Magazine Article


Cameras as Consumer Electronics

Panasonic is hardly the first camera maker to offer such choices. But their DSLR goes one better than naming things. It shows pictures on the LCD monitor, to give you a f’rinstance. What sort of colors are standard or dynamic or nature or smooth, anyway? Why bother to speculate? The L1 screen shows a color chart—made up of squares like the old Macbeth card, laid out like a cube—with slightly different color renditions displayed for each setting.

Accidentally or otherwise, Panasonic hit on a sales aid with a dramatic impact. What a way to demonstrate a camera—show the customer its options on its own built-in screen. Why try to define a color setting when you can illustrate it?

Benefits accrue to the customer too, right? Well sure, absolutely, assuming the LCD shows the customer how colors will really come out in paper prints or on computer screens, and assuming that the customer holds the screen at an angle that shows the colors’ true contrast and tint. No one could prove in a court of law that such assumptions are unrealistic, so there, perhaps, you have it—a camera as easy to use as it is to sell.

Nikon takes the idea a step further, with their D40 SLR, boasting of its “visually intuitive interface.” If the wording sounds obtuse, what it will look like to the customer will probably be a wowser. The Pentax K100D has a better-performing 6MP CCD than any Nikon counterpart I’ve tested, but includes only descriptive captions for its menu features—effective, but hardly “visually intuitive.” You can’t really compare picture quality between two cameras at the point of sale, but you can compare their menus. In the game of selling, which trumps which?

End-users could certainly find items like Panasonic’s color cubes and other “visually intuitive” menu features helpful, and survey groups will probably prove it. But by a happy coincidence for some, menu features establish sales points that can become quite pyrotechnic, jazzing up a presentation without Word One about f/stops.

It used to be said, metaphorically of course, that certain cameras could sell themselves. Now it stops being metaphorical, and starts to become literal. How long before cameras will have “push me” buttons, which launch little commercials on their LCDs explaining their features? In the spirit of squeezing the Charmin, they’d invite interested prospects into a physical relationship—keep pressing buttons—and after the commercial, how about a screen of FAQs?

It would be even better than contacting the manufacturer’s website. You wouldn’t even need a URL.

The Other Foot

If it was once true that simple digital cameras were too complex for photo retailers to sell, it’s certainly untrue that advanced digital cameras are too complex for CE retailers to sell.

The very issue that concerned the QuickTake’s sales manager is on the verge of irrelevance. Will anyone, in any store, need to know anything about product performance in days to come? For where computers were alien and mysterious to the masses in 1994, everyone’s computer-literate today. Everyone’s multimedia-savvy, convergence-hip, enjoying the overlapping hybrids coming out. Take the automotive GPS navigation system.

I recently gave a two-week try to a Garmin StreetPilot—not long enough for an in-depth review, but sufficient to find its shortcomings minor and its benefits major. Like the directional signal, windshield-washer, radio, and AC, GPS is becoming standard in cars. For the moment, they’re widely sold to the automotive aftermarket under increasing brand names, at dropping prices, with a spreading array of features bringing them into the photo space.

Harmon/Kardon recently previewed, for example, a touchscreen GPS system with turn-by-turn voice navigation, the usual choice of views (map and “3D Birdseye,” nighttime, and daytime), and a DVD reader so the kids can watch movies in the back when the driver knows the directions. Magellan makes a few models with SD slots, which could mean viewing vacation photos in the back seat, too. Polaroid, a name hardly new to the old photo trades, has a DVD-playing GPS system already, and reps say they will show an SD-reading version at the CE Show.

You’d think anyone who has a photo-processing lab or kiosk would have a movie-playing, photo-sharing, GPS display close at hand. GPS products could become to the video player what the cell phone became to the camera.

What if they showed up at photo specialty? What would the QuickTake manager say then?