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Nikon tops SLR customer satisfaction survey

Canon may lead in SLR market share, but a J.D. Power study gives longtime rival Nikon and newcomer Sony higher customer satisfaction scores.

Update 11:25 a.m. PDT: Some folks seem confused about what exactly J.D. Power and Associates is measuring, so I've added some more detail about the study and about Sony's rating.

Well, this news isn't going to go over well at Canon.

According to a new survey by J.D. Power and Associates, Nikon is the clear leader in customer satisfaction among digital SLR (single-lens reflex) customers in the United States. Adding insult to injury, SLR newcomer Sony came in second.

A new customer satisfaction gives Nikon SLRs the lead. J.D. Power and Associates

The survey doesn't measure product quality, but rather how happy more than 7,500 buyers are. Consequently, an $800 camera could get a higher score than a higher-quality $1,600 camera from a rival, as long as customers are happier with their purchase.

Nikon scored 822 out of a possible 1,000 on a rank of how well its cameras measured up with the qualities consumers find important.

"It dominates in digital SLRs," Steve Kirkeby, executive director of telecomunciations and technology at J.D. Power, said in an interview.

Sony scored 793. Sony's score is notable, Kirkeby added. "Their takeover of Konica-Minolta's camera line is most impressive, considering that mergers or changes of this type generally dampen satisfaction for some period of time due to uncertainty on the part of the consumer," he said.

At 788, third place went to Canon--the top seller of digital cameras in general and of SLRs specifically--followed closely by Pentax at 787 and Olympus at 783. The survey didn't rank Panasonic, another new entrant, or Samsung, which today sells Pentax SLRs under its own brand.

SLR cameras, expensive but high-performance models, are at the center of a fiercely competitive and increasingly crowded marketplace. Canon is the top seller worldwide, with Nikon in second place.

The scale is weighted to favor the factors customers find more important, so image quality has a bigger influence on overall score than camera style, for example. And customer satisfaction has an import influence over future purchases: 36 percent of camera buyers ask for others' recommendations, so happy camera users are good advertising.

"Satisfaction leads to intention to recommend," Kirkeby said. "Intention to recommend--word of mouth--is something sought by camera buyers."

The most important satisfaction factors for SLR owners are, in terms of their relative weighting, picture quality at 39 percent; overall performance at 26 percent; ease of operation at 22 percent; and appearance and styling at 13 percent.

The dominant performance subfactors are autofocus, followed by low-light performance, according to the study.

Compact camera satisfaction factors
The study also measured three broad classes of compact cameras: ultraslim models that are less than 1-inch thick; basic point-and-shoot models with an average price below $230, and premium point-and-shoot models that are fancier with an average price above $230.

Casio, one of the electronics companies that has jumped into the camera market, led the ultraslim pack with a score of 802 for its Exilim Zoom line. Here, Canon was a close second at 796 for its PowerShot SD line. Next came Kodak's V series at 787, Sony DSC-T at 782 and Olympus Stylus at 781. Most of the next were close behind, but two series--Samsung S and Nikon Coolpix L--were a big notch below the pack at 728 and 725, respectively.

For basic point-and-shoots, Fujifilm's Finepix F series was tops at 749, followed by Kodak's Z series at 744 and Canon's A series at 739.

In the premium point-and-shoot category, Canon wins hands down, with a score of 829 that's head and shoulders above the next, Panasonic's DMC-FZ series at 785 and a number of others. The other Canon PowerShot lines--A, G and S--ended up in sixth, seventh and eighth places.