Why Do Cameras All Have Such Stupid Names?

Why Do Cameras All Have Such Stupid Names?

Sorry, Nikon, but why you ever thought that calling hundreds of different camera models COOLPIX would be a good idea will always confuse me. It's not just Nikon, though; camera names and naming conventions are a car crash of branding and lack of foresight. Why are they all so terrible? And which is the worst?

I’m trying to imagine the board meeting that took place when Nikon came to a decision on what to call a vast range of completely different cameras, some of which have almost nothing in common.

“We have a lot of cameras that we need to name. Any ideas?”

“Instead of calling them all something different depending on their features, why not just call them all by one name? I’m sure that won’t be confusing at all.”

“I like it. What’s your suggestion?”

“Well, I think our customers can take some super ‘cool pics’ with these cameras.”

“That sounds great. What can we do with that to make sure the name sounds, you know, really really cool?”

“Maybe we can use an X and make it all one word. You know, Coooooooolpix. COOLPIX.”

“Genius. I love it. Let’s make sure to use capital letters, too. People really dig capital letters. It's totally down with the kids.”

"Cool. I'll organize some market testing to see what people think."

"That won't be necessary."

Various COOLPIX cameras.

From left to right: the COOLPIX SQ, COOLPIX S500, COOLPIX W300, and COOLPIX B500. Cool.

The problem is that what barely felt cool to middle-aged men in suits in the mid-90s (I’m looking at you, Nikon COOLPIX 100) doesn’t really do so well all of these years later.

Such Rebels

Canon doesn’t exactly fare much better. While it was assumed that European customers would be grabbed purely by combinations of letters and numbers (more on that debacle shortly), Canon decided to take its incredibly conservative branding and make it a bit more hip. In a move that was intended to rage against the machine, the first Canon EOS Rebel emerged in October 1990. Cool. It makes you wonder if there's a badly behaved printer out there called the Canon Hooligan that likes wiping its boogers on the wall of the toilet cubicle, or maybe there's a Canon photocopier provocatively dubbed the Marauder that's a bit of a liability at office Christmas parties. Canon really knows how to stick it to the man, man.

Canon and Leica SL2

These cameras have the same name. It would be easy to confuse them, but fortunately, the one on the left has the word "REBEL" on it in really cool writing.

Across the Pacific, Canon decided that the market would be more suited to the name Kiss instead. Japanse readers can leave their thoughts below on how successful this naming convention has proven over the years.

Rather than uniformly calling bridge, compact, superzoom, travel zoom, and compact zoom all by one name like Nikon has managed with COOLPIX, Canon has sought to sow confusion by different means. As if the seemingly random combinations of numbers and letters weren’t enough (do you want this D30, that D30, a 30D, or a 300D, or are you talking about the 3000D which, by the way, is also called a T100?), they opted to use different conventions for different territories. An EOS 700D is also a Rebel T5i, not forgetting that it’s also a Kiss X7i, depending on where you live. That’s not confusing at all, right? 

Another example: In Europe in 2006, you could buy a 400D. In Japan, that would be the Kiss Digital X, and in the U.S., you’d be buying the Digital Rebel XTi. Now, don’t confuse that XTi with the XT, which in Japan, is the Kiss Digital N. And remember, the 450D is the Kiss F, not to be confused with the Kiss X2, which is the XSi, a camera that was released the same year as the XS. Simple, right? But the XS is also the Kiss F, in case you were wondering.

Canon Rebel T6 and 1300D

Fans of Canon in North America are faced with a stark choice: Buy a camera with the word "REBEL" scrawled in red across the front, or fly to Europe. Tricky. The Canon 1300D and Rebel T6.

Things don’t get much better in the world of PowerShot, which in Japan is IXY, but in Europe is IXUS. Leaving aside for a moment the cringe-fest that is the word “PowerShot,” let’s see how these also vary according to territory. Given that the IXUS 160 is the same as the PowerShot ELPH 160, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the IXY 160 is the same camera, right? Wrong. You’re thinking of the IXY 150. The IXY 160 came out in the same year as the PowerShot ELPH 160, but that is actually the IXUS 165. Obviously.

Fortunately, Canon seems to have since separated IXUS from PowerShot, but I’m not sure that it makes things any less confusing.

The a Six What?

Cybershot is definitely worse than PowerShot (although still nowhere near as bad as COOLPIX), but Sony’s capacity for confusing camera names should not be overlooked. Let's be blunt: the a6x00 series is a fiasco. Any newcomer would reasonably assume that the a6300 is newer and shinier than the a6100, but of course, it’s not that simple, and that's before you consider that there are six different cameras to choose from. Things aren’t quite so bad in the a7 lineup, but if you’re going to split a model of camera into three flavors, to me, it's a bit odd to add a letter to two of those flavors and nothing to the other, especially when you consider that there’s an outside chance that the a7 IV will reach stores ahead of the a7S III.

Sony a6300 and a6100

The Sony a6300 and a6100 in chronological order.

Transcending Barriers of Culture

Perhaps the only manufacturer that comes away with any shred of self-respect is Panasonic, though the marketing blurb may still make your skin crawl. “We coined the LUMIX name [there’s those capital letters again] from the words ‘luminance’ and ‘mix,’ as in mixing things different things together.” This is due to the partnership with Leica, which “transcended the barriers of culture and experience to create something new.” Impressive.

If this gentle portmanteau was any suggestion that Panasonic would apply logic when naming its cameras, you are mistaken. Firstly, almost all of its cameras have the letters DMC in the product name for no apparent reason. There’s a chance that it may stand for “Digital Media Camera,” but it’s still ultimately meaningless and just makes the product lineup harder to digest. In keeping with industry standards, if you thought that the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FP8 was a successor to the DMC-FP3, the DMC-FP5, and the DMC-FP7, you would of course be mistaken. And while the Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ40 was the successor to the DMC-LZ30, it would be reckless to assume that the DMC-FH20 was an upgrade to the DMC-FH10.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH10

The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH20 and the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FH10. One has 14.1 MP Digital Camera with an 8x Optical Image Stabilized Zoom while the other is 16.1 MP Compact Digital Camera with an 8X Intelligent Zoom. Both have the word "MEGA" written on the front. Mega.

And if you’re new to Panasonic’s product range and thought that Sony was confusing, you may wish to take detailed notes when trying to figure out the differences between the GH5, G85, and the GX85. While you’re at it, you’ll need to understand the difference between the Panasonic Lumix G80, the G85, the G81, and the G8. I can give you a hint: they are all the same camera. I mean, if you were making a camera, wouldn’t you also make sure that the version that’s released in Germany gets a different name?

So, Which Is the Worst?

Of course, it’s easy to be critical and even easier with the benefit of hindsight to lampoon camera manufacturers for coming up with these names. There are probably good reasons buried deep in the past — product divergence, market repositioning — that make sense in board meetings but absolutely none out in the real world, certainly not 30 years later.

If you’ve more examples of ridiculous names and naming conventions used by camera manufacturers — such as the Rolleidoscop (thanks Dom Komarechka!) — make sure to leave a comment below. Kodak EASYSHARE Z1015, anyone? Or maybe the Pentax Z-1p/PZ-1p? Name and shame, people!

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24 Comments

Alex Cooke's picture

Hey Andy, I looked through your photos and think you take some really cool pix.

Andy Day's picture

If only they'd been shot on Nikon.

Did you like luminescence mix in them?

Alex Cooke's picture

On a serious note, what if camera companies followed car manufacturers and designated products by year and model name (with trim for capability differences)? The 2020 Canon Entry DSLR or something similar?

Canon Merluva 2020 Restyle. Dual card slots is $397 option. Or Nikon Cin, Nikon Zapeira, Nikon Dertuba, and Nikon Saton DCS Max as a model classes. It would be great.

You mean assigning a bunch of boring alpha-numeric designations since so few companies can be bothered to give their lines real names anymore?

Kirk Darling's picture

According to a Canon Inc exec 'way back when, the Kiss was actually designed for women, which is why it got that name in Japan. Canon US marketers didn't yet think women were a significant target market, so they went a different way.

Tony Tumminello's picture

And the Rebel line of cameras from 1990 also came out with ads featuring the tennis player Andre Agassi who was a rebel in the sense of how he played tennis (and dressed) compared to how it was "usually done" at the time.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK0xFJltVMU

jim hughes's picture

It seems so totally dumb and dated. But I guess we'd have to ask some retailers if having a well known name for "the line" helps sales.

If you really enjoy pain, think back over some of the gag-inducing names for personal computers, that hung on for years. Gems like "Aptiva" and "Pavilion".

Apple Macintosh "Performa", "Quadra", "Centris", "Duo".

The worst isn't even a camera, but the headphones I got for Christmas: a pair of WH-1000XM's. Despite the confusing and ridiculous name, they do rock though.

So how would you name them?

Jesse Merz's picture

Nikon actually screwed themselves over with the Coolpix name. Hardly anyone has heard of the amazing camera that was the Coolpix A, which was basically a more compact version of the very successful Fuji x100 series.

Stephen Strangways's picture

It also makes it impossible to find one now. Searching for a used one on Kijiji or eBay, the results are full of the Coolpix A1000, A900, A10, A300, and, if you didn't use quotation marks, dozens of other cameras the sellers describe as "Grade A"

Jesse Merz's picture

Exactly! The struggle is real!

What bothers me a lot more than camera names is the way sensor sizes are named. Here, I feel I could reasonably expect the name to contain some relevant information, such as the surface area in mm2..🤔

Mutley Dastardly's picture

Let's also talk about FX, DX, EF, EF-S, instead of using the generic term APS-C or Full Frame. The damned thing is that people start using those brand-type-things in more generic conversations. The brand names may even be different between the continents - Canon uses Rebel in the US - but not in Europe. Why on earth do this - it makes finding information so much harder?
Instead of jacking the prices up - they should fire half of their marketting-department for these stupid errors.

The naming confusion is intentional and reasoning misguided in many ways.

I was in camera retail in the 90's when gray market cameras were a problem. (Cameras intended for the European market sold in the US - called 'gray market' cameras - had no mfg. warranty) Besides other marketing reasons, different names in different markets helped identify the intended market for each model. The problem is, the camera companies never provided the consumers with guidance on the naming conventions.

On the marketing side, in the US Andre Agassi and his image of being a rebel resonated. In the 90's the label 'Rebel' probably wouldn't have been a positive brand in the South American market.

But wait! It gets worse. The 90's (and 00's) were also the days of strict minimum advertised price (MAP) enforcement, but stores like Best Buy, Target and Sears demanded lower selling prices on popular camera models. Enter the model 's' versions. The big box stores would get model XYZ and the specialty stores would get model XYZ-s which featured one or two "premium" features that the non-s versions lacked... things like internal, panoramic adapters, red eye preflash. But typically ALL European versions of the model had the same 's' premium features even though the same model had a different name in that market.

There were days when it must have been great to be a gray market reseller. Larger than average profit margins supported by model naming confusion throughout the market. It's no wonder that most cameras had their model name screen printed on the body rather than engraved into it.

Martin Strauss's picture

I actually read the full article ...
what a (funny) waste of time :D

yes Canon is confusing if you go across the globe, but you want naming confusion in North America, look no further than Nikon with their Dxxx line up. D500, D600, D700, D750, D800, seriously. you would think as the number goes higher it's better and newer, but it's not that simple.
D700 is the oldest, then the D800, then the D600, then 750, then 500, then 850. it's like going back to highschool to memorize things just for the sake of memorizing them, with no practical uses.

Andy Day's picture

Lol. I did not know this. That's hilarious.

Rashad Hurani's picture

Do you know who is Dr. Zuiko? and what did he do?

Tasos Molivi's picture

iPhone 1, 2, 3...11, 11X, 15X PRO make some sense. Playstation 1 2 3 4 5 X also.

Nikon D750 and Nikon D7500 (two completely different cameras) DO NOT MAKE AND SENSE AT ALL!!!!!