this is why you fail

Most of the photos I’ve taken of my daughter are with a now nearly eight year old Canon SD500.  Every once in a while, I think that I should replace it with something newer and faster: Theda tends to move at near-mach velocities in her calmer moments, and I miss a lot of shots waiting for the autofocus.  I’ve been thinking this now for a good two years, and yet I have not actually replaced the camera.  Why?  Well, this is what I see every time I go to Canon’s web page and start researching replacements:

I’ll spare you the effort of counting them up: that is THIRTY TWO distinct models of compact camera that Canon is currently attempting to sell.  Almost all of them are priced within the range of $110 to $250, and the model names are a sludge of letters and numbers that could only make sense to some sort of obsessive camera-otaku.  Some, but not all of them have completely meaningless star ratings: shockingly, they all get four or five stars out of five! And best of all, their “compare models” tool only lets you compare three models at a time.  So that’s helpful.

The only sane answer to the question “which one of these cameras do I want?” is “fuck it, I’ll just use the camera in my cell phone,” and according to Canon’s most recent financial results that’s pretty much what everyone is doing.

You’d think that someone in the camera business would have noticed this and decided to try something different, but they’re all just as bad: Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Samsung, you name it.  They all have dozens of nearly identical models, and they all introduce new models like clockwork every six months.  Surely the introduction of the new SX128g878ASDF7-HSPRO model in shiny purple (that won’t ship anywhere outside Japan for another four months by which time the details of the next model will have leaked) will reverse the trend!

The single smartest thing Steve Jobs did in the first FIVE YEARS of his second tenure at Apple was to take a very large axe to Apple’s overgrown product line, and reduce it from over 25 models to six, with clear feature differences at each price point.  It’s always amazing to me how many industries have yet to grasp why that was a good idea.

[After the fact edit: yes, people, thank you for the camera recommendations.  And yes, I know about third-party review sites that attempt to ameliorate the suckage of the original manufacturers’ product lines and web pages.  My point, such as it is, was that the manufacturers should stop sucking.]

[Edit the second: the really frustrating thing is that at least in Canon’s case, they demonstrably know better.  Their DSLR selection is everything that their compact line-up isn’t: there are 9 total models (really actually 7 with some older out-of-production ones still in stock), each at a different price-point, and with a clear and obvious performance reward for spending each additional $500-1000.  There’s no earthly reason that their compact selection couldn’t work the same way.]

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At the point where Jobs came back to Apple even I could not figure out what model of Mac to buy. There was so much overlap with minor feature differences that I both could not find a model with all the features I wanted and could not figure out the actual differences between some of the models.

So yeah, I agree, that’s pretty much where Canon is now, except that one of the features I want is available on exactly one model so I guess that’ll be the one.

(Looking at their web site — oh they want me to take a survey! before I’ve actually had the chance to use the site! oh joy, what a great idea)

In case nobody else said it: PowerShot S95 or S100. What you want is fast shutter button response time and fast lens, which none of Canon’s cheap compacts will have.

(And Apple have gone too far in the other direction, frankly. The lack of any kind of minitower, for example. And no Mac tablet. And no ultraportable Mac, because “ultrathin” is not the same as “ultraportable”.)