Watch Nikon Pursue the "Apple" Strategy of Letting Other Companies Work Out the Kinks and then Releasing a Great Product.

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?).


eric erickson said...

Kirk, love your posts and this one is dead on. I still have a big hulky FF Nikon body and assorted lenses as well as Fuji gear. Love my Nikon and use it for all my serious work. Use my Fuji for travel. I have spoken with my local camera store ( a novelty I know) and put my name on the “ list” for the new Nikon. For some reason that I really can’t explain, I just really love shooting with my Nikon. I think most of it is the Nikon glass and processing engine. It just flat out works. Thanks for the post. Sorry about your weather. It is beautiful up in Ohio now, our best time of the year. You can remind us northerners about your weather in January when things are not as pleasant in The North. All the best. Eric

Craig Yuill said...

Your post is a refreshing change from reading messages from the anti-Nikon trolls or Nikon-hyping fanboys on various websites and fora. The trolls seem to think that Nikon will never catch up to Sony, forgetting that Nikon makes what are arguably the best, most-advanced DSLRs around, and did a lot of things right (and a lot of things wrong too) with their now-discontinued Nikon 1 mirrorless system. The fanboys act like Nikon will crush any competition with this new system, forgetting that the competition can make its own advances in design and technology. I think your analysis of the situation is very rational and spot on.

I hope this new system is a success. I also hope that it won't be accessible to only well-heeled photographers. The rumored prices of the new system's camera bodies and lenses are apparently fairly high. No bargains to be found there!

I hope you enjoy your new 105mm f/2.8 lens. You never mentioned whether it was the AF-D or AF-S VR version. Whichever version it is, it should go very well with your D800 bodies. Those Micro-Nikkors are some of the sharpest lenses Nikon has ever produced, yet create OOF areas with nice, smooth bokeh.

Thomas F said...

I hope you're right.
I've tried other brands but the Nikon really have the best ergonomics for me.

TMJ said...

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities (in this instance, two camera companies, Nikon and Canon).

Frank Grygier said...

The fear of cannibalizing their DSLR sales will cripple Nikon's full frame mirrorless efforts.I predict that the EVF and sensor based image stabilization will fall short in the first iterations of this camera.

pixtorial said...

From the perspective of the hardware, your post is bang on and I think that Nikon, if they actually execute on this, will have a winner. However, I can't ignore Thom's insight into the business end of Nikon, especially the atmosphere of cost reduction and the affect it has on customer service. In contracting markets, especially ones that serve professionals, customer service rises up as a key differentiator.

John Krumm said...

I suspect you are right. If they get the details right, ergonomics, EVF, focus speed... they will sell a ton to their fans, and convert others. Same with Canon. They are milking a shrinking pool, but it's time to milk it.

I also have a feeling that Olympus will come out with a "super advanced" full frame mirrorless next year. Of course I could very well be wrong, but I think they are entirely capable tech wise to make the lenses and body. The rumors might refer to some kind of extra-advanced m43 camera.

Rene said...

Hi Kirk,

For about 10 years when I was doing a lot of macro work, that 100mm 2.8 D was never off my camera. It is wonderful lens and it's the only thing I missed (and still do) when I switched to the Olympus m43 system.

Kodachromeguy said...

That F in your photograph is such a gorgeous piece of mid-century industrial design. It was rugged, efficient to use, modular, beautifully crafted, and still, 60+ years later, capable to taking fantastic pictures. It's a pity so many of the gear-heads who bicker online over so and so's next new digital wonder with 10^6 megapixels don't buy an F or similar camera and go learn the basics in their photography. Wonder if their work might improve......

Eric Rose said...

How much better than the GH5 will the Nikon mirrorless have to be before you ditch your m43rds system?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Hmmm. Let me think about that one for a while...

Mark the tog said...

My standard response to those who have been discounting both Nikon and Canon for their late-to-the-party strategy for mirrorless is: "Just how stupid do you think they are?"
These two companies have been getting it right for decades. Sony had to re-invent the ergonomic and photographic wheel.
They clearly had no idea how photographers used their cameras nor did they understand what things were important.
They assembled a focus session product that checked the boxes of high MP, small size, novel technology.
Olympus and Panasonic had already slashed and burned their way to much better usability by the time Sony came along yet they did not seem to cotton onto the nuances of the field.

Interestingly, the Sony A7x/9 series are among the most traded in bodies at our local camera store. The salesperson commented to me "We see a lot of them but a lot come back".