I have heard the rumors about Nikon buying the video and sensor tech from Samsung. Let mull this over for a minute and think about the ramifications.

Here's one thing Samsung is not good at: Marketing stand alone cameras outside of South Korea. Here's one thing Samsung is very, very good at: Making state of the art processor, memory and imaging semiconductors. Always seems like a great idea to play to your strengths. 

There are two rumors floating around right now and I am inclined to believe them both. One is that Samsung is exiting the camera markets almost everywhere in the world, outside their own home market. And probably there too. The problem for Samsung was one of marketing which, by extension, effected their decision making in camera design. They consistently launched relatively expensive mirrorless cameras with no EVFs and no possibility of hooking up an aftermarket EVF finder. They consistently made cameras with good video capability at the chip level but with no microphone inputs. They misread the amount of demand for cameras with full bore Android operating systems inside. They tried to wrap a marketing campaign around #DitchtheDSLR but they never made the arguments for why one should get rid of a perfectly good camera to embrace one that was more or less unknown. One without a supporting campaign of features and benefits. They tried to paint the status quo DSLR as something bad instead of touting the things their mirrorless cameras supposedly did better. The marketplace judged the value of things included and things left off the various and then voted with their wallets. In most markets it was thumbs down. 

But the thing to remember is that the parts that were just about the technology were very, very good. And then we come to Nikon. 

The rumor is that Nikon is buying Samsung's camera tech in order to bound into the mirrorless ring with gusto and present us with a "professional" mirrorless system. I sure as hell hope there's someone smart at the controls there and that Nikon doesn't stub their toes hard trying catch up all at once. I'd rather see them take it all one step at a time. 

The no brainer is the actual sensor. The NX1 proved that Samsung could make a great APS-C sensor and they bolstered the performance of the sensor by surrounding it with fast image processing chips. Nikon needs an alternative to Sony as an imaging sensor supplier. Having a single supplier is like having one client; it's dangerous. Nikon can start by implementing the BSI sensor tech from Samsung into their APS-C cameras which will get them more resolution and more speed. And the experienced people at Nikon can get the colors right. Or at least more right than Samsung did.

The imaging sensor and the surrounding support team of micro processors and micro controllers are also part of the secret sauce for the 4K video.

If Nikon's first steps are to use the chips to speed up overall processing and also provide highly competitive video I'll be happy if they stop there to catch their breath.

The next step would be for Nikon to introduce the EVF from the NX1 into one of their APS-C bodies. They could keep the lens mount and just eliminate the mirror. That should provide backward compatibility with a rich and really good selection of current and past lenses. Once they do a good job with the video and the EVF they've pretty much entered into the realm of what I want out of a mirrorless camera. 

I hope Nikon will resist two things which, I think, would kill them in the advanced consumer and professional markets. They must avoid, at all costs, the temptation to abandon the existing lens mount and introduce a system designed around the Samsung mount. I understand the lure of not having to make the adaptations from system to system and I understand very well the value of being able to put lots of different lenses (other than Nikons) on the front of the camera, but a major selling point of Nikon for decades and generations of photographers has been the backward compatibility of the lenses. I suppose it would work to use a shorter flange distance and come out with a seamless adapter to use the lenses in question but I think they will run into the same marketing issues that have plagued Samsung and Sony, and at the same time have served Nikon and Canon so well; the idea that the camera body is an introduction into a massive inventory of existing glass that is time tested and familiar.  That Sony and Samsung haven't reached a usable stable of lenses, much less an inventory of lenses that cover everything professionals and advanced amateurs might need. But those lenses we want already exist across Nikon and Canon's lines. 

The second thing I hope Nikon resists is trying to make their new cameras too small just for the sake of marketing in the few countries in the world where people have smaller hands, smaller homes, smaller offices and smaller purses. It's my hope that, from a handling point of view, that Nikon stick to a minimum size of the APS-C line of cameras they are selling right now. While I love the Olympus EM5.2 cameras we are already under the limits of size-to-convenient use ratios and I fear more shrinkage. We need to be able to hold our cameras securely and access the buttons on the tops and back with authority. 

Nikon has a reputation to maintain and I hope they don't destroy it by going too far too fast. 

In all, this could be a good thing for Nikon and Samsung. Good for Samsung because I think the camera division was a distraction, and a field they just don't understand from a world use perspective. They simply didn't have enough time and research in the user field to understand how best to market their cameras to enthusiasts. A hash tag campaign and the besmirching of a product category isn't really marketing. At least not marketing that will build long term clientele. 

It's bound to be a good thing for Nikon because it gives them more options and more diverse product to sell. They could very well have a flagship line with full frame, highly capable traditional cameras, a second line of state of the art, mirrorless APS-C cameras and perhaps a total refresh of their purse cameras, the N1 System. They just need to resist the temptation to combine everything into some sort of Frankenstein product inventory. We've already lived through that.  

Keep the mount, leverage the sensor. 
Keep the lenses, leverage the processor speeds. 
Keep the body styles and sizes, leverage better video.  It could work. Or it could all be just rumors that will never come to fruition. We'll see. 

The proto camera.

A handful of cameras, only one of which have EVFs.

And here's where they just went totally off the rails......

Or was it here?

Hanging out at the graffiti wall thinking about cameras....


Douglas Chadwick said...

I disagree on one count, the lens mount. I think Leica has gotten it right on the SL mount, use a shorter flange to sensor distance and adapters for existing lenses that preserve full function.

I have Sony a7 cameras and use my Leica M and Nikon lenses. I would quickly move to a Nikon mirrorless if it had better function with my Nikon lenses, but if it could not use my Leica lenses I might not bother.

I would not consider the camera if it had the Samsung mount.

Ash Crill said...

I think that if they want to succeed in the mirrorless marketplace, the ergonomics have to change. Marketing is more about style than substance. The good news for Nikon is that they have a rich heritage to build upon. A digital Nikon F is really a no-brainer.
For years, Nikon has marginalized their prosumer DX line in favor of pushing consumers to FX models, whether they want that or not. If the market niche for mid-tier dslrs has been so small and unimportant that Nikon has been ignoring it, will they now target that same niche with a mirrorless lineup?
I think that the digital F will be a full frame camera, and users who enjoy the advantages of crop sensor cameras will once again be left out in the cold.
Also, at some point their entry-level dslrs will become mirrorless cameras. The target audience won't know the difference.

Anonymous said...

Both Nikon and Samsung have officially denied the so-called rumor.

Mosswings said...

From the standpoint of size and weight, retaining the long flange distance of the f-mount is not a real disadvantage if grip-based ergonomics are retained - you need at least an inch or so of grip protruding to make this work. At least it is not a disadvantage for the FF bodies that Nikon wants us to buy. And I agree with Kirk that there is a certain minimum size needed for good handling and full shooting control with eye at the viewfinder; for twin-control wheel UIs, that's something perhaps a skosh taller than the current D5500. So, all told, it would be hard for me to see something any smaller than an EM-1 coming out of Nikon, and grip ergos is one of the reasons why I balk at an Oly product. If you have to add an aux grip for comfort, why did you have to omit it in the first place?

The Nikon-Samsung rumors, if true, will probably boil down to Nikon partnering with a new sensor manufacturer. Nikon certainly has the in-house ability to research and prototype new mirrorless systems, and has demonstrated great competence in the creation of the AF used for their Series 1 line. What they don't have is the production capability to evolve their on-sensor AF systems in the direction that they're now going - away from direct emulation of traditional PDAF on the sensor, to two-dimensional array / big data hybrid approaches. Sony won't be the vehicle for that, and Samsung has shown that its patents deliver...a perfect sensor partner. The NX line may soldier on for another generation, but it's ultimately toast.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hey Anonymous: Where and when? Cite your stuff. I'd like to see the official denial from both. Easy to say, hard to prove.

Anonymous said...


I realize that these are not direct press releases from Nikon and Samsung, but if you look at your original sources where you first heard about the supposed merger - i.e. the various "rumors" sites - they now also admit the same. Hope that helps!

Also, I wasn't before and am not now trying to be a smart ass - I love reading your blog & have been following since about a year after you started it - I was just trying to point out something that you probably hadn't heard. Personally, I have been shooting Nikon since mid-1990s (Minolta before then) and I am too used to their user interface and have too many lenses that I can't afford to replace to change brands - so to me it is only of passing interest one way or another. Just wanted to point out what I'd seen that's all. Sorry if it came across as smart ass.


Michael Reed said...

your right about Samsung sucking at selling cameras but great at selling components. They even sell components to one of their major rivals, Apple.

It may be a partnership where Nikon uses Samsung tech(components).

It would make great sense if Nikon repackages the Samsung tech to fully utilize Nikon glass.

amolitor said...

For my money the elephant in the room with mirrorless is power. How many reviews have we read of the form 'the EVF is OK/good/great, but battery life is terrible' protip: evfs use power, and quite a lot of it.

It's possible the answer is actually a big camera with an EVF and a big battery. Maybe Nikon is the right player?

John Krill said...

If Nikon made a new lens mount or used the Samsung mount it really wouldn't make a big difference for their DX bodies. They currently have only 19 lenses for the DX bodies. Worst is there is only 3 primes lenses made for the DX bodies and none are in the wide angle zone.

FX lenses fit the DX bodies but if you may only have manual focus and a good portion of the image coming from the FX lens is unused.

I REALLY like the Nikon D5XXX bodies but Nikon has no primes for it. So I moved to Fujifilm X series cameras and it will be a cold day in Hell before I ever trust Nikon to do anything they say they will do.

Andrew Livelsberger said...

Nikon can change the mount. If they do, they must provide an adapter for backward compatibility to the current F-mount. This will give legacy users a path. They can use their existing lenses until they have a reason to go with the newer mount.

Look to Olympus, providing the 4/3 to m4/3 adapters. They do this and provide killer new lenses, and we have another winning piece.

Nathan Smith said...

" where people have smaller hands, smaller homes, smaller officers and smaller purses". Interesting comment as the world is meeting in Paris trying to deal with climatic change you seem advocating against it in insisting that we Americans be allowed to continue using up the world resources making things larger than they need to be. Cars, Mc-Mansions, offices larger than some apartments, the amount of food we consume and waste. Will we leave anything for your grandchildren? As a great architect (Mies van der Rohe) said a long time ago " Less is More". Also isn't it interesting that with our big hands we can type on cell phones.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Nathan, I don't type on my cellphone and I 'm not making a political value judgement about infrastructure, nor am I advocating for more resources. The majority of camera sales still happen in the most affluent markets and that means North America and Europe and people in these markets have gotten bigger and taller for over three generations now. The camera makers would be wise to fit their products to their primary demographic. I defy you to tell me that writing a novel by tapping on the screen of your iPhone would be a pleasant and enjoyable undertaking.

Nathan Smith said...

New York Times Jan 20, 2015.
" Thumbs Race As Japan's Best Sellers Go Cellular"
You would have to ask them if it was pleasant and enjoyable but is doable. Would be interested in comparing thumb sizes between North America, Europe and the rest of the world. that's a joke but I think the younger generation has adapted to smaller things better than the older generation.

Mike Tesh said...

I’m not sure if the niche prosumer camera market is where you really want to start a debate about world resources. Cheap Chinese products that break after a year and get thrown in the trash is probably a better place to vent those concerns.

Personally I can’t wait till these digital cameras reach a point like film camera reached where we have no issues using a 30 year old camera.

I agree with most of your points about what Nikon should do. Although I teeter back and forth with the lens mount thing. On one hand, keeping the F-mount as it is would be the simplest thing they can do and would ensure that these cameras retain a certain degree of a ergonomic bulk that I personally enjoy. Adapters usually cost extra (especially if it has a focus motor in it for older AF lenses) and can get lost. Plus I can’t imagine they’re as strong as just mounting the lens directly to the camera body, depending on the lens size.

On the flip side however, this gives Nikon a chance to design a whole new modern mount. Something compatible with the ability to change the lens aperture while shooting video and maybe even connections for a power zoom for future video-oriented zoom lenses. I’m not 100% sure what the current F-mount can and can’t do though. Maybe that’s all possible. But there is something nice about being able to use adapters for other lenses when you have a shorter flange to focal distance. Especially cinema style lenses if they decide to go more in that direction at some point.

So really I could go either way. But I agree 100% on retaining the current sizes. Human hands aren’t getting smaller and these are not cheap commodity items, they are specialized items people pay higher prices for.