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Just so we're clear – I love Canon :)

September 24, 2008

So you may have seen all the hooplah yesterday over Canon and Vincent Laforet’s amazing Canon 5D MkII footage. I thought maybe a little explanation was in order. First, a little background on me and Canon:

  • I, personally, am a monster Canon fanboy. I have a lot of cameras, and all of them – my collection of happy-snappys, our dSLRs, and even our video cameras – are Canon.
  • Our company is filled with Canon fanboys. We have more dSLR Canon bodies and lenses lying around than I can count.
  • The 5D MkII is the coolest camera I’ve ever heard of. Dozens of SmugMuggers have already pre-ordered them.
  • I’ve been dying to work with Canon since we started SmugMug. We’re a Top 500 website, we reach 6.5M people a month, our demographic is definitely high-end, and Nikon’s already in bed with Flickr. Sounds like a match made in heaven to me.

Ok, so now that I’ve set the stage, let’s talk about Vincent’s movie a little bit:

  • SmugMug had nothing to do with the production of the film. We didn’t even know it existed until we read this post on Vincent’s blog on Saturday afternoon.
  • The entire company caught fire. We lost our minds, we were so excited. Within minutes, we’d offered to provide *unlimited* HD bandwidth to Vincent. Bear in mind this was an unknown, but likely very large, cost with no real tangible upside. But we built this company because we love photography, video, and gadgets – and we’ve gotta stick with what we love.
  • Vincent enthusiastically took us up on our offer, and we all started brainstorming about how we could best release the film. Then we started brainstorming on how great this camera would be for indie photographers and filmmakers, and we lost our minds again. By Sunday morning, we had committed $25-50K to create a community-driven film using the Canon 5D MkII. (Note how fast things are moving – they were moving so fast, none of us had time to catch our breath).
  • We found out that Vincent had some awesome Behind-the-Scenes footage of the making of his film, Reverie, and so of course we offer to host that for free again.
  • The time for release arrived. Now, this entire time, we’ve never talked to anyone at Canon. As far as I knew, this wasn’t a Canon deal – Vincent clearly says Canon told him “You can then produce a video and stills completely independently from Canon U.S.A.”
  • We posted full HD versions of both Reverie and the behind-the-scenes footage for the world to see, crossing our fingers that our bandwidth bill wouldn’t be more than we could bear.
  • Our customers went bananas. Awesome! They’re thrilled we’re interested in this stuff, because they’re interested in this stuff. Ok, great, so maybe this bandwidth bill will pay of in goodwill. 🙂
  • The press went bananas – both mainstream and online. Awesome! They’re gaga over the user response and the remarkable camera.
  • We got busy (and I personally got busy) telling everyone, press and non alike, who called, emailed, tweeted, blogged, etc that the Canon 5D MkII is a game-changing camera the likes of which we haven’t seen before.
  • Canon asked Vincent to ask us to take Reverie down.


Canon asked Vincent to ask us to take Reverie down.


Being a Canon fanboy, I quickly complied – with a very heavy heart. I felt like I’d been kicked in the gut by one of my heroes. I felt betrayed. I also wrote a few things in the heat of the moment that came out harsher than they should have (and thankfully I didn’t publish what I’d original written – whew!). I’ve now edited my blog post and would like to apologize to anyone at Canon who I offended – I certainly wasn’t attacking Canon’s great employees, I was just lashing out.

But look at it from my point of view. I was risking an awful lot of money on bandwidth (I doubt it would have topped 6 figures, but easily could have been in the 5s) because I’m a camera geek and I love this stuff. Customer goodwill is fabulous, and we love generating it, but we were really doing this because we love the camera, love the passion that went into the film, and love to help our industry. We were hopeful that that goodwill would come back to us someday – but even if it didn’t, the chance to be a part of something as momentous as this film from this camera was worth it. And a good chunk of the company busted their butts over the weekend to make this happen. We could have been playing with our kids or out shooting photographs, but instead we spent the weekend setting things up for Vincent’s release.

And instead of appreciating how generous I thought we were being, and appreciating the monster amount of PR they were getting (better PR than any amount of money can buy), it felt like Canon was arbitrarily cutting us off for no good reason. I found myself asking “Well, if they want to host it on their pages, why don’t they just embed the video from SmugMug? Then they get it for free and we still get to be involved. It doesn’t even have to show our logo or anything – just use Quicktime but use a file from SmugMug’s servers. We’d save them money!”. We just wanted to be involved. And no-one at Canon called or emailed us at all – as I’m writing this, I’ve still never talked to anyone at Canon on this “independent from Canon” project.

In the cold light of the next day, though, I can see that I overreacted. It’s a sign of my passion for Canon and their products. No-one overreacts when some bad company does something stupid. But just look at Apple – the instant they make a mis-step (or even perceived mis-step), everyone is up in arms, ready to lynch Steve. Why? Because their products are so dang good, everyone’s super-passionate about them. So I let my passion get the better of me. I still wish Canon had wanted to work together, or at least let us be part of the project, but does it really matter?

I’m still buying a Canon 5D MkII and, I’m sure, lots of Canon goodies to go along with it. So what are you waiting for? Go get your own. 🙂

  1. September 24, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Glad to read the update and that things are again copasetic. The 5D Mark II does look incredible as does Vincent’s videos. Can’t wait to see more.

  2. September 24, 2008 at 3:54 pm

    Don, I feel your pain! As I was reading your post, I was also thinking Canon could have embedded a video streamed from Smugmug. But then it’s hard to ask a marketing guy to know so much as to how to best take advantage of web technologies cost effectively, in the light of taking actions to protect their rights to their brand.

    And these dSLRs with HD video capabilities are gonna change a lot of things for film industry! This is exciting!

  3. September 24, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    I was lucky enough to see and twitter links to the video in action when it was live. Pretty amazing stuff! Glad I got in there before it was yanked. Thanks for trying Don, sorry you lost a weekend and maybe some $$$ trying to do some goodwill for everyone involved!

    Canon if you are reading this, play nice and Team up with Don (and his great company & service). As Don said, it could be a match made in heaven!

  4. Robert Haigh
    September 24, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Once again you and your company teach us lessons on modern business management, modern marketing and modern customer relations. I love you guys. Too bad most large corporations aren´t ready to deal in the new world. Just let us know when you IPO!!!

    I´ve been a Canon fanboy for the past 19 years (got my first EOS at age 13) and a SmugMug fanboy for the past few months. I´m not a pro but use you as good business examples almost every week. Keep it coming….

  5. September 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    I knew where your head was! 😀

  6. Jeff S.
    September 24, 2008 at 6:47 pm

    Booooooooo Canon. I too love all my canon cameras and enjoyed the video and got pumped up by the movie. What is the point of them sending out these prerelease cameras if not to get people excited?

    I think it was canon that overreacted, not you.

  7. September 24, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Love Canon as well…sometimes I wonder what Lawyers and PR folks do when they finished being dumb about the web…

    Can’t help but add this…

    “just look at Apple – the instant they make a mis-step (or even perceived mis-step), everyone is up in arms, ready to lynch Steve. Why? Because their products are so dang good, everyone’s super-passionate about them.”

    If Apple had not invented a mp3 player they would barely be on the radar for anything…and if they have another year like this one (crappy firmware (iphone) crappy web software (mobileme)) things might go south for them…at least they admitted someone else invented the ipod (or facsimile) but refused to through him at least a million or two for it. I predict Amazon (with DRM free music), Android and/or Blackberry will chip away the glossy shell of Apple in 2009. The sad part is I discussed Apple and never mentioned their computers or servers…that’s an after thought now days.

  8. Matt Johnson
    September 24, 2008 at 9:55 pm

    I saw your post about the 5D MkII on Monday and was evidently one of the few to get to watch the short film for the first time on SmugMug and thought it was awesome!

    I’m a 30D owner myself wanting to upgrade to a 50D… but now I’m a little torn… in a good way that is. Canon has definitely won a lot of attention and desire with the move of introducing this new camera.

  9. September 24, 2008 at 10:02 pm

    Don and SmugMug Crew: I think is was Canon that “went bananas”, but not in a good way. This is a classic example of a large company’s PR/Marketing department not being able to leverage the web/social media because they are not the ones in control. They didn’t like the fact that you upstaged them with their own product buzz and they definitely didn’t understand that you were helping them spread the buzz. It is downright embarrassing for them that no one has called you (SmugMug) directly regarding this.

    Chin up all…no bad tarnish on you, much on Canon.

  10. September 25, 2008 at 12:01 am


    I don’t think you over reacted to Canon asking photographer Vincent Laforet to take his video off your website. It brings up an interesting question. Does Canon have any problem with the use of the still photos taken with the camera or just video? I’m a little unclear about the situation. Do they believe they have control of all images and video taken with the pre-production Canon 5D MarkII cameras?

    Keep up the good work,


  11. September 25, 2008 at 10:28 am

    Thanks for sharing this story – it’s interesting to read about the details of it. I don’t think you have anything to apologize for though…but Canon does. They treated you and your company badly, and in light of all the work your crew did to support this project, they’re the ones who should be approaching you and apologizing for not recognizing and encouraging your involvement in this project. You wear your heart on your sleeve, just like I do, but there’s nothing wrong with that.

    I’ve had dealings with Canon over the year and, sadly, I’ve generally found them to be a typical faceless corporate giant. Unfortunately Nikon’s not much better, but at least their PR people talk to me. 😉

  12. Raoul Duke
    September 25, 2008 at 11:34 am

    eh, get a spine, Canon is a complete ass hat corporation in this whole sad story. i have a Nikon but i don’t expect Nikon would be any better; corporations tend to suck because they are forced to by law and lawyers afaict, especially as they get bigger (more $ to lose in a law suit, cf. the old bloom county http://tinyurl.com/4wyc5j).

  13. Chris Adams
    September 25, 2008 at 2:57 pm

    I’ll second the other complaints about Canon: they come across as incredibly tone-deaf. You can’t buy positive stories like this and large companies are routinely ridiculed for failed attempts to fake it — suddenly a brilliant PR story drops in their lap and the first instinct is to strangle it. The only real way to salvage it would be fore someone at Canon to announce that the manager in question was no longer employed by them and, unfortunately, it’s probably someone high enough up the food chain to ensure that doesn’t happen.

    (The comparisons with the way Apple’s App Store policies are rapidly burning away most of the iPhone’s good will are quite apt; I just hope someone quickly realizes just how bad this mistake was.)

  14. Steve
    September 26, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Something similar happened with the Canon Rumors website (www.canonrumors.com). He got a cease-and-desist letter threatening legal action if he continued using “canon” in the webpages and domain name (!). After several weeks (and a lot of bad publicity for Canon), it got sorted out.

  15. Rob W
    October 2, 2008 at 9:30 pm

    Huh. Here’s the message on Canon’s page that you linked to as hosting the video:


    Can the situation get any sillier?

  16. ML
    October 5, 2008 at 8:13 pm

    lol, now they exeeded their download……

  17. October 19, 2008 at 8:30 am

    It’s 19th October – and I’m still seeing the “WE HAVE EXCEEDED OUR DOWNLOAD CAPACITY” on Canon’s page, LOL.

    Unbelievable. It almost seems that Canon hates good publicity.

  18. December 9, 2008 at 9:31 am

    According to Canon,“ The…

  19. December 10, 2008 at 5:06 pm

    While I wait for…

  20. NoMoreCanonsForMe
    August 22, 2009 at 5:58 am

    Canon FTL. I'll never buy another one of their camera's. This seals it. Peace.

  21. November 14, 2009 at 3:35 pm

    Hey Don, wish I could have joined you but it's a bit far from Switzerland 😉 Luckily I managed to catch it at IMAX Irvine, OC.

  22. December 22, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Hmm.. I like canon. I use it for five years…… its good camera

  1. September 25, 2008 at 5:09 pm
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