Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I'm trying to make your next new top-end camera work much better. I need help doing so.

I'm seeking to contact someone as high up the command chain as possible in the Sony electronics /camera organisation. Phil Molyneaux would be ideal (in his new role is still fine). I'm exploring the various 'publicly accessible' options. Nobody (including Sony) make such things easy (for obvious reasons (eg people like me may knock on their door).

If anyone can provide assistance in this or suggest how it can be achieved please advise -

  • I have a proposal for an improved camera interface applicable to top end digital cameras that will radically improve their overall "usability" in situations that might benefit from speed of accessing or changing camera settings 'under fire' (wildlife, sport, wedding, press, ...)

  • Trying to take such proposals in 'by the front door' in major organisations is a difficult and uncertain process.


Edited: I added some update comments here but they will be no more welcome to some than the question-proper , so I made an image of them and
additional comments and material may be viewed here if desired - dpollit and Olin get honourable mention :-). Many thanks to others as well (too many to mention - both answers and comments are good). It's all been useful. FWIW voting is +3 / -4 at present. More balanced than I may have expected.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Caleb, jwenting, Paul Cezanne, AJ Henderson, John Cavan Mar 7 at 14:29

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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Share us your idea and you'll know soon enough if it is really as good as you think it is. –  Rene Feb 27 at 8:31
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BTW, most manufacturers read my reviews of their stuff. The thing is they probably read dozens of others, so your best chance I think is to have your ideas repeated by lots of people. Eventually, a manufacturer may decide to do something because there is demand. –  Itai Feb 27 at 14:47
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If your question is worth answering, it's worth leaving here -- don't pose questions with the intention of deleting them after a day or two. (Indeed, SE won't let you delete a question that has answers.) Conversely, if you intend to delete your question after a day or two, this isn't a good place to ask it. –  Caleb Feb 27 at 21:54
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I've downvoted this as it doesn't really fit the .SE Q&A format. What bothers me is that a respected user of the community knowingly posted a "bad" question and gets away with it. If a new user would've posted this (I expect that) he would be redirected to the FAQ/help and or downvoted into oblivion. I think it's unfair that the high rep of a user changes the way the community reacts on such a post. –  Bart Arondson Feb 28 at 0:12
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"I KNOW it's good", right... So does every kid with another ludicrous idea that's been rejected a thousand times before because it's useless. –  jwenting Feb 28 at 7:39
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5 Answers 5

Andrea at SAR has plenty of contacts within Sony.

They wont listen to you though. Large companies have extensive procedures and policies relating to design which is why it takes so long and the results are such a mess.

Your best bet would be via some up and coming camera manufacturer like Blackmagic, or do it yourself (or by partnering with a developer) by hacking on the of Samsung's Android based compacts.

You could also talk to the Magic Lantern team, they're the closest you'll get to being able to get code running on actual top of the range DSLRs.


Spamming executives with "ideas" is unlikely to produce results. Starting a company, producing actual prototypes and hoping to be bought up is much more fruitful.

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" ... won't listen to you though ..." is precisely why I want to get the idea into the hands and brains of eg Phil Molyneaux. I've read transcripts of interviews with him and can see that he would instantly understand what this system does, why it is needed and useful and why it is especially relevant to Sony. It will work with all top end cameras and with the majority of lower end ones with diminishing returns in some cases. It is about zero capital cost, negative cost in some cases and makes a camera sing in your hands like nothing you have met. Transformational really. I've ... –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 10:57
    
... done rough software simulations but, more usefully, have on many occasions imagined I had it working in my camera in a given situation and "operated the controls accordingly" [both mentally and actually to get a proper feel for it]. Transformational. Really. Where do you want to go today? Your camera is there already. It will do anything it can do essentially instantly. Transformational. (I could swear I'd said that already :-) ). | But, no, I do not have any desire or ability to 'go it alone' in this area. And nobody else is going to give me an A99 and CZxxx to go on with :-). Phil ????? –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 11:01
    
@RussellMcMahon You could tweet \@PhilMolyneux but I doubt he runs his own twitter or reads PMs. –  Matt Grum Feb 27 at 11:54
    
I've read the various responses with interest and tried to be sure I don't gloss over things. I agree with just about everything that has been said - but I largely did so before I started. Which is why I wanted to contact Phil Molyneaux if at all possible. I "know" that about 5 minutes of his time would either result in a "go away" or a "lets talk". I've read transcripts of interviews with him and I know he knows what it takes to do things hands on. I also in part contradict with my concept a direct technical statement he made about camera controls - and I believe I could convince him .... –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 14:53
    
... in a few minutes that in fact I'm correct :-). | Yes it sounds utterly utterly crazy. | Yes it sounds totally impossible that everyone has missed such a major gain for so long. | Yes. I still believe it. | When I said nature photography I was including it in "almost real time". Not the sit and wait and time the moment wity set settings but the two Peregrines diving and play fighting, The Otter in and out of the water, the sudden changes in and out of deep shadow - times when auto xxx is not enough and you want to change ISO or aperture or white balance or flash or memory recall or xxx .... –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 14:57
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I expect that a company gets attempts like this every day. And most of them are totally useless crazy ideas. Your idea very well may be the exception, but odds are — speaking impersonally — it's not. That's why the system which makes it difficult to speak to anyone exists. It is protection.

Additionally, if the idea is as great and inevitable as you suggest, they may actually be working on something similar. Talking to an outsider would be not just complicated, but downright dangerous, as you might later use the meeting as evidence that the idea was stolen.

So, I really think that what you want to do is out. Instead, go for one of these:

  1. Implement it yourself. If it can be done as a smartphone app, the bar is pretty low. I know you are an engineer, so even if some hardware changes are needed, you might be able to prototype a self-built Android-based platform. Once you've got a prototype, use Kickstart to launch. Once you have a success like this, you'll have a chance of getting someone to pay attention.
  2. Pitch it to someone smaller. If it can be done as an app, then talk someone at SmugMug about putting it into Camera Awesome. Or find someone else with successful hardware experience and (literally) sell the idea. If the idea is amazing as you say, it shouldn't be hard. This one probably won't make as much money, but when you factor in that it's a lot more likely than convincing Sony, the net result may be better.
  3. Go open. Put together a presentation of the idea and post it on a website, with patent grants and whatever else. You definitely won't get rich, but maybe someone will pick up the idea and you can change the world.

As a final note, Jim Malcolm, the executive vice president in charge of Pentax USA has been periodically scheduling phone calls with regular users. It's not Sony, and it's not Pentax/Ricoh in Japan, where the engineering is, but I think he really is willing to listen, and you might be able to use that as a springboard.

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spot on. First paragraph says it all. –  jwenting Feb 28 at 7:40
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Russell, large companies like Sony do not work the way as you would expect. They have executive planning, and they usually respond to already existing needs gathered from the field. The larger a company and the more shareholders are there, the more conservative approach they take.

So your options are:

  • You patent, you create a prototype, you create a startup, and they bring the money when they see it addresses a customer need. You will have to find startup partners, capital, etc. This is risky. Many startup fails not because of bad ideas but because of lack of understanding HOW to run a startup. Also, a startup in photo/electronic/gadget needs a huge load of capital, because in a year the Chinese copy it, and by that time you want your investment back at least.
  • You use social engineering skills to approach Sony executives. This means party/meeting guys from the bottom/going from people to people, getting closer and closer until you are a good friend of one executive. Well, this is not unworkable, but definitely needs a lot of time and money again. He will listen to you, but there is a lot of inertia in a big company, so closing one executive for this is not enough.
  • You find a startup or small company which you can sell the idea to. You will not see too much money from this, and you lose control over your invention.

In general, the first option is the most workable IF you are very persistent, a good leader, willing to learn tons of about management, handling people, sales, presentations AND if you have sufficient money.

The other two is tougher. Especially putting all your bets on talking with a Sony executive.

I have been working in small, medium and large corporations, conservative and bleeding edge, and have been an entrepreneur for 22 years. I have at least 100 inventions in the drawer which have not even been patented. (I also have patents though ;-).

My advice: instead of going to a large corporation, or actually any corporation, meet investors. They will take a considerable share of your profit, but they will give you enough momentum to show up on the radar. And then approach small to medium sized companies.

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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:

  1. The competition is doing it, and we think we're losing sales because of it.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

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See comments I've placed on my question. I agree with all you've said more or less. But I'll not be doing it the "logical" way. Too much to do, not enough life available. Off to India in 8 days and another major proposal to get in plus getting ready. Agh ... ie I need to find a way past the months and years inertia of "the system". I need 5 to 10 minutes of PM's time. No more than 5 if I must. REally clunky software emulation is a good start but best is just holding a camera and describing how it would work. 'You'll see' :-) | .... –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 15:07
    
... Then there is the walking thingy I want to persuade Honda that they want to know about :-) [That being one of the areas they like to play in]. Then ... :-. TBD. | Camera patent will hopefully be filed 'about now'. We'll go from there. –  Russell McMahon Feb 27 at 15:10
    
heck, direct brain control would mean more missed and badly exposed shots for most people as the camera compensates for their errors. –  jwenting Feb 28 at 7:43
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Have you tried simply emailing Phil_Molyneaux@sony.com? I don't know that the address is in fact his, but it is worth a try to see if it bounced back or not. Some executives have been known to commonly interact directly with emails from customers, such as Steve Jobs. This is no guarantee but obviously takes very little effort to try with a few different address combinations.

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any larger than trivial company will have all email to its execs routed through a team of screeners to filter out the fluff. And silly suggestions from end users claiming to have found a brilliant new feature are fluff, large companies get thousands of those a week. While you may think Jobs directly interacted with customers, most likely it was a team of people assigned just for that writing those replies and just signing his name in the vast majority of cases. People like that are far too busy to spend their days chatting with end users. –  jwenting Feb 28 at 7:46
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I do 'like' the way jwenting has gone around many of the answers dropping in the same negative comment in slightly altered form. More into will be provided when it's 'safe' to do so. –  Russell McMahon Feb 28 at 9:34
    
@jwenting - I work for a $12 Billion Net Rev/yr company and that is not the case for them. Your assumptions are incorrect. –  dpollitt Mar 1 at 20:57
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