are people like him everywhere. Especially in these new economies where everybody is hustling and has an online shop etc.

That's also a different topic than the destruction of the entry level segment.

Thats my 2c anyways, having worked in and around marketing departments for 20 years or so.

Harvey Colina's picture

I agree with Bhargav here, they simply don't need to waste marketing budget to compare with iPhone images.

Hans J. Nielsen's picture

It is a press release. The only one seeing it is people writing news stories.
The customers don't read press releases and will most likely just hear about the new camera on one of those news site (like Fstoppers.com) or on YouTube. Maybe they go on the manufacture's website to learn more, and look and behold. That page is loaded with video and image in spades.
https://www.nikonusa.com/en/nikon-products/product/mirrorless-cameras/z-...

Marc F's picture

Camera manufacturers need to take their revenge on phone manufacturers: add a sim card slot on the camera so that we have a free phone included in the camera. With the escalation, we will have the perfect gadget, something like a full frame or MF Leica / Hasselblad mount iPhone with interchangeable sensors…

M Hector's picture

Smartphone manufacturers definitely have sexier marketing materials, at least many of them do. On a technical level, I do think that camera manufacturers could point out the superior aspects but I wonder if that would be lost on consumers.

Gary Pardy's picture

A big part of it is the sheer size of the smartphone enthusiast market - guys that upgrade every year just to have the hottest phone. The weird thing is that most of the advancements in smartphone tech for the past 5 years or so have been almost solely focused on cameras. So yeah, there's definitely a superior marketing edge from smartphone manufacturers, selling a total package, but weighting it heavily on the promise of a pocketable camera that rivals interchangeable lens systems.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

One issue with camera marketing is that they do a bad job of showing why someone should enter their ecosystem at the entry level. Create realistic expectations of the results people can get with the hardware being sold. While those of us who already have an established interest and have already spent money in the ecosystem, we are fine seeking out many different reviews. On the other hand, the average uninformed potential customer has for years seen what smartphone cameras can do, as well as what a $20,000+ worth of camera equipment can do, but they likely have not seen what the $600-$1000 kit can do.
Furthermore, it is a disservice when a marketing company does something like take a entry level ILC camera, and stick a $2000 lens on it, along with some expensive lighting equipment, as it is not a realistic setup for the target market, and it sets them up for disappointment. Remember, the entry level price is still quite high, and people don't like spending even $200 on what they may view as an unknown.

Instead they need to develop content like this when it comes to introducing their entry level https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VasWT4adBc

Part of maintaining the market segment is bringing new customers in, otherwise you lose customers through attrition, thus shrinking the overall market.

Beyond that, there should be content focusing on affordable accessories and lenses.

Sure it is not as glamours as getting the highest end camera bodies and lenses, but it is important for growing the market.

The same should be done with the lower mid range.

Then the higher end/ prosumer type stuff should be focused on marketing to the people who are already in the ecosystem.

With that in mind, when it comes to a camera like the EOS R5, they don't need to focus as much on being flashy with the ads, since you are unlikely be after people who are looking to move on from their smartphone, since someone used to taking snapshots on their smartphone will not be looking for their next step to be spending close to $4000 for a camera body, and likely over $1000 for a decent enough lens.

Joshua Montgomery's picture

I was thinking the same thing. It's important to drive new people into photography to drive technology even at the lower end. This would be a good thing for all photographers by having a larger amount of money to drive development. Since beginners don't all want to learn everything about photography - new computational photography could advance!

EDWIN GENAUX's picture

There is one thing any phone camera has over a real camera, you can take a video and email but a camera you have to put through a processor program. One thing about a phone is it takes mainly jpegs and in auto mode/ scene selection mode like a new phone now does astro milky ways. So why buy a $3k+ camera/lens and buy yearly $ a processor for a computer. And how many photographers ever use Auto or even the many scene selections. Exp I started with the A7s '13 after the canon T2i and used the pano option vs the $ for a pano rig. Todays phones, everyone has one, are like the the very old pocket film cameras that film processors in every drug store. With the multi lens camera it is used by the pro's for a job and for the hobbyist is like a never ending video game. Many do not know or remember about the on camera apps Sony had on the mod 1 and 2 models that allowed a lot of playtime with younger people and did not require the expensive PS or the separate Lr each $800+ and $800+ for each full update. My T2i with two kit lenses in '10 was $800 but had to use Canon SW to edit, yes photography by a hobbyist was hard. Remember it also was HDR days to get more dynamic range and cartoon images but a $80 program Photomatix got it done fast with deghosting before PS. image 1 using the filter app on A7S, 2. ghosting of a moonscape using T2i and promote control, 3 de ghosted HDR. Today the phone camera can do most all. Ever see a camera in a pawn shop, probably not worth the time anymore! Remember 8MP point and shoot,4 edited with today's SW faces in USS Arizona oil 2006.

barry cash's picture

Let’s put it this way pay Utubers or give equipment to certain influencers to have them review and use the equipment to produce images and copy that only gives hints as to the potential of what might be possible. Under no circumstances can you show limitations or comment on excluded functions and also say it’s a prototype and you can’t show RAWs. Eluding to the fact that firmware updates will be fourth coming!

Even the iPhone 14 is guilty of this.

All camera manufacturers have done is price fix so they control discounting.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

Those are always annoying, especially the lack of raw files, and in the worse cases, not even a full res jpeg. In some cases the content can border on being completely useless to the average user. For example, sending a consumer ILC to a very high end studio photographer, who then proceeds to literally use the camera along with well over $300K+ worth of broncolor lighting equipment, and while they get some awesome results, it is not a realistic representation of the camera being used from given the target market. Especially considering that the same person was able to get awesome results with a smartphone camera as well. In both cases, it made for a very interesting video, but the results were effectively 95% photographer skill + the best of the best in lighting (along with the skill and knowledge to use it to the fullest), and 5% the camera being used.

Michael Dougherty's picture

Apple is pretty bad at communicating its benefits also. Just saw a Scot Kelby video on tricks with the iPhone. Unbelievable. Tips for blurring backgrounds to slow motion and much more. I didn't know what the "live" mode was for, but I do now.

Mike Shwarts's picture

Press releases like the example are good for alerting sites like this, but no good for getting new customers. Phone makers don't send out press releases only to photography websites. They advertise to the buying public. When was the last time you saw a camera company put out a tv commercial? You have to target those who have never used dedicated cameras to get new customers. You can't expect somebody whose experience is solely with phones to know that dedicated cameras can do things a phone can't do. You have to educate those whose only experience is with phones.

But phones do things a camera can't do. Phones make sharing photos easy, so make it easy to get photos from the camera to the phone easy. Why do I have to jump through multiple hoops to connect my cameras to my phone? It should be as easy as connecting my headphone/earbuds to my phone. Build the app for picking and uploading the photos into the camera. Why should I add a new app for each brand of camera to the phone? And market this stuff to potential buyers and not just those of us who already know this stuff. Educate people. Don't expect everybody to be knowledgeable.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

It is difficult to advertise dedicated cameras in the form of a TV commercial, especially ones not targeted at professionals. The main issue is that people think in relative terms, and the most common sight of a dedicated ILC camera in the media, are super expensive ones. Whether seeing a photographer on TV using a $6500 body, and $12,000 lens, or a a fashion or product shoot using a $30K medium format camera, $10,000 lens, and a massive number of lights and modifiers. They are constantly exposed to the best of the best in terms of ILC cameras, especially when shown on TV.

With that mental image, it can be difficult to then show them a $1000 camera kit, and realistically represent it without venturing into the realm of false advertising, while also avoiding having them be overly disappointed in the output.

Other ways of marketing such products can be in the realm of culture and trends, but that will require building up a large following of people wanting to enjoy the act of photography, to make it more mainstream.

Benoit .'s picture

I don't even know why they should have to compare cameras with phones. To me this falls big time into the urban legends category.
And no, the same way, electric cars are not prone to more fires than gas cars, in fact if people did search instead of repeating things they hear, they would find that there are actually very few fires from car batteries compared to gas cars. In fact, Hybrids are by far much more prone to fires than even gas cars. FYI, I don't own nor have any plan to buy an electric car. What is real about electric car fires is that they can be near impossible to extinguish.

Naruto Uzumaki's picture

The reason for people fearing EV fires the most, is due to how hard they are to out out. Basically the high density sealed batteries when they reach a critical temperature, they undergo a runaway self oxidizing fire, that can sustain itself withing the sealed cell while showing out high pressure flames, thus it is impossible to spray them with anything to immediately stop the reaction.

For example https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/tesla-opens-investigation-car-burst-fl...

Basically the if a gas only vehicle goes up in flames, the fire can be put out in a few minutes. In an EV battery goes critical then you are in for hours of firefighting.

Beyond that, there are unique issues such as fires when exposed to floodwaters. https://nypost.com/2022/10/06/electric-vehicles-catching-fire-in-florida...

With gas vehicles, components near the fuel tank are low current, and have very tight tolerances in terms of the fuse ratings. They are also 100% unpowered when the vehicle is off, thus far less likely to spontaneously burst into flames.
Though there is a risk of gas fires if you have a bad and leaky EGR system where people keep keep ignoring the error codes that are getting progressively worse.

David Blacker's picture

Firstly, how is an interchangeable lens camera better than a high end phone? Better at what? Better at organising your day? Better at getting you on social media? Better at entertaining you with Netflix and games? No. ILCs are pretty bad at all of those things. ILCs are better at just one thing — being cameras. And everyone knows this. Just like everyone knows that a 6.5-ltr V12 Lambo is faster than a 2-ltr four-pot Mazda Miata. Lamborghini doesn’t have to put out a press release on it (and who reads press releases anyway?).

Trust me, no one is buying the latest iPhone 14 Pro Max Supersize Big It Up because they think it has a better camera than an ILC. They buy it for all its great communication features AND it’s great camera. Great for what? Great for social media.

And what sort of camera is great for social media? Something that’s pocket sized, easy to use in a split second, switches from stills to video in a blink of an eye, and doesn’t need half a dozen lenses to get the best out of it. Can an ILC compete with this? A big fat NO. So why try?

So who buys entry level ILCs (we know who buys the upper end ones)? It’s people who enjoy the PROCESS of taking photographs. People who are willing to spend money on a device that ONLY takes pictures after already having spent on a mobile phone. People who like photography, and not just photographs. People who may eventually move up the model ladder to prosumer gear. But ALSO a significant number of people who can’t ever justify forking out the price of even an R6, and are quite willing to enjoy their photography hobby with their entry level ILCs (which are all better than any mobile phone camera), and who will only replace them when they break.

So that’s where Canon, Nikon, Sony, etc need to focus their mass advertising, and they largely do.

The fact of the business is that mobile phones have replaced a significant section of the standalone camera market. It’s almost entirely replaced point and shoots (I really don’t know who buys those anymore). And that’s irreversible. There’s no point wasting money fighting that.

Herbert Poul's picture

There is a difference between marketing and press releases... And reality... It's not uncommon to have dslr photos mixed into those awesome smartphone marketing material .. i guess every brand has done it.. that was the first Google result.. https://www.pcmag.com/news/samsung-busted-using-dslr-photo-to-market-a8-...
Not sure that is the marketing dslr manufacturers should aspire to..

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

Pretty long article to display your cluelessness about what a press release is and what an advertisement is.
FYI, here's is an advertisement that does exactly what you denounce:

https://youtu.be/4bdXsvAjEeI