HolidayBuyer's Guide

Nikon, Canon top camera satisfaction poll

J.D. Power's annual survey of camera buyers shows two brands outranking the rest. However, the overall poll includes some surprising results.

Although many of the results of J.D. Power and Associates' annual poll of digital camera purchasers aren't surprising, some stuff just doesn't add up.

The results, which were released Thursday, sent me searching its site for a description of the survey and rating methodology. But I couldn't find one.

For example, Digital SLRs: Nikon and Canon are, unsurprisingly, rated best among the 8,000 people polled. But Nikon's ratings in the 4 categories--picture quality, performance, operation, and appearance--are 3, 5, 5, and 4 dots, respectively. Canon's are 4, 3, 3, 2. Yet both get 5 dots overall.

So if the overall rating is from a survey, people are perceiving the cameras as more than the sum of their parts (which actually makes sense). But if the overall score is based on a mashup of the subratings, then J.D. Power needs a little more transparency than: "Please note that J.D. Power Consumer Center Ratings may not include all information used to determine J.D. Power and Associates awards."

Poor Olympus, Pentax and Sony's ratings in all but appearance are 2 dots; 3 dots means "about average," but 2 dots means "the rest." So what does 1 dot mean?

Then take the Premium Point-and-Shoot category, which is ruled by the Canon G series and the Panasonic TZ series. However, this category throws in such disparate subcategories as megazooms (Canon S and SX series, Cyber-shot H series, Olympus SP series, Kodak Z series) and regular old expensive compacts (Canon SD series, Panasonic FZ series) with the enthusiast cameras.

Based on the ratings, Panasonic beats all for megazooms and Canon's SD are the favored expensive compacts. But the surveyed indicated that what they liked most about the Canon SD is its appearance; everything I've heard from people says the opposite (they love the photo quality and performance but just tolerate its looks).

The plain, oldPoint-and-Shoot ratings are a bit harder to parse. However, I don't know whether it's an editing boo-boo or simply a magic methodology result, but the Kodak Z series (megazooms) ended up in both the Point-and-Shoot and Premium P-and-S categories--rated 2 dots overall as a premium and 4 dots as a standard. There are probably different models in the series underlying each rating (making this an editorial gaffe).

Finally, the Ultraslim results. Leaving aside the fact that the page seems to contain some incorrectly categorized products (unless the Nikon P series has gone on a serious diet), just like last year Sony aces all the categories. Though the T series certainly has some nice cameras in it, our user reviews and feedback don't overwhelmingly agree with J.D. Power's results.

But most people will just read (or reproduce) the press release. So let's take a look at some of the feature requests mentioned on it. "Weatherproofing is mentioned most frequently by owners in both the point and shoot (67 percent), and premium point and shoot (68 percent) segments, while ultraslim owners desire 4GB internal memory capacity and DSLR owners desire waterproofing (63 percent)," the release states. I have to ask how these surveyed ultraslim owners came up with the 4GB memory figure, unless it was fed to them by J.D. Power, making it a very odd question to ask. I suspect what it really means is that people want to be able to store a lot of photos on their cameras in order to use it as a portable photo album, which is a valid request. We'll be seeing a lot more of that in forthcoming cameras.

However, I've sat in innumerable meetings with manufacturers, who've shown me innumerable PowerPoint slides of user research, and not one has mentioned weatherproofing. So either they're out of touch with their users--which is obviously quite possible--or they simply don't want to develop weatherproof cameras. Either way, in that respect, the weatherproofing seekers probably aren't going to get what they want in 2008.

One of my favorite aspects of the press release, though, is the subhead: "Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Panasonic and Sony model series rank highest in their respective segments in digital camera owner satisfaction." In other words, you love all the major manufacturers! Only poor Olympus and Pentax are still standing on the sidelines, and the irony there is that they're the only ones making the waterproof cameras that everyone seems to be clamoring for.