News/Views

News and commentary about the Nikon DSLR world and photography in general. This page automatically updates with links for each new news/views story and is a good place to bookmark if you want to see the traditional bythom "front page" type of story. 

Latest News/Views stories (top is most recent):

Nikon's Second "New Product" in 2018

Apparently even the crew in Tokyo has decided that Nikon has been too quiet. With only only one announcement so far in 2018—the 180-400mm f/4E lens—and no camera announcement since the D850 late last summer, Nikon has finally made another product announcement.

Only it's not a product launch, it's a "development announcement." 

Nikon has used this technique of pre-announcing an announcement a number of times over the years, including most recently last year with the D850. The range of time from the development announcement to the actual announcement of a product has ranged from one month to eight months in the past, with the median three months. 

Why Nikon thinks they have to do this, I have no idea. Perhaps the marketing department was just tired of waiting for something to write a press release about. But functionally, these development announcements serve almost no purpose. It's not that Nikon is trying to "be there first" or throw shade on another company's announcement (e.g. FUD). It's not that there is an expectation for the product being developed (in every case I can think of to date). 

I suspect it's Nikon's awkward way of "trying to go viral." Rather than leak a rumor somewhere, they just come out an say "we're working on X." But why? No one knows. And why announce today? Completely unclear. (One possibility is that Nikon is worried that a lens or lenses being tested out in the wild will be outed, I suppose.)

What product has Nikon announced they're developing this time? Well it has an official name: AF-Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. But it has very little other detail ("final specifications and pricing...will be announce later this year").

This new lens will be the 500mm brother of the 300mm PF. By using a phase fresnel (PF) lens element, this simplifies the optical path, making the lens far shorter and significantly lighter than a 500mm f/5.6 lens designed normally. But Nikon offers no details here.

We do have existing patents on 400mm f/5.6 PF, 500mm f/5.6 PF, and 600mm f/5.6 PF lenses from Nikon. The 500mm f/5.6 one features 18 or 19 elements. Total length of it was about 280mm. The current 500mm f/4 is 387mm in length, by comparison. 

I'd expect the 500mm f/5.6 PF to be close to the size of the 200-500mm f/5.6E (270mm) and lower in weight (<5 pounds [2.3kg]). How much lower is the question.

And so Nikon faithful continue to sit and wait. Now at least there's something known that they're waiting for...

No Show Versus All Show

You might have noticed that Sony announced another camera last week: the US$1200 RX100m6 (Mark VI in Sony's Roman numeral fetishism). You probably couldn't escape noticing. 

bythom sony rx100vi

I'm not sure how many media and web folk were at the Sony event in New York City where the launch was also live-streamed, but just a day after the event I could already count almost two dozen vlogs claiming "first look" or something similar. And, of course, dozens of blogs and news articles trumpeted Sony's marketing of the new camera. 

Behind the scenes, I can also tell you that Sony is being very aggressive these days about loaners, too.  And those loaners are shipping with pre-orders or just before. 

Basically every time Sony announces something, the Internet drums are beating heavily in support. Add in events like Kando, a very active Image Artisans group, an active and engaging alphauniverse site, aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns, dealer support, third party lens announcements constantly tickling the wires, plus the enthusiasm of the fan boys, and what happens is that every time Sony launches a product you get this wave of un-ignorable publicity.

Canon and Nikon? Not so much. 

While I get press releases from Canon and some support from them, those tend to be late. They're so afraid of leaks that they've cut off many of their press from embargoed press releases now. Canon's Web online learning site looks drab and old-school compared to alphauniverse. I also can't find a way to sign up on that site to get push notification of new materials being posted, which means Canon hasn't fully discovered how to use the Internet the way Sony has. Canon's approach is a very "you come to us" one, while Sony's is a "we'll come to you."

Meanwhile, Nikon isn't announcing anything, it seems, and despite having asked nicely more than a half dozen times, I never get press releases from them when they do announce something. The last few times they have produced a new product, Nikon has seemed to be completely lazy in doing so. In my review I've written about how the excellent D7500 has basically been mostly neglected by Nikon marketing. From the very launch through today. 

Nikon counts far too much on old-school word-crafting in press releases and on their Web site (buried in the D7500 product details: "the D7500 is built to outperform any camera in its class with top-tier image quality, blazing speed, flawless autofocus, 4K Ultra HD video and pro-grade creative tools..."). Outperform! Buried. Why that isn't the lead and why that isn't then proven via others like their Ambassadors is beyond me. Because it does outperform its class rivals. And some classes above it, as well.

Like Canon, Nikon is very much "you come to us." There are a few exceptions. Nikon has an active Twitter account (though frankly, B&H's active Twitter account is more pro-Nikon than Nikon's). 

One problem is that Nikon hasn't really gotten aggressive about courting tags. NikonUSA will retweet and highlight #nikon type tags. But what's generating those tags? Note that Sony at Kando was giving away tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear to people who used the @sonykandotrip tag in their posts across all social media (disclaimer: I made one such post, and I didn't win anything ;~(. This isn't the first time Sony has used incentives to get more posts, which they then can turn around and point to via things like alphauniverse.

You engage customers via emotion. Via storytelling. Via supporting the customers' own messaging. In this world, I'd have to give Sony an A-, Canon a C-, and Nikon a D (bordering on an incomplete now that they have stopped announcing new products, at all. Bueller? Bueller?).

Sony shows up big time with every new product. Canon shows up. Nikon is mostly absent. So is it any wonder that Sony's sales are up and the Web is full of Sony stories these days? 

Nope. 

I'll state it outright: the bean counters in control of Nikon right now are making a huge mistake. By slowly disconnecting the company from its customers in all forms—new products, marketing, advertising, Internet social media, customer service, etc.—it is making the obstacles to stop their continued sales contraction almost impossible to overcome. 

The Nikon faithful are all waiting for any indication from Nikon about how the company will handle any addition or transition to mirrorless. The problem now is simple: even an exciting product, if launched and marketed the way Nikon has been doing, will probably not change the customer perceptions enough to change Nikon's trajectory. 

As an aside in support of my thesis, I'm going to comment here about something I asked Nikon at NAB. That show was now two months ago. The question was whether Nikon could say anything about the future of XQD/CFexpress and how that applied to the existing XQD cameras (D4, D4s, D5, D500, D850). I was assured by three Nikon personnel they'd look into this and get back and answer. I've since asked two additional times about whether there would be an answer, only to met with the same "we'll get back to you." So. Instead of engaging current customers on a topic that is of express—pardon the pun—interest to them, Nikon is still in hibernation. Not even a corporate "we're exploring that..." Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. 

If Nikon wonders why Sony is stealing their thunder, they only have to look at Nikon's own actions. Or rather, lack of actions. There seems to be some belief within Nikon that they can just wait until they have something Big to announce and that this will make everything right. I'll point to the D850. Best received camera of the last year despite somewhat lackluster efforts on Nikon's part to promote it. But Nikon is still contracting despite having a hit product. 

The notion that "a product will solve our problems" runs rampant in tech, but it's rarely the case that the product all by itself does so. It takes a lot more, including customer engagement. Sony gets this. Nikon does not. Canon is in the middle. 

To no show or not to show—that is the question. There's only one right answer.



The Nikon D750 Versus the Sony A7m3

I’ve just posted my review of the Sony A7 Mark III (which I abbreviate as A7m3). Almost immediately the questions started coming in about whether someone should buy a D750 or an A7m3. Indeed, those questions have been coming into my In Box since the A7m3 was announced. 

Let’s start with something obvious that doesn’t seem to be obvious to most people: are you buying at the front edge of camera technology or the back edge? The D750 is almost four years old now. That’s a couple of generations of age, even for a full frame prosumer product. The D8xx series has been iterating faster, and the D7xxx series that the D750 was originally patterned after also has been iterating faster. 

You simply can’t claim that the D750 is state of the art. 

Yet surprisingly, it holds its own pretty darned well against the A7m3. The A7m3 sensor really only beats the D750 at two things: (1) the A7m3 has dual gain, so it gets a slight boost in dynamic range above ISO 640; and (2) the A7m3 has clearly better video capabilities, including a quite nice 4K. 

But the A7m3 is literally just out of the gate. It should be considered leading edge. Again, the D750 is trailing edge. 

Thing is, price becomes a factor very quickly when you compare leading versus trailing edge products. It’s a bit like shopping for a 2018 car come September 2018: the older model will be discounted, the newer 2019 one will be full price. So, as I write this, you get a Nikon D750 for US$1496 [advertiser link] with a vertical grip, extra battery, 64GB SD card, a small shoulder bag, and a US$29.92 coupon on a future purchase. You get the Sony A7m3 for US$1998 [advertiser link] and you’ll wait because it’s backordered. (I’m using this site’s exclusive advertiser for prices, thus the links).

I’m not sure about you, but US$500 and some goodies thrown in is tough to ignore. Thus, the real question is are you getting US$500 worth of something for buying at the leading edge?

Maybe.

First off, I’m with Richard Butler of dpreview on one thing: if you’re using telephoto lenses with any regularity, you should probably be using a DSLR. I’d double down on that if the things you’re shooting are moving with any speed whatsoever. (Caveat: you must take the time to learn and master the autofocus system.) 

There are multiple reasons for that. One is that Nikon’s (and Canon’s) phase detect simply works better when set correctly for the situation; the DSLRs have more focus discrimination in AF Continuous and are more consistent than any mirrorless camera I’ve used in nailing the focus plane. I get a lot of drift on the focus plane from the subject with the Sony cameras in AF C. Not that the resulting pictures are unusable, but the edge acuity just is night and day different when you nail focus versus when you almost nail focus. 

Second, there’s ergonomics. The DSLRs have all evolved to handle the situation where you’re using big, heavy lenses while still controlling the camera. Nikon, in particular, has probably the best right-hand position designs ever made, a result of their consultations with an Italian designer who knew what he was doing. I’m pretty sure you know my one real gripe with the Sony mirrorless cameras: the ergonomics are still too gimmicky, scattered, and sometimes downright problematic (using even light gloves, for instance). 

Finally, there’s lens choice. Canon and Nikon have decades of lenses built up in the telephoto range, and many of them are simply superb. Canon and Nikon both have experimented with optics that reduce size and weight (DO, PF), which produces some unique choices that rock. Sony will get there, I’m sure, but they still have lots of gaps and issues in their telephoto lineup.

So, if you’re doing a lot of telephoto work, I’d argue that the D750 is still the better full frame entry point, and you’re getting a discount for buying late instead of early.

Where the A7m3 starts to have edges in my estimation are in a few key areas:

  • Video — simply put, the A7m3 has more and better options here. 
  • Stabilization — despite my belief that IS/VR should only be used when needed, not full time, the sensor-based IS on the A7m3 means that you always have it available. There are a lot of Nikkors that don’t have VR, so you can be without stabilization on a D750 at times when you might want it.
  • Static focus — Yes, the A7m3 has focus points all over the frame (90%), but to me that really comes mostly into play with AF Single Servo shooting. It really comes in play with both the Face detect and Eye detect focus abilities when you’re shooting more static subjects. 
  • Size — Be careful with this one. You start putting equivalent lenses on the two cameras—e.g. a 24-70mm f/2.8—and you mostly lose this advantage. But, yes, the A7m3 body is smaller and lighter than a D750. But be very careful about comparing apples-to-apples. Yes, the A7m3 with the 24-70mm f/4 lens looks really small compared to a D750 with the 24-120mm f/4. But that D750 will outshoot the A7m3 with those lens choices. The 24-70mm f/4 is one of the weakest lenses you can put on an A7, in my opinion. It’s just a mess as you move out from the central region.

Thing is, you have to consider what a refreshed Nikon (e.g. D760) might be like in the coming months, or even a Nikon mirrorless that would replace/supplement the D750. My guess is that the video benefit of the A7m3 would mostly go away. It’s unclear what Nikon might do about the other three things I note as A7 advantages, but I’d expect improvements in at least two of those, and who knows, maybe equivalence if Nikon really does go full frame mirrorless this fall. 

Given the Sony 12-24mm f/4 and 16-35mm f/4 lenses, I’d tend to also say that at the moment Sony might have a bit of an advantage for some in the wide angle zoom realm, as they’re producing very good lenses that are smaller and lighter than the equivalent or near equivalent Nikkors. 

You’re probably surprised that I haven’t mentioned a few things that get a lot of discussion, like dynamic range. What little the Sony gains over the Nikon the Sony gives back in other ways. Nikon’s compressed raw files are simply better than Sony’s (and smaller), and free from artifacts that the Sony produces at times.

But here’s how I think of things: it’s good that we have more competition. It will keep Canon and Nikon more on their toes. For a long time, Canon owned full frame (e.g. 1Ds and original 5D) and Nikon lost ground with pros and prosumers. Then Nikon came in with the D3/D700 and we started getting some real ping-pong action as the two companies tried to top each other. Frankly, I’d say that Canon was slow to make some adjustments (e.g. sensor performance) and that allowed Nikon to arguably make a claim of better full frame image quality, and pretty much across the board (e.g. D750 versus 6D, D850 versus 5DIV/sr, D5 versus 1DxII). 

That Sony is now in the full frame business and pushing the technology edge pretty quickly just means that Canon and Nikon now have to watch another competitor and make sure that they stay at least abreast, if not leap frog ahead again.

This is game we should all encourage. Indeed, I can state unequivocally that there are things on my Sony bodies that I wish were on my Nikon bodies and vice versa. I’ll bet the product designers are looking at that same thing and we’ll slowly see more equivalence rather than less.

But today the answer is simple: buying a D750 is buying a great trailing edge camera at a strong discount, while buying an A7m3 is buying a very good leading edge camera at full price. A year or 18 months from now, the A7m3 is likely to be looking more long in the tooth and perhaps I’ll have to write an article that’s a bit inverse of this one. 

Finally, one last thought. I encountered it again this morning at breakfast. The waitress saw the A7m3 I was carrying around as I finished up my review and said she wanted one (camera, not review ;~). A bit of discussion and it turned out she has a Canon 5Dm2 and has decided it’s time to upgrade. The features weren’t exactly the compelling thing that has her looking at Sony, it seems. It’s the story. “Everyone’s raving about the Sony.” She was shocked when I suggested she wait a bit and see what Canon does this fall. “You’re the first person who hasn’t just said buy the Sony,” she said. 

I’m telling you: the marketing story is more important than ever in the camera business as the volume declines. You want others to be giving that story lots of word of mouth pass thru. Sony is pushing a great story at the moment and people are buying it and spreading it. Kando wow, super technologies. Nikon doesn’t appear to have a story. Canon is still telling the same older story. 

The more I interact with camera purchasers, especially those that are younger, the more I’m finding that one of the reasons why the DSLR crowd is slowing purchases or moving to mirrorless is centered around story. Somehow, Canon and Nikon have allowed the DSLR story to become “only for those dedicated folk already committed, and who need to update.” 

I’m going to tell you a story: give me a D850 and I’ll shoot rings around someone shooting with an A7Rm3. Just better images, and achieved more easily, and with a broader choice of lenses. Give me a D7500 and I’ll shoot rings around someone shooting with an A6500. Better images, achieved more easily, and with a broader choice of useful lenses despite...cough...buzz, buzz. That Nikon can’t tell this story is disappointing. But then, what do you expect when you cut your advertising budget into non-existence? 

Nikon Adds Some Lenses to Rebates

Nikon's "See, Thom, we do have some DX lenses (unbuzz, unbuzz)" instant rebates are now active. As usual with Nikkor rebates, I'll outline my thoughts on each lens [all links go to this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H, who often throws in some extras]:

  • 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G DX — US$30 off. A modest discount on a modest lens. For most more casual DX shooters, this is probably the wide-angle DX zoom you want. It's small, it focuses fast in both regular and Live View use, and it has VR. Like virtually all the wide angle zooms so far created for DX, it works pretty well stopped down, but has corner issues wide open. This is absolutely the lens that D3xxx and D5xxx owners should consider, and even D7xxx and D500 users will find it pretty good. And for the <US$300 price, a value, at that.
  • 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX — US$100 off. This lens still manages to list for US$800 or so with the discount, so it needs to be US$500 better than the preceding one, doesn't it? It isn't. Sure, it gains about a stop of aperture ability, but it also loses VR, is sluggish in Live View, and doesn't really push the optical edge you'd expect from paying so much more. Skip.
  • 12-24mm f/4G DX — US$200 off. This is one of Nikon's oldest DX lenses. I'd argue that it's starting to show its age and really needed an update it never got. On the 6mp and 12mp DSLRs it was great. As we pushed higher into pixel counts, its flaws became more evident, though in the middle of its range stopped down a stop it's better than most anything else. Hard to justify picking it up, even with a discount that brings it under the US$1000 mark.
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G DX — US$50 off. Remember that there are two 18-300mm lenses, this being the "slower" and less expensive one. I'm not a fan of superzooms. This one has lots of optical issues to discuss, including extreme focal length breathing, which means it really doesn't get to 300mm at the distances you'd be using it at. Skip.
  • 35mm f/1.8G DX — US$30 off. A perennial best seller and a DX lens that should be in everyone's kit. That's despite the fact that the lens is showing its age a bit now with the high pixel density bodies. Still, it's f/1.8 and competent, and stopped down it is quite good. All that in an inexpensive and small lens. Where the 16mm and 23mm versions of this lens are, no one knows. They would have stopped quite a few Nikon DX users from going to Fujifilm. Best buy of the bunch.
  • 40mm f/2.8G DX Micro-Nikkor — US$30 off. Okay, I can't fault the optics here; this is a really strong performer in terms of optical quality, particularly as you move in closer to objects. But that's the problem. At 1:1 magnification, it has exactly 2.1" (52.5mm) of working distance from subject to the front of the lens. It's difficult to get light in that space that looks good. Most people end up using it as a slightly short "telephoto" lens, which is fine, but it's a bit pricey for that compared to the next one.
  • 50mm f/1.8G — US$40 off. Another lens that probably ought to be in every DX user's kit, as it subs in as a very low cost (<US$200) portrait type lens. It's acceptable for portraits at f/1.8 (the corners will be a problem, but you don't shoot portraits into the corners). It's excellent at f/2.8 for portraits, and it's fine for any telephoto work at f/4 onwards. It's small, a trait that works well with DX, but like most of the Nikkor primes, it's a bit sluggish for autofocus. 


Nikkor Lens Availability

It's about this time each year when Nikon seems to have the most trouble keeping lenses in stock. So I thought I'd do a check to see what is and isn't available through both B&H and the NikonUSA store.

First, B&H. Out of 148 listings (some refurb, some imports), the following are the Nikkor lenses currently unavailable:

  • 14mm f/2.8D (more on the way)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II (more on the way)
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 24-120mm f/4G (more on the way)
  • 24-120mm f/4G refurb (back-ordered)
  • 55mm f/2.8 MF (more on the way)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G II refurb (more on the way)
  • 70-200mm f/4G (more on the way)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G DX (back-ordered)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E refurb (currently unavailable)
  • 180-400mm f/4E (new item — coming soon)
  • 200-500mm f/5.6E (back-ordered)
  • 200-500mm f/5.6E refurb (back-ordered)
  • 300mm f/2.8G (back-ordered)
  • 500mm f/4E (more on the way)
  • 600mm f/4E (back-ordered)

In B&H's vocabulary, "more on the way" means that Nikon has given them a ship date for more inventory to come, typically a few days to a couple of weeks out. "Back-ordered" means that B&H has no idea yet when they will get more stock. "New item — coming soon" usually is reserved for where B&H has ordered a new item, but does not yet know how many they'll be getting, or when.

Meanwhile, over at the NikonUSA online store, here's the current situation for their 106 listings:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E (back-ordered)
  • 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 20mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 24mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 28mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 28mm f/1.4E (back-ordered)
  • 35mm f/1.4 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.2 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.4 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.4G (back-ordered)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VR DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VRII DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 55mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E anniversary ed (unavailable for individual sale)
  • 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR non AF-S (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 105mm f/2.8 MF (back-ordered)
  • 105mm f/2.8G VR (back-ordered)
  • 180-400mm f/4E (back-ordered)
  • 200-400mm f/4G (back-ordered)
  • 300mm f/2.8G II (back-ordered)
  • 400mm f/2.8E (back-ordered)
  • 600mm f/4E (back-ordered)
  • 800mm f/5.6E (back-ordered)

Overall, we currently seem to be in a bit better situation than in previous years, though the long telephotos still tend to be a problem, probably because of their low manufacturing quantities (many can be measured in dozens a month). In the summer months, the long lenses tend to be in short supply. So if you're planning a late summer vacation where you need one of the longer lenses, you'd best be securing that copy soon.

Curiously, at NikonUSA, the older AI manual focus lenses and a fairly large list of DX lenses seem to be out of stock, as well. 

Photoshop World Specials

This site's exclusive advertiser has a few Photoshop World specials that are of note (all links go to B&H):

  • Creative Cloud Plan (12 months) —US$120, but you get a US$30 B&H gift card on purchase. There aren't a lot of ways to save on Adobe CC plans. Amazon sometimes has a one-day only discount in the holiday season. This is another. Don't overlook them. And yes, you can get the plan and have it added to your current plan (I've tried it, and it works on extending your plan out). 
  • Tamron 45mm f/1.8 VC lens —US$399. I never wrote a review of this lens, though I tried it for a couple of weeks. Optically, it's a strong performer, probably better than Nikon's fast normal lenses. Plus it has vibration control. At this price it's a reasonable bargain.
  • ProGrade 64GB SD Cards (UHS-II, two-pack) — US$90. While not a big discount (10%), I've been using these cards since NAB in testing UHS-II cameras, and they're as fast as I've seen, and seem pretty reliable.
  • Apple 15" MacBook Pro (1TB, 16GB) — US$2399. This is the portable computer I use, and once High Sierra stabilized it has been pretty much everything I wanted (other than accidentally activating Siri due to the trackbar so easy to hit when you're looking for the Delete key). A US$1100 on a top-end Apple product isn't to be sniffed at, even if Apple is likely to announce the next model next week. Buying at the trailing edge of the Apple lifespans is the only way to get real discounts.
  • Helicon Focus Pro (lifetime license) — US$149 after adding to cart. If you're a D850 owner wanting to do focus stacking, this is one of the premiere software products to put all those images together.

I wanted to call out just those things that are probably of interest to this site's readers and for which I have experience with. Plenty more specials are available—though some of them seem to be just lingering manufacturer discounts—click on this advertiser link to see them.

Investors Versus Customers

An article published this week in the Harvard Business Review by Bain & Company partner Shigeki Ichii describes some of Nikon's recent corporate behavior. That article simply reinforces what I've been writing about for some time: Nikon is currently in a phase where cost-cutting is a primary management task. 

Indeed, cutting costs faster than the company is contracting—which presents a short-term financial benefit—makes the company look more profitable and strategic. At least to investors. 

Before moving on, be careful about the "facts" in the HBR article. For instance, Ichii claims a 35% Nikon stock price increase due to the changes he outlines over one year. So far this year, Nikon's stock price is down 21% from its high, and currently close to where it was when the changes Ichii notes first came into effect. That's one problem with such articles: they can provide a snapshot in time, but the stock market and world economy being what it is, short-term changes eventually succumb to long-term reality.

Which brings me back to my commentary on the HBR article.

The issue for me has never been about whether Nikon is profitable or what its current stock price is. I'm sure that within the company—particularly the board of directors—that profitability and stock price are indeed important things that are considered every day. As it should be.

What I've been writing about for 15 years (!) regarding Nikon is very simple: that peak cameras would be reached was inevitable. The question has always been what will Nikon do about that. 

Back in 2009 the Economist published an article about how Canon and Nikon lost the market for steppers to ASML (they published other things about this, but this is the one article I find that I can still link to). The line that stood out to me there was this: "'When a machine at Samsung broke down, 20 Japanese would come over and place a tent over it, so no one could see exactly what they did,' [ASML's strategist] says. ASML took the opposite approach, and showed customers the problem and how it would be fixed."

Customers. They're critically important. Maintaining the relationship with customers is key when products and markets mature and competitive forces start to intrude on your offerings.

So here's my concern, which I've expressed for some time now in these pages: much of Nikon's cost cutting has come at expense to customers. In all ways. First, Nikon has tremendously scaled back their advertising, which means that we don't see the Nikon messaging any more.

Moreover, what is that messaging? Nikon has been opaque and silent on virtually anything that would inspire confidence in their current customers. Nikon needs those current customers to continue upgrading their cameras and lenses from time to time, after all. 

Put the two together: advertising isn't attracting new customers because it is mostly non-existent, while relations with current customers has soured to the point where you quite often hear "well I guess I'll go to Sony, then." (Or Fujifilm, or one of the other camera companies.)

I've almost never faulted Nikon on their engineering prowess or their accounting acumen. They have core competencies in both areas that support them well. Notice I used the word "support", though. 

More and more in my life I've become aware that "story" is everything. What's the story your product tells? What the story your product enables? What the story of you connecting with your customers? 

Nikon has playing pretty much only one game in recent years: creating a story for investors. The HBR article basically documents that story. I've got no problems with that.

The problem is that this effort isn't accompanied by a story targeting customers. Nikon has effectively made their story "see the D850." Coolpix has no story. KeyMission has no story. DL started to tell a story that they decided not to complete. The DX DSLRs are not telling customers a compelling story. The D610 and D750 are old stories, fading rapidly in relevance. 

Consumers see Nikon's story as one of continuous fade, and the most extreme of those customers now simply say something like "see what happened to Kodak." 

Long, long ago in Silicon Valley I had to write business plans for tech products. One thing that became clear to me almost from the beginning was this: you have three constituencies that you absolutely must have an appropriate and compelling story for. Those constituencies are the investor, the employees, and the customer. And not necessarily in that order.

I'd argue from my experience that the order is customer, employee, investor, even though in Silicon Valley the emphasis has always had a strong tilt towards investor, as it takes a lot of capital to make something that didn't exist before. 

Without a doubt, the Nikon D850 customer is quite happy (if they can get one). Only problem for Nikon? There are probably only about 100-150k of those customers this year. The D500 and D5 customer is also probably pretty happy, though there are even fewer of those customers this year. 

From there, things get progressively worse as we go down the lineup. 

To me, what the HBR article says is simple: one key employee at Nikon focused on one problem and made significant headway. Ironically, Oka-san did for the investment community what I've been writing for years that Nikon needs to do for the customers. For example: "identify those...that would be most important for providing valuable feedback." 

The bottom line is this: the investors will continue to evaluate Nikon's prospects with customers. As those prospects fade, my guess is that so will the positive changes Oka-san managed to make in the investment community.


You Need a Good Egg Before You Can Have a Better Chicken

Which came first, the chicken or the egg sometimes can be answered. At least I think so. Sometimes you need to start with an well conceived egg to get a viable chicken. 

Nikon lately has been fiddling with trying to get more traction as a video enabler. They’ve now got another new Web site—titled In Every Frame—where they’re intending to promote Nikon as a video camera maker. As an incentive, up to four videos shot on Nikon cameras will be awarded US$2000 every month ("No footage can originate from a camera or product other than a Nikon camera or product”).

Now, many Nikon cameras do very credible video. But they’re not really optimized for video. It appears that Nikon is hoping that its customers can prove that Nikon cameras do better video than Nikon’s own marketing department has managed to convince people of. But why this requires an entirely different URL without Nikon branding in the name (e.g. nikonineveryframe.com instead of ineveryframe.com), I have no idea. Moreover, it looks like the eventual place Nikon will showcase the winning videos will be on a new In Every Frame channel on YouTube, not on the ineveryframe site. 

This all seems disconnected and odd to me. 

The camera is the egg. With it, you can make chickens (videos). Thus, I’d suggest that any marketing really has to start at the camera side. Those videos shouldn’t be sitting out somewhere on their own doing an oblique point back to the cameras, they should be directly part of the camera marketing campaigns. Originally, the KeyMission Web site—remember those video cameras Nikon made?—was nikon.keymission.com. Today, many of those old links just take you to a generic nikonimaging.com URL and the whole KeyMission separate Web site thing seems to have perished. The eggs spoiled and the chicken never came to be. 

Nikon does have a KeyMission channel on YouTube (with only 3870 subscribers as I write this), but now they’re going to add In Every Frame as another channel? So if I create a video with a KeyMission 180 and enter it into the In Every Frame competition and it wins, what happens? Oh oh. 

Technically, to enter the video market full-fledged, you need a real video camera and bunch of creators who help you showcase it (or them if it's a product line). Nikon seems to be trying to use the Ambassadors to do some of this heavy lifting, but that hasn’t exactly worked, so they keep trying to find new ways to get others to help them market the Nikon “video cameras.”

Here’s the problem: other than the now failed KeyMission cameras, they’re not video cameras. They’re just really great still cameras that can do very credible video if you make them jump through hoops (even Nikon seems to acknowledge that by putting an Atomos in the D850 Filmmaker’s Kit). Moreover, Nikon hasn’t found something unique about video that they can showcase, with perhaps the exception of the KeyMission 360, which they botched both the execution and marketing of. 

Nikon cameras can shoot video, but they’re not the camera you’d select if all you’re doing is shooting video. No interesting video on a separate channel that was made with Nikon gear is going to convince me otherwise unless the camera-to-video raison d’être is clear. And clearly communicated. Nikon is failing at both (not clear, not clearly communicated). 

Nikon needs a real egg to create some unique, real chickens. Nikon needs to look at how Blackmagic Design and RED managed to shoulder into the video camera market and catch user attention with their unique eggs (which in theory produce unique chickens). It’s still possible to do so, though the stakes and the bits and pieces needed to do so are getting more complicated and advanced. 

To get any attention now you probably need 8K raw with ProRes or DvNHD support, fast frame rates that enable slow motion at least in 4K, some form of modularity, XLR audio, and lenses, lenses, lenses. You’d think a company that was established in optics and known for its lenses would recognize the last, but that has been one of the real issues with using Nikon gear as a video rig: you’re probably not going to use Nikkors. 

I’m pretty sure that Nikon’s next “video initiative” will be mirrorless. They’ll try to position their mirrorless product as a do-anything imager: stills, video, sharing. That would mean that they should already have vloggers in force working with this new gear (I don’t believe they do). One thing I noticed at Sony Kando was how many people were doing near live vlogging with Sony gear. Most seem to have picked one of the A6xxx models to keep their rig small, and most were shooting constantly off gimbals, spinning their camera around to capture their reaction/commentary, then spinning back to the scene they were capturing. 

What’s happened is that Nikon has become a follower, at least when it comes to video. They caught onto the action camera scene late, the 4K video scene late, they’ll catch onto the vlogging scene one of these days, and so on. And then their gear isn’t designed right for the need, and they play catch up trying to convince people with disconnected marketing messages that they’re really in the video business. 

It’s grow up time in Tokyo. I strongly believe Nikon is capable of executing hardware that’s not just state of the art but can pioneer the future. What I’m not seeing is the decision making that is getting them in front of the pack, nor the marketing that makes it clear what their “video” gear does that other gear doesn’t. Instead, we get marketing campaigns that try to get users to fill in the blanks after the fact in the Nikon view of the world. Good luck with that. 

Make a better and unique egg. Correctly promote the unique chickens that hatch from it. It’s not rocket science. Well, okay, making a better egg isn’t going to be easy, but the rest should be. 

A Minor D5 Firmware Update

Nikon updated the D5 firmware to version 1.3. Not a lot to this update, with one new “feature” and four bug fixes for things that most people wouldn’t notice.

The new feature has to do with a button-assignable addition called Recall Shooting Functions. This can be assigned to the DOF Preview, Fn1, Fn2, AF-On, the lens Fn button, or the center of joystick (press). 

What you get when you press a button assigned to Recall Shooting Functions is that the exposure mode, shutter speed, aperture, exposure compensation, and ISO setting—which may include Auto ISO functions—are restored to a saved setting while the button is held.

Unfortunately, the implementation is a little bit of a kludge. How do you set those things to be recalled? Well, you do it in Custom Setting #F1, where you assigned the button. There’s now a new Update Saved Settings option when you make this button assignment, and you use that to store the settings you want recalled. There’s also a “force autofocus” ability you can assign when the button is held.

Frankly, Nikon is getting this wrong (while doing the right thing). As has been discussed before, what they really need to do is combine the consumer camera C1, C2, and C3 with the professional camera banks. In other words, just add C1, C2, and C3 to the Exposure mode options set by the Mode button, and let them remember the banks information, too. 

The four bug fixes are things you probably wouldn’t have encountered (two of them have to do with Ethernet shooting, one was what names were displayed in the Time Zone and Date function, and the final one “corrects” the reported focal length value with the 400mm and 800mm lenses when the TC-14EIII or TC-17E is used. 

The "Lowly" D7500

Every now and again I get an email that has a lot of meat in it, and which describes Nikon's problems as well as I can. Here's one I received recently (my comments will follow):

"I read your review and what you have to say about the D7500 with great interest.

I have struggled for a year with the poor perception many photographers have of this camera on the internet.  It came to the point where I felt embarrassed to use this camera.

The biggest grief for me was when I added two SB-5000, the WR-R10 and WR-T10 for studio work.  I am not a pro, and I had never used radio triggers before, just optical ones.  When I tried to set everything up, I failed.  I looked at the user's guides (for both camera and flash) and I couldn't find my answers.  It turns out, the instructions were poorly laid out for somebody who had never used the radio system.

I called Nikon and their tech reps started telling me that the D7500  is not compatible for radio trigger!  I couldn't believe this.  I had to call three times to get one that would tell me what to do (it was a detail that I had missed). I called the shop where I bought the radio control kit, they told me that the camera didn't do radio control!  That was the ultimate.  I nearly returned the camera. Finally, after 3 calls, a tech rep was able to walk me through the settings.  It turns out, many people were like me, uncertain how to set up.

But, in this context, I have no clue why they treated their own camera this way.  I got very disgusted because it meant they didn't care for customers who felt this camera fit their needs.  

It's often very hard for me to get answers to questions I have about this camera.  As you said, it came with powerful new features.  Nikon never promoted those features, so many people don't even know about those hidden gems.(I have been using the camera for a year and have discovered its new features, finally).

I also have to say that even the local Nikon reps I have met showed no interest in this camera.  Over time, this made me feel horrible.

It was nice to read that you wondered about the same things as I did regarding promoting this camera.  I am grateful for your input because I know people listen to you.  They think the camera sucks, is a D6000,  but then, after they read your entry, start thinking differently.

I discovered an issue though:  In live view, when using both optical and radio, and manual mode for the flashes, the optical flashes won't fire.  They will only fire when using TTL.  It's totally fine when not in LV. I know that it's not a good idea to use LV, but sometimes I like to frame this way. Unfortunately, I also forget to get out of LV, and so I don't get my shots.  I use one or two SB-700s when I mix optical and radio.   It took 4 calls to Nikon to sort this out (after several reps again insisted that the D7500 didn't support radio control of the flashes) and for them to recognize that there is, indeed, a problem.  They were able to replicate it. And then the local reps kept telling me they never experienced the problem, but that's because they don't use this camera!! It drives me absolutely crazy because I would frame in LV, and then move away and forget to get out.  Since I use the remote (WR-T10), it's easy to forget.

But, in general, I love the camera, and the videos it produces.  It's a good one that should have been marketed differently.  Promoting a product sufficiently well and at least fighting back against the bashing  also empowers its users instead of making them feel bad.  I did feel bad.  Of course, I suppose that the casual user won't care.  But I take my photography seriously even if I am a hobbyist!"

Oh my. 

Virtually everything this user writes about needs to get back to Nikon corporate and dealt with. The problem, of course, is that most of it probably won't. Virtually everything in this email is also something I've written about before. Let's go to the punch list:

  1. The D7500 is just not being actively promoted well. That people are still buying it despite Nikon's lame marketing of it is a testament to brand reputation Nikon took decades to build. Unfortunately, that brand reputation is going down with each round of cost cutting. 
  2. Customer support often gives wrong answers. I've mentioned this many times before. But more to the point, how many times did this customer get the wrong answer from different people at Nikon? Knowledge sharing within an organization is important. If a customer suddenly manages to alert you (the customer service rep) that the D7500 does something you didn't know it did, did you (the customer service rep) discuss that with the rest of the reps ("hey guys, I got something wrong with the D7500, anyone else miss that, too?")? Customer service should get better with time, but it didn't appear to here.
  3. Nikon did not get the dealer system excited with the D7500.  They didn't get excited about the D3400 or D5600, either. Or KeyMission. Something is fundamentally wrong here, and I keep hearing from more and more dealers saying they're tiring of NikonUSA's practices. Late last decade NikonUSA was incredibly active in pushing customers into dealerships and helping dealers turn iron. Now they're often not even getting warnings that models will go on sale, which means that they can't stock to what they think demand might change to. The dealers end up reacting, not anticipating. 
  4. Beyond the issue of the WRs being out of stock much of the time after introduction, Nikon has never really marketed what they can do, and with what. Did you know you can use them to do synchronized firing of cameras? Even more incredible is that you need firmware version 3.0 in the WRs to be able to use them on the D5 generation cameras as intended, and I'm still hearing from people getting older inventory that isn't version 3.0. Unfortunately, this isn't a firmware update the user can do, so you can still buy a new WR and it has to go back to Nikon for update.
  5. Nikon documents like a tech company wanting to reduce documentation costs. Because, of course, they're costs. They're not. They're selling opportunities. By clearly showing someone how to set something up and how that once done, there's a big payoff, you get more customers eventually. 
  6. Who at Nikon is actively using their gear? Problems get noticed and fixed faster when you have a vested interest in the outcome ;~). I've met with a lot of Nikon folk at various trade shows and office visits, and that includes almost two dozen Japanese executives at this point. Very few have been carrying a Nikon camera that I could see. Makes me wonder how much they actually use their own gear. I don't see this same problem with some other camera companies.  
  7. So when customers find a problem, how do they actually report it to Nikon? And are we sure that when customer support verifies that a problem exists that the folks who maintain the firmware end up hearing about it? Unclear. There's also a lot of the Telephone Game going on here as customer says to customer service rep who says to manager who says to product manager who says to engineers (and somewhere along the way it was also translated into Japanese). The chance that something doesn't get passed correctly along the way is large. I've experienced this several times even trying to take shortcuts across the Pacific (e.g. me dealing directly with a manager in Tokyo). Add to this the fact that Nikon doesn't seem to be really vested towards updating their firmware compared to companies like Fujifilm, particularly the lower down the lineup we go. So, even if the message does get through intact to someone who can fix it, it might not get fixed.

Nikon has been moving further and further away from their customers over the years—and by customers, I mean both dealers and photographers. Emails like the one I reproduce above are the result. Note that this particular customer has feelings. He's not so much faulting Nikon for something as he is making the point that he's not feeling good about his purchase. Half of his issues got resolved eventually; the other half may end up getting resolved in a firmware fix (I'm not holding my breath). 

That's not his point. His point is that he's not feeling good about his purchase. And remember, this is a very good camera. One I like a lot and I think is far better than Nikon's marketing manages to convey. Gee, what happens when Nikon makes a more mediocre product? ;~)


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