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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(news & commentary) Updated
Everyone’s got cameras and lenses on sale at the moment. I’ll get to my predictions about what will happen next in a moment, but first let’s examine Nikon’s latest offering.
First, the lower lens prices Nikon officially posted earlier in the month were price reductions, not instant savings. All the new discounts come off those new prices, which is good.
Basically, Nikon’s got new body+lens bundle discounts. It gets too complicated to describe in words in a short article, so I invite you to go to B&H’s landing page for the program, which allows you pick the body you want, then examine the available lens discounts if you buy the lens together with the body. Nikon lists these as “up to US$1100” instant savings (D810, the D3200 is more modest at US$280 potential savings). To get that, you have to buy the D810 and 24-120mm f/4 bundle, which puts you basically at the old D810 MSRP price. Not bad (and B&H is throwing in a number of other goodies, such as a GP-1A GPS, an extra battery, a card, and even a 2% rebate on future orders).
Other online shops seem to be creating similar packages to sweeten the deal; your local dealer may have a difficult time matching some of those, but I’d encourage you to support your local dealer, anyway. Without them, we’re going to end up with a future where you won’t be able to actually handle and try an expensive camera before ordering. That has to be worth something.
The good news is that a lot of great lenses are now producing instant discounts when bought with a body. Most of the recent f/1.8G primes all have a US$50 or US$100 savings. Even recent lenses, such as the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 DX are in on the savings, which may tell us something about the demand so far for that lens. Overall, the Nikon discounting here in the US seems to be what I would call mildly aggressive.
If you’ve been waiting to buy a new camera, now’s the time to get off the fence or put your feet in cement. Why? I don’t think the Japanese companies can really sustain a prolonged discounting without truly damaging their financials in ways that would be obvious to shareholders and hurt them further. We’re nearing the end of the year and the CIPA forecasts look like they are going to be close to met or maybe even exceeded in one case, which has most of the companies breathing a slight sigh of relief. Things still aren’t rosy, but the decline this year was much less pronounced and what most of us thought were aggressive CIPA forecasts seem to being met, though with a lot of discounting.
Here’s what I think happens next: everyone tightens up as much as they dare in January. At least temporarily, the camera companies will try to rid themselves of across the board discounting. At the same time, we’ll be seeing everyone begin to announce what they hope will be “saving products,” cameras and lenses that start to reverse their fortune a bit. Most of those will be more expensive than current models. There will be a rush to try to re-establish old, higher MSRPs and push models upwards in features, performance, and pricing.
Update: multiple sources are now reporting substantive price increases being planned for Nikon lenses in Europe starting January 1st. This ties in with what I just wrote: everyone tightens up as much as they dare in January. Apparently Nikon is going to use that point to try to recover margin and blame that on currency adjustments.
This just goes to show how on-the-edge things are: sales are down, but if you can push prices up then your financial results don’t look bad at all. But can you really push prices up? To a large degree, Nikon did just that by emphasizing FX over DX for the past few years. But how much more can they push upward?
Sony is doing the same with the A7 Mark II models lately, though note that you can find a new, in original packaging A7 for at or even under US$1000 if you look closely enough. In other words, not all those A7’s sold the first go around, despite the buzz. Now Sony’s pushed prices up into D810 range. That’s going to have a chilling effect on volume. And since we know that previous generation cameras now get hung over in inventory and eventually deeply discounted, the smart person thinking about making a move to Sony is either buying the Mark I models or waiting for Sony to launch the Mark III’s and discount the II’s.
This is all a very slippery slope for the camera makers, and we’ve watched a lot of industries go through these same gyrations before fixing themselves (or dying). Bottom line is this: camera makers will continue to try to move upscale, volume will continue to drop, which will result in heavy discounting of older products to move them off shelves. This will come and go in waves. Right now we’re in the discount wave. In January, we’ll be out of the discount wave for a while.
The question is whether these new products will be buzz worthy enough to produce the increased demand at higher prices that the Japanese companies are targeting. This gets really tricky, as most of the companies have a fiscal year that ends in March, so if they don’t launch compelling new products in January and February and ship them by the end of March, they could get caught in a fiscal-year-end downturn. I suspect Nikon will be, which means we could see a return of significant discounts in March.
But we won’t know what the Japanese companies are truly thinking until CP+, which next year doesn’t happen until the end of February, literally. At that point we’ll see the full year CIPA projections, we’ll have seen most of the significant early year new product launches, and we’ll have the year-end 2015 numbers to examine closely.
So, buy or wait. Better yet, just go out and shoot. That’s what I’m going to be doing for the next couple of weeks, and it’s not a bad way to get away from all the marketing and promotions.
(news & commentary)
Nikon today announced that they are developing a D5, WT-6, and SB-5000. Duh.
In exactly three paragraphs Nikon basically said nothing that wasn’t already known or assumed. To put Nikon’s announcement in perspective, it’s a bit like Ford saying they were working on the next F-150 pickup and options for it. In other words, no news.
So why the press release?
Someone is nervous in Tokyo. After a long period where Nikon was on the announce-a-month plan, things started to go south in 2015. Our last camera announcement of significance was the D7200 in March. Lenses that were supposed to have launched in spring didn’t make it out until July and August (though the 24-70mm f/2.8E was always scheduled for August as far as I can tell).
Meanwhile, across town Sony is still on the announce-a-month plan and nibbling at Nikon’s customers by announcing technology advances. Companies like Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic seem to be actively planting (or at least allowing) leaks so that it looks like they’re as active. Those leaks carry substance to them, though. It’s not that the Fujifilm X-Pro2 is being developed. It’s that the X-Pro2 is in testers hands, is 24mp, etc. In other words, details that might make a potential purchaser more interested. Nothing in what Nikon wrote makes anyone particularly interested. For example, if a WT-6 is anything like the WT1 through 5 that came before it, it’s an iteration, won’t quite do what we want it to, and will have a laborious setup process. We’ve seen WT’s before. Why would be excited that a new one is coming?
Funny thing is I was just penning an article for release next week about what I think we can expect from Nikon in 2016. Guess what was on the list? D5, WT-6, new Speedlight.
What worries me, though, is the timing of the “development announcement.” In the past, such announcements from Nikon were made almost from two to twelve months in advance of the product shipping. The D70, for instance, was announced in December and shipped in spring. The way I read the development announcement is this: don’t expect the D5 to ship in January. Maybe it’ll be shown somewhere by February and some features leaked, but most likely it’ll be shipped in early spring is the message I take away from Nikon’s announcement. If that wasn’t the message Nikon intended, then they shouldn’t have made the announcement.
It seems that everything that Nikon is doing these days is either bad (see the article on how well Nikon software found their software fares on OS X 10.11) or sad, sometimes both.
Telling its remaining customers that it’s developing a product we already expected falls in the sad category. Nikon is out of tune with its customers, out of tune with how marketing works in the Internet age, out of tune with its messaging, out of tune with its quality control, and D300 owners would say out of tune with iterating their best products.
Early this week I wrote that the camera industry hadn’t hit bottom yet. Today I can write that Nikon hasn’t hit bottom yet.
Camera buying is not rational. At least not the way it’s practiced by most.
At the height of the Sony A7rII fan boy flame fanning I got an email from a Nikon owner who had two of the latest, greatest Nikons (one DX, one FX). OMG he wrote—well not literally, I’m trying to summarize his tone—it’s time to switch to Sony.
Really? Is it?
I’m in a position where I could do that, but I don’t. Why? Well, let’s start with the notion of optimal collection of data: my 36mp Nikon captures 14-bit data that loses no information and produces no visual artifacts, while that 42mp Sony captures 11-bit data that can and does produce visual artifacts on high-contrast edges [now fixed on the A7rII by a firmware update, still pending on a few other recent Sony cameras].
At Photoshop World in August there was one instructor who pointed out that we should actually be converting the deepest bit-depth raws we can capture to 32-bit DNG for black and white work, and was able to demonstrate why and how to do just that. I’m not giving up three bits that potentially lose data; I want more bits if there’s a way to get them, and there is.
Back to our response to that photographer email: I have no problems with a user taking a step backwards in their camera gear, but only if they know that they overshot in the first place. Plenty of folk who bought a Nikon D810 don’t really need that much camera. It’s overkill for them, and I’ll give you an example of that in a bit. They’d be perfectly happy with the results from a Sony A7II (note: no r), or even a Nikon D610.
Some of this is people thinking they’re buying a DSLR that will last them for, oh, five, six, seven, maybe even ten years, and they’re afraid of obsolescence occurring during that period and forcing them to re-buy. Uh, any DSLR or mirrorless camera on the market today would probably last you many, many years unless you underbought to your needs or end up growing significantly in capability.
Plenty of folk that bought a D300 back in 2007 are still happily using it. Sure, they can’t shoot in as low a light with results as good as the current DSLRs, but they either didn’t need that in the first place or didn’t grow enough in their shooting to need it now. Plus, if you were shooting with a kit lens in 2007, a new fast lens can mitigate some of the D300’s current deficiencies compared to the latest and greatest gear, too.
Of course the marketing departments at all the camera companies want you to keep buying at the front edge of technology and for you to think that if you don’t you’re going to be greatly disappointed in your photos. To a large degree the camera companies are perpetuating the “gear makes a difference” story. After all, they sell gear, and if it doesn’t make a difference they’d be out of business.
Too many folks are spending money on the wrong thing. I’ll once again point to articles I wrote on this a long time ago. First, improve the photographer. Second, improve the support system. Third, improve the glass. Better cameras are way down the list. Why? Because you can hand the best camera in the world with the worst glass and worst tripod to the worst photographer and get what? Right: terrible results. Now hand the same set of gear to the best photographer in the world and what happens? First, they discard the support system because they can figure out another way to stabilize the camera that’s better. Second, they take darned good images because they balance the limitations of the remaining gear with what they’re trying to do.
Yes, I know we all aspire to being the greatest living photographer.
But ask yourself this question. At any given time in history did the greatest living photographer actually use the latest and greatest gear?
Which brings me to another thing that many think: that if they use better gear than the pros did (are), then their results will be better. In other words, it’s the amateur driving a racing Ferrari hoping to beat the pro driving a stock BMW.
You shouldn’t really be trying to “beat” anyone. You should be aspiring to create great images that reflect your view of the world. While we “serious photographers" malign the smartphone crowd from time to time, note what they’re doing with simple cameras and filter- and preset-laden processing software: they’re creating images that look the way they want them to and have impact when they share those with others. Back when Instagram was mostly used for its processing as opposed to its sharing, several publications had their pro photographers try shooting their regular work on a phone and processing it in Instagram. The resulting images were not 42mp, not deep in dynamic range, and didn’t have have absolute color fidelity. Yet the images were creative, interesting, and thought- provoking. Just as you’d expect from pros.
Tools matter, but not as much as your brain matters. It’s your brain that’s controlling use of the tool, after all.
I laugh when I keep reading on various blogs and fora that Canon really needs to up its sensor game because they’re so far behind Sony it’s becoming shameful. Oh, that’s why I haven’t seen any pros producing great images with Canon cameras lately. (If you can’t detect sarcasm, I’m not sure why you’re reading this site, as it’s filled with it.)
I laugh when I keep reading on various blogs and fora that the latest sensor has just revolutionized what we can do in photography. In some cases, new technology does allow us to stretch our capabilities from where they’ve been, no doubt about that. I’ll certainly attempt to take advantage of any gains that new gear provides me. But revolutionize? Hasn’t happened with a recent sensor generation over another.
Here’s the real reason why you want more dynamic range and less noise: optimal data. With optimal data you have more ability to change overall and micro contrasts as you see fit. In the old film darkroom terms: you’re able to crop, burn, and dodge more without revealing the wizard behind the curtain.
As it turns out, another email came in while I was writing this article, an email that illustrates a different part of the “latest gear” puzzle. In short, a new D800 user wrote in about having blur issues and wondered whether he should pursue a camera with fewer pixels to get rid of the problem.
Same answer: first and foremost, improve the photographer. (In case you’re not understanding: a 36mp image from a D800 will have the same amount of blur in it as a 12mp image from a D700 if your handholding technique is consistent. You don’t see the blur in the D700 image because either (a) when you pixel peep you’re getting data with less spatial information in it; or (b) you’ve been enlarging the D800 image more. The cameras moved the same amount, but the D800 recorded that movement better.)
In this instance, we have a common reason why some people avoid buying new gear: they’re afraid that it might force them to learn something. In which case I’d point out that it really doesn’t matter what camera those folks shoot with. If you’re not going to master your tools, then you don’t need very sophisticated tools. Indeed, you may be better off picking a tool with more automation in it (e.g. just shoot JPEG on all Auto settings).
You should enjoy taking photographs. But if you take photographs on anything more than a truly casual basis I think you should also seriously consider why you’re creating them, what you really want them to say, how you’re going to process them, and where you’re going to share them with others.
If you consider those questions, you'll start naturally running into gear-related issues and you can research how a piece of gear might improve your work. If you’re not considering those questions, then new gear is just a random walk. It might help you, it might not, though what it does and how well it does it might be dictated to you by a mega-corporation in a far off land.
Stop buying the marketing lines. Examine your needs and desires and choose equipment that’s appropriate. Improve the photographer and make steady and considered changes in gear as you discover real ceilings to what you can do.
Oh, and send me half the money you didn’t spend because you read this. ;~)
(news & commentary)
There’s been a lot of discussion on photography sites lately about how various camera companies are doing, but little about how the industry is doing. Wait, hold that, just before I published this article, we had a bunch of Web sites posting things like “the fall is over”. Wrong. We now have the CIPA numbers through the first three quarters of the year, so where do we actually stand year-to-year?
- Compacts — -21% unit volume, -7% sales value
- DSLRs — -5% unit volume, -7% sales value
- Mirrorless — same unit volume, +8% sales value
- Lenses — -4% unit volume, +3% sales value
Overall, DSLR cameras still outsell mirrorless cameras 3 to 1. Also, both Nikon and Canon reported numbers for their most current quarter that were in most cases worse than the above, which is a troubling thing.
All these numbers are for January to September 2015 (and all comparisons are against the same period in 2014). All numbers have been rounded to the nearest percent.
With the exception of DSLRs, it can be seen that the average selling price per unit must have gone up, as sales values aren’t decreasing at the same rate unit shipments are. One very curious thing about where the Japanese camera makers think the market is shows up in the CIPA shipment numbers by region. When you examine the unit volume by region for year-to-year, you get this:
- Japan Compact — down 16%
- Europe Compact — down 10%
- Americas Compact — down 25%
- Asia Compact — down 34%
- Other Compact — down 42%
- Japan DSLR — down 9%
- Europe DSLR — down 7%
- Americas DSLR — up 3%
- Asia DSLR — down 8%
- Other DSLR — down 7%
- Japan mirrorless — down 11%
- Europe mirrorless — up 2%
- Americas mirrorless — up 12%
- Asia mirrorless — up 1%
- Other mirrorless — down 3%
When you look at it by product value instead of unit volume, you see a couple of interesting things: the Americas and Other have very high shifts in price (up 19%, 26%, 25%, and 24% for DSLRs and mirrorless in those regions). Congratulations US and Canada: you’ve been targeted to buy more expensive cameras.
Of course, it’s also possible that those same cameras will get deep discounts in the US over the holidays, as the yen/dollar relationship encourages that. That should show up as additional SG&A expense if those discounts get too big.
The bottom line is still the bottom line: the weakness in the camera industry continues in 2015, though the decline is smaller this year than last. The bright spots are few and modest. The bottom has not been hit yet.
Every few months I see another Japanese camera company executive make the statement “we’re committed to fill_in_the_blank users.” Sure. And I’m committed to driving my existing car. Of course, neither of us are actually using the word commitment correctly.
In medical terms, commitment has a very specific definition: consignment to a penal or mental institution. In official terms, commitment means the act of referring legislation to a committee or membership. In legal terms, a commitment implies a legally binding exchange of promises. But in the practical sense, commitment means dedicating yourself by promising to do something, and taking on an obligation to do so.
What the Japanese seem to mean when they say they are committed—whether it be DX, or SLT, or anything else they claim to be committed to—is that they recognize that they can still extract some money from existing customers, thus will probably (but not pledge to) create a new product or two in that category.
What we Nikon users want is an actual commitment from Nikon. Something specifically pledged, with an emotionally impelled obligation to deliver on that pledge. D200 and D300 users would love for Nikon to pledge to continue the line and make a D400, for instance, and to show excitement while doing so, but that’s just not happened. Nikon executives have had a hard time agreeing among themselves about whether to proceed on a D400 (the latest back channel communication says yes, but at this point we users are all skeptical). The longer they argue, the more the point will eventually become moot.
We also want a full DX lens set. I’m not sure Nikon has even internally debated that one, which means that they might not have actually connected with their most critical DX customers. CX could use some additional lenses, too, and it would be nice if Nikon stopped experimenting with toy UI’s and actually picked a photographically usable one for the Nikon 1 models and committed to it (oooh, there’s that word again).
But here’s the thing: there are two parties necessary in any commitment. Here those parties would be Nikon corporate, and users (both existing and potential) of Nikon cameras and lenses. Funny thing is, the lack of true commitment on the part of Nikon (and other camera companies) means that they won’t get a commitment from their user base, either ;~). Nikon users aren’t going to pledge to buy a future Nikon product, and even the ones that feel locked in are getting less emotionally connected. That’s why when other companies show constant updates and release Road Maps, some of the Nikon faithful opt for a different affiliation.
Where am I going with this?
Well, a couple of other data points first.
Nikon is dropping their ad agency of a dozen years (McCann). The new agency is Cramer-Krasselt, who apparently will be first visible with Nikon’s Spring 2016 campaigns. Then there’s the dearth of camera introductions (3 DSLRs, 1 mirrorless, 12 compacts in 2015 compared to 4, 2, and 17 in 2014 and 4, 3, and 19 in 2013). I don’t think this apparent slowdown is solely due to camera market decline. I think it’s mostly due to the change in top management in early 2014. I expect to see the real strategic results of the management change in 2016 (up to now it’s been smaller scale tactical stuff).
So here’s my destination: if we’re going to get a change in marketing/advertising strategy coupled with a number of significant new product introductions in the first half of 2016, that’s the point where Nikon also needs to change it’s relationship with its customers. Just changing ads and available products isn’t enough any more.
The Nikon faithful are getting weary of product recalls, of poorer customer support and service, of iteration for the sake of iteration, of missing desirable lenses and accessories, of no clear path to the future of imaging, and of…yes…Nikon’s apparent lack of connection and commitment to users.
Three-quarters of Nikon’s product sales now come from individual customers like you and I. The old days where Nikon was mostly a company that sold fewer items mostly to other businesses are long gone (and they didn’t do a good job of that, as the Economist pointed out back in 2009). What I want to see from Nikon is a true connection to their consumer customers, not the arm’s length stance they currently take. Sure, I’ll take another great product or two (without a shipping defect, please), but at this point, my commitment to Nikon is lower than it’s ever been, and I suspect yours is, too.
Take a look at that tagline in the header, up above: "supporting the Nikon F-mount on the Internet since 1994." (And yes, that date is correct.) I’ll bet that in that time I’ve answered more questions about Nikon products than anyone currently working at NikonUSA customer support. And yet, I went to get a simple statement that NikonUSA had given to a customer verified the other day, and couldn’t get someone to answer it.
Commitments are not one-way. It takes two to ratify them. I’ll continue to cover Nikon as best as I can (and the other mirrorless camera makers via sansmirror.com). Just as I pledged that a couple of decades ago, I continue to pledge it today. But I can’t help notice that Nikon has pledged nothing to its customers lately, while distancing themselves from them more than ever.
If early 2016 is a time of big changes in Nikon’s lineup and handling of things, then it’s time for them to embrace their customer base. Even a small start in that direction would be welcome.
(news & commentary) updated
I delayed reporting this because I wanted to ponder the details and get some distance from Nikon’s positive spins before I wrote anything.
Nikon on Friday reported their second quarter fiscal results. Nikon’s top line is that sales and operating income increased year on year (5 and 11% respectively). I had to actually go back and look at last year’s second quarter to get a perspective on that. Last year’s second quarter wasn’t exactly a strong one. Indeed, let’s look at the unit volumes for the first half of the last three fiscal years (the current fiscal year for Nikon is labeled 2016, as it ends in 2016):
Yeah, big drop last year, smaller drop this year. In everything they do image-wise. Here’s the thing: every number Nikon reported for the first half of the year in the Imaging business was down except for one: operating income. I’ll let Nikon’s words speak here: “Sales stayed at the same level [sic] and operating income was lifted by product mix improvement and cost reduction measures from the last forecast.” Apparently -1.4% to Nikon is “same level.” And even then note the “from the last forecast,” which was just a couple of months ago. In reality, sales are down 13.8% from last year and operating income is down 3.3%. It’s only from their last forecast a couple of months ago that Nikon can claim any improvement.
Meanwhile, inventories are up a bit from this time last year (at least in the Imaging business).
For the full year, Nikon expects the imaging group to drop 8.7% in sales and 17% in profit from last year. Nikon’s positive spin on that is that their estimate has been revised upward.
I read on some other Internet site that Nikon was now predicting higher unit volumes in the second half of their fiscal year. Not quite right. They were always predicting higher volumes, but now they’ve revised the Coolpix numbers slightly downward and the lens numbers slightly upward. DSLR unit volume is expected to remain the same as their last prediction.
If Nikon makes their estimates (a big if), here’s what that means (Nikon’s estimates against current CIPA estimates):
- 33.9% market share in ILC (DSLR/mirrorless)
- 29.1% market share in lenses
- 32.3% market share in compact cameras
update: it was pointed out to me that the above were Nikon’s estimates for the year against CIPA’s estimates for the year, but we could actually compare actuals directly. Things work out far worse for Nikon when we do that:
- 28.2% market share in ILC (DSLR/mirrorless)
- 24.7% market share in lenses
- 26.2% market share in compact cameras
Bottom line: for Nikon to get to the market shares they’re predicting for the full year, they’re going to have to have a big pick upon the October through March period.
The reason I wanted to think about the financial results a bit before reporting them is this: what the heck is Nikon managing to? From all appearances, Nikon seems to be managing to keeping a constant market share in ILC and lenses while squeezing more profit per unit out. As one poster on an Internet forum put it, Nikon is managing to short term investor requirements and not to customer needs.
Cutting costs is a reactive measure, and it’s reactive within the organization, not reactive to customers. No doubt an organization as large as Nikon has bureaucracy and bloat that can be cut, but I actually don’t see them doing anything to reduce that (e.g. no top management pruning nor level of reporting reduction). What I see is that Nikon is taking costs out of product, QA, marketing, and distribution, all of which can and do have impacts on customers.
Nikon financial reports give Nikon customers no relief from the things that they’ve been encountering. Customer support and service is thinner than it has ever been. Some products aren’t reliably in inventory when a customer might actually want to purchase them. Quality control has produced repeated recalls on high-end products. Indeed, I’m starting to believe that if I could actually follow every cost cutting measure that Nikon has performed, I could trace that directly and immediately to a customer problem that then surfaced.
No, Nikon is not in financial trouble (at least if they aren’t hiding some big secret in their financials as a number of other Japanese companies have been caught doing lately). They’re in existential trouble. Their corporate philosophy statement contains the following aspiration: “Meeting needs. Exceeding expectations.” Indeed, the first two sub-components of that look like they’re not exactly being met: “providing customers with new value that exceeds their expectations” and “sustaining growth through a break with the past…”
Nikon is a top-down, management-by-consensus company. That means that change not only has to come from the top, but it has to be ratified by all at the top. As Nikon customers, I think it’s time that we demand that a change in attitude towards us is long overdue and is necessary by Nikon management. I suspect that without such change, what we’re going to see in Nikon’s Imaging business is the same thing that happened to Nikon’s Precision semiconductor business: eventual stagnation and marginalization.
Oh, and Nikon’s nascent medical business? Losing almost half the dollars it takes in sales.
Here’s how the game works: imagine that all the camera makers (Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Sony, etc.) have:
- The current state-of-the-art sensor
- The maximum number of pixels currently available
- The current state-of-the-art focusing ability
- A full set of prime lenses from 14 to 200mm (equivalent)
- A full set of fast zoom lenses that cover 14 to 200mm (equivalent)
- A full set of convenience zoom lenses (whatever you care to think that means)
- Full support from third parties such as Sigma and Zeiss
- A full set of exotic long telephoto lenses
- A complete radio controlled flash system
Which camera maker do you pick? Note that I’ve taken out most of the technical decisions that virtually all of you are using to make your buying choices. Yet I’m pretty sure there are plenty of things left to help you decide.
- Nikon’s recent string of products with initial shipment issues
- Canon’s anyone-can-join (for money) CPS (Canon Professional Services)
- Sony’s use of EVF over OVF
- Olympus’s addition of interesting features such as pixel shift and focus shift
- Panasonic’s near invisible customer service and repair (here in the US)
- Nikon's and Pentax’s deep commitment to legacy lens use
- Some vendors' attention to video features/performance
But there’s far more than that. How about ergonomics? Nikon’s dials are horizontally-opposed and don’t require you move your finger from the shutter release to use, Canon’s are vertical and offset, and will force your finger off the shutter release. Nikon does minimal button overload, Canon lots of it, while Nikon puts the buttons on the left (for the same reason the dials are opposed) but Canon puts a lot of them on the right top where they’re very near your right fingers at all times. You’re going to prefer one of those design implementations to the other (or perhaps yet another vendors' interpretation).
What happens in the current state of the market is a giant game of leapfrog. That’s the way it’s been pretty much since the D1 first appeared in 1999. For short periods of time one system or another will appear to have a technological advantage, usually due to something at the sensor, sometimes due to lens availability. Over time, that advantage disappears, and more often than not, the one with the temporary advantage gets leapfrogged by another.
Early on a few Canon users were switching to Nikon (because of the D1h/D1x), then a few Nikon users were switching to Canon (because of the 1D/1Ds), then back to Nikon (D3/D300), then back to Canon (5D/1Dx), and this just continues on ad infinitum as the two companies leapfrog one another.
Companies think that they can just iterate “ahead” of their competitor forever, but that’s not quite how it works out in the real world, obviously. First, there’s that history that suggests leapfrogging tends to happen instead of one company staying out ahead. Second, there’s the soft “lock-in” that occurs the minute someone has bought one or another of the systems and acquires lenses. Abandoning one system for another because of a temporary technology difference comes along just isn’t using money smarts.
True, a few professionals play the switching game for a reason: they’re racing to stay ahead of the rest of the pack. I’ve noticed that more and more that RFQs from agencies and others seeking pro photographer services have upped the ante over time. They demand higher resolution data sets, and these days also demand video shot simultaneously, so if you and your camera system can’t do what’s being requested, you just went non-competitive.
Still, with 12-13m interchangeable lens cameras being sold this year, very few of those are sales to working pros who have encountered those ever-increasing technical requirements from clients. Almost all of those sales are to consumers and enthusiasts, and most of those are either upgrades or side-grades.
Indeed, the dynamics of the market are completely locked in at this point as long as the camera companies continue to do what they’ve been doing. Very few new customers coming in and getting soft locked. Fewer and fewer existing customers upgrading because they have “good enough", and very few side-grading due to soft locks. Couple that with the technical changes getting smaller and smaller in terms of meaningfulness to the average shooter, and basically we have the market we’re in: declining sales over time. 100mp won’t fix that. Four stops more dynamic range won’t stop that. Filling all lens offering holes won’t fix that.
What those things do is extract as many of the remaining user base as possible into upgrading and side-grading. And most of that is being done through marketing hype and Internet buzz, not through observed, improved user results. Did I really care that I took 24mp DX photos in Africa this year instead of 36mp FX photos? Not particularly.
I’ve written it for a decade now: cameras need reinvention. Camera makers are playing to a smaller and smaller audience by performing the same iterative upgrading. Long held user problems aren’t getting solved, and the needs of potential new users (the smartphone crowd) aren’t even close to being met.
In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2015:
In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2014:
In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2013: