Russell, you've worked in product development long enough you should know how this works. When I first read your question before seeing who wrote it, my first reaction was "LoL, another dweeb who thinks his silly-ass idea is the best thing since sliced bread.". Then I saw who wrote it, and having known you over the internet for many years I would at least be personally willing to listen if I were in the right position. However, none of the apporiate executives in camera companies know you, or more importantly their secretaries don't know you. The secretary that opens your letter will think what I did plus "Fourth one this week. If I had time I'd actually read it. Guess I'll never know what this "great" idea is. Ditch it before the boss sees it. Good thing he's got me keeping the zombies off him else he'd never get his real job done. If only he'd appreciate how much I keep the unwashed masses out of his office...".
I am still skeptical that you have found something that is so revolutionary but yet so obvious that millions of camera users and thousands of camera engineers haven't thought of. My guess is that you have a particularly unusual way of using your camera and this idea would make it great for your particular use case, but it wouldn't help most people. However, I'm willing to listen. Your mention of making nature shots easier has me intrigued, but still skeptical. Most difficulties with nature shots have little to do with the camera. Even if my camera had a direct brain interface and I could make it do whatever I wanted to just with thoughts, it would only make most nature shots slightly less difficult.
If you truly believe you have such a great idea, then filing a patent is the right way to start. Once you have it filed, you can talk about it publicly and get a feeling how much various photographers would like this feature. If you do get broad support for the idea among users, then you can try to pitch it to companies. This needs to be done via personal connections to inside people, else getting past the secretary's zombie filter won't happen.
Larger companies won't want to talk about it until you actually have the patent. That's something they can work with as it clearly delineates what is yours and what isn't. Even then, they will have their existing product plans. Trying to change those, especially by someone outside, is very difficult.
I've been part of or seen the inside workings of a number of large and small companies. Product development ideas just don't come from someone outside like you. Engineering will be pushing to make the same thing cheaper, smaller, faster, or somehow better or using the next generation of technology. Marketing wants the three top knee jerk specs to be twice as good. The sales guys want the same thing at half the price. There are only a few ways truly new ideas turn into a product development effort:
- The competition is doing it, and we think we're losing sales because of it.
- A large customer wants it, and will buy enough of them to justify the product development on its own. No thought required here, just do it. Think Microchip's rfPIC, for example.
- The sales guys consistantly keep asking for a particular feature because they consistantly hear customers asking for it. Eventually sales will push for this internally and get marketing and engineering on board. This takes a while. Initially, nobody takes the sales guys seriously. After all, what do they know. Then marketing and engineering don't take the sales VP seriously. Then even when everyone agrees it's a good idea, engineering already has a committed schedule, so it takes at least until the next budget cycle to get the project started.
- A key articulate, known, and trusted customer makes a good case for a new feature. This is the toughest path, and the idea will need a champion inside the company and some time to get everyone on board. Even then, there will need to be push from other customers, but with the right internal champion at least the question will be put in front of the other customers instead of waiting for them to think of it.
Note that someone from the outside waving a freshly minted patent claiming to have the greatest idea since indoor plumbing isn't on this list.