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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!