In 2019, Canon did something weird: they crowdfunded a camera that no-one wanted. 18 months later, the reviews are largely terrible and you can now buy it for almost one third of its original price. What happened with the Canon IVY REC?
Bizarre name, odd launch, weird camera: the IVY REC was Canon’s first (and possibly only) “activity camera,” which you might recall looks a bit like a large USB memory stick with a plastic carabiner at one end. Its main characteristics are that there’s no viewfinder, no screen, and very few buttons, but it’s waterproof, shockproof, and you can clip it to things. Quite who this was designed for is not clear, but you may recall that Canon went with bright colors and young people for its marketing, so you might assume that they were going after teenagers who don’t like smartphones. That’s a small crowd.
The choice to crowdfund was also an oddity. Normally, platforms such as Kickstarter and GoFundMe are the domain of start-ups and small companies, with the likes of Peak Design and WANDRD using it to bankroll the production of tripods, straps, and bags. Excited by the prospect of an innovative new product, people often forget that crowdfunding is effectively a form of gambling, and there have been plenty of instances in recent years of investors coming to realize that their magical new battery might be little more than a plastic box while the photo of the CEO of this energetic new company is lifted from a stock library.
Investing in Canon seemed a safe bet by comparison, but you have to ask why Canon opted to go this route. Did it not have the funds to develop the product? Or did it have so little faith in the idea to the extent that it was reluctant to put its own money behind it? The crowdfunding campaign delivered a product, but going by the reviews, it appears to have delivered something awful.
Countless Excoriating Reviews
Comments on the IndieGoGo page are not kind. “The photo quality is garbage,” writes one frustrated recipient, adding, “This is a total scam.” Another agrees: “What a SCAM. My 1MP camera from 2001 takes better pictures than this – seriously. How about a refund for this landfill?”
They continue: “The picture quality is in line with the cell phone I had pre-2010 and I feel like I wasted my money on a shockproof, waterproof box of electronics.” Another complains that the product description conveniently failed to mention that the video record time is limited to 10 minutes. Furthermore, the footage is not very good: “The video quality is much the same as I’d expect from a basic webcam. I can’t believe this is a Canon product.”
Others are also in disbelief that Canon is capable of producing something of such low quality. “This is the worst camera I have owned since my Phillips Key, which was released in 2004. I’m shocked Canon would release this garbage.”
The list goes on: “This is by far the worst digital camera I have ever owned.” “I have a brand new product that doesn’t work and now I have to pay to ship it off for a warranty repair?” “I love Canon. But Canon IVY is the worst camera ever.” Several customers reported finding it difficult to insert the SD card and others complained that pushing the shutter button was surprisingly difficult. “This device is cheap junk,” wrote one Amazon reviewer who purchased the device after the crowdfunding campaign had been completed. “I can’t believe that it has the Canon name on it. The memory card slot is not aligned so inserting a card is impossible.”
Trust the Brand, 60 Grand
There’s a sense from some of the comments that many were backing the project based on an existing loyalty towards Canon and trust in the brand. 30 Super Early Bird investors were able to buy one camera for $91, 70 Early Birds bought the camera at a price of $104, while 400 remaining investors picked up theirs for $120 — a saving of $9.99 over the camera’s launch price. Canon’s crowdfunding campaign appears to have generated more than $58,000.
Having launched in October 2019, the IVY REC has just been discounted to $49.99, which means that the majority of investors paid more than $70 too much for a camera that’s probably worth even less.
In Canon’s defense, they responded to criticism from backers that were struggling to contact Canon Support, and while it’s rare for investors to see their money again once they’ve received a product, it appears from the comments on the campaign page that some were able to get a refund.
While you can admire many companies for taking risks on innovative products that may or may not prove popular, the IVY REC is a truly bizarre move from Canon. The product itself was a gamble: how many people need a camera like this when they can just buy a rugged housing for their smartphone? This was targeted at a young demographic and kids want to immediately upload photos and footage to social media. The idea that you would shoot on one device and transfer it to another device (very slowly, by all accounts) that you could already have shot it on (and at a higher quality) seems ludicrous.
Back in April 2019, shortly before the crowdfunding was launched, senior executives from Canon spoke to DPReview about some of the new products it was testing that was designed to “co-exist with the smartphone.” They explained: “In addition to the ILC and the compact camera market, we believe there’s a new genre of capturing: a new casual capturing market.”
The IVY REC is an example of how major camera manufacturers are still struggling to understand how to accommodate the impact of mobile technology into their lineup in an era when smartphones have decimated sales. Why Canon thought that the "new casual capturing market" — a.k.a., anyone with a phone in their pocket — would feel inspired by a device that cannot view — never mind upload — images is a mystery. In an era when it’s often easier to send a picture from a fridge than it is from a camera, this is another sign of how big camera companies remain completely baffled by how image-making has changed in the last 15 years. Why is it falling to Zeiss — a company that has never built a digital camera before — to come up with ideas of how to create a digital workflow that isn’t stuck in the previous decade?None of this explains why the IVY REC is such a terrible camera. Like many large Japanese companies, Canon can be incredibly conservative, and you have to wonder if this experimental, doomed-from-the-outset camera was deemed not worth risking with any decent technology. If it’s going to fail, there's little point putting expensive components inside. And perhaps the decision to crowdfund the camera was itself an experiment to gauge customers’ responses and get an idea of how the likes of Peak Design were raising insane amounts of money to bankroll production. Hopefully, Canon has learned that fundamental to a successful crowdfunding project is a product that is truly innovative.
I doubt we'll ever know the real story behind the IVY REC — never mind the Pikachu version that Canon launched just before Christmas last year (yours for $270) — and given the terrible reviews, I can see more discounts in the future. $49 still seems too much, but in time, it might have value as a collector's item as it takes its place in history as the worst camera that Canon has ever made.