Faced with a shrinking consumer market, camera companies have to find various ways to thrive. But Photokina 2016 showed that coming up with something new doesn’t necessarily have to mean reinventing the wheel completely.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Faced with a shrinking consumer market, camera companies have to find various ways to thrive. But Photokina 2016 showed that coming up with something new doesn’t necessarily have to mean reinventing the wheel completely.
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While image stabilization (be it in-body or in-lens) is not new, DJI rocked the photography industry last year with the Osmo – a gimbal and camera combination small enough to be operated handheld via a control stick that gives stabilized photos and video in an incredibly tiny package. 

By taking the knowledge gained from building cameras for their flying drones and applying it to an opening in the film-making community, DJI not only created a new product line, but also proved the commercial viability of such a product to the industry.


One year later, companies like Removu and Feiyu Tech have essentially taken the same concept, added twists of their own, and put them up on display. Whether it’s weatherproofing or the ability to work the camera in both portrait and landscape modes, both companies have added just enough to their products for them to stand as distinct competitors to the Osmo. And that’s without taking price into consideration! 

GoPro even went one step further, creating a drone (the GoPro Karma) with a removable stabilizer system that you can transfer to a control stick. The system of course supports their latest Hero 5 and Hero 5 Session cameras, and the drone has the advantage of folding down small enough to fit into a backpack, thus making it more portable.

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That’s a challenge to DJI on two fronts, but the company has also kept pace with their latest drone and with updates to the Osmo series. There’s now an Osmo for mobile phones and one with a camera that’s equipped with a zoom lens, offering greater versatility than its competition. Meanwhile, the DJI Mavic drone is not only lighter and smaller, but also folds down and comes with its own camera, thus competing not only on performance, but also in terms of value. 

Should we denounce companies for offering their own takes on a product that has proven appeal? In some sense, the very fact that when your competitors start following your lead is proof that your concept (and product) is sound. And that’s when true innovation has to begin, as only by taking a product further can anyone hope to maintain their first-mover advantage.

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The most obvious example of this would probably be the Interchangeable Lens Camera (ILC) category. Other than Nikon and Canon, almost every other camera maker has embraced the advantages of mirrorless, while working on overcoming the earlier perceived disadvantages. 

Olympus, Fujifilm, and Panasonic have mature systems already in place and even traditional Medium Format heavyweights like Hasselblad and Leica have joined the race, firmly confirming the place of mirrorless cameras in the photography world. More crucially, consumers have responded and the mirrorless cameras segment has been the only segment to show any sort of growth in a shrinking camera market. 

Canon’s latest EOS M5 seems to be a step in the right direction, but many wonder if it’s too little too late. Nikon on the other hand, has chosen to split focus towards action cameras and 360-degree capture capabilities for VR, so the future of their mirrorless camera segment remains to be seen.

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Given that they already have mirrorless camera offerings, how difficult would it be for Canon and Nikon to offer competitive products in both spaces? It certainly doesn’t seem to be so, but perhaps they’re also working on something like Fujifilm’s latest GFX 50S – a product that crosses categories and takes the battle up one notch to the Medium Format world. 

That would certainly be refreshing. After all, one way to deal with a shrinking consumer market is to double down on the high-end professional one. By releasing a Medium Format camera at the price of a Full-frame one (Fujifilm says body and kit lens will cost much less than US$10,000), Fujifilm is simultaneously taking on competitors from both worlds. 

That’s something that Pentax has also tried to do previously, but with a more traditional 645-style body that has yet to truly gain traction. Fujifilm’s offering is no bigger than the cameras from Canon and Nikon, and looks more like a bigger version of its X-T2 camera than its Medium format offerings of old. Being a mirrorless offering much like Hasselblad’s X1D- 50c, it appears to be a culmination of all that the company has learnt their X-series to date, and so holds real promise for the professional market.


Making big changes to a product line-up is a risk that requires not only courage, but the support to last out the period it takes customers to get to know and accept these changes. However, the onslaught of the smartphone camera means camera companies don’t have the luxury of standing put. To stay alive, companies need not just new approaches, but well-thought out ones that also leave room for growth.