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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41 Comments

Previous comments
Greg Silver's picture

I honestly don't understand brand loyalty. I'm focused on getting the best tool for the job regardless of brand.

Brand loyalty is so 80s where everyone was so insecure that they tied themselves to brands to give them an illusion of self-worth.

Right now I like Sony because of their technology and features to help me take a photo the way I want to. If vast improvements are made with other brands and Sony starts to slack, then I'll start heading in a different direction.

You only hurt yourself being loyal to a brand. Where are those photographers who were loyal to Samsung or Polaroid?

David Arthur's picture

I think the brand rivalry was stronger when the biggest brands offered pretty much the same thing. There was almost always a Nikon and a Canon that were pretty much the same thing so you picked one brand and went with it. Now you have Nikon and Canon with pro level DSLRs, but you have Sony full frame mirrorless, fuji amll frame mirrorless, fuji medium format, phase medium format, and a bunch of other varying options. The rivalry war has switched to format wars. DSLR v Mirrorless for example.

Venson Stein's picture

Fuji and Sony users fight each other like Democrats and Republicans do.

Nick Radcliffe's picture

Initially, I was brand loyal for familial reasons. My dad shot with Canon. He was at every marching competition of mine, lugging that thing around with the bulky bag banging against his side. It didn't look appealing to me at the time.

Flash forward to a few years later, I was gifted a canon and a nifty 50. It was more about being bought in to the system. I could have sold it for another brand, but I didn't know any better. All I knew was that I wanted to create images with a shallow dof - again, I didn't know any better.

It was a bonding thing for me, but as I progressed in my tech career, I had more money to invest in the glass that was best suited for my tastes - landscape and concert photography. I was just happy to shoot and enjoyed the form factor of the Canon dSLR's I owned. I couldn't get the hang of Nikon although I thought their colors and res were superior.

After a few years of investing in one system's glass, the barriers to entry to another brand didn't make sense unless there was a huge jump or perhaps my taste would change. Eventually I dumped the canon for Fuji's X-T2. Smaller, retro, less threatening lenses and body led to better portraits and street shots. I was traveling more for work and it was perfect to grab on the way out of the hotel room. At home, Fuji's low light performance wasn't cutting it for my concert shots. I had shot concerts with my Canon and Sigma lenses and missed the full frame experience. That, and the Lightroom Fuji worming was out of control. I didn't stick long enough to course correct. I jumped to Sony A7 RIII.

It went from a tribal thing to a question of cost, capability, and longevity. The Sony wasn't going to kill my back, I could easily convert what glass I still loved, AND I knew this model's capabilities would last me longer than Canon or Nikon who seemed to come out with model updates where the only metric that seemed to significantly change was the price.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Cameras are not a team. They never were.

C Fisher's picture

Brand loyalty is for people that have no identity and feel the need to attach themselves to brands to give themselves a sense of importance. In a sane world brand names don't matter, specs do.

Jason Connel's picture

Look its real simple for me. I'm having a mid life crisis. I sold all my Canon gear. Bought Sony. Got rid of my MAC and got a PC.

In all seriousness. My personal gear has always been Canon. I go way back. I was shooting sports with my Canon F1N back in the day when 5 FPS was so fast!

I got tired of Canon up charging for little features to go from one camera to the next. I like Sony's approach. Three cameras different sensors, ALL the features. With Canon's camera launch into mirrorless it was more of the same was obvious.

So I switched and I can't be more happy with all the Ziess glass.

Ed C's picture

Then there are some of us who don't chase shiny new toys. We are comfortable with the controls and menus of the systems we use so we don't feel some artificial need to chase something else. Some of us don't even feel the need to brag on or defend any brand.

For me it has never been about brand loyalty at all. It is about me not liking the controls and menus of other systems I have had the chance to try.

David Morales's picture

Easy answer: The Internet happened. All arguments circle back to that in its base form.

Bokehen Photography's picture

For me, I'm tired of the crappy image quality as offered by Sony, Fujifilm and a not so user friendly interface on those cameras I was stuck with buying. I've been a Nikon person since about 90's but when I was hit by a car (head on) I couldn't find a camera suited for my hindrances. Though the Nikon AW1 camera extremely close. I would still like to call myself a loyal Nikon owner but only if they would recreate the AW1. Because they didn't hear my plea, I switched to Canon's M6 though it could have been the M100. I just need a small camera that allows for multiple/wide range of lenses.