News/Views

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

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

More Canon Negativity on the Market

Canon today posted the results from the first quarter of this year, along with their revised expectations for 2019. 

Let's look at things quarter by quarter for the past few years:

bythom canon quarterly

The orange lines are the unit volume for ILC (DSLRs and mirrorless), the yellow lines are for compact cameras. The solid line is the actual quarterly results, while the dotted line is the linear trend line.

The eyebrow raiser in Canon's new projections for 2019 was this: total ILC market is projected at 8.6 million units, with Canon shipping 4.2 million of those (49%) market share. Note that CIPA's forecast earlier this year was 10m units. Somewhere between that and Canon's new statement the market appears to have shrunk 14%. Given that Canon is about half of the market, any assessment of weakness in shipments they claim has to be taken very seriously. I'm not aware of any other company in CIPA that would have forecast increases in sales that would make up for Canon's decreases. Not even close.

As for DSLRs versus mirrorless, Canon made four statements on that you should be aware of:

  • "...accelerated market contraction for DSLRs, in particular entry-level models..."
  • "...we will steadily shift our focus from DSLR to mirrorless cameras..."
  • "...we grew our unit sales of mirrorless cameras at a pace far exceeding the overall market..."
  • "...the level of camera inventory was high due to a slowdown in sales of mainly DSLRs. We will work to bring this down to an appropriate level as soon as possible..."

So. The battleship is in the process of changing its direction. DSLRs were the past course, mirrorless is the future course. In between, of course, it takes a long while for a battleship to actually make its turn. That's where we are right now, in the process of the turn.

Random Questions Answered

Should I buy those rubberized protective covers/shields for my lens or camera?

Maybe. In terms of damage protection, the main thing they do is prevent scratches and brassing. Some provide a little more protection against the elements (though watch out for water getting between the cover and the camera and being held there). Most tend to obscure controls or make them more difficult to use, and the lens coverings tend to slip and get in the way at some point. But in terms of impact damage, I'm not sure they help much, if at all.

If you handle your gear roughly and can tolerate the change in feel and access to controls, then these covers may be an inexpensive way to keep your gear in just a little better cosmetic shape. But don't think that they make your gear invulnerable to weather or damage. They don't. 

Personally, I've tried a number of the options here and virtually always end up taking them off. 

Should I buy a protective cover for the rear LCD?

Slightly different story here. The lower cost your body is, the less protective the top layer over the LCD is, and it will be more prone to scratching. Nikon's top body, the D5, has a much more robust tempered glass cover that doesn't let the LCD scratch nearly as easy as a lower cost body, such as the D7500. Nikon used to provide clip-on protectors with the DSLRs, but that's no longer the case.

If your camera has a fully-articulating LCD that reverses to the body, make sure you do just that when your camera is packed away or bounding around on your neck strap while walking. If your LCD doesn't rotate to face the body, then consider getting a protective cover. I prefer the "tempered glass" ones to the all plastic ones, but they're a bit more expensive. The reason is that the ones labeled as glass tend to be a higher quality and less obscuring of the underlying screen. Some of the rub-on plastic films tend to have a blurring effect on the LCD.

Does adding video to a stills camera increase cost?

Generally, I'd say the answer is yes. That's particularly true now that we're seeing the video parameters increased (e.g. 4K and slow motion). The reason is simple: the cost is coming mostly at the image sensor, where R&D work is added to do things to increase bandwidth, remove rolling shutter, and otherwise support the firehose of data that video throws at the camera's main electronics. All in a part that isn't produced in really huge quantities, so the cost of that R&D work has to be spread over a modest number of units. In addition, patent licensing fees are involved in virtually all of the compression schemes that are used. Plus don't forget the internal audio amp, microphones, mic input, and headphone output. Finally, you're adding complexity to the product, and that has impacts on QA testing and support.

Does that increase the price of a stills camera significantly? Not really. We're talking a few dollars in parts, R&D costs, and other burdens. Let's be liberal here and say that it's US$10 in total cost to the camera maker. That implies a US$35 increase in retail price. So you'd have to ask yourself how much having video is really worth in a still camera. Maximum cost is likely that US$35 number I just gave you, but the reality—particularly in the consumer models—is probably less. I'd argue that having the versatility to also do video is well worth that small cost increase.

Is full frame the future now?

It's certainly the future the camera companies want you to buy, because they've managed to reduce their full frame sensor costs enough that if they can keep the retail price of the camera high they can recover profit margin they've lost in the true consumer camera realm recently. 

Nikon's been at this "buy FX" (full frame) game for a decade now. They've managed to convert a fair number of their serious crop-sensor user base over to full frame, and that's helped them stay profitable as they contracted in volume. Sony has also recently been emphasizing full frame, to the point of leaving first generation full frame mirrorless products in the market at crop-sensor prices. I'm not sure that Sony is making much, if any, margin on a US$1000 A7, but it does push a user into a new mount that has dozens of Sony lenses available for you to purchase ;~). 

I'd still say that APS-C (DX) is the sweet spot for sensors. A large enough sensor so that it is both well away from the smartphone capabilities while not totally struggling with the randomness of photons in low light. Small enough that it can produce cost and size benefits that are much tougher to achieve in full frame. Canon's EOS M series shows just how cozily small (and affordable) APS-C can be. 

If the camera makers want to not see the ILC market shrink below the 6m units a year mark (it's currently at 10m/year), the only way that's going to happen is if we have lower cost, smaller sensor cameras that are compelling. (And to beat the drum I've been hammering on for over a decade now: said cameras have to be nearly as easy to use for social networking as smartphones. The current best of breed in that regard is still well behind where it needs to be.)

Is m4/3 dead then?

No, but it's struggling. Neither Olympus nor Panasonic have really managed compelling products in this category recently. (Yes, my flak jacket is on. I know I'll be bombarded by m4/3 users who insist otherwise.)

Something like the Pen F should be right at the heart of m4/3, yet it's been discontinued and Olympus is pushing the behemoth E-M1X instead. And Panasonic continues to roll out DSLR-like m4/3 cameras that are bigger than that Canon EOS M I mentioned earlier, but with a smaller sensor. 

Realistically, m4/3 is managing to hold on for the moment mostly because of its lens set. At the moment I'd argue that the full and compelling set of lenses tend to be the star of the show, not the cameras. Sure, Olympus has its geeky camera engineering feats—the unique and useful Live Composite feature for long exposures, for example—but how many geeky buyers that want functions like that are there for cameras these days? Meanwhile, Panasonic shows that they can make a DSLR-like m4/3 body over and over. Yet I'm finding that I'm less and less enamored by the bodies being iterated now than I was in the past. If I want a D7500 type body, I'll buy a D7500. But as I noted earlier, if I want a small body, I'd likely be more interested in the EOS M.

So what I and others are struggling with in evaluating m4/3 now is this: exactly what niche are they trying to fill? And are the m4/3 products then the best and most compelling products in that niche? Moreover, the narrower you define your niche, the less likely that you can now pull off enough volume to be successful.

Are DSLRs dead?

No. But the days of their total dominance are waning. I'd still say today that the Nikon D850 is the best all-around camera you can buy, and the Nikon D5 the best sports-type camera you can buy. Both are DSLRs. But the mirrorless Nikon Z7, Sony A7Rm3 and A9 are credible competitors (I'm still evaluating the Canon R/RP offerings). 

Some people will find that mirrorless ILC is their future, some will find that DSLR ILC is still their present and thus, future for the near term. 

This morning as I was working on this site and this article, an email popped in that sort of illustrated one problem that a lot of folk are having trying to figure out where they are in any transition that might be going on. This gentleman was contemplating going from a D7000 with mostly screw-drive lenses to a Z6, and thus complaining that he would have to start from scratch, basically. 

Think about what he was proposing, though: Going from (a) a US$1000 camera to one double the price; (b) a crop sensor camera to a full sensor camera; (c) a DSLR to a mirrorless camera; and (d) legacy lenses to new lenses. That's a lot of change. To what purpose? Would he not be better served by just upgrading to a D7500? Or perhaps a D750 if he wanted to go full frame? 

What a lot of folk are doing at the moment is trying to second guess the future and somehow future-proof themselves, mostly at the expense of the present (and their credit card balances). In doing so, they add cost, complexity, and uncertainty. And thus, they get confused in their decision making.  

For many people, a DSLR is still the right choice. For others, transitioning to a mirrorless camera is the right choice. Though maybe not today; maybe tomorrow. 

Right now you have excellent choices in both DSLR and mirrorless products. Great DSLRs, good to great mirrorless models. So you really have to look at cost/benefit a little more closely to determine where you really should be putting your money short term. 

If too many folk get caught up in the mirrorless marketing hype and not in a reasonable analysis of their needs, then yes, DSLRs will fade faster than they are. There's little doubt that 10 years from now almost no one would be buying a DSLR. But what are you doing in the meantime? ;~)

It's not a trivial question, and Canon and Nikon are going to dangle some new goodies in the DSLR world before they decide to depart. Goodies you ask? Price reductions and a couple of well considered new cameras, maybe even a couple of new lenses we'd want.

When will we get 16-bit data in our cameras?

When you buy a medium format camera. 

At the pixel pitches we're seeing in crop sensor and even full frame now, there really isn't enough data definition to require 16-bit. As I note in my Nikon DSLR/mirrorless books, even 14-bit is only producing useful information at low ISO values, typically below the gain change point in the dual-gain sensors. 

You need enough bits to accurately encode the value you get from the stored electrons (the result is what we call the DN, or digital number). Adding more bits than you need adds a faux level of precision, and it of course increases file size when you do it. That's why I recommend setting 12-bit Lossless Compressed at higher ISO values in most of the Nikon bodies: using 14-bit at the high ISO values isn't going to give you any more accurate DNs with more information than using 12-bit. 

Is it possible this will change in the future? Perhaps. I'd guess that it would take a huge leap in quantum efficiency, or perhaps a far bigger well saturation number, or perhaps a change to a rollover well. But we're not there yet, and I haven't heard a hint of us being near there yet, either. 

When will I get my 500mm f/5.6E PF lens?

Tell me how many people are in line in front of you, and I might be able to guess, plus or minus 30 days.

Like the other exotic lenses—e.g. 400mm f/2.8E FL—the 500mm PF is manufacturing constrained, and that's pretty much solely due to the glass inside. I'm told that the PF element takes four to six months to make from scratch, and that Nikon had limited machines on which to finish and polish that element. So production has probably been in the high three or low-four figures a month from the beginning, and I'm not sure how much additional production capacity can—or would want to—create. From what I can tell, we've got about an average of close to 1000 units a month that have hit user's hands globally. Clearly demand is higher. 

Demand is not infinitely higher, so what will happen in the next few months is that at some point the currently existing backorders will likely all clear. But this is a great lens, and it's not likely to go out of demand (it works just fine on the Z bodies with the FTZ adapter). So I'm pretty sure it will still be going in and out of stock constantly each month even as Nikon eventually catches up to the initial demand.

Put a different way: are there 1000 people who would be interested in buying this lens each month? Yes for the foreseeable future. 

As with all deeply back-ordered Nikon gear, this site's exclusive advertiser (B&H) is not where you want to be ordering your copy. Because of NikonUSA's distribution policies, the local pro authorized Nikon dealers tend to get more of their allocation each month than the big online outlets when units are constrained (the exception to this is if you put in a Priority Purchase order if you're an NPS member; it shouldn't matter who you put that order in with if that dealer is not diverting NPS PP purchases to other users).  

Introducing "Consolidators"

Over the past decade I've described a number of common photographer gear types I've discovered through my research and surveys. For those of you who haven't followed along:

  • Last Camera Syndrome (LCS)— These folks buy a new camera, discover how good it is, and are done with buying camera gear, as they perceive that what they now have should last them the rest of their foreseeable photographic future. They don't need better, so they stop seeking it out. The major things that might get them to buy again are: (1) their gear is lost or stolen; (2) their gear is dropped and fixing costs more than replacing; and (3) something dramatically different comes along that clearly solves a problem they've been having. #3 is rare. It happens maybe once a decade or longer. Many in this group are also older, having grown from SLR to DSLR to perhaps mirrorless. Last Camera may be literal for many.
  • Leakers — You're a leaker when you get to the point where you believe that the camera brand you originally bought into will not catch up and give you something you perceive another camera brand to have. Sometimes this is technology, as it was with on-sensor image stabilization. Other times it is something not easy to measure, such as focusing speed or accuracy. The operative point here, though, is the perception that their chosen brand is letting them down in some way, and that's not changing fast enough for them. Thus, they'll pick up something out of their brand and try it in order to verify their suspicions that their brand has fallen behind. This also means that this group has a fair amount of disposable income.
  • SwitchersLeakers have a tendency to turn into switchers. That's because they discover that they were right: the alternative brand does have features, performance, or user experience that was better than what their originally chosen brand offers. You go from being a leaker to a switcher at the point where you start selling your old gear to get the money to buy the new gear.
  • Samplers — These folk have enough disposable income coupled with paranoia that they are constantly picking up cameras that they might use because they're afraid they're missing out on something. Strong marketing messages tend to easily sway these folk into thinking that gear fixes whatever photographic problem they might think they have. Samplers are different than leakers in that leakers are pretty sure about what they're missing out on and seek it out specifically, while samplers are just casting about looking for something they can't easily define.

All these groups can be identified in both the film SLR and the DSLR eras. We had LCS folk and samplers in the film era, for sure. But I think I can identify leakers and switchers in the film days, too. 

One thing that happened in the film to digital transition, though, is that we got another group: consolidators. We need a definition for that:

  • Consolidators Someone consolidates when they decide to get rid of all the gear on their shelves they're not using and restrict themselves to a smaller set of new gear that fully meets their needs. Typically, consolidation only happens on a big transition point (e.g. film to digital, or now DSLR to mirrorless). In the case of all four groups I identified in the first part of this article, many just keep a lot of the older gear they have, just in case. A few will sell off a few things that they obviously don't need, but they often keep a lot of extra gear around that they don't really continue using. Consolidation happens when they realize that they're making a major transition of some sort, and just how much equipment they have will simply not be productive for them in the future, so they stop hoarding it. 

I'm seeing a fair amount of consolidators suddenly appearing on my radar, both anecdotally and measurably. It's being mostly driven by this: full frame mirrorless systems. 

Those that have decided to take one of the current journeys of transition—Canon EF to RF, Nikon F to Z, Minolta/Sony A to Sony FE—start to realize that (a) getting a fully mirrorless system is costly, so maybe they can find some dollars to buy new gear by selling the old; (b) some of their old gear is truly closet ridden and not really in use any more; (c) the transition truly obsoletes some gear; and (d) image sensors and lenses have absolutely gotten better recently, so the older stuff in the closet just doesn't live up to the same standard.

What happens is this: the consolidators basically sell off all their old gear and just start afresh with a new system, and with fewer items. Note that when you consolidate, you can also switch ;~). For example, I've found a number of folk recently that chose Sony full frame over whatever DSLR they were using, and have just jettisoned everything DSLR. Earlier on, one of the claims that a lot of the Sony full frame samplers kept making was that they could just throw a converter on and use older lenses they already have. I'm starting to see that type of claim go away and be replaced by "might as well just start with a clean slate" type of message, which is what defines a consolidator.

Consolidators are likely to grow in number as the same journey of transition begins to happen more and more often with the crop-sensor DSLR users, too. At least those that didn't already make a crop-sensor to full frame transition.

NAB 2019

The following products were announced at or just before the NAB Show in Las Vegas this week:

  • Adobe preceded NAB with Premiere Pro CC and After Effects CC improvements. The big feature everyone is talking about is Content-Aware Fill for video (in After Effects CC). But Premiere got a number of new useful additions, including auto ducking, font improvements, lots of shape/mask/graphic/text changes, plus frame replacement when decode errors are detected. Mask Tracking is also in both the new Premiere and After Effects.
  • Arri was a bit of the talk of the town with the launch of the ALEXA Mini LF, a 4.5K larger-than-Super 35 camera (twice the area) that adds yet another model into Arri's well-received ALEXA lineup. Arri's have pretty much taken over the Hollywood crowd. In this year's Oscar-nominated films, that included A Star is Born, Black Panther, Bohemian Rhapsody, Cold War, Green Book, Never Look Away, and Roma, and that doesn't count the Arricam's, just ALEXA's. No price yet, but if you're reading this, it's more likely you'd be renting it.
  • Atomos introduced the improved Shogun 7, which can record up to 60P 4K in Apple ProRes. The Shogun is also a multicam production friendly product, too, as it can record up to four 1080P/60 streams, or switch between four different live streams for on-set monitoring purposes. Dolby Vision is supported, and the display has a very bright 1500 nits of output, making it usable in bright light. US$1499 [advertiser link]. Atomos also introduced new Shinobi 5" monitors.
  • Blackmagic Design announced Davinci Resolve 16, with tons of new features and performance tweaks. They also introduced 8K versions of HyperDeck, ATEM and Teranex. Of most interest to this site's readers would likely be the Pocket Camera Battery Grip, which adds two L-series batteries for two hours of battery life to the Pocket Cinema Camera 4K. US$245. 
  • Canon introduced Cinema lenses. Specifically, the new Sumire primes (14mm t/3.1, 20mm t/1.5, 24mm t/1.5, 35mm t/1.5, 50mm t/1.3, 85mm t/1.3, 135mm t/2.2) are all expensive (US$7000+) PL mount lenses, with full frame coverage, geared rings, and clear markings. (And yes, you can get Canon Cinema EOS cameras with a PL mount.)
  • Canon also announced four new 4K camcorders, pushing the Vixia and XA line up a notch from former models. The model probably of most interest is the XA50, which uses a 1" sensor with Canon's dual-pixel focus. A 25.5-382.5mm (equivalent) f/2.8-4.5 IS zoom sits out front and you can record 8-bit 4:2:0 4K/30P or 1080P up to 60 fps internally, or 10-bit 4:2:2 externally. Dual powered XLR inputs. This is the current model of the video camera I've been using to record events. US$2199 [advertiser link].
  • LaCie has brought RAID to USB 3.1 Type-C. The new 2big 2-Bay drives come in 4TB, 8TB, or 16TB capacities, using Seagate Enterprise-class hard drives running at 7200 rpm. If your computer is up to snuff, you'll get 440MBps transfer. The 16TB is US$699 [advertiser link].
  • RODE introduced the new Wireless GO, a very small mated receiver and transmitter pair for wireless audio. The unique thing: the transmitter also has a built-in mike and can act as a lavalier mic on its own. US$199 [advertiser link].

Minimum Viable Product

A lot of what we struggle with as camera users these days has to do with what's happening in camera engineering. Specifically, the notion of Minimum Viable Product (MVP). The recent Canon RP, for example, is mostly MVP overall, as are products like Fujifilm's X-A5 and X-T100. Still, virtually every new camera product we're seeing now has MVP decisions in it, and those are one of the things that put us all in "wait and see" mode instead of upgrading our kits.

I'll use connectivity as one clear example of what I mean by MVP. Virtually every camera maker is practicing MVP with their Wi-Fi implementation: what's the least amount of work they have to do to obtain a minimum viable feature set and/or performance?

The camera user wants to transfer images off their camera, and they want to control the camera remotely. So those two things become the measuring stick for MVP: (1) can we transfer images from our camera over Wi-Fi?; (2) can the user control basic picture taking via Wi-Fi? If the answer to those two questions is "yes", then the engineering is done ;~).

MVP is related to Marketing Checkbox. This is where the marketing product management team builds a list of features that they believe they need in order for a product to seem competitive in the specification list. The competitor's camera can communicate via Wi-Fi? Then ours has to, too.

The problem is that a MVP capability doesn't necessarily address a real user need. Most people want Wi-Fi capability to (1) share their photos on the Internet; and (2) to replace a remote control widget with something they're already carrying. Note how this User #1 and #2 don't exactly match the MVP #1 and #2 definitions back up in the third paragraph. 

Let's step through an example and see how this works. 

You can use MVP #1 (transfer over Wi-Fi) to do User #1 (share images), sort of. As many readers of this site know, I did a number of experiments attempting just that using SnapBridge when the D500 first came out. Could I push some images to Twitter (my User #1 need) with SnapBridge (Nikon's MVP #1 feature)? Not without a lot of extra effort on my part. Yes, the camera could technically move a 2mp version of my image over the airwaves from my D500 to my iPhone. But that left me manually doing the captioning, tagging, and actual push to Twitter. Moreover, because MVP #1 wasn't exactly high performance, the whole experiment fell apart the minute I needed to do this with batches of images, rather than a single image.

I've since tried the same experiment with other Wi-Fi implementations from other camera makers. They all fail at solving the User #1 problem in a satisfying way. And they all fail because the camera company used MVP #1 to define the Wi-Fi function. 

I actually defined the User #1 problem back in 2009, and I presented my ideas on that to Nikon executives in Tokyo in 2010. To some degree, SnapBridge is part of Nikon's response. So blame me. Not ;~). Instead blame MVP getting in the way of doing the actual user problem solving.

The real culprit here is mostly the SnapBridge app (iOS or Android, and now the Wireless Transmitter Utility on MacOS or Windows with the recent Nikon expansion of Wi-Fi connections to computers [on the Z6 and Z7]). The engineers basically defined "success" as: (a) establish a connection between camera and phone/tablet/computer/router; (b) move any images the user marks across that connection; (c) stuff those images in the Camera Roll (phone/tablet) or folder (computer). Done! 

Well, yes, that job is indeed done. It's been done by Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony in some form or another. But it doesn't solve the user problem. That's because:

  • (a) is fiddly, battery intensive, and not exactly done at peak Wi-Fi performance.
  • (a) requires that I define which images move. And my only choices are basically (1) review an image and press a button (and sometimes also have to find and use the appropriate menu choice) to mark it for transmission; or (2) just send every image I shoot.
  • there's a tendency to not complete (b), as for unknown reasons the connection gets dropped a lot.
  • in dense Wi-Fi locales—lots of people on Wi-Fi in a closed area, like arenas—(b) tends to be sporadic at best.
  • (c) requires me to pull up the phone/tablet/computer and do more work. 

When we first designed the PenPoint operating system back in 1989, one of our design goals was to live through communication disconnects as if they didn't happen. That's because we were designing tablets that were going to use the then nascent cellular network, and cellular was even flakier then than it is today. We could have used MVP (e.g. establish connection) and let the user deal with disconnects (e.g. reconnect and retry from scratch). Instead, we solved the user problem: if a disconnection happens, notify, but automatically work to reconnect; and upon reconnection resume communication with what was left to communicate, not start over.

You could unplug a PenPoint system from a wired network or interrupt the wireless connection and it generally didn't skip a beat. The minute you plugged the wire back in or the wireless connection was (automatically or manually) re-established, the system just picked up where it left off, with no user interaction necessary.

It's those two words that keep coming back to me every time I see these MVP things the camera companies keep doing: user interaction. Any time the user is required to do something, it increases the complexity of the product for the user and makes it less likely that the right thing is done. 

Again using SnapBridge as an example—Nikon isn't the only guilty party here, I'm just using the thing I know best as my example—we have all kinds of user interactions that are necessary to fully use the system effectively, and they're buried all over the place:

  • Once Wi-Fi is turned on, it's on unless I turn it off, regardless of whether it's needed or not. If I'm not shooting images automatically marked for transfer, and I haven't marked any already-shot images for transfer, why does Wi-Fi need to be churning through battery? What Nikon wants me to do is turn Airplane Mode on and off to manage that process (SETUP menu, buried near the end of a long menu). The actual user need is for the camera to (a) only turn Wi-Fi on if a pending transfer request is active (automatic or user marked image); (b) turn Wi-Fi off when transfer is complete and no pending transfer request is active (perhaps with a timeout for automatic transfers); plus a setting where I can tell the camera to always leave it on in order to speed things up, should I want that.
  • If I'm using the RETOUCH menu to create the image to transfer (e.g. trimming or resizing it), I have to finish the retouch operation, then make image review active, and mark that image for sending. Why can't I mark-for-send while I'm in the retouch operation (or even better, have an automatic mark-for-send trigger on retouch)?
  • It used to be that you could only push 2mp JPEGs over SnapBridge, and those only from JPEGs that you shot. Fortunately, Nikon finally got around to doing an automatic raw-to-JPEG conversion if I was only shooting raw. But we're still in the all-or-nothing game here with the options (e.g. 2mp or all pixels). Note that I just said I might be using the RETOUCH menu to resize. Why can't I just specify a resize option for all images to be transferred?
  • I want my images to go to Twitter (or Instagram, or Facebook, or maybe another half dozen or so somewhat common places). That means that I have to select the image(s) in the mobile app end and share it(them) from there manually. And by the way, if I want to select multiples, I have to discover the Select Photos option in the ... menu (yes, the actual menu is shown as ...). Oh, and did I want to add a comment? Can't do that. Did I want to give it a tag? Well:
  • Hashtags in SnapBridge are buried in the App Options menu, and this is an all or nothing thing (i.e. all images get the same tags I pre-assign unless I go back and forth between the Camera Roll and the App Options menu for each image I want to share and do it one by one; ugh, talk about user interaction). 
  • Captioning? Image naming? Keywording? Not an option.

The thing is, SnapBridge works. It has clear MVP capabilities now. But that's all it has. 

I use communication as my example for MVP for a reason: the camera makers wonder why smartphone users don't buy cameras. It's at least partly due to a user interaction problem. Yes, technically you can get images from your expensive dedicated camera to the Internet somewhere these days, but it's not seamless, as it is on smartphones. Nor is it without user interaction. Nor is the ability marketed at all well. In fact, I'll bet you if I walked into 10 camera shops and asked to see how the process of sharing an image to an Internet site works, most of them would fail to impress me in their knowledge of how "easy" it is (unless, of course, the salesman just lied ;~).  

If you've ever traveled with a family on vacation and tried to post images to your friends back home, you know what happens with complex user interactions: your family wants to move on and do something else after you took an image, but you're sitting there fiddling forever to actually share it. Your son or daughter shared their image from their phone instantly to their friends. Do you think that's sending a message to the kids that someday they'll want a dedicated camera? ;~)

Just so I'm clear: sharing images isn't the only MVP problem the camera companies are promulgating these days. It's just one. A big and important one, but it's just one of many MVP problems users face now.

If the camera companies want more sales, they're going to have to stop doing MVP and doing more to improve (and minimize) user interaction.


Camera Classics

Here in the US we have the Motor Trend channel on most of our cable systems. One oft-found program on that channel is live coverage of the Barrett-Jackson auto auctions. 

The talk on that show is pretty incessant about classic cars, in particular, cars that are drivable and collectable, and which may have increasing value (or at least hold value well). Obviously, this is about nostalgic demand. Brand new cars have technologies and capabilities not in those older models.

Are there such things as classic cameras?

No doubt. Classic lenses, too. 

I'm going to go a bit further in this article and make my selections not just about collecting, but rather collecting and using (at least casually, or on occasion). In other words, cameras that you might actually take out of your gear closet and use from time to time, just for the kicks.

I'm going to restrict myself today to Nikon cameras, as they're the ones I know best, the ones that I best understand the continuing demand for, and ones that tend to be easy to collect.

Clearly we still have classic film SLRs from Nikon. Most of the older era film SLRs would be deemed some level of collectable today. I'm going to stick with modern era cameras, though, which basically starts with the F4. Funny thing is, most of the prosumer and pro film SLR Nikons are still being used by people today, and many of them are pure bargains for film shooters. Here's my collectable and usable list of Nikon film SLRs:

  • N90s
  • F4
  • F100
  • F5
  • FM3a

Each of those have a different personality and a different riff on the Nikon button+dial interface (other than the FM3a, which is all dial). Of the bunch, the F100 is probably the one that feels the most usable and modern to me. (Note: the even more modern F6 is still available new, so doesn't get on this list.)

With DSLRs, things change a bit, as Nikon was clearing in a learning curve mode (and still is). While the D1 would certainly be collectable due to it being regarded as the camera that kicked things off, it's not really usable, which takes it off my list. After much debate with myself—fortunately I won that debate—here's what I came up with as truly collectable and usable for the weekend enthusiast:

  • D1h — not a lot of pixels (2.5mp) and with a limited dynamic range compared to today's cameras, but these cameras were built like a brick and last nearly forever. Used wisely, they still can produce good results; you just can't blow those results up to large prints without seeing the lack of resolution. The D1x doesn't qualify here because of its odd pixel arrangement, which makes it really tough to post process well.
  • D70 and D100 — these two 6mp cameras were really the crux of Nikon's rapid DSLR adoption by customers, and even today when I look at many of my images from these cameras, I'm impressed at far Nikon got so fast in the DSLR era. The same limiting DR as the D1h, basically, but for scenes that you can squeeze into that range and expose correctly, very nice results that print in moderate sizes reasonably well. The D100 is the more durable of the two, plus you have to the GLOD (green light of death) issue on D70's, which I don't think Nikon fixes any more. 
  • D2x — at base ISO and 12mp, this would be the pre-D3 camera I'd collect and play with. There was definitely something very good about this first CMOS sensor DSLR at base ISO. 
  • D3 — the D3 took us into new realms (full frame and low light). I still encounter D3 and D3s users today. Of all the cameras I mention here, this is probably the best of the bunch—along with the D3x, next—in terms of image quality and performance. Nikon was extremely proud of this camera at launch, and they should still be extremely proud of it today. Brilliant in every way. (Extra credit goes to the Kodak Pro 14n, which got to 14mp and full frame first. Definitely a collectable if you can keep it working.)
  • D3x — the absurdly high price killed this beast of a camera. It was really the first time we Nikon users got into the high pixel realm (of the time) and it did so with with very nice results. Just as with the D3, the D3x is still very usable today, and I still find a few pros using one.
  • D300 — a low cost near-D3? I'm aboard. So were a lot of Nikon users. Sadly, DX sensors improved considerably since then (well over a stop). So low light of wide contrast scenes are where this camera will struggle compared to current ones. Still, we're talking about a 12-year old camera that still feels pretty modern and high-end. It's just that its sensor has fallen behind the times. (Extra credit goes to the D90, which pioneered DSLR video.)
  • D700 — D3 goodness in a D300-like body. While not quite the performance beast the D3 was, this camera is probably the best blend of a collectable and usable older Nikon DSLR at the moment. I still see plenty of users carrying one in their bags. That said, in terms of actual numbers, the old D700 is basically about as good as the current D500 in terms of sensor.

Many of the cameras I just mentioned are holding value decently now—though considerably under their original pricing—and should continue to do so. There's one potential fly in the ointment here you need to be aware of: Nikon is no longer repairing these cameras, claiming a lack of parts (though if you go on eBay and search Nikon D3 parts you're going to find pages of them). Thus, we've entered the era for all the cameras I mention where you may not be able to get them repaired, and that tends to be reflected in their pricing.

Technically, we could keep going and start adding D4 and D5 generation cameras to the list, but that's a story for another day (hint: the Df is likely to be collectable and usable). Right now I'm looking back to the last decade or earlier and trying to come up with a list of the older cameras people might consider worth collecting and using. 

Why no D200? The sensor, basically. I like the form factor and controls, but the sensor is temperamental and not fully up to the standards of the D2x and D300; I'd collect and use one of those first. 

Does Anyone Really Want a New DSLR?

One thing about technology: it eventually makes the average product capability rise above the actual needs of the average customer. 

Consider automobiles for a moment. I'm still driving a 14-year old vehicle, and that vehicle is in fairly pristine condition. For basic transportation needs, it well more than suffices. Are there features my vehicle doesn't have? Sure, with no backup camera probably being the most desirable missing bit (and which can be fixed by third party add-ons). 

In cameras I still encounter quite a few folk, including pros, using 10-year cameras. Certainly 7-year old cameras (on the Canon side that goes back to the 5Dm3 and 6D, and on the Nikon side that takes us back to the D4 and D800). I'd tend to argue that DSLRs of that age or newer more than suffice for the average customer. 

When you get to that sweet spot—where the camera is most of the time beyond your actual real needs—you tend to enter into what I call Last Camera Syndrome. By that I mean you're no longer in the market for a new camera unless (1) you lose or break yours; (2) a product comes along that clearly fixes your biggest user problem; or (3) you succumb to the onslaught of marketing messages that attempt to get you to lust after the new.

Let's discuss this in reverse order.

Canon and Nikon's DSLR problem is #3. Both companies have their issues with this. I can't really say Canon has been delivering new DSLRs that really are lustful. Most people seem to be perceiving them as modest iterative updates. That means that it is primarily marketing messages that Canon can use to provoke buying action #3. I'm not convinced Canon is doing a good job of that. 

Meanwhile, Nikon has had some extremely nice new DSLRs that don't seem like a mild iteration, particularly the D850. The D850 is indeed a lustful piece of gear. I've called it the "best all around camera you can buy" pretty much since the day it appeared, and nothing's really changed in that respect. Nikon's problem, as I've outlined before, is that they're not all that great at marketing messages. (Not that I'm asking them to quote me. But it sure seems like my messaging about the D850 has been stronger than Nikon's ;~).

So #3 isn't really getting the Last Camera Syndrome folk to move old DSLR gear out of their closet and replace it with new. Price is basically the only motivator Canikon have now, and they have to be careful with that lest they hurt their mirrorless product sales.

Meanwhile, I'd say that the primary user problem (#2) that many folk desired to be fixed was size and weight. That's partly because the typical ILC user is aging. Carrying five pound necklaces around all day isn't fun (with another 10 or more pounds on your back), and Medicare doesn't offer any quick fixes ;~). While Canon and Nikon both have smaller, lighter DSLRs to sell—in particular the Canon SL1/2—they fumbled at marketing those (#3 again!). 

Since mirrorless did offer to fix the size/weight issue, you can see why both Canon and Nikon hit the full frame mirrorless market with reasonably small and light models, and why Canon tackled the crop sensor mirrorless market with near compact-sized cameras. But that doesn't solve the DSLR problem, does it? All it does is try to keep folk from switching brands when they opt for one of the user problem solving aspects of the mirrorless cameras.

Finally, we have #1: what are you going to do when you drop and total your D810 or 5DmIV? Canon will say "replace it with an R" and Nikon will say "replace it with a Z7." Why? Because there's the upside of new lens sales, too. 

Recently we've seen Nikon executives trying to talk their way through the dilemma. In a dpreview interview at CP+ they were quoted as saying they "want to grow the [mirrorless] and [DSLR] series at the same time—we're not weighing one against the other." That seems to be a message that everyone in the Nikon marketing and sales side is promoting, whether at the corporate or subsidiary level. So it's clearly a talking point that's been communicated from on high.

Despite everyone constantly talking about the demise of DSLRs, the reality is that Canon and Nikon DSLRs in 2018 still outsold the entire mirrorless market by more than 50% (unit volume). People still buy DSLRs, and that won't go away for a minimum of four or five years, probably more (you can still buy a Nikon F6 film SLR today, almost 15 years later). 

The problem is simple for Canon and Nikon: they need to make you want a new DSLR while at the same time make someone who's decided on mirrorless want a Canon or Nikon mirrorless camera. That's a tricky little problem to have. 

How well they solve that problem will determine the long-term market shares of the camera business. Canon says they want 50% or more (actually, they use the words "capture as many users as possible;" note the word "capture"). Nikon wants to stay in the 20's and Sony's wants to get there. You'd think those market share desires would compel some really hot new products you might want. To some degree, the R and Z and the A updates are that. But where's the last DSLR sizzle? It can't be the D850 can it?

CIPA Press Conference on Camera Sales

bowing

Embarrassed executives from all the camera companies lined up in an extraordinary press conference at the Shinjuku Sheraton today. 

"Sumimasen" was the word of the day, as Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony executives came to the podium one at a time to apologize for misrepresenting camera sales so badly. This was, of course, accompanied by each man making a full 45°  bow that lasted five seconds or more, as is traditional in Japanese business culture. 

It turns out that the sales numbers reported by the Camera & Imaging Products Association (CIPA)—to which all these companies belong and supply numbers—have been incorrect, and apparently dating all the way back to 2012 when someone decided to move all the spreadsheets over to Microsoft Excel and made a formula error. As the financial health of companies with large camera groups is often evaluated by analysts based upon these numbers, share prices of some companies were certainly affected by the mistake. Expect a massive correction on the Nikkei later today.

It turns out that one of the spreadsheets used by the organization and the data-supplying camera companies had a simple but fundamental error that was introduced in 2012. Instead of a plus sign in a formula, there was a minus sign. Where camera sales should have been shown to be going up, instead they were now shown to be going down. As everyone knows, the D5 and D800 were both very popular cameras introduced that year, but the CIPA charts all started to claim sales were down. Other cameras early in that time frame that everyone was sure were popular but apparently weren't due to the "bad CIPA numbers" include the Canon 6D and the original Sony A7 and A7R.

"It was almost as if we created charts that were upside down," said Hiroshi Hayashi, spokesman for CIPA. "All the lines pointed down due to the error; they should have pointed up." 

As a result, a new Internet myth has had to be started: because so many people are taking photos with smartphones these days, more people are deciding that they want a more capable device that has more ability and flexibility; they're buying cameras in droves.

          v

Sony's New Sensor Technology

By coincidence I was browsing through my note files the other day, where I found one reference that attempted to figure out how much better an image sensor could get and this sidetracked my attention for a few minutes. 

It's all about photons, obviously. The maximum number of photons we could collect is something along the lines of 12,590 * SENSINGAREA (in microns squared). What happens today, though, is that nowhere near that implied number is actually measured in our cameras. 

First, we lose photons to the Bayer filtration. It used to be that we lost two-thirds of the photons this way, but that number has been going down a bit as camera makers reduced the filtration levels. Next, we have quantum efficiency (QE). That number used to be just below 50%, while these days you can find some sensors living above that line. Still, 50% is another stop of light loss. Then, of course, we have any downstream math and noise that can change the implied number of photons we caught from the correct total. 

Meanwhile, at the high end of sensor, we have "saturation." If your charge well is smaller than MAXPHOTONS - BAYERLOSS * QE * TIME (shutter speed), You don't get anything close to maximum photons at all, meaning that you've effectively reduced your potential dynamic range.

And that's where today's press release from Sony Semiconductor comes into play. 

Everyone's been chasing making charge wells bigger or figuring out a way to handle overflow. Not Sony. They turned the problem on its head: what if the maximum DN (digital number) that you record is black? And the lowest is white?

That's exactly what Sony's new Caligos sensors do: they record the absence of photons to a maximum (e.g. fill the well charge) while then recording the presence of photons as a low number. 0000 0000 0000 is white, 1111 1111 1111 is black. (Think of it as a reversed histogram.)

bythom sony caligos histogram

As Fujifilm proved with Velvia slide film, photographers don't really care about black. A quick drop in the deep shadows to black is perfectly fine with most, as long as no artifacts, grain, or noise accompanies that cut off toe at the bottom of the exposure slope. 

Thus, Sony's new Caligos sensor record black, blacker black, and blackest black, but they'll basically all just be black ;~). But without noise

At the other, lower end of the DNs, most cameras are going to record the center of white with a Caligos sensor at a value of about 500 (for 12-bit data). That provides plenty of leeway for moving highlight data around without any color shifts or other issues. It also preserves the noise curve around that maximum white value, which allows us to address it more readily, should we want to. That said, what's a teeny bit of noise in white look like? White! More interestingly, a slight dither (noise) of white values after conversion and post processing helps with metamerism when you print your image (i.e. a total white spot no longer just looks like paper).

The Caligos sensor press release was a Development Announcement. Sony Semiconductor showed preliminary results from a small test sensor that look very encouraging. Sony hopes to put this new sensor into production next year.

         v

What Would Thom Do (2019 Ed.)?

From time to time I post articles about camera product management from both my perspective as an analyst of the camera market and as a former product manager. DSLRs are at a critical stage right now as we transition to mirrorless. Planners in Tokyo have been dealing with this for a few years now, and I'm sure that both Canon and Nikon have clear ideas on how they move forward.

But let's assume that I was in charge back when those decisions were being contemplated (and that I have the additional benefit of seeing where we are today ;~). What would I be doing with DSLR products? Is that different than what's happening or will happen?

For Nikon, it's simple, and we have precedents that can be used to help the Nikon DSLR user understand what's happening. In particular, I refer to the "s" nomenclature and the transition from SLR to DSLR. The s addition to a model name has historically meant at Nikon that it's the same camera with some tweaks, and this often was done to extend model life. Also, Nikon replicated the SLR line with DSLR models, and as they did so mostly stopped the SLR updates.

You're probably racing ahead, so yes, I think that the future Nikon DSLRs I'd be thinking about would be mostly tweaks, not complete model redo's. Let's look at the lineup and what that means:

  • D6 — This is a bit controversial to some, but it seems like a done deal to me. We typically get new pro generations every four years, and we're nearing that four-year boundary. Personally, I believe that Nikon must update their primary pro DSLR to a new model. It needs to be a state-of-the-art 24mp tuned for performance. Live View has to be like using a Z6 without an EVF, worst case. Maybe we can tweak the mirror and shutter a bit more, maybe we can get even better performance out of the autofocus system (and perhaps even some new options there). I believe Nikon would have started the R&D—including sensor work—on this model prior to making the commitment to move to mirrorless, so I'm sure all the work has been going on for some time. Thus, I want Nikon to finish it. As do all the other D5-using pros out there. Next generation after the D6, sure, make a Z9 that does everything we want. This generation? Make a D6. (See end of article for more)
  • D850s — This is mostly about using firmware and very small additions in function to keep a top DSLR as current as possible. The changes wouldn't be enough to get a D850 user to upgrade, but there are still D800 and D810 users (and others) that haven't made the switch, plus there's the issue of what happens if you total your current D850 and want to get a new one; you'd like it to be as up-to-date as possible. There's declining demand here (due to the excellent Z7), so you don't invest in new sensor or other critical components. You simply round off some rough edges and make small boosts in performance or features where you can.
  • D750s — Here's an instance instead of  "s" where Nikon could add meaningful things and create a new, updated model (e.g. D760).  Just put the Z6 sensor in the D750 body. That makes Live View the same as an EVF-less Z6, a big win over the current situation. It also provides instant upgrades in video and other things. I'd be tempted to call this a D760, but I think that sends the wrong signal, and with all the other "s"s people will think a D760s might appear. I'll stick with "s" naming and make a D750s. Nikon most likely wouldn't, and if we get a new model here, it will be a D760.
  • D500s — Frankly, Nikon's asleep at the wheel here. Either this should have already been done, or a D550 should have appeared, or a Z50 (e.g. a DX Z) should have appeared by now. Once again the D### APS-C bodies are getting short shrift. It's true that the D500 hasn't sold anywhere near as well as most people think it has, but its still a seminal body for Nikon's high enthusiast, and Nikon's own actions have hurt the D500 demand (buzz, buzz, among other things). My guess is that Nikon won't even consider this option, or if they do, it will be so watered down so as to be not meaningly different than a D500. Sad. (If you believe a DX Z50 is coming, the most likely time for it to come would be coincident with a Z9. In other words, the D3/D300, D5/D500 trick all over again. Nikon is anything if not repetitive, particularly on things "that worked".)
  • D7500s — Nikon has one big trick they could pull off here that justifies an "s": simply put the D500 focus system into the D7500. Nikon being who they are, they wouldn't do that unless the D500 "followup" is a Z50, or the D500 goes away. Yeah, I could live with that. Just as the D7200 held serve for the missing D400, a D7500s would be the final serve for the missing D500 followup.
  • D3500 and D5600 — These models, despite being large volume sellers, have to go away and be replaced by what we're transitioning to (e.g. mirrorless). 
  • D610 — Because of the price pressure on entry full frame, the DSLR version would go away and be replaced by a Z5 or some other lower number mirrorless camera.
  • Df — Much like the FM3a, this was a small niche product with a strong internal advocate. The advocate is gone, the niche would be much smaller today, thus this should be a dead end product.

So, as Nikon's newly appointed VP of Product Line Management I'm happy to announce: (1) we'll create the D5 DSLR followup our top pros want; (2) we'll significantly upgrade the D750 and D7500 DSLRs to "s" models by using parts from other, newer products, plus we'll make some small changes to keep the D850 DSLR current, as well; (3) we'll start transitioning DX to mirrorless now by replacing the D3500 and D500 with mirrorless models. I believe these changes give you the best of both worlds: those enthusiasts and pros that want to stay with DSLR will have strong choices in the D7500s, D750s, D850s, and D6; those of you who want to transition to mirrorless have great choices in the the new Z30 and Z50 DX models, plus our existing Z6 and Z7 full frame models (which themselves are being constantly upgraded in ability and performance via firmware).

That's the camera side. How about lenses? We're still missing a few F-mount Nikkors we would be expecting had mirrorless not come along. Thus, I'd announce this: today we're committed to release one new F-mount lens a year for the next five years. We'll select which one based upon user demand for missing or replacement models as well as new technologies and optical formulae we're developing. The first of those will be the new 12-24mm f/2.8E, which will take the well-regarded but aging 14-24mm into new territory. All existing PC-E, AF-S, and AF-P lenses will continue to be offered, and given our history, you know that could be for a very long time. DSLR owners will thus have 48 existing and 5 new lenses to choose from for as long as we can foresee the future. 

In ten paragraphs I've outlined a roadmap for Nikon users (you also have to know what's currently available to understand how it all "fits"). And in two press release type paragraphs I've summarized it. Stay DSLR. Transition to mirrorless. Your choice. The only place where I'd have Nikon forcing the transition to mirrorless as the only option is at the low-end consumer product (e.g. where the D3500/D5600 lived). With fewer parts and alignment procedures, Nikon should be able to make low cost mirrorless consumer models that outperform the DSLRs, so it's a win-win situation at the bottom of the lineup. 

So let's for a moment examine the two scenarios on either side of mine: (a) Nikon runs with DSLRs as they have for as long as they can; and (b) Nikon runs from DSLRs as fast as they can, similar to what they did with film SLRs. The scenario I'd do, outlined above, is in the middle and we'll call Scenario (c).

Scenario (b) is the historic one. Once the D1h/D1x/D100 set the DSLR off and running for Nikon, the only thing they did for film SLRs at that point was to iterate a final pro SLR (F6) and final low consumer SLR (N75). Coincident with the D1h/D1x was the FM3a release. If Nikon were to repeat that transition, we'd probably get a D6 (final pro DSLR) and a D5700 (final low consumer DSLR), and nothing more. 

In Scenario (a) we've got a number of Nikon DSLRs that would get updates on historically predictable boundaries: D6 in August to January, D760 soon, D860 within the year, D3600, D5700, D7600, and perhaps even D620 and D510 also in the coming 12-month to 24-month window.

To summarize:

  • Nikon Scenario (a) — D6, D860, D760, D7600, D5700, D3600, maybe even a D510 and D620. Plus whatever they roll out on the mirrorless side.
  • Nikon Scenario (b) (historical prediction) — D6, D5700; everything else goes mirrorless.
  • Thom Scenario (c) — D6, D850s, D750s, D7500s; everything else goes mirrorless. 

This actually brings up one of the reasons to write this kind of article: Nikon is a creature of habit and one that tends to be extremely anal and cautious in planning. Most of us who have a long history with Nikon watching would bet on them choosing Scenario (b). That's because not only is that what they've done in the past, it's the most cautious approach that keeps them in the "main" game while playing the new one. 

Following Scenario (a) would indicate that Nikon didn't really see the fork in the road, that they just stuck some Z's there just in case the trail went that direction. 

Let me warn you, though. I think it's highly possible that we'll get at least one false clue, and that's centered around the D750. That camera would have been well into upgrade status in developmentland when Nikon decided to green light the Z's. I suspect we could get a D6, D760, and D5700 as the final new DSLRs, therefore. that's something between Scenario (b) and (c).

More than that and we're probably in Scenario (a). Which means that either Nikon sees that there's money that they'd leave on the table by not doing additional updates, or that they're going to continue blindly updating in some way until the market says Full Stop. 

I think now you can see why I propose Scenario (c): there is some money that could get left on the table and you never want to do that if the cost of scooping it up is low, which is why I suggest the "s" type changes for a few models. Moreover, you're giving your customers clear choice and clear warning in my scenario. They'll vote with their pocketbook, and then you know the final answer. It's easy enough to back quickly out of the (c) Scenario if the data says to do so.

Now, on to Canon, which is more complicated, even if things seem a little more obvious at first glance. As I noted in another article on the full frame choices, Canon at the moment seems to be just replicating the full frame DSLR line with mirrorless: 

  • 6Dm2 = RP
  • 5DmIV = R
  • 5DS = future RS
  • 1DXm2 = future RX.

Here's the slide that Canon management keeps showing; see if it makes sense to you:

bythom canon corporate

I believe that Canon didn't do their full frame introductions in the right order (RP should have been first, R second [and better thought through]). But I'm pretty sure an RS will be next and an RX last. So call this the "slow roll to mirrorless" scenario. Start with the low end and work your way up. Of course, as I've pointed out, they botched this with the known R lens set, which has way too much emphasis on what an RS and RX would need to stand out. 

But what does all this mean to the DSLRs? I'd say that other than the 1DXm3 that's likely to show up in the next six to nine months, Canon may be done with mirrors in full frame. Partly because of sensor re-use, partly because of pricing, partly because Canon is overextended with the number of camera models in a contracting market, I just don't see where they'd likely create a brand new 6Dm3 or 5Dm5. Those models would need sensor work to move forward, and that's expensive. Too expensive for a dying market where you're competing with yourself on price (current 6Dm2 price is US$1500, current RP price is US$1300; see what I mean?).

I suppose you could withhold a new sensor for the RPm2 and put that new one in a 6Dm3 first, but that doesn't feel to me like the right thing to do at this point, as it sends the wrong signal to the mirrorless side. Canon's already considered behind on several aspects centered around the image sensor (IBIS, dynamic range, 4K rendering, etc.), so why would you withhold anything from the camera you want to be your best seller (RP) while giving it to a camera that's declining in sales (6D)? 

Things are further complicated by the crop sensor cameras. Really complicated. On the DSLR side the mount is the same (EF, EF-S) and your lenses still work. On the mirrorless side this is not true (M, RF). Unfortunately, the true consumer buying into the Canon lineup with an M model probably doesn't understand that, and that's going to bite Canon on their rear side some day. Here's the labyrinth Canon has created:

  • EF can use EF-S lenses but not RF lenses (DSLR user)
  • RF can use EF/EF-S lenses but not M lenses (Mirrorless full frame user)
  • M can use EF/EF-S lenses but not RF lenses (Mirrorless crop sensor user)

You see what I mean by simple but complicated? 

Personally, I think Canon needs to send an "all-in" message for RF over DSLR at the full frame level. Canon needs more acceleration in full frame mirrorless to push Sony back down. Iterating full frame DSLRs sends a very wrong message (other than the 1DX). 

Crop sensor DSLRs are a confusing story at Canon as it is. We currently have (as of CanonUSA's site the day I write this) APS-C camera/lens kits at US$400, US$450, US$550, US$600, US$700, US$800, US$900, and US$1200, plus the body-only 77D at US$800, 80D at US$1000, and 7Dm2 at US$1400/1800 (yes, even Canon's own site reflects contradictory info due to bundle rebates). Wow, that's a lot of confusing options in the area where Canon is contracting the most in ILC volume. 

As a former product manager, I know why we've got all these up-sell options, but I also believe there simply isn't enough market left to sustain that broad an approach to a lineup. Moreover, Canon's competing with themselves because: US$450, US$600, US$650, US$700, US$800, US$1000. What are those? Why, those would be mirrorless crop sensor models with kit lenses.

Let's put the two together and you'll see why I cringe as a product manager (bold is DSLR, non-bold is mirrorless):

US$400, US$450, US$450, US$550, US$600, US$600, US$650, US$700, US$700, US$800, US$800 US$900, US$1000, and US$1200.

That's just crop sensor camera/lens kits, and doesn't include body only options. If I'm one of the remaining camera stores, I'm looking at that and going "what the hell? You want me to stock 14 crop sensor camera/lens kits that I have to rationalize to my customers?" And which, by the way, tend to have a moving set of instant rebates the dealers can't always keep up with (a common situation is that a Canon dealer ends up getting less money from the customer than they sent to Canon for the box; theoretically, the dealer gets their profit in the future, but Canon keeps slow rolling them and puts them in paperwork hell).

In case you didn't notice, Canon is all-in on crop sensor mirrorless: six models currently available here in the US. The build-up of older models still in inventory completely distorts the DSLR side: twelve models available. Realistically, there are basically five "current" mirrorless crop sensor Canon's, and eight "current" crop sensor DSLRs. Still out of balance for reality, in my opinion.

Canon, therefore, is in my mind due for a complete house cleaning. Here's where my product line management background thinks they should be today, or at least soon:

  • Crop sensor mirrorless: M100, M50, M5, missing M7 (near 7Dm2 replacement)
  • Crop sensor DSLR: update to create SL3, T7i, update to create 80Dm2
  • Full frame mirrorless: RP, R, missing RS (near 5DS replacement), missing RX (missing 1Dxm3 supplement)
  • Full frame DSLR: 6Dm2, 5Dm4, 5DSR, update to create 1DXm3

But, of course, that's only if I think the M/RF lens mount dichotomy works on the mirrorless side, which I'm on record as saying I don't think does. Thus, move that M7 to the RF mount, move the M5m2 to the RF mount. Given that the M50 and M100 are more compact camera styles, only with interchangeable lenses, maybe M then becomes Compact-style ILC and becomes more G-like, while RF becomes SLR-style ILC.

Yeah, that feels icky to me, too. But that's the box Canon has themselves in at the moment. I used the word labyrinth above, and that's what the Canon marketing team currently finds themselves in: a twisting maze of passages. Or it is a maze of twisting passages? [Yes, a Colossal Cave reference]

Meanwhile, Canon lenses are a problem, too. Canon is getting quite promiscuous with mounts: EF, EF-S, M, RF, PL. Given what I've written about cameras, I wouldn't make another EF-S lens, and depending upon how much I moved crop sensor mirrorless to RF, I might not make another M lens (though I might update some). 

EF has to continue, as it's the common denominator between DSLR full frame, mirrorless, and Cinema cameras. RF is pivotal to mirrorless, so it has to continue and evolve fast. 

So who's shoes would I rather be in? 

Nikon's. They allowed themselves to contract and began the reduction of available models before Canon. While there are several options they can pursue in terms of what new models Nikon can iterate, these are all pretty straightforward: begin to de-emphasize DSLRs, while emphasizing mirrorless. 

Canon's problem is that they're all over the map and a smart consumer can see that. It's much more difficult to predict how Canon will work themselves through the labyrinth they've built. None of their product line options are optimal. The potential for contraction in market share is clear, and Canon's not going to like any path that might take them below a 45% ILC share, if even for a short time. 

Unfortunately, that's sort of what caused the current problem: Canon's used price, model proliferation, channel pressure, marketing, and more to try to keep at or near a 50% market share. It's as if the battleship is trying to turn but keep all its guns focused on a fixed target. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way in real life: at some point during a battleship turn, some of your guns can't be aimed at the target.

If I had to bet, Canon is going to lose some ILC market share. They'll continue to push pricing to try to avoid that. Whether they can walk that plank successfully is a question we'll be able to answer in a year or two. Right now, I'd say that Canon's lineup feels dated and confused. That's when I'd tend to order a full on goal reevaluation and restatement, and then rebuild my product strategies and tactics based upon that. 

What strikes me is that Sony has managed to get to a clear one-mount strategy: the E mount serves Sony's crop-sensor (E), full frame (FE), and video (FS) cameras. The A mount is dead. This gives Sony clarity of what to do. Canon doesn't have that clarity. What Canon has is a huge installed base and market recognition. 

Recently, a top Canon executive went on record as saying digital camera volume will drop another 50%. Meanwhile a Fujifilm top executive is saying no, it will grow. Who's right?

Neither, at least if you're talking about ILC (DSLR and mirrorless). We're down to about the 10m unit a year mark for ILC. That's going to drop another 20%, almost certainly (i.e. to 8m units). But not to 50%, nor to 110%. (And interestingly, Sony's Imaging head seems to agree with me, predicting a 20% drop in ILC.)

Assuming I'm right and the Canikony trio attempts to keep their market shares relatively intact, that means something like this breakout is in the near future:

  • Canon 4m units
  • Nikon 1.6m units
  • Sony 1.3 or 1.4m units

That leaves 1m units for the Fujiolysonicax quartet, almost all of which would be mirrorless.

Here are the real things you should be thinking about rather than who has the best cameras and best product strategy: how many camera stores do you need worldwide to sell 8m units? Answer: fewer than we currently have. How much customer support will we get with only 8m units split among seven companies? Answer: less than we get today. Will the repair and warranty situation get worse? Answer: yes. 

Bonus round: About the same time I was finishing up editing this article last week, NikonRumors posted a "what should the D6 be" list. Since people then started asking me, here's my take:

  • 24mp — This is the correct bump in the D# generation sensor pixel counts. Those that use this camera don't really need more than that, but sensor tech has probably moved just enough to get slightly better results with slightly more pixels, and for a camera that has to last you a long time to justify, bumping to 24mp is the correct decision.
  • Live View is Z-like — Here's a tricky one: put a PD set on the sensor for Live View and silent camera use. Equal or beat the Z6 Live View performance.
  • Flip-out LCD — The above means that we need to see the LCD at all angles. That means a tilt/pivot mechanism. And while we're on the LCD, provide all the additional touchscreen capability that we got on the newer DSLRs, too.
  • Communication improvements — Most of you probably don't know that the D5 runs a small, separate Linux OS to power the Ethernet FTP capability. I'd love to see Nikon expand the capabilities of that second OS, and to extend it to run an optional LTE device, indeed, to give us at least a complete NDI (network device interface; and don't forget to completely document this), though some of the newer IP protocols would be better. We have this ability on a lot of pro video cameras now; it's time that we had it on a still camera.
  • WR support built-in — Enough with the dongles. They just make a bulky camera a little more clumsy. Radio wireless support for release and flash should be built in. If we're going to get a plastic area on the body to accommodate the antennas, maybe WT-6 Wi-Fi should be built in, too.
  • Better video — N-log with 10-bit with Atomos enabling is a start, but there are other aspects of the D5 video capabilities that could use some improvement, too. Nikon is slowly getting video right, so make the D5 the statement that it's all there now.
  • Consolidate bank switching — Been on my list for a long time, along with named saved configurations on the card. Given that we can program a button to do PHOTO SHOOTING menu bank switches, why don't we have the ability to even do something as simple as Front Command dial is PHOTO SHOOTING menu banks, Rear Command dial is CSM menu banks. Better would be full bank consolidation (and more banks), and save/restore to named file on card.
  • A rethink of the workflow savers (IPTC data entry, rating, etc.). Right now it's do some before you shoot, some after you shoot, never together. If I shot an image and have a pre-defined IPTC template, I want to review the image and apply Copyright, IPTC, rating, and more together as I'm going through them, not make sure I pre-assigned an IPTC template to what will be shot, and do ratings later. 
  • I'm sure some of you think that more fps or higher shutter speeds are necessary. I don't think so. I'd rather just have faster card support (e.g. CFexpress Type B at 1GBps or 2GBps).
  • Which leaves us with the elephant in the body to finish up: autofocus. Nikon did a great job with the D5. Even today as I write this I'd say the D5 has the most reliable autofocus system with the highest hit rate among all ILCs (assuming a knowledgeable user). Moreover, it's one of the most configurable and controllable systems. More control over AF Fine Tune would be nice (zoom settings). Even more sophistication to the 3D Tracking seems like the place where most users would like work to be done. Could 3D Tracking be better if we simply told the camera ahead of time that we were shooting sports, birds, or events? Finally, getting rid of the line sensors and going all cross point would be useful. Basically, anything new in autofocus has to be an addition in capability, in customization, or in performance, not a redesign.
  • Don't change the body, don't change control positions, don't change batteries, don't change the eyepiece, etc. There's way too much stuff on a D5 that isn't broken. Don't break it.
  • Don't try to reach for 8K video. 
  • Do add all the little touches that were added to the D850 and Z series (things like focus stacking, Diffraction compensation, new Picture Control bits and pieces, added white balance ability (natural light), additional G# CSM settings, etc.

There's not a single thing on my list that couldn't have been done in the near four year interval between the D5 and D6. Would it be a better camera? Yes. Would it be a perfect camera? No. 


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