Remember in 1959 when all the rangefinder users laughed about SLR cameras?
They'd never equal the appeal of rangefinders, right?
So, who came through with proof of concept?
Hint: It was not "first to market" Exacta....
Many pundits on the web think that somehow Sony got all the knowledge about how to build advanced cameras and poor Nikon (and Canon) are just standing at the backdoor of the Sony camera factory begging for table scrapes. But I'm thinking that nothing could be further from the truth. I think Nikon has been riding a long tail of profitable film and then digital cameras and they've been standing back watching and learning from both the pitfalls and the successes of the companies who have been making and marketing mirrorless cameras for the past eight years.
Don't forget that Nikon launched the One Series of mirrorless cameras well over six years ago and they were able to get a lot of stuff right without having a Sony mirrorless one inch sensor ILC camera around to copy from.
We are hearing that Nikon will launch their first "professional," full frame mirrorless camera in the next few months. While it's true that Nikon stumbles from time to time they also have been making very successful and popular cameras since at least the early 1950's.
Here is why I think Nikon will come into the market and do well:
1. Nikon has a tremendous knowledge of the haptics, handling and industrial design for of making cameras that are comfortable to hold and use. They make likable bodies. You can actually be comfortable using one all day long.
2. Nikon will "halo" off the stunning performance of the D850; which many reviewers and test sites have labeled as the highest quality image maker in the entire (sub medium format) marketplace. Now they will offer the same or similar performance across two platforms allowing users to choose the style of camera they like best.
3. Nikon has (I hope) paid attention to all of Sony, Olympus, Fuji and Panasonic's missteps. They will launch with a body that has (I hope) an ample battery for long run times, a big and comfortable grip surface, no nonsense menus with clarity and coherence as a standard feature, easy to use and understand, dedicated controls (ISO, WB, Quality), an ability to (with an adapter) work with all Nikon G series lenses (and later models), PD-AF on sensor AF performance.
4. Nikon built an entire line of high end Super 8 video cameras so they aren't as far behind on video handling knowledge and filmmaking stuff as some pundits might imagine. I felt like they were almost there with their video performance in the D810 (vis-a-vis 1080p video quality) and the D850 seems to be a really good 4K video camera with all the necessary basic controls for film making. I can't imagine that they wouldn't include at least as much video performance in a newer, mirrorless camera.
5. Offering only full frame imagers for now rationalizes the lens line-up and insinuates that they are a professional choice as well as a choice for highest image quality.
Look, Nikon had a booth right across from Sony when Sony launched the original A7 and A7R at the Photo Expo in 2013 (NYC). Those Sony cameras just sucked. Yes, the sensors were good but the bodies were uncomfortable to hold and handle. The shutter (especially in the A7R) was atrociously loud and intrusive, and the cameras launched with very, very few lenses. The batteries gave customers about 45 minutes of run time and the finder optics were suboptimal. We're only five years past that blah introduction and now people are acting as though Sony is the gold standard of camera systems. It's instructive to understand that only with the introduction of their third generation of mirrorless cameras have they finally created something that approaches the comfort, convenience and reliability that Nikon has been selling for decades. As for digital innovation let's remember the D1x in 2002, the DCS series of Kodak cameras based on Nikon bodies and many generations of competitive, professional digital DSLRs. We're asking them to take out stuff. To make manufacturing cheaper and easier, not harder. Why would Nikon have any difficulty accomplishing that???
Nikon may not leap frog over Sony with their new mirrorless cameras but the combination of long loyalty and satisfaction with previous Nikon cameras combined with a huge line of lenses and many installed customer inventories will create an incredible demand from Nikon users who have or wanted to flirt with/try mirrorless cameras at a high performance level.
We talk a lot about Sony's video chops --- and it's true that Sony is a leader in pro video cameras but most o the A7 series cameras have never featured stuff like 10 bit 4:2:2 files and the like. Only the more expensive and newer models have featured the higher end video features and then only when attached to an external video recorder/monitor. The Nikon cameras can already play in the same space (D810) and, when connected to a recorder/monitor also deliver 10 bit, 4:2:2 performance. The mic pre-amps in the Sony's are no better (or worse) than the mic pre-amps in the D810 or D850 either.
Perhaps Nikon will go after the more professional end of the market by not being as tied to small size as Sony (and you'll note that the A7iii and A7Riii are both much bigger and heavier than earlier generations) and the larger bodies will deliver better handling, much better heat dissipation and enough grippable space to not make the use of longer, bigger lenses feel precarious.
In short, I think all the camera makers are selling into a slowly declining overall market for interchangeable lens cameras. The brand and the perceptions about the brand will help Nikon as long as they help themselves by giving us a product that's at least as good as what we can get from Sony right now.
I just bought yet another Nikon lens and checked it out this afternoon. It's the 100mm f2.8 Macro. If you needed to be convinced about image quality you only need to put this lens on a D800e or D810 or 850 and take some big ass 14 bit, uncompressed raw files. You'd know that it's a fool's errand to count Nikon out too soon.
I am eagerly awaiting their product introduction. I hope they can serve the market demand a lot better than they have with the D850....
Be happy we have choices. Believe the reality you see. It may be real.
The camera race is silly. All the good stuff is already in the market. Nikon could have stopped with the D700 and most people would still be delighted....(hyperbole?).