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FutureNow Article
Wednesday, Sep. 5, 2007

Digital Camera Shops Miss the Big Picture

By Robert Gorell
September 5th, 2007

digital_camera_2.jpgWhat’s the #1 complaint about point-and-shoot digital cameras?

That was Bryan Eisenberg’s morning riddle today. It’s a great question, and one I was sure to answer incorrectly — Bryan isn’t known to ask rhetorical questions without punchlines.

Now, before you read my response, close your eyes for a moment and think of three possible answers.

Seriously, stop cheating and humor me… ;)

Eyes back open? Good. It’s easier to read that way.

I guessed:

  1. Shoddy image stabilization — With all the hype over new image-steadying technology, I figured the camera marketers were on to something. Besides, how many commercials of parents taking pictures of kids on tire swings can I handle?
  2. Grainy low-light images — This one was a (fine, I’ll say it) shot in the dark, but it’s one of my biggest complaints about non-SLR [define] digital cameras.
  3. Poor red eye reduction — The human cornea reflects light differently than other mammals. Lucky us. But why, in 2007, must we endure blinding rapid-flash settings only to look like evil deer in headlights?

Just as I’d suspected, each of my guesses was wrong. It turns out that the biggest complaint among automatic digital camera owners is “shutter delay time” — not “shutter speed,” mind you; rather, the response time between clicking the button and the damn thing actually taking a picture.

Yes! Exactly! That’s my least favorite thing about point-and-shoot digitals, too! So, why didn’t I know that?

Am I backpedaling from my previous answers? Absolutely. Would your customers likely do the same thing? Absolutely. Why isn’t “shutter delay time” addressed by most retailers? Let’s stick with threes:

  1. Customers don’t have the vocabulary to describe their needs in the terms of manufacturer’s jargon.
  2. Manufacturers don’t want to admit how bad the shutter delay is on their cameras.
  3. Retailers aren’t doing their homework on how to help customers buy on their own terms, and in their own language.

After years of hearing “megapixel”-this and “stabilizer”-that, shopping for digital cameras becomes intimidating for people who just want to take good pictures of the people, places and things they love. Some do a good job overall, but miss the big picture when it comes to shutter delay. Others have pretty decent emotional copy, but it ends up sounding generic. And with each boring, overly-technical description, digital camera retailers are flushing money down the drain. Some don’t say anything; they just list technical specs.

Here’s what camera retailers should know if they’re to fix it:

  1. Surveys are flawed. Had Bryan explicitly asked if “shutter delay time” were the biggest problem with automatic digital cameras, I’d have said yes. Since I was left to my own, limited vocabulary on the subject, I gave three plausible-yet-unsatisfying answers. Such are surveys. Ask people what they really want and you’ll hear plenty about what they think they really want — which can be horribly misleading, if not altogether useless.
  2. Focus on motivations. What questions would your customers ask if they had the vocabulary? What are their underlying needs? How will they be using the camera? To address motivations, learn how to create real customer personas that transcend demographics and stereotypes.
  3. Search engines value relevant content. Original, engaging copy is worth whatever you paid for it, and then some. Don’t rely on the manufacturer to sell its products for you. Their perspective is biased, and they don’t know your audience like you do. Grokking customer motivations gives insights into missing persuasion barriers like “shutter delay time”; things the competition isn’t addressing. It’s also how you know you’re buying the right keywords.

For example…

I have no problem geeking out for a week, digging through review sites like CNet until I stumble across a review like this one where, halfway down the page, a graphic (not the video) introduces the concept of shutter delay. But I’m the exception. I’m the gadget-obsessed 18-35 year-old male who knows megapixels alone aren’t the measure of a camera’s worth — and I still guessed wrong about my own biggest concern about digital cameras. So much for demographics!
Meanwhile, other people may not do the research.

What if my step-mom were in the market? She’s owned her current digital camera for three years. It’s in great shape, but she’d buy a new one today if she knew it would take the shot fast enough to capture those rare moments when my 6 year-old nephew looks directly into the lens — that’s what matters to her, not techno-babble like this description of the Canon PowerShot SD800 on Amazon:

[The DIGIC III Image Processor] takes the performance and speed of DIGIC II to even higher levels of processing power including new face detection function, up to 1600 speed ISO, high-ISO noise reduction, lower power consumption, increased speed for SD media cards, and higher resolution image processing for enhanced LCD viewing.

Um… Parle vous Ingles? Any chance she’d know off-hand that ISO refers to light-sensitivity, or that “noise reduction” means it will reduce graininess of poorly lit images, or that “enhanced LCD viewing” means quickly viewing the pictures on the camera’s screen? What was “DIGIC II”? Why would she care?

Luckily for Amazon, customers have always done the selling for them. So, unless you’re Jeff Bezos, it’s good to invest in persuasive copy of your own.

Add Your Comments

Comments (18)

  1. I recommend reading sites like and Popular Photography (magazine and website) and you’ll find that they **do** know about shutter delay! Its time the retailers start referencing these valuable sources of information! These sites are miles ahead of Cnet with regards to camera testing and reviews.

  2. True or false: Customers are a great source of ideas. (Part 1)…

    If a company asked you what your biggest complaint about their product is, you’d be able to tell them off the top of your head, right? Over at, Robert Gorrell talks about how he completely struck out this morning…

  3. While I understand your points, I just have to say that I guessed right. I did have trouble coming up with 2 other top complaints because I couldn’t imagine a more universal issue than Shutter Delay. So while they’re not flawless, sometimes an open-ended survey can yield the right results. I’d be curious how many of your readers matched your reaction vs. mine.

  4. Kim – You came up with an exceptional response. I’m sure that other people can articulate the issue as well. It’s just not coming out often enough that the major online retailers (with significant market research budgets) feel the need to address it. We are not calling surveys useless. We are saying they simply won’t tell you everything.

  5. Mitchell — Thanks for the site recommendations. I’ll be sure to keep those in mind. The only problem, like you said, is that not enough retailers are getting plain-spoken, authoritative content like that. Like any niche, though, photography experts can suffer from “Inside the Bottle Syndrome”. So, sometimes *teaching* the customer isn’t as helpful as reducing a concept like “comparative shutter delay time” to something like this:

    “The Canon SD800 has what it takes to keep up with antsy toddlers and itchy trigger fingers. Shoot photo after photo without missing a beat. Faster models are twice as expensive and require a fine arts degree to operate. If you need a stylish automatic that’s ready for action, night and day, this is your camera.”


  6. Kim,

    Thank you for writing in. While I definitely appreciate your response, keep in mind that my reaction might be more telling than yours for the simple reason that you’re a professional photographer. Not only do you have the vocabulary and experience to intuitively know the answer, but shutter delay would be the bane of your existence during a wedding shoot. Could you imagine?

    As a music journalist, I’ve done several photo shoots — live and posed — of bands, rappers, DJ’s, etc, where anything less than an SLR would’ve been useless, so I’d borrow one.

    But when thinking of the problem on my own, in terms of automatic digitals only, I thought, “Hmm… what are other consumers talking about?” That’s the wrong way to approach the problem, which is why I got the wrong answer. It’s a tempting way to look at things, but by ignoring even my own motivations, I missed the big picture.

    (I hope to hear from others about what they guessed, too. Interesting stuff!)

  7. Nice post – and one that resonates with be because in addition to being a long time photo geek (cameras ranging from large format to 35 MM film and the latest Nikon Prosumer digital SLR) I am also the the CMO of MotiveQuest LLC. We are a leading word of mouth strategy firm, our specialty being listening to consumer conversations on the web, analyzing the underlying human motivations, driver and linguistics and providing our clients (brand owners) with relevant insight.

    Point number one: Consumers will get great and relevant information from their peers if they go out on the internet and ask for it. (That is how I decided to buy the camera I recently bought.) Mitchell’s site recommendations (photog forums) are the place to go ask. There is a parallel site for almost every category you can think of.

    Point number two: Manufacturers can learn a lot by observing and analyzing the conversations consumers are having about their product/category on the web. The can learn the issues, linguistics, motivations and purchase drivers. It might not fit exactly with how they see the world, but it is the truth.

    Personally, I would never go to a camera store to ask for detailed recommendations. I always start with the message boards and forums. That is where I find my real experts.

    Tom O’Brien

  8. [...] The key to great customer insight and analysis is empathy. Don't live by the surveys or the data; live with your customers. How often do you go through the process of booking and [...]

  9. Nowdays, it is impossible to remove the shutter delay in digital camera,but by using the burst mode or standby mode can help avoiding shutter delay.

  10. Most current point and shoots actually do have decent shutter lag times, but it’s the time the camera takes to focus that seems to slow down the whole process. You can get around this by pressing the shutter down half-way to pre-focus on the subject. Then when you’re ready to catch that special moment, press the rest of the way down and the picture will be taken pretty much instantly.

  11. Here’s my feedback… SONY LIES!!!!! Even the pre-focus trick doesn’t work. I bought my Cybershot entirely because of the phony commercial in which the guy nonchalantly snaps a picture over his shoulder of a hummingbird in flight. Sony is guilty of false advertising and should be prosecuted for fraud.

  12. Agree. Most customers do not have the vocabulary to tell these companies what they want…

  13. The camera you purchase ultimately depends on your needs (professional, just hobbies), provided supplies (tripod, add-ons battery, underwater case), how frequently you use and which features they really needed.
    Think why you should buy that camera

  14. I suggest if you are looking for information to always start off with forums and see what people have to say about the products. Also get recommendations off friends.

  15. @Paul – Any forums you would recommend to get started?

  16. Good luck!
    Get started.

  17. I suggest if you are looking for information to always start off with forums and see what people have to say about the products. Also get recommendations off friends.

    Good Idea!

  18. Nowdays, it is impossible to remove the shutter delay in digital camera,but by using the burst mode or standby mode can help avoiding shutter delay.

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