I heard that about twenty years ago, it was possible to distinguish the quality of digital cameras based on the type of manufacturer.

Manufacturers of photographic cameras also made good digital cameras, while manufacturers of electronic equipment made bad digital cameras.

Is this statement accurate? And where can I learn more?

Here is a more objective question, if "good" and "bad" is too vague.

There are 4 brands that still produce DSLRs: Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, while Sony and Panasonic have each discontinued their DSLRs in favor of mirrorless cameras. [https://www.neocamera.com/guide_dslr_choosing_brand.php ]

There is a clear split: Canon, Nikon, Pentax and Sigma all focus on photography. Sony and Panasonic both focus on electronics. Did Sony and Panasonic stop making DSLRs because they were of poorer quality, and were therefore less profitable?

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    What is a "good digital camera" and what is a "bad" one? You cannot prove any statement until you define those things. – Zenit Sep 11 '17 at 14:16
  • @Alex.S Thank you, I have expanded the question to make it a little less subjective. – Akim Sep 11 '17 at 14:35
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    Well, I wonder why the author in your quotation claims that Sigma is still in DSLR market. The only available (and not in all markets) Sigma DSLR (SD1) was introduced 2010 (7 years ago!). And they never had more than one DSLR in their range at a time. So i wouldn't ven say they really were in DSLR market. Sigma has twice as much mirrorless cameras now and even more compact cameras. – Zenit Sep 11 '17 at 14:59
  • @Alex.S They may not be very vigorously in the market, but they do still list the SD1 Merrill as being available on their website, and you can buy it new from camera stores. – mattdm Sep 11 '17 at 15:16
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    Considering that Sony bought Minolta in 2006, I think you'd have to consider them to be solidly in the "camera manufacturer" camp. – Caleb Sep 11 '17 at 20:43

I'm going to start with your specific question:

Did Sony and Panasonic stop making DSLRs because they were of poorer quality, and were therefore less profitable?

Flat-out no. Both of these companies made top-notch, well-received and well reviewed DSLRs. However, it's a very competitive and harsh market, and both companies decided to not fight over third or fourth place as DSLR makers and instead to focus on mirrorless cameras, which they both make today. Other companies, like Samsung, decided to leave off making interchangeable lens cameras entirely — again even though their cameras were well-reviewed.

If we're primarily using DSLRs as the example, twenty years ago is too far to go back, because the breakthrough consumer-priced DSLRs didn't arrive until after the turn of the millennium. But let's look at some reviews from fifteen years ago, in 2002 and 2003:

Only Olympus gets less than highly recommended, but the review is still positive overall, and by 2005 the Olympus E-500 EVOLT also achieved the "highly recommended" designation.

Sony and Panasonic aren't on this list because they didn't make DSLRs 15 years ago, let alone 20 — they both entered the market in 2006 with the "highly recommended" Sony Alpha DSLR-A100 and "recommended" Panasonic Lumix DMC-L1. I think that it's most likely that it's this late entry to the market that made the biggest difference, not something fundamental in quality. They decided they'd instead move to the mirrorless area, where Canon and Nikon still don't have particularly compelling options.

You offer the hypothesis that Panasonic and Sony backed off of photography because they're primarily electronics companies rather than camera companies. I think this isn't the case for two reasons. First, they haven't backed off of photography at all — they've simply backed off of one camera technology branch but make very serious offerings on another. Second, Fujifilm and Olympus are both camera companies that used to offer DSLRs but have also taken this path. I think that suggests the issue is market-related, not something to do with the companies themselves.

Sigma is on your list as currently making DSLRs, which I guess is technically true, since you can buy an SD1 Merrill new, but that camera was introduced in 2012 and hasn't been updated — Sigma too has really decided to focus on mirrorless.

In general all of the big brand camera makers made and make excellent cameras, although the state of the art twenty years ago was far behind what it is now and none of the offerings would live up to what we expect from a budget entry-level consumer camera today. I don't think, though, that any left the market because they couldn't keep up with technology. It's true that especially during those early rush years of digital cameras it was sometimes the case that Nikon's newest offerings outclassed Canon, or vice versa, or another company, but it's never been a landslide sort of thing nor something where there's been a permanent advantage.

That said, there's something to be said for sticking to one of the recognizable brands, whether the big-two Canon or Nikon; general electronics giants like Sony, Panasonic, or Samsung; or one of the smaller but legitimate camera companies like Fujifilm, Olympus, Pentax, or Sigma. This isn't a risk for DSLRs, but for compact cameras twenty years ago, you definitely could go wrong buying a $100 generic digicam from Sakar or other companies that specialize in cheap generic Chinese-import electronics.

  • Thank you for the detailed answer. Perhaps this perception arose from the presence of many cheap electronics companies in the market at the time. – Akim Sep 11 '17 at 14:59
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    I think it's most likely that it arose from hyperpartisan online fan communities arguing that their chosen brand is the best. – mattdm Sep 11 '17 at 15:04
  • @mattdm Twenty years gives us the Mavica FD5...so maybe not too far. – user50888 Sep 11 '17 at 15:18
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    @mattdm The edit to be DSLR specific made by request may be detrimental to the overall quality of the site because it tends to encourage an assumption common to the site that pushes questions about photography in general toward answers that can be given in terms of 35mm like SLR camera systems. That's probably a discussion for Meta if it needs to happen. But shaping questions to the type of 'serious photography = 35mm DSLR' answers the site likes to give may not be an ideal trend. – user50888 Sep 11 '17 at 15:51
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    @benrudgers , mattdm, thank you for discussion. my question was not specifically focused on DSLRs. I included the citation secondarily -- in response to a comment -- to make the question less subjective. – Akim Sep 11 '17 at 16:02

Arguably [and on the internet, what isn't] the best and most successful of the early digital cameras were the Sony Mavica FD series. Floppy disks solved the problems of storage and data transfer in a very practical way because most computers had 3.5" floppy disks. The camera ergonomics were reasonable and familiar for people using point and shoot 35mm compact camers.. The optical quality acceptable given the limitations of CRT computer screens (1024x768 was good) and the speed typical of residential networks (56k baud) twenty years ago when they were introduced. And they were fairly affordable for ordinary amateur photographers, the first sold for about $600 US.

Of course by successful, I mean that people bought them and used them and published and printed their images. There were "better" cameras but none were as easy to use or as widely used. The Mavica FD's are what built Sony's consumer camera business.

  • "...by successful, I mean..." - but, you don't use that word anywhere in the first paragraph... perhaps replace the word "best"? ;) – junkyardsparkle Sep 11 '17 at 17:46

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