There is a recent trend in digital cameras with manufacturers adding features after a model has been released via firmware updates. The most notable example of this is Fuji with their KaiZen updates. Fuji has gotten a lot of praise for this practice, and now other manufacturers are following suit. While this trend has generally gotten a lot of positive praise for manufacturers listening to their customers, I can’t help but play devil's advocate here and present the somewhat cynical counter argument:
Are manufacturers trying to apply a variation of the subscription model that has been so successful in software to cameras? Shouldn’t manufacturers release cameras that are fully functional to start with?
Now I just want to be clear. I’m just presenting this as a counter argument. I’m not necessarily saying that I agree or that this is where I stand, except in the specific case I outline below. I just think it’s important to hear both sides of this argument.
Take Fuji for example. When the X-Pro 1 was first released, I was one of the first people to buy it. While it was an ok camera that received a lot of acclaim from a segment of the market that wanted a low-cost digital rangefinder, it had some serious issues with stability and functionality. It would lock up, the focus was slow and often inaccurate. Fuji released several updates over the course of the cameras life that added functionality and fixed the issues. I never agreed with the widespread praise of Fuji for this. In my opinion, they released a camera that had what amounted to beta firmware. I felt at the time that when you buy a camera, you should be buying it for what it was there and then, not what it might be a year down the road. And yet, it seems this idea of releasing a camera and then improving it later seems to have taken off.
Since then Fuji has continued this practice, and while the cameras that they release now are much better to begin with and don’t have the stability issues of the first generation, they are still adding features later, some of which, it could be argued could probably have been in the cameras to begin with. But I don’t want to get hung up on Fuji here. Most Fuji shooters appreciate Fuji for adding value to their cameras over time, and they have created a reputation for this that Fuji shooters (Of Which I’m one) seem to really admire the company for. They do seem to genuinely want to continue development over the course of a camera’s life.
I’m more concerned where this trend could be heading.
Other manufacturers are starting to do this now too, but are being more blatant about it. Panasonic’s GH5, for example, was released with a roadmap for future updates. So basically you buy the camera now, and it will have all of its features in a few months to a year. This doesn’t seem right to me.
And then there’s Canon. Canon released the 5D Mark IV last year to a lot of criticism, specifically about the video features. Now, there are rumours of a big firmware update that will address a lot of those issues. Given the size of what’s rumoured, I would imagine that this isn’t something that was dreamed up over night and probably took considerable development time. So it begs the question: did Canon release a deliberately limited device with the intention of improving it later to prolong the lifespan of the camera and the press wave that would come with it?
Again, I know this is a cynical take, and I don’t necessarily even think that this is the case myself (I don’t know what to think, to be honest). However, given how loudly the photography press has praised Fuji for its firmware updates and called for others to do the same, I can’t help but see that there is at least the possibility that this is Canon jumping onto the bandwagon. Or it could simply be that the sales of the 5D IV were underwhelming and this is the company trying to address those issues. However, on the other side of the argument, if the rumoured features are true, then it does seem as if the hardware was deliberately limited to begin with.
I don’t know, maybe I am too cynical for even thinking that this is a possibility.
(And yes, this is based on a rumour, but the leaks in the Camera industry are so widespread and translucent, that everyone seems to assume that this is going to happen)
Either way, I’m not sure the practice of adding features after the fact is as pro-consumer as many are making it out to be. While in some respects it absolutely is good that an owner of a camera is getting new features, I don’t think its entirely altruistic on the part of the manufacturers. I believe that there are specific business and marketing decisions behind this too, and ignoring those may be okay now, but if this becomes a trend it could be a real issue in the long run.
I’m sure I’ll be heaped with criticism and scorn for writing this, but the point of this was to raise a discussion. I wanted to put the other side of the argument out there, whether you agree with it or not. I’m not sure where to stand on this myself, but I can see that there are two sides of the debate, despite the current glow of positivity around companies who do this.
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