What was the Most Disappointing Camera Release of All Time?

Camera releases have been hit and miss in the last few decades in particular. Which missed the mark by the most, though?

This year has seen some great cameras and largely, I think almost all of the major releases by the different brands have been strong. This might fool you into believing that big releases by any of the major players in the industry are usually of a decent caliber, but sadly, that is not always the case. In fact, you only need to look at the past few years to see just how frequently the mark was missed and consumers and professionals alike were left disappointed. What was the most disappointing camera release of all time, though?

Limiting the Pool Size

Straight off the bat, I was met with two conflicting issues when addressing the question: firstly, I've only been "knowledgeable" about the industry for a little over a decade, which isn't particularly long. So, my sample size of camera releases is going to be much smaller than some of our seasoned veterans on Fstoppers. Conversely, I had a whole host of cameras I wanted to include in this list, but that perhaps didn't warrant a nomination. The tricky word is "disappointing" and just how subjective that is.

To narrow it down, I tried to avoid the subjective nature of the term by not including cameras that I was personally looking forward to that didn't deliver. Rather, I was assessing cameras by general industry expectation, what the brand promised, and how the eventual release fared against other cameras available to buy at that time. As a result, I narrowed my shortlist down to three candidates.

Canon EOS R

"The moral of the story is: I chose a half-measure when I should have gone all the way. I'll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter." This line is by Mike Ehrmantraut in the show "Breaking Bad," and it perfectly summarizes Canon's approach to entering the competitive, professional, full frame mirrorless body space. The EOS R was the half measure to the R5, which is undoubtedly going all the way. 

It's not that the EOS R is some sort of abomination — it isn't — it's just that Canon sang about their first full frame mirrorless camera, the photography world clenched in anticipation awaiting the deliciousness Canon had conditioned us to expect, only for them to release something so middling, so average, it wasn't even vanilla ice cream, it was unflavored. For the sizable price tag, you got cropped 4K, allegedly awful rolling shutter, one card slot, poor quality 120 fps, no IBIS, no GPS, and so on. It's not a bad camera, but compared to the R6, which had a release RRP of nearly the same ($2,499 with the R6 in 2020, to $2,299 with the EOS R in 2018) it really does pale. It's safe to say they have made up for this disappointment now, however.

Lytro Light Field Camera

I want to preface this nomination with emphasis: Lytro got a bad rap for their cameras, and while they missed out on achieving what was hoped and suggested of them, they tried to do something that hadn't been done, and they were truly innovative, which deserves praise and appreciation. Without people risking failure by pushing past what we know we can already do, we wouldn't progress anywhere near as quickly. It's a real shame the company didn't work out, and I've no doubt that Ren Ng, the CEO of the now-defunct company, will continue to leave his mark on the photography world.

However, the original Lytro LFC missed all of its targets, save for perhaps its USP, in that you could indeed "focus later." As a care-free point-and-shoot, it was physically too cumbersome and technically too slow to work. As anything more substantial than a fun, experimental camera for consumers, it was nowhere near the grade, which in fairness to Lytro, it didn't necessarily aim to be. Its resolution was terrible, its focus was reportedly slow, image control was very limited, its screen was almost unusable, and it just wasn't desirable to almost anyone outside of photography nerds and gadget enthusiasts. which incidentally, makes it a very appealing camera to me! Nevertheless, it didn't deliver, and it did disappoint.

Nikon Df

It might have made the list of disappointments, but it sure is pretty.
The build-up and marketing campaign for the teased Nikon DSLR was substantial. It succeeded insofar as I still remember it seven or eight years later. It failed insofar as I remember it because it was cringe-worthy and would have only been redeemable by the Df being a rip-roaring triumph, which it wasn't. Though the classic SLR styling absolutely delivered (I mean, look at it; they nailed that part), the "pure photography" they kept harping on about — which wasn't overly clear, to begin with — did not land.

I remember a review not long after it was released, and the reviewer (I'm sorry, the publication and author have been lost in the sands of time to me) summarized with a list of pros and cons. I only remember one, which was a con, and it was along the lines of "it's not a good purchase if you want to get the best out of your money." Not only is that amusingly damning — not a camera for someone who values things like money — but it was sadly true. Its sensor was lackluster, it had a single card slot, slow AF performance, and a whole host of missing features that were expected to be present.

Which Camera Release Disappointed You the Most?

I have spoken about this with a few other trusted and knowledgeable photographers, and I was surprised to see little overlap in our lists. One surprising answer I saw more than once was Sony's highly anticipated a7S III. The response to the release has been largely positive, but it appears some photographers expected more from the video-centric body. So, I'll pass the question over to you. Which camera release was the most disappointing, and most importantly, why?

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Previous comments
Tim van der Leeuw's picture

If camera phones are allowed in this list, then the HMD Nokia 9 PureView.
Much hype about a revolutionary camera system in a phone, 5 sensors, depth-sensor, and post-shot (re-)focusing...

But the end result was slow to use and never lived up to the hype.

JL Williams's picture

Now, wait a second, the headline does say “The Most Disappointing Camera Release of ALL TIME.” Not “The Most Disappointing Digital Camera Release That My Bros and I Could Think of Offhand Without Too Much Bother In the Ten Minutes I Spent Writing This Article.”

So, how about the Rolleiflex 2.8A, the storied medium-format company's first postwar model, cause for jubilation except that — oops — its f/2.8 Zeiss Tessar lens was so unsharp at full aperture that the company had to recall many of them and then rush out a replacement, the 2.8B, with a lens sourced from the wrong side of the political railroad tracks in Soviet-controlled East Germany? Or how about the brilliant Minox II subminiature, incorporating the ingenious optical performance breakthrough of a rear lens element that actually contacted the film... which.must have seemed like a great idea until dirt got on that rear element and caused scratched negatives, which happened basically 100% of the time? Of course there have been plenty of trash cameras released over the years... I just happened to pick on these two because they were highly anticipated and released by leading companies that should have known better...

Deleted Account's picture

I don't think anyone can really speak to something that they didn't experience firsthand and I doubt that most of us were alive to experience those particular disappointments. It's difficult to get a measure of what the anticipation (and disappointment) for something was actually like unless you actually experienced it. Also, I can't really imagine any form of pre-internet hype to even come close to touching the level of hype that is built up now with social media, YouTube videos, and the 24/7 rumor mill churning out content so I can't imagine any crash from that hype to be worse either.

Tom Reichner's picture

Totally agree with you. We're not really qualified to speak as to what was disappointing to other people in another time. We are to speak from personal experience alone, as that is the only thing we are qualified to speak on.

Forrest M.'s picture

While I agree that the Df was a fail, its sensor is glorious. It beautifully resolves all my old Nikkor prime glass. For that reason alone, I love it.