Here's How You Get Optics Right

I've been writing lately about how Nikon isn't getting "optics" right. Not optics as in lens design, but rather the second definition in the dictionary: the aspects of an action, policy, or decision (as in politics or business) that relate to public perceptions.

Put succinctly, Nikon has a perception problem, and that problem is worst among many of its formerly most loyal users. A whole series of things have piled up that are driving this change in perception by the serious enthusiast and pro photographer:

  • Postponement and then cancellation of the DL series
  • Release of the too-late, me-too KeyMission series
  • Lukewarm D3400 and D5600 updates
  • Problems with making SnapBridge work as advertised
  • No updates or new products in the Nikon 1 line
  • Terrible decisions on the software side (e.g. just punting on Transfer)
  • Introducing AF-P lenses without firmware support, or even much in the way of telling us why AF-P was important
  • Ongoing, intermittent issues with cards and power on the D500

Ironically, Nikon has kind of gotten the optics right on optics: in the last year we received a 70-300mm DX AF-P lens that performs above expectations, we got 19mm f/4E and 70-200mm f/2.8E lenses that are state-of-the-art, we got the wonderful 105mm f/1.4E. 

The net result of all that is that, with lenses, Nikon seems to be plodding along as they always have: a few new releases a year, all of them arguably better than what came before. Sure, there haven't been any DX wide angle or other primes, nor any response to the f/1.8 twins from Sigma. But arguably the Nikkor side of Nikon is still marching as they always have. My perception of Nikon lenses isn't changing, in other words. 

Which makes the camera side raise eyebrows. 

What's that remind us of? Why sure, another company whose users have great angst that their company has taken the eye off the ball they follow. That would be Apple and Macintosh lineup. In particular, the pro user who lusts after a Mac Pro done right.

I wouldn't have written this article if John Gruber this morning hadn't revealed Apple's response to the poor Macintosh optics. Good ahead, read this article at Daring Fireball. Or this one on TechCrunch. I'll wait.

  1. An apology from Apple for the pause in the Mac Pro development.
  2. Acknowledgement by Apple that they've heard their customer.
  3. Acknowledgement by Apple that they haven't changed course.
  4. Acknowledgement by Apple that they are working on the products customers want, with a bit of the game plan disclosed, but no details.
  5. Disclosure by Apple that they understand who makes up their audience.
  6. Willingness by Apple to share the above with a key group of reporters/bloggers who write for the Macintosh audience.
  7. Willingness by Apple to answer general questions about the future that don't get to level of details about any upcoming products. 

I, too, have been wondering about the Mac Pro (and other Macintosh models). My "optics" on Apple aren't as stressed as a few others I know, but I, too, have been wondering what's happening. After all, I've been a Macintosh power user since 1983 (yes that date is correct), and was one of the leading voices in that crowd for over 10 years. 

In one 90-minute session, Apple essentially corrected their key customer optics, and removed any stress I have about where they're going. I suspect others who had been wondering if they needed to move from Apple to Windows are relieved, too.

That's exactly what Nikon needs to do. Read in particular the comments that Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller made. Who at Nikon is going to step up and make the same type of comments?

Or we could just wait to see what Nikon is really up to by waiting for any significant product announcement and then speculating some more. That probably will be a longer wait than most can tolerate. If Nikon does nothing, the penalty to Nikon for not getting the optics right will be losing customers to Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony. Mostly DX users to Fujifilm, FX users to Sony. 

My message to Nikon: can you really continue to lose customers to competitors in a declining market? 

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