After yesterday’s post regarding Konica-Minolta’s exit from the photo business, there are some things to mention about brands. Both Konica-Minolta and Sony are recognizable brands which may be interpreted differently by various people.
Sony is known by many as a quality producer of stylish electronic goods. By many others, Sony is known as an over-priced brand which favors style over substance and encourages the proliferation of proprietary technology. This is known as the Sony-tax: after buying a Sony digital camera, you buy Sony Memory-Sticks and Sony Info-Lithium batteries which are all priced higher than equivalent items from other brands. To some extent, both these views are true.
In general, there are two ways to see brands. A brand can be seen as quality seal for a company or as a reputation for excelling at a specific type of products. The difference lies in what people expect from a brand. Some people will buy a TV from Sony but not a camera because they don’t think that Sony knows much about cameras. Thinking that if Sony can build quality TVs, they can build quality cameras, some will buy anything made by Sony.
Brand recognition is a strange thing, particularly with digital cameras. A digital camera is a very complex piece of technology. Digital camera components include: sensors, lenses, LCD displays, EVFs, image-processors, memory-controlers, shutters, mechanical buttons and more. How many companies can produce all these elements? Probably none. The closest at this time is Canon. So when we buy a digital camera, we buy from many companies, even though the camera features only one brand!
Casio produces digital cameras, but what do they know about cameras? Pentax is better, right? After all, that is a real camera company. It turns out that Casio knows something about cameras: that Pentax makes good lenses. Pentax also knows something about digital cameras: Sony makes good sensors. Samsung found out that Pentax makes good cameras, so they rebadged them, only changing the label.
What is better, a Leica digital camera or a Panasonic? Leica knows more about optics, Panasonic knows more about electronics, but a digital camera requires both. The answer is neither, since Leica digital cameras are identical to Panasonic ones. Why? Panasonic knows that Leica makes good lenses. Leica knows that Panasonic makes good electronics. Indeed, even companies have to recognise each other’s brands, that is why Sony uses Carl-Zeiss optics.
Who would doubt the quality of a Nikon camera? After all, it is one of the biggest camera brands. How about a Mitsubishi camera? Some may complain that Mitsubishi should stick to what they know and keep building cars instead of cameras. There is a catch though: Mitsubishi has been making cameras for decades since they own Nikon! They could decide any day that all their brands would become Mitsubishi. Then, many unrelated things would appear under the Mitsubishi brand. Would that change anything? Not at all.
So what does a brand mean? Very little, nowadays. In the end, what is important is the performance of specific products. That is why review sites are so popular. After all, it is hard to tell who really made a product and numerous companies have demonstrated that they can make both good and bad products.