A quote from dcresource.com comparing compact cameras:

This comparison felt kind of like an auto race where all the cars were missing a wheel

That is, one camera takes good pictures but no other features, another has features but is slow, a third has fast features but poor images, ...

Is this always true? Is there any marketing reason for which it is impossible to have a camera with all basic features at a decent level of quality?

  • Manufacturers will always want to differentiate their products in some way (from their own similar products and those of other manufacturers), the further up the price scale you go, the less compromises you'll have to make. Similarly, reviewers like to differentiate between products. Product X could have a decent level of a feature, but in comparison to product Y it's slower, so that's what the reviewer is going to mention... It doesn't mean it's not functional. This feels more like marketing question than a photography one, is it really on topic here?
    – forsvarir
    Nov 24 '11 at 13:43
  • If a camera came with all the best features and no compromises, you'd be talking Canon 1DX and Hasselblads etc ;)
    – Dreamager
    Nov 24 '11 at 15:42
  • @Dreamager — but those have compromises too — they're obviously large and expensive, and, in the case of medium-format, usually sacrifice speed and high-ISO abilities for dynamic range and low-ISO detail.
    – mattdm
    Nov 24 '11 at 15:49

Of course — there has to be. Are you aware of the saying "Fast, cheap, good: pick two?" Any design has compromises. This isn't a "marketing reason" — it's a basic fact of making products which the market researchers must work from. And when you add the additional constraint that it must be compact, well, something else has to give.

Take a look at my recent long answer on lens design — there are a dizzying number of design compromises to choose between in this part of the camera alone. Since making the lenses interchangeable would increase complexity, size, and expense, that's generally not on the table — although the Nikon 1 and Pentax Q systems are challenging that (as are, to a lesser extent, the mirrorless cameras of the last few years). With interchangeable lenses not an option, that generally means the market demands zoom, and a compact zoom already means a lot of possibilities are given up.

And then there's the sensor, the other most important part of the camera. And features — image stabilization, viewfinder, LCD screen, controls. A camera company could decide to make all of these things awesome, but the cost would be astronomical.

The link you gave is to a class of camera with even further constraints: these are ultra-zooms with GPS. That means a certain size and form factor, and competition is going to be over the amount of zoom and features related to that (including, probably, ruggedness, since the GPS implies travel). And this market niche seems to have a price point of around $300; going over that would require something really special versus the competition, and if that specialness is not easily visible on the features summary at Big Box Electronics Store, consumers are going to balk.

There's a huge market for cameras, though, so if you're really interested in quality over price (and generally, over ultra-zoom), there's a re-emerging class of high-end compacts, including the Fujfilm X10 (not to be confused with the X100), the Canon S95/S100, and Olympus XZ-1. And in the last few months, camera companies released a couple of interchangeable-lens systems which compromise on sensor size in exchange for size — Nikon 1 and Pentax Q. These are priced in a way which has made many armchair industry observers blink. And, while deciding to use a small sensor, they're choosing other compromises other than cheap and betting that there's enough people interested that it'll work.

  • Perhaps you meant "Nikon V1" or even "Nikon 1" (which would include J1) instead of "Nikon V"?
    – Imre
    Nov 24 '11 at 15:23
  • Probably I did. :)
    – mattdm
    Nov 24 '11 at 15:30
  • My price target is indeed $300 and I wonder why Nikon can't make a sensor/processor as good as Canon's (and viceversa for features)...
    – Don
    Nov 26 '11 at 12:20
  • 1
    @Don: that particular compromise may be because Nikon buys sensors rather than making them — not that Canon necessarily makes the best sensors, but it may influence the pricing decisions. But there are certainly other factors as well. Unlike a larger-sensor camera, the sensor probably isn't the most expensive component, at least not by much.
    – mattdm
    Nov 26 '11 at 13:23

Quality, features, price - pick any two.

You can of course build a camera without any compromises; that has the best quality and is full of features, but it would be much more expensive than the cameras it had to compete with. It would not sell very well, as the segment that actually want quality and features at any price is quite small.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.