What do I expect from Nikon's new mirrorless offerings? And do I think the rumors are even true...?

Image taken with a traditional Nikon DSLR; the D700.
Lens: Nikon 85mm f1.8 D. 

I think the Nikon D5 symbolizes why it's so hard for Nikon to truly make a transition into offering a line of professional mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. On one hand their real history, as a camera maker, is tightly wrapped around a stream of heavy duty professional cameras ranging from their first rangefinder cameras, through the mechanical tanks represented by the F and F2, and continuing along with heavy, reliable, and overly engineered cameras like the F4, F5 and so many of their top-of-the-catalog digital cameras like the D2, D3, D700, D4 and D5. There seems to be a dominant current of thought in their engineering DNA that drives them to make cameras that are engineered to take years of abuse in stride and to offer a protective shell for their electronics that, in most cases, will far outlast the innards.

But now they seem to be aiming at competing with Sony and Fuji in the mirrorless space and they seem set to abandon their timeless approach. Big, highly engineered and overbuilt picture taking machines. Stuff working pros love.

The catalyst for fashionable change? the witless wags at countless blogs and websites which have continually conflated mirrorless with small, light, handy, pocketable, dainty, delicate and able to fit nicely into a lady's handbag. Even a small clutch. In my mind, and in the minds of other actual, working photographers, we've always valued the idea of the mirrorless camera as being a combination of new technologies rather than defining the genre by size or lack of structural integrity and comfortable handling in the service of dainty-ness.

The rational selling points for a mirrorless professional product should revolve around its newly added capabilities rather than its pared down size and diminished robustness. Two things come instantly to mind: the always on nature of mirrorless camera's live view and the ability to integrate an EVF for more responsive viewing and previewing. A secondary benefit, which is a result of removing the moving mirror and all the linkages required by lens stop down mechanisms, is the very pertinent removal of expensive moving parts. Parts that are expensive to create and expensive to assemble and calibrate.

Marketers of professional mirrorless products should be touting a more direct feedback mechanism as a result of continuous live view through an EVF as a more fluid and instinctive way to create images while also heralding both a cost savings and an increase in reliability as a result of few moving parts and fewer parts requiring calibration and adjustment.

So, if Nikon rushes out two tiny, plastic cameras and a new line of three or four mostly hobbled and slow zoom lenses and expects professionals to embrace a new generation of inexpensively made point and shoot style, interchangeable lens digital cameras while shirking a continuing development of their more traditional DSLR models they will just accelerate their descent into irrelevance.

I expect that Nikon will come out with two camera bodies that are similar in size to the Sony A7 series but will design them with more rounded corners and a traditional, small body work up that tries hard to blend a retro SLR look with an equal amount of retro rangefinder glitz. They will likely not succeed in pleasing advocates of either fashion camp.

If rumors are accurate we can expect to see two models in the beginning; one that gives a nod toward the idea of "professional" by investing in it more features. The features will be the usual meaningless stuff like extended bracketing modes, faster frame rates, a better than Nikon-Typical set of video features, but also a good EVF. If they continue with their practice as in past introductions the second body will be aimed at consumers and might even lack an eye level viewfinder, depending entirely on the youthful eyesight of millenials for composition rather than actively catering to the user demographics that can actually afford to buy camera bodies and lenses on a regular basis.

This mistake will doom the entry level body just as the J1 models eventually doomed the V series line.

The biggest mistake Nikon could make (and so almost certainly will.... ) would be to introduce the two cameras with several consumer oriented, variable aperture zoom lenses that cover wide ranges with mediocre specifications and performance. A cynical new, full frame approach to something like the venerable and mostly unloved 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 DX lens models. Coupled with bad little trio of such lenses and no plan to leverage the millions and millions of decent Nikon lenses already in the hands of millions and millions of active Nikon users the product introduction wouldn't make any sense at all --- and so, that's how Nikon will go.

Sure, they'll introduce an F mount to new camera mount adapter but it will be hobbled with asterisks. It will only work with the new AF-P E lenses. Only with G lenses. Only with etc., etc. It will offer limited AF performance. And the adapter itself won't be available for months and months after the introduction of the new mirrorless Nikon camera bodies.

The paucity of lens choices, the lack of a functional and available adapter with which to use current Nikon lenses, and the hobbling of said adapter will kill overall sales of the new line, which will lead the older Nikon engineers to shrug their shoulders and say, "See, we told you no one wants mirrorless cameras!" But by then it will be even later in the game.

So, if that's what I expect to see then just exactly is it that I want to see from Nikon? I want both bodies to be big enough to hold comfortably, all day long, in adult sized hands. I want both bodies to be crafted out of fabulous metal alloy cores and built to take "drop it in the camera bag" punishment. I want the two initial cameras to be mostly identical in terms of external features like a 3.5 or 4.0 megapixel EVF, a uniform (and robust) battery size, and the ability to work with all older AF lenses. I'm willing to wave goodbye to using manual focus lenses on the cameras, natively, but not AF ones. I would want Nikon to ship the cameras with an F mount-to-new mount adapter in the box!!!!!

And finally, for every boring, plastic and utilitarian lens in the new line up I want a fast, sexy, enormously well performing prime or fast zoom introduced and delivered at the same time, alongside the cheap stuff.

If Nikon is really planning to compete in the mirrorless segment I can only hope they bring their Nikon SP rangefinder chops to the game. If they bring their "Action Touch" sensibility then they deserve to go home with their collective noses bloodied. They should not stop making "real cameras" just because everyone else has defaulted to pixie sized toys. The Panasonic GH5, now that's a good target to aim for.......

And yes. I think the rumors are mostly true.


Rokrover said...

It was rather revealing when Nikon released a limited reproduction run of the legendary SP in 2005 they outsourced the manufacture and even then couldn’t readily duplicate several key components like the universal viewfinder. Nikon’s generation of 1960’s workers trained in such diligent hand assembly had long since retired.

Now it seems their engineers have taken a back seat to accountants who restrain any new design proposals by budget. There is little room for innovation to surprise and delight customers in this business culture. Let's hope otherwise...

Mike Rosiak said...

Re "with ohm specifications and performance"

What word should I use in place of "ohm"?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Mike, I went back and edited. Should make more sense now. Ohms....who knew?

Frank Grygier said...

Just more resistance.

Anonymous said...

Truly enlightened, sardonic commentary...and right on the mark!

"...the adapter itself won't be available for months and months after the introduction..." Prognostication at its best.

Nikon should look to you (& Thom) for insight into today's market realities.


Peter F. said...

Kirk. I don’t think you’re quite right about the feed reader thing. I too use blogger and there is a feature in the settings that allows for a short feed only. Then in a feed reader like Newsify only the title, first image, and a few lines of text are available. Interested followers then need to click on the title or other icon to get to your actual real blog to finish the article. That way each reader is counted in your stats. (For years I’ve been wondering why you’ve been allowing feeds to pick up,your entire post.) -Peter

Bassman said...

I think your best piece of advice is to pack the highly functional F mount adaptor in the box. What better way to tell your existing customers you love them? I was so disappointed in the Nikon 1 FT1 crippled adaptor. It turned what could have been a great auxiliary tool into a (mostly) independent system from my Nikon kit, and it couldn’t compete with the far better m43 system I now enjoy.

Perhaps they’ll be really farsighted and have two adaptors: one that supports every Nikkor ever made, and one for the modern E and G lenses that’s smaller and more efficient. But I guess that’s too much to even dream about. And kind of irrelevant, since I’m down to four old Nikkors and no bodies at this point.

In general, what they need to do is delight their customers (not their bankers) for at least a while.

Doug said...

Kirk: I first shot a Nikon F and then an F3. I particularly loved the F3. I now shoot a Fuji X-T1 and like it because of the lenses. I do wish it were a bit more rugged, although the weatherproofing seems to work well. I hope Nikon doesn't blow it, but, sadly, they probably will. If they don't, I just might find myself back in the Nikon camp.

milldave said...

Great job, Kirk!!
Tell it like it REALLY is!
For too long I have been amused/irritated by the legions of seemingly intelligent individuals who have queued up on blogs like yours, to sing the praises of their Fuji/Olympus/Sony/Mirrorless offerings, always including the vital line, "and its light weight has made such a difference to my back".
As if the DSLR is really that heavy!!
Not when compared with a Mamiya C330s, or Speed Graphic!
Such pretentious BS that has assumed the proportions of an urban myth (just like the menu on Sony cameras ...I love the one on my alpha 7II, it doesn't cause me issues/angst/back pain or even hair loss, and I must be the most computer-illiterate person on this planet!).
I seriously hope Nikon does not lose the plot, but this is a Bean Counter's universe now(do Harvard MBAs or their Japanese equivalents not take photos????), so can we expect more from them?
I doubt it.
Like the idea of using legacy glass, but that doesn't generate profit for Nikon; would love to have a digital equivalent of the FM2/3, with EVF and autofocus.
That would be my dream Nikon.
Just heavy enough to satisfy all the old codgers out there with bad backs (I'm only 61 years young and have arthritis in my spine, but still enjoy using Nikon F3s and Canon F1s, without issue.)
Keep 'em coming!

Gato said...

I hope your predictions are wrong on this one, but I'm not going to bet against you. I don't think I'd ever use Nikon again as my main system, but I'd hate to see them go the way of Kodak.

I do think including the adapter in the box is the way to go. Or at least have it as a kit option. And keep it cheap, if they charge at all for it.

I wish Nikon luck -- from what I see of their business numbers they can't afford to blow this.

Craig Yuill said...

I don't expect that these Nikon mirrorless bodies will be small, plasticky, and dainty. The latest rumors state that these cameras have been designed with ergonomics in mind, and will have a steep cost, in line with the Sony A7III and A7RIII. The first few lenses will supposedly be a moderately-fast wide-to-tele f/4 zoom along with a couple of f/1.4 primes. If that is the case I won't be buying into the system. I cannot afford a $3000 to $5000 camera body, or the $1000+ that each of these lenses are likely to cost.

I don't want to buy particularly cheap lenses and cameras, but I do want affordable, cost-effective ones. I like Nikon as a brand, and would like to continue to buy and use their products. But I have a tight budget to stick to. A digital crop-frame camera, akin to the D7500, Olympus E-M5 II, or Panasonic G85 would fit the bill for me. Nikon won't, and shouldn't, ignore the top end - but with camera makers declaring that they will be concentrating on high-end products, guys like me are going to be priced out of the market.

A new Android or iPhone camera might be in my future.

Doug said...

Kirk: For some of us, weight is an important factor, and it's the lenses that are the real issue here. I travel internationally on a regular basis and a small, light, versatile kit is essential for me. And because I enjoy wildlife photography, a long lens that is sharp and reasonably lightweight makes a real difference when I travel. All else aside, for me, weight is an important factor in any system. And, since my budget is limited, I can't own two systems, one for travel and one for home. In this regard, I've found that even my Fuji kit with the outstanding 100-400 is too heavy. So, I've been contemplating micro 4/3 and even 1" solutions.

Unknown said...

...or you could switch to Olympus who have answered most, if not all, of your demands.

neopavlik said...

I want the same thing you do plus Eye AF.
The good news is we can both still get the D850 if the mirror free are a disappointment.

Kirk Tuck said...

Dear unknown, Sorry if my blog post sounded like I was making demands. I think demands are different from predictions or preferences or opinions but then WTF do I know?

I have owned Olympus cameras and they are very good. I own some Nikon and Panasonic cameras; they are very good as well.

Do you have any other brand suggestions you think I should try?

Kirk Tuck said...

Weight is an issue. Especially for travel.

Roger Jones said...

I understand what your saying, but it's to much money for what? Will this new camera make you a better photographer? Will you see the difference over your D800e?? I for one do not need another piece of gear. I'd rather spend the resources talking your workshop in Iceland than buy more gear. I'd get more out of it and have more fun.
I don't know, but will be looking to comes out in September.


Nigel said...

That all makes sense, except “I'm willing to wave goodbye to using manual focus lenses on the cameras, natively, but not AF ones....”, since enabling use of manual focus lenses on mirror less is not exactly a costly developmental exercise - and plenty of manufacturers will provide adapters if Nikon can’t be bothered.

John C. Schiller said...

No. I'm sorry. I don't. I switched to Olympus about 6 years ago from Nikon and haven't looked back. Irregardless of sensor size the images are always stunning and contrary to popular beliefs you CAN get very nice portrait bokeh if you take the time to learn the system.
John Schiller

greytourist said...

Kirk, this is about as close as you've come to waving your cane and shouting "Hey! You kids get off my lawn!" since I began reading this blog. I'm a bit surprised.

I agree with you that Nikon has one chance to get it right. The rumors suggest to me that they're not going crippled-consumer on this initial offering, bodies or lenses. $3K for a 24MP FF with a 24-70 kit lens and $4K for a 46MP version says that they're directly aiming at the A7III and A7RIII, only better, especially in ergonomics. That's not a crippled D610 or D5K series with yet another 18-55 kit zoom (for the D5K). It's also the only place that they COULD enter the market; where the market is retrenching towards (excuse the tortured syntax). A mirrorless D5 and, if it makes any sense at all, a DX mirrorless body come later. The technology of the A9 is probaby not available to them right now, and I harbor the deep suspicion that they now will finally kill off DX - proof that their management is clueless, because that's what drives their profits still. Unfortunately, the bloom is off the rose on that entire format in Nikonland - really only the D850 is the megahit in their lineup.

The question is, what will Sony introduce in the Fall that will leapfrog Nikon and Canon yet again?

Rufus said...

Frankly a digital Nikon Nikon F already exists in terms of size, feel and controls.

It’s already out there and yours for barely $1000 with loats of used lenses available of great quality.

It’s called a Fujifilm XT2.

Anonymous said...

All those so excited about New, New, New and NO MIRROR!

Will they suddenly take great images with the new gear?

I bet not, just more same old, same old - but with a new camera and lens.

Kirk Tuck said...

Greytourist, best watch that "get off my lawn stuff" or I'll whack you with my walker...

I don't see how calling out a fumbling camera company management team qualifies me for antiquity just yet but .... I did just jump in my time machine and go back to buy yet another D700.

We should all buy the cameras that are most comfortable for us and just make good photos. Still, it's fun to sit on the sidelines and play marketing quarterback...

greytourist said...

We'll see if your walker can get through my force-field equipped Barcalounger :) I was just surprised at the intensity of your calling-out. You're normally much more restrained. But we all, or many of us, share your feelings.

Nikon is amazingly brain-dead in the management department. Whereas Olympus and Panasonic seem to be staffed by photographer-managers and photographer-engineers, and Canon seems to blissfully sail on, Nikon has succumbed to its bean counters and banks.

A parallel development is happening in the auto industry. Mullaley inherited a sprawling Ford filled with poorly-managed and coordinated marques like Volvo, Jaguar, etc. Mullaley jettisoned all of them and concentrated on the Ford marque, making tons of trucks and SUVs. Sedan design went begging. Now, amazingly, Ford sedan sales are way down - far beyond the general reduction in sedan sales. So, putting 2+2 together and getting 5, he cut all new sedan development. The better answer might have been to offer more modern and compelling sedans, but that would have been too subtle. A self-fulfilling prophecy has been born.

In the meantime, my middle aged Nikon has yet to vanish. Enjoy your middle-aged Nikons as well.

Gordon Lewis said...

There is another dimension to Nikon's mirrorless dilemma: whatever they introduce has to appeal to two different markets. The first is photographers who already own Nikon equipment and are invested in the Nikon system. Will the new camera(s) and lenses be appealing enough to make them want to buy a new body and new lenses, given what they already own?

The second market is photographers who don't own Nikon or own very little Nikon equipment. Will the new cameras and lenses make them want to switch or give Nikon a try? The new Nikons would have to be pretty damned tempting to do so.

Lastly, let's not forget that Nikon is playing catch up at this point. If the best they can do is something perceived as being "almost as good as Sony," will that be good enough? What Nikon's mirrorless offerings will need most is a compelling reason to buy them. Given today's saturated camera market, it's tough to imagine what that might be.

Markus W. said...

My thoughts are simlple: 5 years too late ...