Monday, May 19, 2008

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The photography industry is just like the software industry... Recently, a woman came up to me to ask me some questions about her camera. She noticed the Nikon D300 I was using and figured I must know something. She had just bought a Nikon D40 kit with two lenses. She was on vacation and had it shipped to her hotel, so it had literally come out of the box hours earlier. She wanted to know ...

  • Why didn't it show her anything on the LCD on the back when she was taking pictures? She was trying to hold it out in front of her to take pictures.
  • How did you zoom? She'd looked all over for the zoom buttons and couldn't find them. It didn't make sense to her that she would be zooming by rotating the barrel of the lens.
  • When would she use the other lens that came in the kit? And, where was it? Back at her hotel, of course.
There were other things too. The kit had come with a camera bag, which was back at the hotel with the extra lens. A lot of good they were going to do her there. I gave her a bunch of tips she wasn't asking for, and, just as I was suggesting that maybe she should buy a UV filter to protect her lens, she wiped the front of the lens with her sweater. Aargh! I hinted to her that maybe she had bought the wrong camera. Maybe I was too polite.

The D40 is a great camera for its price. It's a great starter DSLR. But not for her. She didn't understand it, none of the advantages of a DSLR mattered to her, and she'd spent twice as much money on it as she would have spent if she'd bought the right camera -- like a Nikon P80 or the Canon S5, or maybe even the Canon SD850 that I got for my kids. They're all great cameras. If you read the reviews of the first two on Amazon, many of the reviewers criticize them for being what they are. They, like the D40 owner, miss an important point: the manufacturers make different models because they have different customers.

Restating the obvious, you should buy the camera that's right for you.

If you're shopping for a camera and don't know what to buy, start by making a list of the criteria that matter to you (e.g., size and weight, zoom, resolution, viewfinder, live view LCD, flip-around LCD, interchangeable lenses, controls and menus, price). Put these in order of importance. Then, rank each of the cameras that you are thinking about by each of these criteria and see which one comes out on top. You may well find that two similar cameras from different manufacturers rank at the top. Then, it's a matter of feel. Try them out. Kick the tires. See which you like better. You can't go wrong with any of the major manufacturers.

There is no "best" product.

The same thing is true in the software industry. Consumers frequently have the perception that a given product or web service is the "best" or that they think that in order to be the "best," a product has to meet everybody's needs. Marketers tend to perpetuate this myth. But it is a myth. A major difference in the software industry is that many companies only offer a single product in a given category (or only one product, period). To get a different product, you have to go to another company.

In the case of Sampa, we have a web service that allows people to easily build private, personal web sites to connect with their friends and families. It's not a floor wax or dessert topping!

If you want to socialize with strangers, go to Facebook or one of the many social networking sites. If you want to send messages to your friends every 10 minutes, go to Twitter. If you want to share all your photos and commune with thousands of other photographers, go to Flickr. If you're a business wanting a web presence to sell things online, go to Ebay, Amazon, or a multitude of other companies. There's no shame in sending a customer to another place where they'll be happier. But, if you want to build that private web site for your friends and family, go to Sampa, because that isn't what Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, etc., do.

There is no "best" product for everyone. If you're a customer, figure out what you actually want to do and pick the product that fits.

If you're a developer, find your customers and meet their needs. If you try to satisfy everyone, you'll satisfy no one.