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Canon boss says it’s time to think outside the box

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Nikkei Asian Review posted a short interview with Fuji Mitarai, Canon Chairman and CEO.

Canon appears to be pretty satisfied with their results. However, Mr. Fuji Mitarai argues the company has to move beyond photographic gear and approach new markets, like factory equipment and health care.

The interview will be published in paper form, but Nikkei posted some excerpts.  

Q: What is the biggest issue currently facing Canon?

A: Our primary management goal this year is to raise our antennas high toward cutting-edge technology. It is on this point where we lag behind other companies. We will open up a research and development center in the U.S.’s Silicon Valley, where we will actively adopt new technology.

Q: What do you believe is imperative for today’s corporation?

A: To read the trends of an era. Innovation is steadily advancing, and it has become difficult to put out products that are ahead of the competition, even if by just a little. This is now an era when latecomer manufacturers stand to gain. Compared with the past, even I feel mounting tensions. Read the report at Nikkei Asian Review.

This fits with another report coming from the same news agency, which states that Canon plans $3.5bn buying spree in medical and security ops. Security and health care seem to be definitely on Canon’s agenda:

TOKYO — Canon is putting its ample cash on hand to work by spending up to 400 billion yen ($3.53 billion) on acquisitions over the next three years to beef up its medical and security segments.

The Japanese technology group aims to take in 1.5 trillion yen in sales from new business operations by 2020, Chairman and CEO Fujio Mitarai told The Nikkei on Friday.

Canon’s biggest takeover so far is the 2016 acquisition of Toshiba Medical Systems from the Toshiba group. But apart from that, Canon in effect invested around 400 billion yen in new businesses over nine years. Moving forward, the company will explore the same level of expenditures in just one third of the time.

Let’s hope they do not forget how good they are in making cameras and lenses.

:-)

  • James Whitehouse

    I think they just need to think outside the mirror box. Canon have the know how and tech to make great mirrorless cameras, both full frame and aps-c. Time to get on with it and make world-beating ones, without worrying about cannibalising e.g., their video cameras. Lesser companies already have them squarely beat in what is undoubtedly the future of ILCs and the faithful will not hang around forever waiting for second-rate solutions. ‘Mounting tensions’ indeed.

    • CW Steve

      Couldn’t agree more. My first thought about “thinking outside the box” was they would stop crippling cameras to fit immaginary market segments, and that perhaps they may eventually deliver the killer MILC we all know they are more than capable to build.
      But no, it’s about broadening profits through new markets. Thinking outside the box not to be innovative but to make more bucks.
      I don’t like Sony gear but I’m the first to admit they are thinking outside the box. Same does Fuji imo.

      • bdbender4

        Amen! Where are the non-consumer-zoom EF-M lenses? The 22 f/2 is nice but limiting.

        Putting my EOS M5 – which I like – back on the shelf, and getting out my Fuji X-T20 again. I much prefer Canon jpeg colors to Fuji, but Fuji has great prime lenses.

        Using EF lenses on the M5 works fine, but is a stopgap measure that I am tired of after a year. Big heavy EF glass defeats the purpose of mirrorless being small and light.

        Selling my full frame Canon stuff, too. Even though the EF-L lenses are wonderful, after using mirrorless APS-C, full frame DSLR gear seems like carrying an anvil around. Every time I have gone to use it during the past year I have put it back down pretty quickly. Not using it – sell it.

      • Wade Marks

        Canon does not make the majority of their revenue through their camera division, and this has been true for a very long time. It’s only smart and responsible for them to adapt to the changing times to preserve and grow their company.

        The dedicated camera market will never be what it once was, due to the smartphone. That ship has sailed. Camera companies now can either pursue other avenues of profit, or settle for a shrunken business.

        We should all welcome anything that strengthens their overall business, as this gives their camera division more operating room to innovate. Think of Fujifilm…very profitable company, but camera division only a very small part. Because of that their camera people can pretty much pursue whatever they want.

        Canon does have a propensity to move slowly in some areas and that is a shame. But as noted many times on this site, Canon also does not get as much credit for what it has done.

        As for Sony, they are overrated and really did 2 things of note: they were the first to APS-C MILC, and the first to FF MILC (not counting Leica). But their execution has left a lot to be desired.

        But in many cases the first to a market is not the best nor even the most successful. Google was not the first search engine, Apple did not create the first portable MP3 player, the first smartphone, or the first tablet, Facebook was not the first social network platform, etc.

        Canon still has the time, and the market reputation and position. But I do agree, I wish they would pursue the MILC market more vigorously, and as part of that, release a FF MILC.

      • krisak

        That quote…”latecomer manufacturers stand to gain”…sounds a lot like the “second mover advantage.”

        Which itself is just a rationale for continuing their conservative approach to releasing new products. That’s financially sound, of course, but not very satisfying from the perspective of a spec-hungry consumer.

        • Mel Enriquez

          The 2nd mover advantage works only if the one wanting to leapfrog has the tech to do it. The problem is, Canon does not have the tech to do any leapfrogging. Their digic 7 is way underpowered to do what Sony, Fuji, Oly, and Panasonic are doing. The bottom line is – you can’t do anything much by following and waiting for the tech to mature if you yourself are not doing anything to take advantage of the missteps and mistakes of your competitors.

          Today, Canon’s tech lay to claim is only their dual-pixel PDAF. But time will also reveal that, though it may be advantageous now, it will also be the cause of setback in other areas of imaging. Without IBIS tech, a powerful and efficient processor, better sensor, etc., there isn’t much Canon can do as they have lagged in R&D in these areas. The lag is due to neglect, not so much they can’t piece the puzzle to do it. They simply didn’t invest the time and money develop those techs. They didn’t, because the upper management didn’t think it was important. They didn’t think it was important because they never believed in the MILCs.

          “Thinking out of the box,” is not needed. Canon has very good engineers and you can set them to task to solve a particular problem and they will solve it. But if upper management does not have the vision or believe in a path, they will not be doing anything about it.. That is what happened with Canon. What is needed is “thinking out of the box.” What is needed is a change of vision or focus of the leaders of Canon. They are still in denial and still are hoping the mirrorless bandwagon is just a fad and will go away.

          But even say, it is indeed it is a fad, my lumix gx7, a 4 year old tech, can still beat my new m6 in AF speeds. And it still does a good job at AF in photo even in dim lighting where my m6 would struggle more. And to think that that is a 4-year old CDAF vs the latest of what Canon has in PDAF! In terms of IQ, high ISO noise, dynamic range, my 4 year old tech a5100 still beats my m6 in that area. Even my G85, an MFT, is on par with an aps-c sensor size M6 in low light performance. I don’t see much difference with IQ at ISO 3200 with either cameras. If any, I even prefer the g85’s performance.

          These issues are not MILC vs DSLRs issues. They are simple tech in sensor development which others have devoted the R&D to advance, while Canon didn’t. Or if they did, they didn’t push hard enough or they didn’t do a good job at it. You would have done serious R&D in these areas regadless if you would mount your sensor in your DSLRs or MILCs.

          But what I gather of “thinking out of the box” from what has been said, it seems that is more of their pursuing other markets than cameras or imaging. That is what I get. It’s not about cameras or imaging. It’s thinking of other business or opening and venturing into other territories. That sounds surrender or giving up to me, not really rolling up one’s sleeves and doing the work needed to compete in the digital imaging business.

          Is this a true read on my part? I don’t know. One ting is certain, 2018, will reveal Canon’s true intent on this matter. IF they still can’t come out with anything truly competitive, then most likely, their goose is cooked. IF there’s something you can say for Nikon, is, they are not going to go down without a fight. They are trying, and trying really hard. They are hungry. I don’t see that in Canon. They are just coasting along and pretending this will all go away.

        • DaveHenson

          I don’t think the consumer is spec-hungry. What you have is people like us on specialist forums who like to think we are talking on behalf of the market as whole…..but we aren’t. Why do people like to use camera phones? Because they are good enough. Why do people listen to their music on smartphones and smartphone docks instead of having quality hifi? Because mp3 on a smartphone is good enough. Canon knows that – despite all the whinging and hoo-ha about Canons approach vs Sony technological marvels, the sad truth is that Canon realises what people want is useability and something that meets their needs – and Canon does that. Meanwhile the ‘spec-hungry consumer is someone who likes to talk big – ask a complaining Canonite about why they do not move to Sony and they come up with the usual ‘too expensive’ or ‘too many lenses’. Which illustrates my point – at the end of the day their Canon is ‘good enough’.
          I will venture to say that most spec-hungry consumers spend more time on forums than they do taking photographs.

          • krisak

            I’m referring to a hypothetical individual…”a spec-hungry consumer”…which as you say is an outlier and early-adopter of new tech. Those folks (and they’re not representative of the average consumer who buys boxed Rebel kits at Walmart) will never be happy with Canon’s conservative approach, meaning every time Canon does anything these day’s there’s likely to be the same tiresome outcry (no 4k, DR, etc., etc.)

          • DaveHenson

            Unfortunately people like this are creating a significant trial-by-social-media. And it is a voice out of all proportion to their true buying potential. Don’t get me wrong, if they end up with Canon introducing new functionality I like then all the better, but these spec-hungry consumers do end up sounding like a bunch of whiney-assed kids whose Christmas has been spoilt and complaining that Canon don’t know what they are doing. If they had their way we would end up with Canon ignoring their core functions of making cameras that take excellent still pictures all for the sake of a few Youtube clips where no-one can see the difference anyway.

          • Wade Marks

            Thank you Dave and krisak for identifying a key phenomenon of social media whereby the more extreme voices get the most attention, even though they do not represent the majority thought.

            As you note, many people online just judge mostly by specs. Funny thing is that even the who praise Sony do not particularly enjoy using their equipment, and do not seem to use it that much anyway. One guy even gave Sony his camera of the year award but then admitted that he didn’t like using Sony, but had to base his reward on features and not usability or experience.

            I also think online reviewers are inherently biased towards that which is new and novel, regardless of whether it is better. It’s probably something most don’t even realize. But think about it: if you are an online reviewer of gear, you really like it when a company gives you something new to write about. But you get bored when a company just gives you really solid products with predictable iteration. Your perspective is not the same as the long term buyer/user.

            Sony is really the same company they pretty much always have been: they try a lot of new ideas, but fall short in terms of usability, durability and practicality. In other words, they excel at the stuff that reviewers eat up like candy. They fall short in the ways that reviewers don’t care about, because they generally don’t use the gear for longer than a brief review time.

            Now take Canon: they excel at a lot of the stuff that will most satisfy a consumer but that a reviewer may find boring. A reviewer won’t care about long term reliability, service excellence, usability, practicality, product ecosystem, etc. So they tend to favor the products with the bells and whistles, because it gives them something to write and talk about.

  • Walker Bell

    I propose something novel & radical..ask some good users.

  • Narren Rot

    A Fujifilm spy as a Chairman and CEO of Canon hiding in plain sight! ;) Now I know why Canon criples all their recent cameras ;) Way to go Fujifilm! :D

  • Steven B

    Canon has world-class quality, but their innovation in usability is lacking, particularly on file handling. They need to bridge the gap between pro-grade camera and cellphone. It’s very frustrating that when I take a photo on my phone, it shows up in the cloud in a matter of minutes for me to edit, but I need to carry around a card reader or cable for my DSLR. I think Canon has solved the issue of taking quality photos. I have no doubt they could great a great mirrorless full-frame camera. I just wish they would address all the little UX and convenience issues that have people ditching their cameras for their phone. I know many pros don’t want to change for various good reasons, so it it should be easy to enable/disable, but for people like me, I would gladly sacrifice some battery life to not have to carry around a card reader…to be able to edit photos right away, even if my camera is in a different room. And most importantly, make it easy to use. I don’t want to waste my time navigating around your menu for no good reason. I wonder who was the maniac who designed Canon’s wifi and bluetooth integration. It is the worst UX design I have ever seen and I have been working in software for 25 years.

    Google/Apple have made great innovations in making editing photos convenient. I wish Adobe and Canon would learn from them so those of us with nice gear could have a cellphone-like experience with full-frame DSLR quality and RAW editing.

    I believe that if they made their cameras pleasant to use, their sales would go up. Lots of people want good pictures. They just tend to not use their camera much because it’s so much more convenient to use a cellphone.

    • Wade Marks

      Good points, but if I may offer some counterpoints.

      I do agree that in general anything the camera makers can do to make their cameras more user friendly, the better. However, the dedicated camera will never be as convenient as a smartphone. Everybody always carries around their smartphone no matter what, and so a dedicated camera will always be a second device, and that by definition makes it less convenient. A dedicated camera will offer more photographic options and controls, and that by definition makes it more complex. And a dedicated camera will not have the same type of internal OS as a smartphone, and will probably never have a dedicated cell phone connection, and so once again, by definition, will never be as convenient as a smartphone.

      The reality is that most people, of any era, have generally only been interested in making what I call snapshots: easy to take photos. In the film era, and then in the early digital era, it was always the basic cameras that sold the most. The smartphone has killed off the market for all of those easy to use point and shoot cameras. Because many people would start with a point and shoot from a company like Canon, and then move up into a lower end dslr, the loss of the point and shoot business has also hurt the sales of dslr’s. That bottom rung of the ladder has been obliterated. Now with smartphone cameras getting even better, sales of lower end ILC’s will be even more impacted.

      And companies like Apple and Google have far more resources to put into improving their smartphone cameras and software, and so will continue to advance very rapidly. I remember a 60 Minutes segment on the Apple and Apple at that time said they had about 800 engineers alone working on the iPhone camera. That’s not even taking into account that they custom design their own silicon chips for the iPhone and are considered at the cutting edge.

      So really companies like Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fujifilm, etc…all are looking at a market that in all likelihood end up being for high end equipment, for enthusiasts and pro’s, as that will be the only part of the market remaining. Even then, who knows?

      The only real way to change this trajectory would be to get more people to care about photography as a more serious hobby, to get them to value the advantages and experience of a more sophisticated and capable ILC, but I don’t see that happening, or even if that is possible. Canon and Nikon to various extents have tried to do so, but with little overall effect.

      So I welcome anything to make the cameras easier to use, but even that would probably not allow for much camera market growth. I think what it does do is allow a company like Canon to better compete in the remaining market. And among camera companies, I generally find Canon to have the best UI. I think that’s one reason that Canon is number 1 in sales, because overall the handling and user experience is better than the others.

      • Steven B

        I suppose I should clarify further. The photo controls are perfectly fine on a Canon. I’ve had 4 now (t4i, 70D, 80D, and now 6D2). File handling is terribly painful. It hasn’t changed substantially in 20 years.

        On a smartphone, it’s easy. You take a photo, it gets uploaded in the cloud with no action on your part. Why can’t Canon do the same? I know a lot of middle class families with DSLRs who leave them on the shelf just because they hate the editing process. They hate having to log into a computer to post their images on facebook. They take their camera to a birthday party or vacation (it’s usually the dad) and wait a week or longer to get them off the camera because it’s a pain in the butt. The mom, in the mean time, has taken dozens of awesome snapshots on her iphone and posted them on facebook and instagram….long before the dad finally sits down at a computer to download the photos.

        If Canon closed that gap, they would sell a lot more DSLRs (and mirrorless ILC) to casual users.

        Sure, pros and enthusiasts don’t mind the pain of card readers and lightroom, but it scares away a lot of entry-level hobbyists…whose sales really subsidize the R&D of more expensive pro gear. (Hence why Canon/Nikon/Fuji are so much cheaper than Leica and Hasselblad) Also, some of them, like me, find they really love their camera and upgrade later on.

        If camera companies want to survive, they need to sell to more than just dedicated photo enthusiasts (unless you like the prices of Leicas and Hasselblads). They need to bring new customers into the fold. They need to sell cameras in Costco and Target to inexperienced users, not just B&H Photo. And most importantly, they need to ensure that rookie users take photos with their Rebels that look a lot better than anything on an iPhone…and that they have a pleasant experience getting them on Facebook.

        • Wade Marks

          Thank you for a great discussion. You very clearly identify many of the challenges that camera companies face in trying to better compete and survive in the era of smartphones.

          Most of the recent dslr’s by Canon and Nikon do have ways they can communicate with smartphones via their own apps, and upload photos to them for sharing. I do agree that these are not the most user friendly, although they have gotten better.

          Nikon has an interesting concept called Snapbridge, whereby the camera is always connected to the smartphone and just uploads the photos in the background. However, from reading user accounts this feature doesn’t work that well, at least not yet, and also drains battery. If this were perfected this would probably be the closest thing to making it as easy as snapping a pic on your smartphone, at least when it comes to sharing via smartphone. You would go out and take pics on your dslr, and then when you need them, they are already on your iPhone, ready to go.

          Most people do not know, but Apple does make a Lightning to SD card adapter, which can be used with iPhone and iPad. I use that to upload photos from dslr into my iPhone for easy sharing. I find it to be much faster and easier than using an App over Wifi. So for now that is my solution.

          But again, no matter what camera companies do, nothing is going to be easier than snapping that photo on the iPhone and posting it immediately to Facebook. So I think there are only marginal gains to be had in the market. And I think Apple is likely to improve the quality of their iPhone camera at a faster rate than camera companies will improve their software experience.

          I do think we are headed for a future whereby the only dedicated camera market will be the high end. At this point, camera companies are like the horse and buggy, trying to compete against the car. And anything they do to improve their product, would be akin to trying to compete against cars by offering faster horses. Horses are now a luxury and generally owned and enjoyed at high expense: the same thing will happen with dedicated cameras.

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