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. 

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Nikon Instant Rebates

With instant rebates here are the new prices at Nikon currently in effect in the US:

  • D500 body: US$1797
  • D750 body: US$1797
  • D810 body: US$2497

And with kit lens:

  • D500+16-80mm: US$2397
  • D750+24-120mm: US$2297
  • D810+24-120mm: US$3197

I don’t always mention body rebates when they occur, as they’re pretty ubiquitous and not always all that good. But these three bodies are all excellent cameras, and those are all a minimum of 10% off. At this pricing, we may even see some of these go in and out of stock.

That said, dealers are telling me that NikonUSA has told them that they will be pushing these bodies throughout the holiday season. That seems to indicate that NikonUSA expects to have plenty of supply overall.

Support this site by purchasing from this advertiser (who includes some free additional things, including 2% off on a future order, as well):

Making Sense of the Interviews

Photokina tends to generate a lot of interview pieces, as it’s one of the few times where the mainstream photographic media gets access to Japanese camera company executives (short of traveling to Tokyo, of course). We’ve had a long string of such interview articles and videos appearing in the last month (see bottom).

It may be that I live in a swing state and the current onslaught of political ads that claim opposite mostly untrue things has me more skeptical than usual, but at every trade show I tend to be pretty skeptical about what is said by executives from camera companies. So I’m skeptical of many of the things heard at and around Photokina this year.

Over the years we’ve been promised multi-stop improvements, “fastest autofocus ever,” and had to slog through very carefully worded statements about current and future development that seemed like heavily camouflaged flack jackets. We get lots of optimism—and we should, since these shows are marketing opportunities with lots of press around and it would be pretty terrible marketing not to be optimistic—peppered occasionally with some strange purposefully vague or noncommittal statements, as well.

I’ve been dealing with Trade Show Speak for 40-odd years now, and getting accurate, candid, and useful information out of Executives on Parade is tough. Extremely tough. And rarely done. 

Perhaps the best in the camera business at this is Dave Etchells at Imaging Resource. It usually takes some time before he gets his long interviews transcribed, verified, and posted, but I’ll be curious as always to see what he managed to get out of the camera companies this time around (his Sony interview is listed below). There are often gems in his interviews.

Meanwhile, we have a lot of sites repeating marketing statements that were made and then instantly re-interpreting them. I’m not going to do much of that here. I did notice that a lot of the statements were almost word for word with the statements I’ve gotten, so the PR handlers are definitely doing their job this year. 

The reality is, we have this hype around big product announcements all the time. In a few cases the actual product delivered matches the statements made—Nikon’s pronouncements about more accurate and faster autofocus with the D5/D500 release, for example—and we’re all happy. In other cases the promises fall flat. Again the D5/D500 release—this time the implications of much better lower light handling—which turned out to provide marginally better image quality results in low light, not the large differences people expected from the statements.

But here’s the thing you really need to be careful of: many of the statements being made are about products that aren’t available yet to test. They’re about future products the media hasn’t yet had a chance to evaluate. I have to say that the statement I found most objectionable was from Olympus, where they’re claiming that the future E-M1 Mark II is better in dynamic range than the past Fujifilm X-T1 (a camera released over two years ago). This is where things get a little crazy, especially given that the X-T2 is out and can be measured ;~). 

So I take executive pronouncements at trade shows as what they are: marketing. The job of a reviewer is to ferret out the marketing promises with the practical reality, and that’s what I’ll be doing as all these future products come to market. (Yes, I know I’m still trying to catch up with the last batch.)

This doesn’t mean I’m not excited about the products. In particular, I’m very interested in seeing the Canon EOS M5, Fujifilm GXF, the Olympus E-M1 Mark II, and the Panasonic GH5 when they show up on dealer shelves. We’re in a period where we continue to get interesting and useful incrementation in products, and an occasional big(ger) surprise. That’s what we users want, and the more companies that can keep pushing the envelope in camera capabilities, the better. Competition is always a good thing.

But let’s actually measure the competition, not just respond to executive pronouncements at trade shows.

All of which brings me to dpreview’s interview with mid-level Nikon management at Photokina. To say that the quotes from that interview are strange is understatement, I think. A number of you have asked me about them, so here’s a few that struck me as needing explanation of some kind:

  • "...the KeyMission 360 has a very wide angle of view. But this kind of category needs the size to be wearable.” Okay. But exactly how do I wear a 360? I’ve got a 360 on its way to try to figure that out, but from what I’ve seen at the shows I’m not convinced Nikon actually addressed the “wearable” aspect. Instead, we get "Our competence is high quality imagery. So we will continue to keep that our core competence and apply it into the KeyMissions.” Again, okay. But the two things—quality and wearable—need to be designed together to rise above the other products, and I’m just not seeing it at the moment. These were two marketing managers doing the interview. I think that Nikon’s marketing is missing the mark here. For example, I can see mounting the 360 on the handlebars of my mountain bike, or on the bow of my kayak, or on the front of my Land Cruiser. Those aren’t “wearable” situations, they’re mount-to-show-participant-and-environment locations. We need a word for that and Nikon needed to be in front of pack in marketing it. Yes, “immersive” and “VR” are on the right track, but Nikon seems more intent on marketing against GoPro at the moment than trying to establish themselves as leading a new charge. The 360 should be a new charge, and “wearable” has little to do with it.
  • We launched the WMU app so we had kind of experience for this setup process. We tried to improve, to make the setting easier. But still some of you might feel it’s quite difficult. Now three or four steps are needed to connect camera to mobile phone. We are trying to reduce steps from four to one, and finally zero.” You all know that I think this misses the point. Yes, it’s nice to reduce the setup steps, I’m all for it. But if the setup took 10 steps but the actual act of sharing an image was seamless and stepless, would we be really complaining? Setup is a one time thing, sharing is forever. 
  • "If we use Bluetooth you can use Wi-Fi at the same time.” Really, Nikon? The implication here is that the camera uses the Bluetooth connection to get the image to the smartphone, the smartphone uses its Wi-Fi to get the image to where you want to share it. And by the camera not tying up the smartphone’s Wi-Fi the user doesn’t have to switch anything (e.g. which Wi-Fi connection the smartphone is using). But isn’t the more likely practice that the user wants is to have the image moved from camera to smartphone by Wi-Fi (faster) and then shared via cellular connection? I need to hear much more about the design approach here to understand what Nikon is really thinking. The current solution is slow and cumbersome, which is the antithesis of what those that want to share images want.
  • "The Nikon 1 concept is fit [sic] for some customers. For now we’ll keep Nikon 1 as usual.” Those customers seem few and far between in the US and Europe, and even Japan. Nikon’s mirrorless market share has gone down, so it’s not a lot of customers wherever they might be, either. And the “for now” is one of the most passive marketing statements I’ve ever heard. I’ve written this before: Nikon knows the Nikon 1 is basically a failure. It certainly failed to do what they intended it to, and it failed to command the price they wanted for it. Plus the DLs—should they ever arrive—really make the Nikon 1 superfluous, as comparatively they are a watered down UI with worse lenses with the only gain in being able to mount different lenses, most of which don’t match the watered down UI customer. I fear that the “for now” means that the Nikon 1 is “supported” while Nikon is transitioning to the DLs and whatever mirrorless choice is next. 
  • "Because our product mix covers full-frame and APS-C DSLR and the Nikon 1, these three product categories mean we offer to the full lineup and we receive each customer’s good reactions.” Arguably, Canon has a better three-category line (EOS M, EF-S, EF). Moreover, Canon is gaining market share while Nikon is losing it, so one has to consider the implications of that. I’ve written tons about how Nikon’s inability to keep DX customers perfectly happy is losing them customers to leaking and sampling of mirrorless, and not Nikon’s mirrorless ;~). 
  • "The J, S and V models are different categories. The V series is sort of special, people they well know about DSLR, what is a photograph, they understand these ideas.” This is so condescending as to be embarrassing. Especially since a few moments later these executives seem to say that the DLs are for FX DSLR customers. Is Nikon really saying that J customers don’t know what a photograph is or what DSLR controls are? Wow. That’ll come as news to a lot of J5 users. 
  • [the V3 is a] fit for professional photographers' demand. It’ll never be the main camera for a photographer but it can help them a lot.” Okay, many of you know that I’ve been saying that since the V1. But come on Nikon, just one real world use example would help prove the point. One. Is that so hard? Remember when I wrote about the V1 that is was interesting in that you could take a pro golfer’s swing at 20 fps silently, something we never generally see in images from golf tournaments? Did Nikon’s marketing ever pick up on that and bring that thought to life? Not really. Marketing Fail. 
  • "DL’s concept and target is users of the D800 series.” Okay, stop laughing. I know exactly how Nikon came to that conclusion, and it makes a little sense. You see, the D800 and D810 attracted quite a few casual enthusiasts. The D8xx bodies haven’t been big sellers because it’s all pros buying them; instead, a very large percentage, maybe even majority, come from well-heeled consumers trying to buy “the best.” At least the best that makes practical sense to them (the D5 is too big and heavy). Nikon did a number of surveys of D800 buyers. Guess what they might have learned? ;~) Yep, that group wanted a really competent camera that they had with them all the time, and the D800 was great, but big and heavy. Moreover, all of us pro shooters do have a smaller pocket camera with us, and generally it hasn’t been a Nikon. So, yes, the DLs really are an attempt to bring DSLR-think down to a series of carryable compacts. Unfortunately, go back and read the remarks on Nikon 1 in the previous bullet. Oops. Which camera(s) is the DSLR user going to carry as their everywhere camera, DL or Nikon 1? 
  • "Even the power switch is in the same position as on DSLR.” It took how many years for Nikon to discover this? If controls aren’t broke, don’t fix them. If items are in the right place in the menus, don’t move them. You build brands by consistency. Consistency that resonates with the customer, and that the customer can grow with. So you don’t move switches all over the place. You put them where they’re most convenient to the user. Note to Nikon: when you move the power switch on a future camera, what reason are you going to give? ;~)

There was much more said in the dpreview interview, so I invite you to read it yourself. The section on video was particularly interesting, as it revealed that Nikon themselves can’t figure out which customer(s) they’re designing for. Seems to be a common problem over at the Tokyo headquarters, I’d say.

All that said, talking with managers at trade shows is a bit like talking to politicians at political events. Both have agendas and messages they want to get across, whether you’re interested in them or not. Neither are consistent in their messaging, and as circumstances change the messages change right with them. 

Nikon really needs to figure out what their brand means and execute to that. I get the strong feeling that they’re randomly chasing rather than directed leading. 

If you’re interested in various interviews made at Photokina, here’s a sampling:

Thom Writes More Six Word Reviews

A few of you tell me I write too much or are too long-winded in my descriptions of products. So every now and then I take a stab at writing concise, pointed, six-word reviews. And yes, a bit snarky. 

Here’s the latest edition:

Nikon D3400: Almost a D3300, but with SnapBridge

Nikon D500: Better than D400 but no flash

Nikon D810A: Canadian D810 has you seeing red

Nikon D5: Flagship Renewed with far better focus

Nikon DL 24-85: Great product launch with no product

Nikon DL 18-50: Best product launch with no product

Nikon DL 24-500: Decent product launch with no product

Nikon KeyMission 80: Worst modern camera idea this year

Nikon KeyMission 270: A GoPro without the mounting accessories

Nikon KeyMission 360: Nikon looks behind you, sees little

Nikon SnapBridge: Poorly made bridge, not very snappy

Nikon WR-T10: Worst named wireless remote control ever

Nikon SB-5000: SB-910, radio and air-conditioning now standard

Nikkor f/1.8G prime set: Better than the f/1.4 prime set

Nikkor 105mm f/1.4E: A Zeiss-like lens at Zeiss prices

Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E VR: VR is bigger and more expensive

Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G VR DX: Everything you’d want supports few bodies

Nikkor 200-500mm f/5.6: Massively lowers 200-400mm f/4 resale values 

Canon EOS M5: Catching up to the Sony A6000

Canon 5D Mark IV: More of the same, so good

Canon 1Dx Mark II: Flagship Renewed, bit more of everything

Fujifilm XT-2: Great mirrorless; still not a DSLR

Sony A6300: Wonderful performance in still marginal body 

Zeiss Batis: Classic designs rethought, though OLED unhelpful

Nikon Introduces Two Pro Lenses

Nikon today introduced the long-expected 19mm f/4E ED PC and 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lenses. Both have been eagerly anticipated by FX shooters, a bit less so by DX owners.

The 70-200mm f/2.8E is the replacement for the well-regarded 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II lens. Besides the E treatment—electronically controlled apertures as opposed to mechanically controlled—the FL in the new lens’ designation indicates that Nikon was looking to trim down an element or two in weight. The new lens is 50.5 ounces as opposed to the old 54.3 ounces. It’s also lost a fraction of an inch in overall length (3mm). 

As most of us shooting with the current 70-200mm f/2.8G know, it’s only real drawback has been that at close focus distances you lose a lot of focal length, a trait called focal length breathing. Many still camera lenses do this to some degree, but not as much so as the 70-200mm f/2.8G did versus the older D version it replaced. The issue is that, at close distances, you had to change perspective (move closer) or crop with the G version. Not a terrible thing, and a lot of people didn’t notice it. But the very first thing a lot of prospective buyers of the new lens are going to look at is the focal breathing behavior. Based upon the specs, it seems like focal length breathing should be much more minimal and more like the older D version. This new E version also focuses closer than the previous one, though the maximum magnification doesn’t really change much.

Other things that you should know is that the lens is extensively weather sealed, features both fluorine and Nano coating, and has a new VR system that starts up quicker when the camera is powered on (and is measured at 4 stops CIPA). One change that will cause some grief: the zoom and focus rings have reversed. The zoom ring is now at the front of the lens, apparently because Nikon believes that pro shooters zoom more than they correct focus. This will take some getting used to. 

Meanwhile, the 19mm f/4E PC finally gives Nikon something closer to match the Canon 17mm tilt-shift lens. I’m sure there will be complaints that Nikon should have gone wider, but for FX users, 19mm with a tilt-shift is plenty different than the current 24mm PC-E. We’re talking something like 82° horizontal versus 74° (true, the Canon hits 93°).

The real thing everyone is looking at on the 19mm f/4E PC is the tilt-shift mechanism: is it independent, or are we still tied to a single axis as with previous PC-E lenses? The answer is: yes, you can set tilt and shift independently. Great, now can we get re-makes of the 24mm, 45mm, and 85mm with that feature?

Note that the lens does not have filter rings, nor does it appear to come with a lens hood (though the bayonet for one is clearly there, NikonUSA does not list one nor is one shown in any image).

The 70-200mm f/2.8E is US$2799, and will ship in mid-November. The 19mm f/4E PC is US$3400, and will also ship by mid-November. Both will be shown later this week at PC PhotoExpo in New York City.

As with the recent 105mm f/1.4E and the 16-80mm f/2.8-4E DX, we already have people complaining about Nikon’s new lens pricing. These are not consumer lenses. They’re pro workhorse lenses and are expected to deliver highest possible image quality. I personally don’t have any issue with Nikon's pricing as long as the lenses deliver on image quality, but it’s also very true that these are not going to be high volume, consumer-bought lenses. 

Still, Nikon is clearly still pushing the upscale side of things (D810, D5, D500, high-end lenses, FX in general) much more than they’re doing things down in the more mass consumer level.  If that continues without things that appeal more to the Nikon 1 to D7200 type of owners, Nikon’s going to get remarkably lower on volume, I think. The thing we’re all waiting for is to see Nikon’s plan for the US$500-1500 type of camera, and the full lens sets (buzz, buzz) that are needed there to remain competitive.

Oh, and by the way, Nikon is back on the “announce something every month club” again (and has been since July). They’re spreading announcements out rather than trying to make one big splash. 

Note: since B&H is closed for the Sukkos holiday, the lenses are not yet listed on their site. If you’d like to support this site by ordering one of these lenses, check back later or just use any of the B&H links on this site to start an order for it when it does appear. I’m on assignment this week, so I might not be quick to post a link when B&H re-opens ordering.

Summer is Coming

I’ve never shot an Olympics. I’ve shot pro, collegiate, and high school sports of all kinds, but never the Big Event. 

As I start shooting more and more sports again, I began contemplating what I’d have to do to earn a spot on someone’s photography team so as to be one of the chosen few shooting the next couple of Olympics. Given my age, I’d have to guess that the next two Olympics are my last chances.

But as usual, my mind quickly went elsewhere. 

The 2020 Summer Olympics are in Tokyo. Both Canon and Nikon would be expected to bring out completely new generation pro bodies just prior to that, probably in early 2020 so that there’s time to get used to them before the games begin. 

What the heck are those cameras going to be? 

That’s an important question to ask right now, because both companies would already have their deep technology teams beginning to try to solve the problems necessary to deliver an incredible new flagship product by then. The 2020 Olympics is a home game, and if Canon and Nikon don’t deliver something great for that, it’s game over.

If I were a video shooter and these were video cameras we were expecting, the answer would be easy: 8K standard, with perhaps some sort of higher not-quite-ready ability (e.g. 16K, or maybe VR support of some sort). Absolutely great 1080P (120 fps minimum) and 4K (60 fps min) slow motion. Edit marking in camera would be the norm, as would raw file creation and an edit-ready compression like ProRes. Shape focus recognition might even be there (put the cursor on an object, the overall shape of the object is analyzed and then follow-focused, even as the shape morphs with motion).

But stills? Oh dear, that’s a far tougher challenge to predict. 

I’ll tell you what I want: chimp-and-send. By that I mean that as I’m shooting I’m using pauses in the action to chimp my shots—preferably on a display larger than 3"—and pick the images that need to be immediately sent to the service or publication I’m working for. If connectivity isn’t available as I shoot, those chosen images are still all queued, and then squirted out just as soon as a connection is found. Any connection.

But am I using a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or something else (e.g. multi-sensor quasi-light field)? 

That, my friends is the US$64,000 question in Tokyo labs right now. Fujifilm and Olympus will absolutely say “it’s mirrorless.” They’re all in. Sony would probably say the same thing, though the recent A99II shows that they see an alternative. But Canon and Nikon? Magic 8 Ball says “Ask again later.” 

If I had to guess, both will stick to DSLR. The last DSLR to be built will be at the high end, after all. That’s generally always the case with dying technologies: the remaining practitioners retreat to the highest ground as their volume goes away. 

And yet, I can clearly see someone standing next to me at the Tokyo 2020 stadium with some non-DSLR camera that just runs the sensor at absurd speeds and generates a second or two of stills at 60 fps or even more, all without flapping a mirror. It’s a real pain-in-the-editing-butt to deal with all that data downstream, but I’m sure there will be someone willing to take up the challenge for the benefit. I have to do better than that person, but what’s the camera that allows me to do so?

The tricky part of this is lenses. Sports and wildlife and a few other photography disciplines still revolve as much around lenses as they do camera bodies, if not more. If you’ve ever seen the photo bullpens at the Olympics, they’re not necessarily close to the action. What you end up with is 100 still photographers with 300mm or longer lenses all piled into a small space really suitable for only 24, and all trying to take the same (or better) picture. A smaller mirrorless camera almost works against you in this instance, as those big cannons of lenses will almost certainly block your smaller lenses' view as they swing around in front of you. I once tried to take a 24-70mm shot in a restricted box like that, and most of what I got in the frame was other photographers and the sides of lenses.

Focus systems on the 1DxII and D5 are already wicked good if you know how to set and control them. Anything better than those will seem a bit like magic, but I’m sure that deep in Tokyo there are engineers trying to accomplish just that. It’s going to all be about pattern and color recognition and being able to not get distracted by competing elements as the subjects all move.

Image sensors aren’t going to push incredibly further in four years, I believe. At current rates of sensor improvement we’re already up against the treachery of random photons, and nearing some boundaries. Sure, if we could boost quantum efficiency up to 100% we’d get a clear benefit, but I’m not exactly seeing where a sports photographer in low light would get much additional benefit from current sensor tech iterated as normal. 24mp at ISO 12,800 seems about the extreme we can expect to get truly useful results from four years from now. (Yes, I know some of you are shooting that today, but you don’t have my standards. ;~) I’m currently maxed out at 20mp and ISO 6400.)

And do I want a mirror flapping at faster than 14 fps? I’m going to take an off-the-wall guess at this one: what if the mirror flipped every other shot? In other words, shot, shot, flip, shot, shot, flip… That would give us near 30 fps with current technology, though there would be some issues with blackout and timing that need some finessing to make this look right to the photographer and get a usable sequence. (Side note: this is a way the still cameras can get around the video rights issues; having a 30 fps burst that isn’t perfectly regular is a great way to argue to the rights owners “it isn’t video.”)

Still, the big thing is the dependence on sneaker net for getting images off the camera and to where they need to go. That surely needs to change. This is where Canon and Nikon need the most help. SnapBridge is currently about 1% of the solution ;~). 

Look, I want to shoot raw so that those files can be be honed later if I get something really good. I really don’t want to be shooting RAW+JPEG because I end up having to deal with two sets of files in post. What I want is this: I chimp a shot, select a crop, add a caption, then mark it for sending. If I’m shooting raw, obviously, the camera does all that to produce a JPEG. Heck, add the SnapBridge “make a 2mp version” option, too. 

“Sending” happens as my choice of (a) immediate; (b) batched; or (c) stays marked (and cropped) in some way so that I can find those from my laptop quickly if I don’t have immediate connection ability from the stadium. 

The question is “what is the send method”? I suspect that it’s going to have to be in-camera cellular (and lets hope the Tokyo networks are 5G by then ;~). If things have to go through my phone first, that just adds a step. I’ve got a data plan, and I’m sure that for immediacy whoever I’m shooting for would pay for data usage of selected, ready to Web/print publish JPEGs. 

So I'm getting closer to the definition of a D6 (or 1DxIV): 24mp, a bit better low light capability, 24-30 fps, more magical focus with even better user control, built-in cellular data connect. Better support for selecting, cropping, and annotating in camera. All in a DSLR that uses my current lenses.

Is that enough to hold off the mirrorless competitors one more time? I think so. But mirrorless is going to be closer in terms of camera capabilities than ever before at that point. So once again where the Canikon advantage lies in in lenses for this type of work. If Canikon wants to stay ahead of the game, more DO/PF type telephoto lenses need to show up (and Nikon needs a better 200-400mm f/4). Dare I ask for a 70-200mm f/2? 

Okay, with that out of the way I can get back to thinking about how I might be able to get my ticket to the Olympics as a photographer. 

More Buzzing about Missing Lenses

I’ve commented before about how I believe that Canon and Nikon are missing key components in their lens sets, particularly for the DX/APS models (buzz, buzz). Technically, they’re not the only ones making that mistake; Sony currently does the same thing with the E-mount (as opposed to the FE-mount). 

Nikon in particular seems to be mostly confining new lens designs to two categories: (1) update the legacy FX lens set to modern technology and specifications (G/E, AF-S, VR, f/2.8 to f/1.8 prime set, etc.); and (2) create new convenience lenses (e.g. superzooms). 

I’d argue that both of these are backwards-looking strategies. The legacy updates essentially freeze lens choice to something around circa 1990 decisions and proclivities. This seems to ignore any stylistic transition of focal length use and preference that might have occurred since. We went through a time when 35-70mm was the “normal” mid-range length, then 28-70mm, but we now seem to be stuck on 24-70mm and not likely to get off if Canon/Nikon have their way.

The new convenience lenses, on the other hand, were initially responses to Tamron’s success in the early 90’s with the original superzoom coupled with the subsequent mad rush towards consumers in the digital DSLR era. The tendency here has been towards “more super” as that obviously must make the lenses “more convenient”, and convenience is what is perceived to have sold.

As a designer, I always prefer to think to the future. Designing to what sold in the past works for dominant companies in growing markets, but as markets shrink or you need to open up new space to grow more, that kind of thinking eventually brings even a rocket ship back to earth. Moreover, photography is faddish and prone to stylistic changes over time. 

It’s been clear to me that consumer preferences in large cameras began changing with the success of the iPhone, and as the audience for larger cameras has aged, those preferences are still evolving. For instance, the so-called “normal” lens for a camera with only one lens was 50mm in film and then digital cameras. But for smartphones? The most common focal length is about 28mm. A whole generation brought up on phones think “normal” looks like 28mm, not 50mm. Do Canon or Nikon make a small 18mm prime lens for their crop sensor DSLRs? No.

The evolution due to phones—coupled with an aging population in the developed world that tends to buy dedicated cameras—has also introduced a strong demand for smaller, lighter, more travel-friendly products. To a large degree, mirrorless’ success has been fueled by this, as has all the 1” compacts that have appeared. While Asia has always had a bias towards small, we’re now seeing that same notion become more and more prevalent in the North American and European markets, as well, and I don’t think this trend is going to change. It’s only going to snowball.

Even among pros. I noticed recently that a well-known former Nikon DSLR pro user is now saying that his kit is no longer DSLRs, but rather a Sony A7rII and A6300 with the f/4 zoom lenses. That’s it. And yes, that’s a very tempting set, as it travels small and light, but doesn’t give up much competency for someone who knows what they’re doing.

So the question customers are asking themselves is this: what’s the best way to get to smaller, lighter, and travel friendly? 

I’d argue that the right lens set is the best place for the big camera companies to start. Why Nikon hasn’t matched the Canon 24mm f/2.8 EF-S lens yet, I don’t know (let alone the full frame 40mm f/2.8 STM).  Here’s the thing: you can take a photo with your phone and you’ll be typically in the 28-35mm effective focal length range. What if I want similarly framed/perspective images, but with “best possible results” from a DX body? Yep, I’ve got to move to a relatively large zoom lens of some sort. Heaven help me if I’m carrying FX. The larger that lens is, the less travel friendly the DSLR is and the more likely that the phone is used. 

Now that Nikon is rolling SnapBridge DSLRs out, the “fast sharing” issue compared to a smartphone has been mitigated somewhat, but Nikon still isn’t quite understanding that the future or photography is travel-friendly, and that means we need the following (and the right marketing campaign to ignite their sales by honing in on the trend line):

  • A small set of pancake primes. Cover the primary legacy focal lengths (28, 35, 50, 70/85mm), but doesn’t have to be a really fast aperture (especially given the low light capabilities of recent DSLRs). 
  • A full set of DX wide angle primes. We’re not able to do 24mm, 28mm, or 35mm equivalent with DX without a big zoom or a third party lens. Ridiculous (buzz, buzz).
  • True convenience zooms. Sorry, but get rid of the “manually extend and retract” mechanism, Nikon. That’s not convenience. Power into a shooting position, power out if we need retraction. Nikon eventually realized they needed to do that with the Nikon 1 kit lens, but it’s true if they want to keep DX and FX travel friendly, too. Long lenses bump into things, they’re tough to fit into small bags; manually extending is a pain and even results in missed shots from time to time. (Yes, powering out to shooting can miss shots, too, so the extension has to be done fast, not slow.)
  • Expand the Phase Fresnel type approach for long lenses: we need more travel-worthy telephoto designs, not just a single focal length. Personally, I’d opt for a 200mm and 300mm f/2.8 PF, a 400mm 5.6 PF, maybe more. 

For all Nikon's claims that it wants to be a leader, Canon is slightly further along on many of these things, though still not exactly knocking it out of the park. Unfortunately, the m4/3 twins and Fujifilm are even further along with travel-friendly, large sensor ILC offerings. Canon and Nikon are followers now, not leaders.

To me, Canon and Nikon are still selling the past. That’s nice. We’re getting some very great iterations of the past that pushes old capabilities upwards. I shoot with those products in my pro work, as do others, but there are fewer of us today than there used to be. 

I’ll bet that the future volume of dedicated cameras is not full frame, big body. It’s carry-friendly gear, which means a smaller sensor and a design ethic that works towards making the “friendly” part much more prevalent. And if you’re going to design the camera that way, you need to make sure the lenses are there to support it.

As an update to a previous chart I used, here’s the current state of things. An asterisk for a lens means it doesn’t quite conform to the focal length, typically either abbreviating or extended a zoom range above the table entry. I’ve given Canon, Nikon, and Sony some credit for full frame lenses that can be used (EF or FX or FE in the table), but be aware that those lenses may be awkwardly bigger than you would expect a properly sized lens for the sensor size to be.

Current Available Manufacturer Lens Set
FX f/2.8*
S f/2.8*
FX f/1.8*
S f/2.8
M f/2 f/1.4, f/2
FX f/1.4,
FX f/1.8
f/1.7*, f/1.8,
FE f/1.4,
EF f/2

f/1.4, f/2
DX f/1.8
FX f/1.4
FE f/1.8*,
FE f/1.8
14-24mm f/4
DX f/4*
24-70mm f/4
FE f/4*
70-200mm f/4
14-24mm f/2.8
24-70mm f/2.8
DX f/2.8-4*
28-70/85mm f/2.8
S f/2.8
  f/2.8-4* DX f/2.8
70-200mm f/2.8     f/2.8
      DX f/2.8
macro for crop sensor (35mm
equivalent listed)
DX 60mm,

Top Dogs

Let’s assume for a moment that you’re interested in “best in class” in terms of a camera. What exactly would that be?

We’re not going to consider price or format here, we’re simply trying to pick best performance.

First we have to define some classes. My classes might not exactly match yours, but this is how my photographic life is structured photographically, so that’s how I’m going to present it:

  • Speed Workhorse
  • Pixel Proliferator
  • Smaller Workhorse
  • All-in-One
  • Pocketable Rocket

Speed Workhorse
Canon and Nikon have owned this category for some time with their top DSLR efforts. Both iterated this year (1DxII, D5) and pushed things forward. Get in a time machine and go back 20 years and hand either of those models to a working pro and they’ll foam at the mouth with excitement. Heck, you might only have to travel back 5-10 years to do that. It’s hard to argue against either product, especially when you couple them with the huge existing lens sets from both companies. Both companies also get a little extra credit for having very credible crop sensor versions of their top product (7DII, D500). 

The lens set is really important here. That’s because Sony’s recent A99 Mark II surprise certainly can make claims to be in the same category as the Canikon Titans. The question is whether or not the lens set you’d use with the A99II is too dependent upon lenses made 10+ years ago, or if it has significant gaps in it (e.g. practical 200-400mm zoom).

Meanwhile, Fujifilm and Olympus are clearly trying to get in the same water, though with smaller sensors. Olympus certainly has the lens set to match up to a pro’s needs already, Fujifilm a little less so, particularly as you reach into telephoto needs. The real question for Olympus is whether “speed” as a requirement also means high ISO values. The real question for Fujifilm is whether they can fill in the telephoto lens lineup.

Still, I just don’t see how you beat a 1DxII or D5 for sports and wildlife today, which is where a lot of the Need for Speed demand is. If you’re on a budget, pick the 7DII or D500. If you don’t shoot a lot of telephoto, consider the X-T2. 

Pixel Proliferation
This category is getting a lot of love, especially since we’ve got “affordable” medium format now entering into the picture. The Nikon D800, then D810, really has had a long lock on this category, especially when you consider that those cameras were extremely well-rounded shooters with a deep and wide available lens set. In a pinch, you can use a D810 for just about anything, which makes the fact that it does it with so many pixels that were so nicely rendered how it became my “best all around DSLR” for the past two years. 

What’s changed is that Nikon has clear competition in this category now. You have to consider the Canon 5Ds/r, the Fujifilm GFX, the Hasselblad XCD, the Ricoh K-1, and the Sony A7rII if you’re a pixel pusher, and each of those has something that the D810 doesn’t. The 5Ds/r has more pixels, the GFX/XCD have a bigger capture format and more pixels, the K-1 has multi-shot capabilities on still subjects that get us essentially non-Bayer data, and the A7rII is a pretty small package that has some things that the D810 doesn’t (42mp versus 36mp isn’t enough difference to matter, IMHO). 

But even though it’s the oldest of the bunch, the D810 is still holding it’s own, and I anticipate any update to it to push it back more clearly as the all-around pixel champ. If you’re rich and only shoot at a few mostly mid-range focal lengths, pick one of the medium format cameras. If you’re willing to compromise on lens quality somewhat for convenient size, pick the Sony A7rII (once we start matching up f/2.8 lenses, the smaller body size really doesn’t factor in to your kit size, and the D810 is far better ergonomically). If you’ve got a large Canon lens set, pick the 5Ds/r. 

Smaller Workhorse
What I’m referring to here is the “good enough” camera that’s a jack of all (most) trades. There isn’t anything it’s terrible at, but it’s the best of nothing. You really have to consider lens set here, and you have to consider sensor size. The former because it’s not really a jack of all trades if the lenses aren’t there (buzz, buzz). The latter because it determines the “good enough” bar you’re trying to get over.

With full frame, the cameras in this category that stand out are the Canon 6D, the Nikon D750, and the Sony A7II. The Sony lags on lenses and ergonomics, and if you’re not going to go with the f/4 lens set, I think ends up off the table for consideration. The Canon and the Nikon are really good all-around cameras, though I think the D750 edges the 6D, mostly because it sets a very high image quality bar. It’s not just “good enough,” but about as good as 24mp full frame gets. The D750 with the right recent f/1.8G primes is stunningly good, and certainly falls into the “smaller” category when kit size is considered.

But most people buy crop sensor cameras for a smaller workhorse. There things get very fuzzy. In terms of bodies, the Canon 80D and Nikon D7200 are the strongholds of the Big Two. Of those, I think the D7200 is the better rounded camera. Just as I’d claim that the D810 is the best all-around full frame DSLR, I’d claim that the D7200 is the best all-around APS/DX DSLR. 

However, for a smaller sensor workhorse camera you really have to consider mirrorless these days. The two that come to mind are the Sony A6300/A6500, and the Fujifilm X-T2. Both these are approaching DSLR-level capabilities in every way. Each has a fairly clear differential that intrigues the photographer looking at this category. 

For the Sony A6xxx models, it’s the very small size of the camera and their strong video capabilities. Coupled with the f/4 lenses, you end up with a very compact kit, though slightly compromised in the corners of the frame (vignetting, sharpness, and losses due to auto distortion control). 

For the Fujifilm X-T2, the advantages are the huge view through the EVF—you really have to see it and compare directly to the others in this category at the same time to fully appreciate it—coupled with a very well thought out set of lenses that have excellent characteristics. 

This is one reason why I’ve been harping on Nikon (and more recently Canon) to improve its crop sensor lens lineup (coupled with my buzz, buzz every time I mention it in passing). The Canon 80D and the Nikon D7200 would just clearly own this category hands down, no matter how good the mirrorless offerings are, if they just had a full, size-appropriate lens set. Coupled with the advantage they get in the telephoto range due to the existing full frame lens set they can mount, there’d just be no reason to switch to mirrorless had Canikon protected the realm. 

That said, I’d still point to the Nikon D7200 as a clear leader here. But I’m also going to point you to third-party lenses instead of Nikon lenses for the wide angle through normal focal range (buzz, buzz). Tsk, tsk, Nikon. 

As we leave the interchangeable lens cameras we get to the category where you buy a single product that does everything for you. That means it needs a great sensor, good controls, excellent focus performance, and a great lens with a fairly wide focal range. 

The Sony RX10III really owns this category (as did its predecessors; disclosure: I bought my mom one of these). 1” sensor, DSLR-style body and controls, a 24-600mm (equivalent) f/2.4-4 lens up front. Yep, all-in-one. That the RX10III also is a credible 4K video camera just adds to the all-ness. At 37 ounces (1051g) it’s not terrible in size, clocking in at even the crop-sensor-DSLR-with-kit-lens type of weight. 

The limiting factor on the RX10III is the sensor. As good as the 1” sensor is, we’re still three stops down from the expected full frame sensor performance, all else equal. The secondary limiting factor is that many things are little laggy compared to the DSLR world: EVF, focus, buffer, zooming, etc. 

Still, it’s a pretty impressive package that is capable of great results used well. The only real competitor to it is the Panasonic FZ2200/2500 (and perhaps the older FZ1000). A bit less lens (24-400mm equivalent), but a slightly faster focus system, and a slight more tilt towards handling the video side as opposed to the still side.

Pocketable Rocket
It seems clear that the Sony RX100V is setting a new bar here. At one time I might have argued that—with the right lens—a Nikon 1 might get a nomination here, it’s just tough to match what RX100V provides in such a small package. The Panasonic LX10 and the Nikon DL24-85 (should it ever appear) are looking a lot less best in class than when they were announced, though again we’re not considering price in this article.

Full Kit
I shoot a wide range of things from sports to wildlife, events to product shots. Obviously, I have needs that are beyond a single of the categories I list above. Since I have a Nikon lens set in the gear closet, I tend towards staying in the Nikon realm, but that doesn’t stop me from evaluating and considering the others. 

So what do I shoot with?

Speed: D5 and D4, D500 at times
Pixels: D810
Small Workhorse: D7200, D500 at times
All-in-One: not a category I’m currently using
Pocketable: been using an LX100, but that will change soon, probably to the Sony RX100V, but I’m waiting to actually get hands on with the recent cameras first

And the other products I can recommend based on shooting experience:

Speed: 1Dx, 1DxII, perhaps 7DII on budget
Pixels: 5Dr/s, A7rII, maybe K-1 if you’ve got the right lens set
Small Workhorse: 6D, D750 for full frame, X-T2, A6300 for crop sensor
All-in-One: RX10III, FZ2200/2500, FZ1000 on a budget
Pocketable: still examining this category

Canon and Nikon Interim 2016 Report Card

Those that have taken college classes from me know that I’m a tough grader. A real tough grader. For me to excel means to really excel in actions, not just to show up in class every day and talk a good story. 

From time to time I grade the camera companies on how they’re doing. Today I’m going to do a late mid-term 2016 report on cameras from Canon and Nikon. While I’ll concentrate on DSLRs, we DSLR-users also shoot with other types of cameras at times, so I’ll address those, too.

Overall, we’ve had six serious cameras out of Canon so far this year.

  • 1Dx Mark II, A. Some might be surprised at my grade here. But let’s start with this: the original 1Dx was a darned good top-end camera to start with. It’s really difficult to keep pushing a flagship product clearly forward, but that’s what Canon did. We got a few more pixels, but better ones. We got Canon’s dual pixel addition which makes Live View and video focus better. The metering sensor and all that it enables is clearly better, IMHO, and now at Nikon-like levels. The rear LCD is clearer, bigger, and touch sensitive. The buffer improved dramatically (at least if you use state-of-the-art Cfast cards), and we’ve got an impressive 14fps from a mechanical shutter now. And while the focus system didn’t change much, it was tweaked enough to make it feel a bit better. Oh, and did I mention that Canon dropped the list price along the way? A really solid effort on improving what was already a camera at the top of the heap.
  • 5D Mark IV, A-. Again you might be surprised at my grade. Hey, didn’t the 5D IV get many of the same improvements the 1Dx did compared to its predecessor? Yes, it did. More pixels and better ones. Dual-pixel AF. A better metering sensor. A clearer, larger, touch sensitive screen. Slightly faster frame rate. The addition of 4K video. The addition of Wi-Fi and GPS. So why doesn’t the 5D Mark IV get an A, too? Because I didn’t feel that the 5D III was an A product, nor has it quite caught the D810 in a number of ways (though it has surpassed it now in others); but we’re talking about a new product versus a two-year old product. You need more to get a full A here, I think. Still, a very nice upgrade, and Canon users should be happy.
  • 80D, C+. You might be sensing a theme here. More pixels, dual-pixel AF, better autofocus system overall, better video (but no 4K). This is a camera that goes up more against Nikon’s D7200 than anything else, and again it’s a new Canon just barely getting up to or beyond where a Nikon DSLR has been for awhile. It really feels like Canon could have done more at this level, but left that for a later date.
  • Rebel T6, C-. It really feels like as you go down the Canon DSLR lineup that they’re putting less effort down low into iterating than up above. The sensor and autofocus system feels sub-par to what others are doing now. I really feel this update feels “mailed in.” 
  • EOS M5, C+ (conditional). I was actually in the middle of reviewing the M3 when the M5 came out, so I had plenty of thinking about okay, what changed? The good news is the addition of an EVF, which really creates Canon’s first mirrorless camera that feels like and shoots like a fairly small DSLR. The issue here is autofocus performance. In the pre-release sample I’ve been able to try—thus the conditional rating—it just doesn’t fell like Canon is close to matching even the older Sony A6300, let alone the latest A6500 or the Fujifilm X-T2, which use the same size sensor. Thus, while the M series has moved forward, it still feels like it’s lagging where it should/could be. 
  • PowerShot G7 X Mark II, D. Okay, here’s where I’m going to get tough. The original G7 X came out in 2014. In the four-and-a-half years that Sony has been iterating the RX-100 the G7 X competes with, Sony has moved the bar considerably with four iterations. Canon’s efforts in this area pale by comparison, and the latest G7 X Mark II really fells like it competes mostly with the original RX100 Mark I, not the latest RX100 Mark V (or even the Mark III or IV). Basically, in over two years all the Canon engineers could really accomplish was a better tilting LCD, faster raw burst rates, and a slightly better but-still-abysmal battery life. 

In terms of lenses we got:

  • EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
  • EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II
  • EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
  • EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
  • EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM
  • EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM

Focus on updating classic lenses, coupled with throwing some “more super” zooms at the consumer bodies. There’s nothing particularly wrong with what Canon produced—these all seem to be fine lenses—but there’s a lot missing in what they haven’t produced. As I’ve noted over and over with Nikon, Canon is not fully filling in their crop sensor (EF-S) and mirrorless (EF-M) lineups with a set of lenses that’s going to compete well against the mirrorless players that are all-in with lenses. Thus, I don’t think I can give Canon a grade better than C+ on lenses. This is mostly an average (expected) performance.

Overall, Canon seemed to spend most of its attention on the topmost end of its lineup, and the further you go down their serious camera lineup, the more you see the “mailed it in” kind of philosophy that’s going to cause issues with sales volume overall. Yes, defend the top of the line, but hey guys, you need a real story for those that want more than a smartphone and less than a 5D. That story is becoming muddier and the iterations there are less than impressive.

Nikon “sort of” had six serious camera additions this year. The quotes are because three of the cameras are no shows.

  • D5, A. Like Canon, Nikon put the A team on their flagship DSLR, and it shows. The focus system is a truly useful step forward in virtually every respect, including controlling it, which is something Nikon doesn’t always get right. They did on the D5. Much like the Canon 1Dx we got more pixels, (arguably) better pixels, a better metering system, more frame rate, a better LCD, and much more. The D5 is the type of move forward we expect from Nikon every four years, and unlike the D2 and D4 generations, there’s very little to complain about this time. Almost nothing, really. 
  • D500, B. I’m tough on the D500’s grade, even though it’s arguably the best crop sensor DSLR currently being made. The problem is that it felt rushed to market when it first shipped, and it still does months later. While the D5 got the addition of 9-point dynamic autofocus in a firmware update, the D500 has not, and it needs the addition more than the D5 did. Slowing the system to deal with card errors feels like the wrong choice, plus it doesn’t seem to have completely eradicated the problems. We still have battery info that doesn’t seem to accurately reflect what’s going on. People are still having their D500 lock up for unknown reasons every now and then (though infrequently). No SnapBridge for iOS for so long made the built-in communications useless to many early buyers. And then there’s the seven year delay in getting the camera at all.   Proper firmware would have pushed the grade to B+/A-, but the longer we don’t get a real update here, the lower the final grade would be.
  • D3400, C-. Is anything really new here? Oh, yeah, SnapBridge. Better Live View/Video focusing. But that’s it. Some features have gone backwards (mic jack, sensor cleaning, and flash output). The GUIDE system now seems like a parallel menu structure that’s just as confusing as the old NEX dual menu system was. And yet…with the new AF-P lenses the D3400 does perform quite well, and the JPEG image quality seems a bit better than its predecessor, too. Better than I found the D3300 as you pushed ISO up. So, yawn, this is an average update at best. Feels totally mailed in.
  • DL 18-50, DL 24-85, DL 24-500, F. No, not an incomplete, but an out-and-out F. When you come to class and brag to me how great your assignment turned out and then later tell me that your dog ate it, well, sorry, that doesn’t fly. Nikon needs to be seriously ashamed of what happened here. That someone okayed the announcement of a major product line before testing had proven that it could be manufactured and sold as described, that’s a management mistake that just can’t be made by a company already under pressure to keep its numbers up as the market shrinks. When they were announced, most of us were excited, especially about the 18-50mm (equivalent) version, since it represented a product that didn’t exist in the market but many of us would snap up in a second. Unfortunately, the delays (both original and now semi-permanent) have given everyone time to rethink just how good these cameras might be, and the lack of an EVF on the two lower models coupled with Sony pushing the RX100 Mark V into new territory means that our thinking isn’t as positive. And now the Panasonic LX10 has squeezed into the market, too. 
  • The Missing 1, F. We have to talk about the Nikon 1 here, even though there’s been no announcements concerning it. Actually, that’s why we have to talk about it. It simply isn’t acceptable in this competitive market to go silent as Nikon has. The broadly held suspicion is that the Nikon 1 line is now considered a dead-end at Nikon, but they don’t actually want to say that because they still have product to sell. Having non-Japanese, foreign subsidiary, mid-level executives as the only ones defending the Nikon 1 lineup at the largest photo show in the world with a lame “there are no plans to withdraw it” is not exactly a ringing endorsement. Indeed, that’s having someone else defend your work, a ludicrous thing to do when basically all design, engineering, and product line decisions are made in Japan by Japanese. You can’t have someone come into my class representing you and say “[The person I represent] is not withdrawing their previous homework but they have nothing else to say.” What!?!?!  

In terms of lenses this year we got only a trickle:

  • FX 105mm f/1.4E ED
  • DX 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-P (VR and non-VR)
  • DX 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G AF-P (VR and non-VR

While these are all good optics, that’s a pretty paltry offering, especially when you consider that the AF-P lenses can only be used on a handful of recent DX cameras. I’d have to say that the lens offerings to date from Nikon rate a D, or lower than average, lower than expected.

Like Canon, Nikon did best at the very top of its serious camera line. The D5 and D500 are both fine cameras, I use them regularly, and I like them both, despite the D500’s seeming warts. But beyond those two cameras and the 105mm f/1.4E, Nikon hasn’t done anything to note so far this year for other serious shooters. Is that enough to protect their status as the number two ILC provider? If it continues, I don’t think so.

Final Words
Canon and Nikon have aced the very top of their lineups. Nothing touches the 1Dx Mark II or D5 really, though I’ll be curious to see how the new Sony A99 Mark II shoots when it ships. And from the 80D/D7200 mark upwards, both Canon and Nikon have arguably strong lineups, though they both have models that could use some beefing up.

The problem is this: Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony are pushing the more middle area of serious cameras upward, and to some degree, the lower end (compacts), as well. The A6300/A6500, X-Pro2/X-T2, EM-1II, and GH5 certainly nibble aggressively away at the 80D/D7200 barrier that protects the Canikon DSLR profit base at the upper end. Fujifilm and the m4/3 twins are pushing full crop sensor lens lineups against crop sensor offerings from the Big Two that mostly have just a serious of convenience zooms to point at. 

Canon currently has a more defensible base, what with all the 1” GX cameras and the EOS M5 starting to put a more DSLR-like defense point into their lower lineup. But seriously, the GX models aren’t pushing the tech like Sony is (or even Panasonic when it comes to focus performance). In terms of crop sensor mirrorless, Fujifilm and Sony have far better performance than Canon achieves with the M5. 

True, the M5 is at a lower price point than the X-T2 and A6500, but the thing Canon should greatly fear is that the Rebel through 80D customers they’ve been selling to get more and more marginalized by mirrorless models from competitors. The M5 and 80D Canon put out this year are both not-so-fast-forward updates, and the competitors are hitting dead square in between those, though at a bit higher price point at the moment. Shift in volume would change those price points fairly rapidly. And really, it’s perception that’s everything here: the perception is that Canon is moving slowly.

Nikon, on the other hand, is currently missing in action from 1” compacts all the way through any serious mirrorless effort. The mild D3400 and missing D5500 updates do nothing to defend them from any competitors attacking them from mirrorless. Nikon’s sole protective thing now is price. Just push the hell out of the low-end DSLR products so that their price looks tempting compared to mirrorless products that might compete with them. That works for a while longer, but not very much longer. 

How Cutting Costs Kills You

For quite some time I’ve received emails and queries that all fall into the “why doesn’t Nikon put Wi-Fi or GPS in every model?” 

Simple answer really: cost. The edict from above has been clear: cut costs everywhere. For the most part the camera designers have done exactly as asked, trying to remove components from the cameras as best they can. This led to the optional WU Wi-Fi modules, for instance, and the external GPS-1 option. Marketing could then say “yes, these cameras can communicate and mark positions,” but obviously only if the customer bought those extra cost (and often kludgey) options.

All this runs counter to the way I learned how high tech companies preserve their advantages: keep adding the latest tech so you can enable new features and uses plus solve more user problems. The best tech companies stay right at the forefront of this. Witness the iPhone, the original of which added a number of key sensors to the cell phone, but where each subsequent model keeps adding additional function via electronics (e.g. fingerprint recognition, haptic touch, etc.). 

I was reminded of this when someone sent me a link about the Waylens Horizon, a new dash cam system. Dash cams have been around for a while, and everyone’s been diving to the bottom trying to make them less expensive. Waylays added a 10Hz high accuracy GPS, barometer, 3-axis gyro, 3-axis accelerometer, and 3-axis magnetometer to their product, along with the usual Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. They went another step further and added OBD-II (on board diagnostics, which is that port that your auto mechanic plugs into to see why your check engine light came on), which allows the Waylays Horizon to automatically come on when you start the engine and turn off when you turn the car off, among other things. Oh, and it has a Retina-type AMOLED touchscreen display that you can actually see. A lot of tech in that little package, especially compared to the low cost providers that are basically trying to just build the cheapest possible video camera for a windshield-mounted position.

I had noted the Waylays Horizon when it was first announced, but didn’t pay a lot of attention to it until I started to try to figure out why the Nikon KeyMission and other other recent products just aren’t resonating right: not only are they late to market, but they appear to be classic Nikon (mostly) de-costed devices. I’ve already noted that the KeyMission 170 didn’t achieve anything that the GoPro HERO5 hadn’t. Well, de-contenting for cost is one of the reasons why.

Shouldn’t an action camera have the ability to record 9-axis motion in the EXIF data? Wouldn’t that be useful in post processing to do things like add data overlays and perhaps even correct motion? Heck, motion information done right can provide things like automated start and stop edit points for video, saving the user a step. Or it could talk to its mount and keep an action cam pointed where it’s supposed to be pointed. The list goes on.

As much as I’ve harped on SnapBridge lately, this is actually a step in the right direction. Only it’s too a small of a step and appears far later than it could have been taken. In the D3400, Nikon has de-contented again by leaving off the Wi-Fi portion of SnapBridge and just giving us Bluetooth LE. And yet here’s a gadget with Wi-Fi, high-end GPS, accelerometers, barometer, and more selling for US$200 less than a D3400. See the problem?

Something tells me that the camera companies still haven’t quite figured out the semiconductor and consumer electronics worlds. Yes, new electronics cost money. That cost goes down with volume. The volume goes up with utility. 

What we need is more embracing of technology, full and urgent software programs that make that technology do something beyond “snap an image with more pixels than before,” and more attention to the user problems that aren’t being solved. Heck, many of those user problems aren’t being noticed, just as many potentially useful technologies aren’t being embraced. 

Those things aren’t happening because “cut costs” is the number one mantra at the camera companies. Consider this quote from Nikon’s most recent Annual Report: “The expectations are that we will be able to achieve the target for reducing procurement costs, centered on the Imaging Products Business, of ¥30 billion over the three years from the fiscal year ended March 31, 2015, to the end of March 2017. Among others, the effect of the cost reductions in the Imaging Products Business has been significant, and we are addressing on an ongoing basis the upstream cost reductions, referred to as a “Design to Cost,” in the development and design stages.

And there you have it: “Design to Cost.” If a D3400 is to retail at US$650, then Nikon is designing this way: the camera sells to a dealer for US$550 on average, and they want a 45% GPM, so the D3400 unit cost to produce totally encumbered has to hit US$300, period. End of story. Can’t add anything to that product that might make it better without removing something else.

I’m all about cost constraints—ask anyone that’s ever worked for me just how tight I’ve run the ship—but they have to be applied in the right places, the right way. De-contenting product is not the right way, as it will tend to always just lead to a race to the bottom.

The question to ask in the tech world is this: what new semiconductor technologies are on the immediate horizon and what user problems do they allow us to fix? 

Nikon 2016 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2016:

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