What the Hell Happened to Brand Loyalty?

What the Hell Happened to Brand Loyalty?

There was once a time when Canon and Nikon users warred like zealous tribes and the act of switching made you a heathenish deserter. Now it's just par for the course. So what happened to brand loyalty? Did it ever really exist?

I remember when I got my first camera, I was ushered in to a brand's ecosystem by chance. Having mentioned in passing that I'd always wanted to learn photography and get a DSLR, a gentleman I knew guided me through the second-hand purchase phase. He found a good deal on a Canon Rebel XT, a kit lens, and a 50mm, and he sent me on my merry way. It was a little like how banks want children to open their first account with them as opposed to their rivals; it's not that they child is valuable to them now, but typically don't switch banks when they're older as it's too much effort. Once they have you, you have bank loyalty quite by accident.

It wasn't long before I was a fully fledged part of the "team", with my tongue firmly in my cheek, digging and poking at Nikon shooters for being "lesser". As my experience grew, I became more and more aware that there really wasn't much between the two brands. Nevertheless, it would be too much trouble and expense to move, and there didn't seem to be much point anyway. Then, three innocuous and incidental minor events happened all within a few months of each other, only a handful of years back.

The first was that I shot film for the first time. Well, I'd shot on it before, but not as a "photographer". I bought an old SLR from the 70s, a few rolls of film, and I took it to the Lake District in England. My results weren't mind-blowing or revolutionary, but I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. I hadn't used a Canon (rather a Praktica) and my loyalty — for want of a better word — slipped as I questioned the photography world as told to me by Canon.

The second event was an initiation to meet with Leica and try their cameras, familiarize myself with their brand, and learn. It was my first time experiencing EVF (Electronic Viewfinder), and that really was a profound moment. It suddenly felt like my modern Canon was archaic. I couldn't quite believe how useful it was, particularly because (perhaps to save myself money) I had settled on the sense that EVF would be laggy and gimmicky. Wrong.

The third and final nail in my loyalty's coffin was Sony. I tried an a7 model with EVF after naively being in the mindset that Sony were real outliers of the industry and unlikely to challenge the big two. Suddenly, I was holding a tiny but powerful camera body, packed with usefulness, the lackluster lens selection didn't appear to be anywhere near as problematic as it once was, and I could adapt my favorite Canon glass to it anyway. So I did what I thought I'd never do, and I jumped ship.

This time around I didn't feel as emphatically aligned with my new overlords. The difference between my old camera and new camera was substantial, and I love my a7 III to this day, and I would — and indeed have — recommended it to others. But I was some way off wearing a Sony baseball cap and click-pointing at anyone I walk past with a Sony camera. I felt more disillusioned with the whole idea of picking a team. That said, I knew I was in with them for the long haul.

GFX 100 launch at Fujikina 2019, Tokyo.

Except, I might not be. Last month Fujifilm were kind enough to take me to the launch of the GFX 100 in Tokyo, and I was armed with a GFX 50R. It was my first comprehensive experience of shooting medium format, and the good things I'd heard about Fuji were all well-founded. I wrote an article at the turn of the year asking what Fuji have to do to challenge the big three, given their consistency with presenting excellent cameras and lenses to its contingent. Well, in a way, they answered that and have me on the cusp of joining them. Although, I wouldn't be leaving Sony per se. I'd rather have two ecosystems that can distantly interact and fill different roles within my work and life.

It was this final realization that had me wondering: what the hell happened to brand loyalty? Did I ever really have it? Was it just a mirage formed from particles of "it'll cost a fortune to switch" and "I just can't be bothered"? Back a decade or more ago Canon and Nikon shooters had a rivalry didn't they? Has that dissipated, or have I just left the fray? I feel like a man with no nation now, and it's conflicting in itself. It's freeing, that's for sure. I can be selective with where my monies are funneled and reward companies on merit rather than habit. No longer will I wait for Canon to release their next body or lens; no longer will I create an echo chamber of positive feedback for my current camera via owners clubs; no longer will I scoff at other brands. It's just better to be this way, isn't it?

So why do I yearn for a team? Perhaps it's the old human pack animal survival mentality pushing its way to the front, but I want to fly under one flag. I want to be Fujifilm through-and-through, singing their praises to anyone at a BBQ unfortunate enough to tell me they like cameras. I want to bleed green and white (and there's a little bit of red too, but that's normal, I think.) I want to subscribe to RSS feed rumors about upcoming Fuji products. I want to belong. Am I alone? Is it possible to be loyal to a brand these days? Moreover, is it detrimental to have that loyalty? I'm not sure, so for now, I'll continue to kick this ball around in no man's land between the frontlines of Canon, Sony, and Fuji, unsure if I ought to return to one when the full-time whistle sounds, or maintain the role of a triple agent.

Lead image a composite using (the frankly amazing) image by Burst under Creative Commons.

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40 Comments

Jason Lorette's picture

For me...one of the reasons I think we are seeing more people leaping from Canon & Nikon is simply because for so long C&N were the companies on the top of the pile, leading the charge in every way. But then they rested on their laurels, the stopped innovating as much, and just were happy to take the biggest pieces of the pie. But what happened then, everyone else was 'forced' to innovate, and innovate they did and they started to eat into that pie. Sony gobbled that pie, and others are taking bigger bites making C&N sit up and go, hey wait a minute, what's happening? Now they are trying to "catch up" with all those smaller innovators.

Michael Dougherty's picture

The "pie" is also shrinking fairly rapidly. I just read that Samsung is introducing a 64MP sensor for smart phones to compete with Sony. Ugh.

Jason Lorette's picture

Great...more phone-ographers.

Will Murray's picture

Yeah, and "real" photographers only shoot wet plate.

Not sure how phones will ever compete with good glass, no matter their pixel count. They also do pixel binning, so it's not really the same result. Large pixel count numbers to put on ads. Same small form factor limitations. Phones already ate up a good portion of the market, but there will always be a need for talented people with good gear.

C Fisher's picture

Sony has been putting their sensors in Google Pixels for years, it's about time Samsung caught up.

Keith Meinhold's picture

To this day it annoys me that some of my shirts have a logo advertising the brand - I have never been a huge brand loyalty person. I was not a Sony product fan - thinking their TV and other electronics were over rated. I had been a Canon shooter/owner back to the AE-1. Somewhere along the way I was pondering if I wanted to haul out my T2i (after incrementally upgrading over time) on a multi week road trip and decided - I need something smaller. Canon had a capable P&S SH260HS. On that trip the little Canon rekindled my interest in photography. Even so, the JPEG only results were a bit disappointing. I looked to replace it and Canon offered noting light and small that gave me RAW and excellent image quality, so I looked to Nikon...again nothing. About that time Sony introduced the NEX-6 - I was hooked, I could have my cake and eat it too - excellent image quality rivaling much larger and heavier cameras in a small package. Today I shoot Sony and nothing yet temps me to switch, but Canon or any other manufacturer could win me back if they make an advanced leap like Sony did.

Jan Kruize's picture

Did you miss something on your canon?, did you miss something on your sony? Makes the fuji you a better photogrpher? No? Than youre just a person who throws his money in the trashcan.

Kim Bentsen's picture

Why not? There is an ATM on every street corner where you can get some more money!

Jan Kruize's picture

What’s an ATM?

Venson Stein's picture

"Money Machine" From your bank.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Nikon has done nothing to stop or inhibit me doing my work. I'm used to the controls setup and what gets burned to the card and subsequently processed has been my bread and butter for the last 12 years.
I have a handful of cheap Canons for time-lapse boxes as they're cheap and easy to talk to by time-lapse software.
I've had Fujifilm stuff, quite a bit of it, heck I even have. Sony TV. ;)

None of the brands are paying me so if I was one of those switching types that's chasing the newer features, I could.
I don't though, the Nikon kit I use works well, very well, it's reliable and I have a great connection with the company here. If something goes wrong, I have NPS.

Even if Sony/Canon/Fuji/whoever told me they would buy all my Nikon kit and replace it with theirs, I don't see why I would. I really don't. Brand loyalty? No, just happy with what I have an how it works.

Kawika Lopez's picture

I think a lot of people mix up loyalty with close-mindedness. It's one thing to be loyal to a brand for the way it listens to its customers and innovates/adapts to the market. It's a completely different thing to cling to and defend something that you've simply become emotionally attached to.

Is it a case of no brand loyalty or people getting tired of companies showing they do not care about its customers be it firmware upgrades or customer service for issues that pop up with quality control or even listening to what their customers want to see included in the next update. To me I am going to be loyal to a company that gives me the most out of their product and gives me the best service when things go sideways with their product.

I'm still using Canon because of its intuitive interface and my lens collection. But let's face it, their last Oh-Wow introduction was the 5D2, in October 2008. If I were starting out today, I would never go there.

If cameras were more or less at parity, I would stay loyal to Canon because it's so entrenched in my history and identity. But otherwise I don't see any real need for brand loyalty just for brand loyalty's sake.

Ryan Davis's picture

I'm still shooting with the 5d2. It still delivers great images, and nothing since had justified the cost of the upgrade.

michaeljin's picture

Brand loyalty is still there. If you want evidence, just look at the comment thread on any new camera or lens that gets announced.

Robert Nurse's picture

Shouldn't loyalty be a two-way street?

Robert Nurse's picture

Are you in the family? If not, it's still just a business like any other. Canon doesn't owe me a thing. But, if Canon or any other business wants brand loyalty they need to make me want to give them my money. Canon really hasn't done that over the years. They make it expensive to leave like a divorce. But, that's not loyalty, IMHO.

Robert Nurse's picture

I have a 5D Mk III. My dream list of upgrades:

- Focusing points that fill the viewfinder
- Exposure readings from the active focusing point in spot metering
- Double digit fps
- Increased dynamic range

If they pull this off in a the next offering: "Here Canon, take my money!"

As I've said with both computers and cameras: "It's a tool, use whatever tool works best for you.". I don't have any loyalty to one brand or another. Unless a brand is paying me, or giving me gear, I have no obligation to be loyal. I'll use whatever I feel works best for me. Do I prefer one over the other, yes. Do I think about switching? Yes.

David Pavlich's picture

There isn't another camera brand that would give me so much more than my 5DIV that would make me consider switching brands. The best FF camera on the market is the D850, but for me to switch, it would require me to rob a bank. :-) So for me to switch brands, it has to be really good AND I have to have a budget to support the switch.

Yeah, the cost of switching is the only thing keeping me from going to the D850 right now. I would also say that *I'm* the camera companies customer - if anything, *they* are the one that should be loyal to me.

brand loyalty has fallen apart across all markets; cars, cameras, appliances. You were an oval or a bowtie family, a Canon or Nikon, a Maytag or Kenmore. We are no longer brand loyal and everything is disposable or replaceable and will be thrown out with the new wizbang thing.

Motti Bembaron's picture

What happened to customer loyalty?

One of the problems with brand loyalty is when you first buy into a system you may not have a clear idea of what your needs are. Or your needs may change over time.

It's easy to overspend on equipment early on and lock yourself into a platform. Not a good plan but easy to do. That's where I think some of the self imposed loyalty comes from.

When you have $20k invested jumping ship is hard to justify considering the technology leaders aren't really that far ahead of the conservative manufacturers.

I like my Canon stuff but wouldn't hesitate to buy a D850 just to get that extra 5-10% performance, if I had the $$.

Nick Radcliffe's picture

This. I had no idea what I was getting in to when I was gifted a camera. You just stick with it because you enjoy it and you're kinda bought in already.

Some people are fine with trading up or out. Others, like myself, were just happy to be shooting. It took years of practice and experience to figure out what I liked and what I would want from a future system.

Brand loyalty is to blame for fanboy bullshit. No one lies more enthusiastically than a loyalist who wants to seem superior. You'd think people had stock in the company the way they defend them.

Rob Mitchell's picture

It’s peer justification. I spent a pile of cash to change, I now have to tell everyone why.

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