Nikon Has a PR Problem

(commentary)

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I actually wasn't going to write about this, but two things happened: (1) my InBox filled up with "please tell me why Scott is wrong" emails; and (2) I happened to get around to looking at all the Df reviews my Internet Agent had been collecting for me. What's happening right now is that there is a wave of negative things being written about Nikon and Nikon products, and the Internet Amplification Effect keeps pushing some of those into near viral form. 

If you don't know what I'm talking about in #1, it started with Scott Kelby's Why I Switched to Canon video. That's now been added to by Matt Koslowski's note on why he's started using Canon gear. Scott and Matt are probably the two most visible folk at National Association of Photoshop Professionals (NAPP) and two of the most frequently recommended documenters of Photoshop and Lightroom (disclosure: I recommend some of their books and am a member of NAPP). They're both highly visible, their sites are both followed by a great number of photographers, and now their move-to-Canon posts are starting to show up as links everywhere (my Zite scraper was filled with them this afternoon), from the Canon Rumors site to the Nikon Rumors site to…well, I've lost count at this point…dozens of links on major photography sites (now including this one). 

People seem to want me to make a statement about why Scott and Matt are wrong. I'm not going to (with a minor exception). Why? Because virtually everything they said or wrote is subjective in nature. They're entitled to their opinions and to act upon them. They do seem to have a couple of not completely accurate statements in their posts (for example, Scott seems to think that Nikon DSLRs can't set exposure compensation without a button being pressed, which means he missed a Custom Setting), but the primary thing that both say in some way is "I like the Canon better." 

UK readers of the site pointed out similar defections from Nikon on the part of UK pros Glyn Dewis and Andy Rouse. 

Again, that's perfectly fine. It's the old Windows/Macintosh or Chevrolet/Ford debate in another form. Moreover, for almost a decade I've been telling people asking my opinion about which to get that they probably should choose on feel and UI as much as anything else, as the two companies tend to keep leap-frogging one another on image quality and features. Some of the grass will always be greener on the other side, but both companies have remained fairly faithful to their user interface and hand positions. You're going to like one better than the other. I'm fine with that. If Scott and Matt like the feel of the Canon better, then they should be using Canons.  

So let's talk about #2 for a moment. Yes, I've been hard on Nikon about the Df design. Anyone that's followed my Web site knows I've been tough on Nikon for two decades now. I've never liked the Custom Settings changing numbers dance, the split banks, and a host of other things that are well engineered but totally ignore users in the implementations. I don't believe I've ever reviewed a Nikon camera without pointing out some things that I felt were design flaws. That's just me. Call me a Perfectionist Curmudgeon if you want. I want a perfect camera and Nikon just keeps missing even some of the simple things that they could easily fix. I'm not an fan boy. I'm not ever going to write "hey, that's okay Nikon, nice try, we love the camera." 

My D800's are workhorse tools. They do what I need them to do, but they could use a little tweaking, so when I write about Nikon gear, I'm going to tell you what I think needed tweaking and why. 

But the Df's retro aspects have generated a giant pile-on across the net. I'm not the only one that's written the basic "it's a good camera but the retro implementation is flawed" type of comment. I can now count over a dozen other reviews that have some variation of the same thing in them. 

Right after I saw Scott's video, I happened to open up Chase Jarvis' recent post on the Df. I immediately went on alert. Chase has been one of the folk Nikon turns to for some of their marketing campaigns, most notably the D90 (see this site, for example), and he shows up with some regularity in their trade booths. So when I got to the line in his Df blog entry that said "I'm NOT happy with ergonomics" (his emphasis), the "Uh-Oh" I uttered was spontaneous. Here you have someone who's worked closely on sponsored projects with Nikon making some negative comments that are going to reverberate. Then I got to another line: "…they don't know what their consumers want." 

Like me, Chase seems to like the output of the Df and also like me, it looks like it's going to stay in his gear bag in some way. Still, these negative comments are piling up fast, and they're coming from people who like Nikon gear. Don't believe me? Eamon Hickey used to work for NikonUSA. His Df thoughts included lines like: "My first outing with the Df may have left me lukewarm, at best, about its control design, but I was pleasantly surprised by how comfortable and trouble-free it was to shoot with once the settings were dialed in." Yet another in the Bad Dials Good Image Quality cycle of writing about the Df.

I don't want you to take my word for what others have written, by the way. Please use the links and read for yourself rather than go by my short excerpts. Everyone I've mentioned (including myself ;~), has written (or said) positive things about Nikon or the Df in their recent posts, too. It's the constant stream of negative statements I keep seeing that I'm writing about here, even if they are woven into other more positive statements.

Public Relations is like a ball of snow rolling down a slope. It picks up more and more mass as it goes, it gains speed, it becomes something you can't ignore, and it can eventually wipe out anyone or anything standing in its way. Nikon had a wonderful snowball spinning positive PR with the D3/D300 combo followed by the D700. The D300s update, no direct D700 replacement, and the lukewarm D4 all started a small negative ball of Internet forum postings and the D3/D300/D700 ball lost momentum. Nothing that couldn't be dealt with. The D800, after all, was an incredible camera (and still is). But then we had the D800 focus issues and the D600 shutter/sensor issues that weren't dealt with well, both of which generated an enormous amount of negativity on the net. The snowball got bigger. No D300s replacement or higher end DX lenses: more snow on the ball. Then the Df initial reactons and now the reviews with the like-the-images-but comments, and then Kelby's video goes viral. That's one heck of a bad PR snowball now. 

Nikon has a public opinion problem on their hands. That snowball has mass and is gaining momentum if my In Box is any indication. Minor updates to the D600, D3200, D5200, and D4 are not going to do anything to slow that big round ice clump now heading at Nikon HQ at the bottom of the slope. I'm now starting to see the "Nikon isn't doing anything different" complaints starting up. Fifteen new lukewarm Coolpix updates and a Nikon executive defending that by saying "as other brands reduce their range, it actually gives us some opportunities to fill the gaps that are still there" sounds exactly like it's verifying my comment over a year ago that Nikon was racing down the end of the back straightaway as if there wasn't a hairpin turn at the end. The other players are reducing their camera sets because they're trying to turn. 

I have no idea how this ends. Sometimes the snowball hits a flat spot and runs out of energy, sometimes you can put something in its way and divert it, sometimes it just continues out of control collecting mass and ends up doing real damage. Nikon, meanwhile, seems oblivious to what's happening to their reputation, or that they even have a PR problem. The bigger the snowball gets, the harder it will be to stop. Someone in Japan needs to get on top of this, and fast. 



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