8.26.2018

Thinking about the Nikon Z series after reading more from Nikon and trying to figure out what they were aiming to produce versus what reviewers thought Nikon was trying to produce.

It's all in the design mix.

Everybody seems to think that Nikon's design goals with the Z cameras were to match, or somehow better, what consumers like about Sony full frame cameras. This is a mistake. Nikon was trying to figure out how to deliver a totally different set of design parameters. And I maintain that the indicator of this (regardless of how many faux engineers want to argue the point) is the re-invention of the lens mount. Nikon's goals are less about delivering a spec sheet full of matching metrics and, in my opinion, they are interested in nothing less than making a system that delivers the highest potential image quality in a mirrorless package.

The proof will be in the lenses. People have been aghast on the web forae about the cost of the 50mm f1.8 lens ($599) and it's because legions of writers have trained them to think of all 50mm lenses as being "nifty-fifties", designed to be decent performers, and also designed to be dirt cheap. Most 50mm 1.8s are based on really old five and six element designs using standard elements and assembled in cheap, plastic lens bodies. The lenses can generally be forgiven if they are not very sharp wide open because most of them can be bought new for around $125. No wonder everyone is up in arms, they seem to believe that what Nikon is offering is just another garden variety nifty-fifty attached to an "Art" lens price tag. A "kit" lens.

If the wags were diligent enough to do some easy research they'd find that Nikon's new Z, 50mm f1.8 is a totally different animal, and a look at the specs would suggest that it might be a bargain at the price point the lens occupies. Why? Well it's a twelve element design in nine groups. The lens features two ED elements as well as two aspherical elements. The lens surfaces are nano crystal coated and it's also internal focusing. It is definitely not your hipster nephew's Canon or Nikon (F series) nifty-fifty by any means. And if you can believe Nikon there is no need to stop down past full aperture to attain the highest levels of sharpness. It's painfully sharp right at f1.8. If you compare that with older series of 50mm f1.4 and f1.2 lenses from Nikon and Canon you'd understand that even with their lofty price tags the fast 50mm lenses of yesteryear really needed to be stopped down a couple of stops to be critically sharp. If the new Nikon 50mm matches their stopped down performance while used wide open that certainly mitigates against the need to spend more for "faster glass." Seems to be in line with the idea that Nikon's design goals all circle around creating the ultimate in imaging performance throughout the system.

Next let's look at the new 35mm f1.8 lens. It's equally interesting from an optical point of view since it features 11 elements in 9 groups, has three aspherical elements along with two ED elements. It's got the nano crystal coating, weather sealing, the same sharpness aim points as the 50mm and the lens focusing ring can be repurposed as a programmable control ring. So, if the lens proves to be sharper than any of its competitors; from Canon to Sony to Zeiss, would it be worth the asking price of $849?

My point is that most reviewers seem to be sitting down with a list of features that are offered on current Sony A7 models and going down that list just mindlessly dinging the Nikon products for not focusing on matching the Sony list. It's my contention that Nikon had a different model in mind. I think they are going to make demonstrably better lenses as well as demonstrably better color science processing in photographs and video, and make those attributes their prime differentiators. Seems a damn sight more valuable to me than getting into a misguided pissing match about which system can shoot the most frames per second. Or which system has the most automation features.

I guess my questions for all the naysayer are these: If the Nikon Z cameras can leverage the new mount (and have really optimized the color science) such that the images from the cameras are, technically and aesthetically, much better than the images coming out of any of their competitor's cameras, and the cost of this perfection is one QXD card instead of two fragile SD cards, which would you choose? If the Nikons have better image performance across the system as well as better handling and better industrial design but this comes at the cost of no having eye detect AF, which would you choose?

The question at hand is: Are you interested in collaborating with a camera to make great images or do you demand all the gingerbread features that allow you to play tech-savant while being totally happy with images that, going forward, will represent a compromise?

I could be totally wrong. Nikon could be blowing massive smoke into our knowledge pipeline. But if they turn out to match what now seems like advertising hyperbole with real performance it will eventually come down to each of us having to choose whether we prefer one implementation over another.

I've handled the Sony A7 bodies over the three generations but no one I personally know has handled an actual Nikon Z camera. If my experience and my hunches are correct I anticipate that Nikon has produced a camera body that feels just right in most people's hands. They can be brilliant lens makers as well. Especially, I would think, if their existential survival depends on it.

I don't believe much of what I've seen and read on the web so far because the fact that all the reviewers were working with cameras that had unfinished firmware makes all of their shared experience little more than "fake news." The proof will come out the week Nikon starts to deliver cameras. For the person who is an imaging perfectionist the new system may just deliver exactly what mirrorless fans have always wanted: A platform with near medium format performance combined with great haptics. Too bad about lower specification for frames per second. I just can't shoot studio still life images with anything less than 21 frames per second. And GPS.

Oh, and for all the people comparing Sony video to Nikon video..... one video project with a GH5S and you'll never look back. It's the ultimate argument that photographers who shoot video WILL benefit from a two camera system.

HERE'S MY FREAKIN DISCLAIMER: (Let's see the other guys match this!): We not only didn't go to a Nikon unveiling event, we also didn't belly up to the open bar, photograph the silly set ups and otherwise waste time. We didn't preview or review a camera with unfinished firmware. We aren't advertising Nikon, Amazon or B&H on this site. We have no pre-order links, or indeed any links at all to product attached to this article (blog post?). And we have engineered no affiliate links to take advantage of what I've just written here.

Instead I read everything that Nikon said they intend to do, every specification about each of the new products and matched those things against my own camera use profiles and attempted to talk about why I think this is a different product than all the other stuff on the market. In the same way that the Nikon D800 was different than everything that came before it back when it was introduced.

I'd like to buy one of the Z6 cameras as well as a 50mm f1.8 Z lens. I think it would be cool. But probably not that much better than the images I already get out of a Nikon D700 with a Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens. But I'm kinda tired of the mercenary writing crews trying to force the Nikon Z story  into a Sony box.

Get over it. It's a different product and probably aimed at a different demographic/user profile.

Don't like Nikon's new stuff? Just don't buy it.

Added later: Apparently the lack of a second card slot and eye AF isn't discouraging tens of thousands of pre-orders for the Nikon Z7. Check this out: https://petapixel.com/2018/08/28/nikon-is-sorry-that-the-z7-is-selling-so-quickly/


26 comments:

Edward Richards said...

Been thinking about the interesting PC control lenses you could do with a really shallow, wide mirrorless mount?

Frank Grygier said...

The new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 25mm f/1.2 PRO Lens is $1200.00. Just some perspective.

Nik T said...

What a great article Kirk.

So glad to read I wasn't the only one thinking the internet has totally lost it's mind and bringing smoe sanity back to the game. I wrote an article in a very similar vein to this, maybe why I like it so much (no self promotion, I promise)

The Nikon Z series announcement had me excited about the direction of cameras. Then these pesky popups and youtube recommendations showed up with titles like "Only One Card Slot!!" Made me want to thump someone.

It was a disgraceful bit of click-bait, do-anything-for-drama and views. I should be used to it by now,but I'm not, since it happens with every new product be it CPU's and GPU's, cars, toys, hifi equipment, whatever.

I can't wait to get my hands on a Z6, interestingly enough, mainly for the video and will see how it compares to my GH5S too.

Anonymous said...

I think you fucking nailed it.

Alan Mermelstein said...

Kirk, great perspective. As a wedding photographer retiring after 20 years, I have owned Hasselblad 501/503s, an original Canon 1DS, Canon 20D’s, original Canon 1D’s, Canon 1DM3, and original 5D. I think it was 2007 that I converted to Nikon with the D3/D300 combo. I’ve subsequently owned a D3S, D700’s, D600, D610, D750’s, and a D500. Some of the cameras were fabulous, and others disappointed me so much because of quality problems. I usually upgraded to achieve improvements in focus speed and high iso performance. I’ve had so many wonderful lenses though.

Olympus EM1s were a total fail for me because of their inability to quickly autofocus in a very dark reception. I tried them in an effort to prolong my career by saving on weight.

I currently have a Fuji XPro2/Xt2 combo for street and landscape, while keeping the D500 for birding. I would love to have a full frame camera again, namely mirrorless Z. But to make a short story long, after pursuing the holy grail in cameras for so long, I think I’ve finally found patience and will wait for the “REAL REAL” actual use reviews! Thanks for all you write... Alan

Justin Blakie said...

Thanks Kirk for your rational, insightful comments based on practical based experience.

Just another example of why i (now) ignore most of the internet and eagerly devour only a select few sites like yours.

Thanks.

Sanjay said...

Thank you! Thank you! It has been so tiresome to read titles like "The New Nikon Rangefinder System Sucks ... on Paper" Honestly, don't have a dog in this fight...all these cameras deliver better results than I am a photographer. However, the clickbait titles bug the heck out of me.

Craig Yuill said...

Thom Hogan has for years stated over and over again that, first and foremost, Nikon is an optics company that makes cameras. I have little doubt that these new Z Nikkors will be very strong performers. Nikon's first mirrorless system, the Nikon 1 system, contained lenses with amazing optics. I own four of those lenses, and each of them is a fine (if not excellent) performer - including the "poor" 10-30mm kit wide-to-tele zoom lens. I regularly use each of these lenses wide open. I see little benefit to stopping any of these lenses down, except when I want to increase depth of field.

Those new Z Nikkor lenses aren't cheap, but they aren't outrageously expensive for what they are either. I think real users of the lenses will wax eloquently about the great images they are getting by using these lenses.

Hans Agterdenbos said...

Happy start of my week always your fresh reality

TMJ said...

I did a little arithmetic. A Nikon Z7 with 24-70mm lens and mount adapter, plus the 35mm and 50mm lenses, costs £1000 less than the 'new' Leica M10-P body.

I know which I would prefer to have: I always thought my F2 was the best made, (and hand made at that), mechanical film camera of all time.

Peter said...

I think Nikon appear to have placed the Z7 slightly below the D850 for their own marketing reasons. Possibly that will be turn out to have been a mistake, as all the hair pulling over the card slots, fps, etc. seems to indicate, however unnecessary those things may be to any individual. Sony and probably Canon, will punish them for this. My own prediction is that for next time (18 months to 2 years away) we will see Nikon pull out all the stops on mirrorless while the DSLR family fades away. (I don't particularly care either way, but it's a good spectator sport.)

On the lenses, the fashion now is to make 'no-compormise' lenses that are sharp wide open. The Olympus PRO lenses come to mind, and beside which the Nikons are at bargain prices. If they achieve the PRO levels of performance they will indeed be must-have items. (Incidentally, recent Leica and Zeiss offerings seem to be on this now as well.) There is nothing to stop Sony from producing similar lenses (if they don't already), and improving the ergonomics of their next camera body, and likewise nothing to stop Nikon from incorporating n fps, eye AF – and, and... double card slots!. The cameras/lenses will no doubt converge to the point where the distinctions are utterly meaningless. (We are almost, but not quite there now.)
Peter Wright.

amolitor said...

I keep seeing people go on about how expensive XQD cards are, and how "I" have a huge stable of legacy glass, and I have to wonder what kind of business these alleged pros are running. Isn't that legacy glass all depreciated to zero by now anyways? Which, I realize, does not make the expense of new glass go away, but still.

What kind of business considers the difference between, let's say, $1000 for by all accounts very high quality cards versus $150 less good storage a "deal breaker"? Is your business so close to the bone that an $850 expense is "a deal-breaker"?

I have to assume that most of these business are in the "imaginary" category. People with real businesses acknowledge the expenses, and then try to understand if the expense is worth it, rather than simply saying "an expense! IMPOSSIBLE!"

Anonymous said...

I will probably buy the Z6 + 24-70mm. Been a Fuji X-shooter for a few years and after selling off my D750 earlier this year, I miss a bigger camera. Preferable fullframe. Been tempted by Sony a7III but reluctant to spend that much on a new system at the same time I have been waiting/hoping for a true Nikon mirrorless system. I've been a Nikon user for years before adding various Fuji cameras of time.

The Z7 is too expensive for me right now, and I believe Nikon will have a excellent AF system and IQ. It's more the handling and other stuff (like battery life) that will be of importance. The X-T2 is a little too small for me (love the Oly E-M1 grip, though) and tat is also taken into consideration. The lenses got to be excellent (or very good) at that price - the 50/1.8 is almost three times as expensive as the f-mount 50/1.8. Got to indicate something...

Eric Rose said...

I won't touch the new Nikons for at least 14 dog years. I hate paying to be a beta tester. I might toddle down the my local camera store and fondle one. Might even bring some old F glass and see how it works. However Nikons QC this past while has been very spotty with respect to bodies. I have an equally fleshed out collection of pre EF and EF glass so might hold off to see what Canon coughs up. Hopefully not a hair ball.

Tom said...

Interesting thoughts and yes you are right it's probably unfair to critique the camera before it's officially released and been tested properly. I also think that a lot of the negative reactions to the new system is because people are just disappointed that the new z systems isn't going to be a good fit for them. There was an opportunity here for Nikon to offer wedding photographers for example who are switching too Sony in their thousands an alternative option. Especially for the guys who already shoot Nikon. Nikon decided to go a different way by not giving them the spec that they wanted. That has left a lot of frustrated and unhappy wedding photographers venting online. Perhaps it's fair to say that Nikon underestimated how many wedding photographers and other pro's wanted to invest in their new system. Perhaps they feel they will have enough potential customers that they didn't need to consider this.

Hardison said...

Thanks for your thoughts. Nikon accomplished one thing that I think they may have had in mind: They kept me from buying a new Sony camera.

I will wait to see the reviews from people who walk around. If the "real world" reviewers hate the face-detect, then I might wait for the Z8, or Z9, or whatever.

Roger Jones said...

Your right. I'm done with these 15 minute Skippy's trying to put Nikon into the Sony box. If it wasn't for Minolta Sony would still be making TV and beta DVD players.
I'm done with these 15 minute long look at me, I'm important, listen to me, I'm somebody !!! No your not.
If I needed a Z I'd buy one, but I have no need for one. Wish I did, you don't know how bad I wish I had work/assignments to justify buying one. My D700 and my Sigma SD1m with art lenses work just fine. The Nikon is a Nikon not a Sony. This bad mouthing/bashing is old, very old. The clowns that do this aren't photographers their.................... not worth talking about. So let's get back to photography. I still like the model on the couch. Nice.

Roger

neopavlik said...

I enjoy the positivity.
I guess the lack of compatibility with the screwdrive lenses is really what is holding me back, I'm hoping they catch enough heat to make an adapter for those. Also I'm hopeful that the prices will drop as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Been following your blog through the.me for the past years and this is the first time i comment on your blog.
Nowadays photographic cameras (partially electronic devices) offered features need to be relevant to the current market technological status, otherwise you become a joke (try to sell a 386 PC today..) Exceptions of'course are Leica, Zeiss or Hasselblad or Apple-remove all ports- (but Not NIKON for God's shake!).
Brilliant lens makers they Are. But they have never attained Leica or Zeiss status. So by increasing lens prices they have proved nothing so far. Noctilux, Otus and Art series have proved that lens mount size has never been a blocking point. Since there is no technical proof yet (where are the published papers from Tokyo university or MIT in optical physics proving that the new diameter will change the world of photography? So why should the market buy this new jargon about size?

Electronic Features (related also to software) like fps or eye-AF or Batteries/PCBAs consumption, lack of on-board SSD, selection of card system by Nikon in 2018, lack of AI seem to be less than usual: Compared to the electronics used by Mirrorless (FF) market of 2018.

So I do not understand why we need to defend these choices. No reason to hide behind the bushes.

cheers!
sAm

tnargs said...

I even read a comment that described the new 50mm lens as "a bloated, overpriced nifty".

ODL Designs said...

Always best to wait to hear what Nikon users have to say. Years of reviewers who don't use m43rds moaning about the system without really understanding why someone would enjoy the tradeoffs has taught me to recognize these signs.

As to the price of the 50mm, meh, good glad costs good money and it often isn't small.

Robert Roaldi said...

It's 2018. $599 is not a lot of money anymore.

Jason Hindle said...

Regarding 50mm f1.8 lenses and slower, smaller primes in general.... Its as if only Leica can get away producing quality lenses in this category and charge accordingly (and then some because, well, they’re Leica).

Richard Groome said...

So let me just get this straight. If you go to actually try out a camera you're a fool because the firmware might be tweaked slightly before it hits the shelves. Better that they had stayed at home, read a spec sheet and pontificated about the camera. And the affiliate links make them want to unjustly criticize the camera so that fewer people will buy it and thus give them less income. Yeah, right.

Kirk Tuck said...

Yes Richard, I think I got it exactly right. Thanks! Most of the press initially coming off the Z splash pointed to issues in the unfinished cameras that will almost certainly be fixed by launch date. Shooting the cameras in that fashion is a stupid waste of time. I'm glad you agree with me on that. I guess it's like looking at raw meat and being asked to imagine how good it will be when grilled just right. The pundits could just wait a month and shoot with a finished product. Then they wouldn't be pumping out "fake news." I also agree with you that essentially the reviewers got to play with the cameras (but not bring home files) and then got a spec sheet. Bravo. Reading comprehension heading toward 100%. Many, many websites did exactly what you've described above; they stayed home and read the press release and then bitched about the cameras. Or the lenses. Ah, the affiliate links. That's where you got bogged down. If most of my readers shoot with Canon and I bitch about a Nikon camera I will still have live links to Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Lenses, Flashes, Lights and other gizmos that attract photographers like moths to a 60 watt bulb. They can share the alleged disgust with the new product and then use the link to the Nikon pre-order to go and check out the product info on B&H, Amazon, etc. When they get tired of reading the specs and move on to their favorite product line, and then buy something, the affiliate income from that product still comes flying into the website's account. You almost had it. You were so anxious for me to be wrong.... But any news, even bad news, or news reported badly, brings in consumers anxious to keep up. So, yes, even bad reviews by bad reviewers feed the mercantile process. I know this might be hard to imagine for some but if you are a Canon enthusiast and you trash the new Nikon (or Sony, or Olympus, etc) gear you reinforce to your dedicated audience that they made the "right" choice by choosing Canon and, while feeling smugly happy, they might go look at the gear they have yet to add to their remarkable system which benefits the Canon-positive review site as well.

See Richard, there are so many ways to look at all this. I'm just happy that mine is the correct one.

Anonymous said...

Richard makes the mistake that fewer people will buy any product if one's favorite review site gives a critical review to one maker's camera. It is much more likely that the consumer will just make a different choice. If they are already habitual readers of the site that critiqued the first camera it's equally likely that they will "click thru" from the review site to look at other cameras they might buy. They will NOT decide NOT to buy a camera (in most cases). No danger of affiliate cash running away. Kirk is usually right. Hard to argue the economics with someone who has been experimenting with blogs for nearly ten years.