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.
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.