Flagships, Halos, and Ho-Hums

Let’s get our terms straight and then we move on…

Flagships are defined in Merriam Webster dictionary as the following:

  1. the ship that carries the commander of a fleet or subdivision of a fleet and flies the commander’s flag

  2. the finest, largest, or most important one of a series, network, or chain <the company’s flagship store>

The word Halo is defined as the aura of glory, veneration, or sentiment surrounding an idealized person or thing.

We often hear the term Halo products.  Wikipedia says this about the term “Halo Products,” “The halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties.[1][2] It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo. Subsequent researchers have studied it in relation to attractiveness and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems. The halo effect is a specific type of confirmation bias, wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. Edward Thorndike originally coined the term referring only to people; however, its use has been greatly expanded especially in the area of brand marketing.”

Ho-Hum is defined by Merriam Webster as:

  1. :  routine, dull <a ho–hum existence>

  2. :  bored, indifferent <a ho–hum reaction>

So what does this have to do with photography?  Plenty.  I keep reading reviews about Micro 4/3 cameras and price constantly comes up.  More so than with other cameras I feel.  Especially when the price pushes new territory.  Case in point is the new E-M1 mkII and the GH5.  Both priced at around $2,000…and costing a bit more than certain competitors.  Maybe people think the “Micro” should also be applied to the price tag.

I think the pricing and handling of these two products in particular is interesting.  Both cameras offer unarguably an immense amount of function.  Their technical delivery is unseen at this level, and many larger format cameras struggle to deliver half as much.  Olympus and Panasonic are squeezing as much power into their cameras as they can at the moment…or at least that is what they want us to believe.

And why shouldn’t they?  And why shouldn’t the price be reflective?  These are the flagship products.  If your product is going to lead out your lineup it better be good.  If you say this is the best your brand offers and you want to show it to everyone first…it better be truly representative.  Does it fully speak your brand language, and ideals, and meet your goals in a product?  The flagship should be the finest example of what you are offering.  It doesn’t have to be the best in everything…there are specialty niche products…but it better be obvious what your intent was with it and it needs to deliver.

We hear a lot about “halo products” now a days.   A product that brings prestige to a brand.  It’s the exotic car everyone wants…so you go into the dealership just to see it.  You can’t afford it, but you notice the DNA is injected into all the other company’s products.  Those products may not do the exact same thing at the same level, but they meet your needs.  Your judgement is influenced by the halo product.  You are getting a little closer to that ideal that you want…but settling for what else the company offers because some of that halo product exists in the others.  Olympus did this well with the E-M10 pretty well I think.  The E-M10 did most of what the E-M1 did…but at a very affordable price.  Really most people wouldn’t need the rest.  The E-M1 is even in the E-M10 name.

For a Halo product to work though there has to be uniformity.  The DNA has to be there.  There has to be an obvious connection, and you have to recognize it immediately.  May not be the best examples but…If you go into an Acura deal and see the NSX…do you feel their lowest end model embodies that?  Do you buy the low end model and get some of that Halo car?  Maybe.  I don’t recognize it.

When you go into a Porsche dealership all of their cars scream the same DNA.  Whether you consider the halo as the 918 or previous Carrera GT, or their RSRs, or GTs…or even just the 911 Turbo, you can find much of those cars within the lineup.  You can feel the lineage…but at a price you are more comfortable with and options that better suit your need.

I’ve always felt some camera companies get this and some camera companies don’t.  Some products are even released and marketed but somehow generate “ho-hum” instead.  Some consumers don’t care.  How many consumers looking for a Rebel or other entry level dslr know about the 1D or D5 for example?  Do they care?  Why should they?  They just want a camera that does what they want it to do.  Some people can go into a camera store and never see the high end equipment.  Some don’t actually care about what the brand is doing overall.  I think part of this is because certain brands while innovating in their own way have set their course and have sailed very steady for a long time.  Easy does it, and no surprises.  On the other hand the waters have been churning a bunch with the mirrorless camera makers and trying to push boundaries.  They have a lot of ground to gain, and a lot of convincing to do.  They are eager to prove something.  There is a lot more action at this point.  I think this is breeding more passion for the brands, some underdog cheer, and along with some “unique” fandom or entitlement.

It’s like when people get upset with their favorite sports team for trading their favorite player or making moves and decisions that they feel are wrong.  I know people that lose sleep over these things.  Did you know that the team has no clue you exist?  Our extreme love and adornment don’t actually equate to anything.  Neither do season tickets in most cases.

So in conclusion, i’m just glad Panasonic and Olympus seem to be pushing their flagships into real flagship territory.  I think they are amazing cameras that let us make images in ways we couldn’t before.  They literally make our work easier and more efficient in many cases.  That is progress.  Extra megapixels and extra focus points are not always progress.  The sum of the parts are adding up into one major whole.  I like that.  It also makes me very excited to see what is next and what will flow down into an E-M10 mk3.



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