Since Nikon isn't very talkative, I'll do my best to answer the questions I posed last week. My answers are informed, but not necessarily accurate. Consider them predictions based upon observation and analysis of past Nikon interactions and performance.
I should point out that a number of folk took my list of unanswered questions related to Nikon to be "an indictment" of the company. It isn't. This is a glass half full or half empty thing at best, which means that your own attitude will determine whether you think optimistically or pessimistically about a question on this list (see my comments on this at the end of this article, too). But more importantly, I can create an equally long and impressive list for Canon, for Fujifilm, for Olympus, for Sony, and for every other company making photo gear. Unanswered questions are not the exclusive province of Nikon. Nikon has slightly more of them in the lens section, though, as Nikon doesn't provide a road map like most other companies do.
Being in the camera industry is not easy. Technology is constantly moving. Disruption is inevitable. Product life cycles are incredibly short. The industry itself sits right smack dab in the middle of one of the most competitive areas (consumer electronics), and in one of the best places in the world at generating constant and relentless iteration (Japan's engineering teams). You have to be nimble, so answers sometimes change, too.
Warning: this is going to be a very long article. You might want to read it in sections.
- Will there be a D300s successor? The answer should be yes. The answer almost has to be yes, though whether that answer has a D400 name to it is another story. That's the disturbing thing about the fact that there hasn't been an answer to this question. As we see mirrorless cameras like the Fujifilm X-T1 get to 8 fps with continuous autofocus and a reasonably deep buffer at a price point under where the D300s successor would be, the Nikon faithful are now demanding an answer. I know Nikon has gone to prototype more than once in this space. Something is keeping them from pulling the trigger. It could be that they see a technology that reasserts the space but it's not ready yet; it could be that they see that the answer isn't the one they were pursuing; it could be that they just prioritized this too low. It could be that their constant iteration of the lower models with higher-end features has boxed them in. Bottom line: some form of D300s successor needs to appear in 2014 or else Nikon risks losing all traction in this segment. It could appear in February, April, or July/August. I doubt it would appear after that because of the risk that Photokina in the fall poses (you could launch after something else grabs the buzz). So I'm still the optimist here: I believe there will be a replacement. It's looking more and more like that replacement will be a D7200, though. That's actually mostly okay with me if they address the buffer issue. It's probably not okay with many, as it imposes the consumer controls on folk who want the pro ones. At this point, though, if a D7200 appears in August as we all expect (and Nikon's schedules would predict), a truly pro DX camera isn't going to be able to distinguish itself on basic feature set or performance, as the D7100 has already pushed us up into D300s levels. The obvious answer, which Nikon seems to be avoiding, would be to make the D300s replacement use the integrated grip body (D4): better build quality, better handling, bigger battery, super fast card technologies, and so on. Bottom line: the D7200 may be the answer, but there should be more of an answer.
- Will there be a D700 successor? The answer should again be yes. However, this time the answer almost certainly is going to be no. Nikon has clearly changed their FX strategy from a relatively simple and focused one to a very complex one. They seem to be trying to micromanage too many "different" offerings into too small a space. We've got consumer FX, retro FX, medium format FX, and sports/performance FX at the moment. This is not nearly as focused as the old performance/studio focus (h versus x) they had been pursuing. In my product management book there should be D4h, D4x, D800h, D800x, and then an entry FX product to expand the base. Note that in the four current FX cameras we have three batteries, two different accessory styles, and three different basic user interfaces (banks versus U1/U2 versus totally retro). Thus, a D700 successor doesn't fit the strategy Nikon seems to be executing, which right now is "hodge podge."
- Will there be a D3x successor? The answer should be yes. I hope the answer will be yes. As I've written before, the D3s/D3x combo was a great one. Two identical bodies in my bag that covered me for pretty much everything I'd want to do as a pro. One battery, one release, one card type. Made it easy to pack for a gig and easy to make sure I had everything I needed. Can't do that today, as there isn't a D700 replacement and the D800 is the apparent D3x replacement. So I don't have D4/D4x and I don't have D800h/D800x. All three of these first questions are related, by the way. The D3/D300 followed by the D700 were seminal introductions in the Nikon DSLR line. They actually reversed the flow of Nikon-to-Canon switching. So why the heck you wouldn't want to repeat and reinforce that strategy a second time is just a head scratcher to me. I believe that Nikon got too focused on trying to find new users (D600, Df, for example) and thought they could finesse the existing base with D4, D800, D7100. The existing pro base is not happy with that answer, despite the fact that these are all good products. Basically we all ended up compromising somewhere (e.g. D300 to D7100 meant compromised buffer). Why would you ever want to tell your highest end, most loyal customers to compromise? The D4s introduction, however, gives us hope. So far Nikon seems to be following the D3 scenario at the very top, so maybe we will get the D4x after the D4s production has settled down.
- Will there be other Coolpix A models? I'm going to sound like a parrot. The answer should be yes. The answer is likely to be no. I'm not sure Nikon realizes why some products they introduce don't resonate as they expect them to. (Short answer: they aren't very close to or aligned with their customer base.) The sad truth is that the Coolpix A is an extremely good camera that's overpriced and has overpriced accessories that you'll really want (the optical finder, for instance). But it didn't sell well and sits on shelves waiting for buyers that never come because the Ricoh GR is basically the same camera, done slightly better, and at a much lower price. If Nikon ever does do a Coolpix B, they need to really think through how they're going to sell it. Personally, I'd love an A, B, and C (28mm, 50mm, 85mm), but not at the prices Nikon wants for them. Why is it a Coolpix A costs more than a D7100, yet uses older technology and has fewer parts?
- Will there be other large sensor Coolpix? e.g. 1"? Yes. It's inevitable that the top-end compacts have to keep pushing sensor sizes up to stay ahead of the smartphones. The two differentiators are lens and sensor. So lenses will get "better", as will sensors. What I can't figure is why Nikon reiterated so many of their lower end Coolpix this year. They're doubling down on the losing bet and not putting enough money on the winning bet.
- Will there be a Df update someday? Another Df model? This is sort of the same answer as the Coolpix A, except with a slight variation: they didn't nail the design. Nikon claims they're happy with the Df sales, but it doesn't seem like it's selling at even half the D800 rate. People either love the Df or greatly dislike it. Some who dislike it buy it anyway because they want the sensor in an affordable body and you can configure the camera so that you can mostly ignore the dials and shoot it like a regular DSLR. But think about this for a moment: if Nikon were to update the Df, would they address the things that so many people didn't like, or just leave them in place? If you fix all the control issues, then you're acknowledging that the original design was a goof. If you don't fix them, you never get the people that disliked it to buy. It's a bad choice, either way (though it wouldn't really hurt Nikon to do the former and just take their lumps.). I suspect that trying to answer the question on how to update a Df will put Nikon management in a decision quandary from which there's no answer they like, so they won't update the camera. If that's the case, then that means D700=no update and Df=no update. That would send a hell of a signal, wouldn't it? The top pro level sensor never goes into a body that gets an update.
- Will Nikon make a DX-sized mirrorless system? It's inevitable, but it might not happen the way you think. I see no reason to abandon the F mount. Indeed, the legacy lenses are one of Nikon's greatest core strengths; they'd be ill-advised to abandon them. Making a shorter mount (e.g. the way Sony is doing with the E and FE mount cameras) doesn't gain Nikon anything and it could hurt them big time. I happen to be privy to one option Nikon is exploring, and it's actually a very smart one. If they could pull it off, it would be a great answer and our existing lenses will be our future lenses still. But there are still some things that Nikon needs to do with the DSLRs. They need as much weight and size loss as I do. That's going to challenge Nikon to give up the current 20+ year old frame and parts placement approach they've been using, or at least modify it heavily. That slows iterations down until they get the new base models all redone (Nikon has four basic designs all the DSLRs derive from: D3xxx/D5xxx, D7xxx/D6xx, D300s/D800, D4, with the Df being a bit of a departure off the D7xxx/D6xx platform). But it needs to be done. So my answer is that, yes, we'll eventually move away from the complex mirror box and simple optical finder to something that is simpler in the mirror box and possibly more complicated in the finder. Whether we call that a mirrorless camera or a DSLR or something else, I don't know.
- Will Nikon make an FX-sized mirrorless system? See previous answer. Only difference is that FX would likely make the move after DX.
- When will Nikon update the D800? After two years? Three? Four? Never? The answer should be after three or four years. I don't know what the answer will be, as the FX bodies other than the D3 have never undergone one of the usual iterations we expect. Note what I wrote earlier about change of strategy at the high end. Frankly, it needs to change back. Or we need to get modular cameras. The good news is that here we are almost two years after the D800 announcement and there really isn't a camera that can outperform it. Some can equal it in some fashion, but none manage the full package as well as the D800 does. As I've written several times: the D800 is still the best all-around DSLR solution available.
- Why are Nikon 1 cameras more expensive than DSLRs? That's a question that's been puzzling me since the beginning. Note that a lot of Nikon's problems derive from price (Coolpix A, Df, Nikon 1). It's possible that Nikon talked themselves into believing that they were a premium producer and were doing things that therefore commanded a premium price. But I think this was more likely an internal management compromise. While the Nikon 1's were designed to be manufactured very inexpensively, much lower than DSLRs, I think Nikon was overly worried that a US$500 V2 would outsell a US$650 D3100. This is actually a marketing failure. As I wrote when the Nikon 1 appeared, it should have been "Coolpix Pro" not a new line. Then you sell the product as the step up from traditional compacts, and DSLRs as the step up from it. That means also that you'd have to get the feature/UI mix just right, too, which Nikon also failed to do, and then messed up some more with the V2. In short, across all of the products Nikon has done in the last three years or so you see broad disagreement on direction and how it all fits together.
- Why isn't WiFi built into the D3300? Why not all cameras? Another question that seems like a product line management failure. In the traditional product line mix, you add features to models above so that you have up sells to customers ("oh, you need WiFi, well for just a few dollars more you can buy the next level model, which also gives you…"). Unfortunately, the problem here is that it's connectivity that drove the low-end stampede to smartphone cameras. If you want to compete at the low end, you need WiFi (connectivity) now, or else the product looks uncompetitive. Nikon seems to have missed this memo, as they have all kinds of products sitting just above smartphones that only have optional connectivity. It's a bit like saying airbags are extra when buying a car these days. And there we have the real reason: just like in autos (disk brakes, airbags, fuel injection, and a host of other things), some of the makers are balking about adding parts costs to their products. It cuts profit margin or it increases the price of the product. Eventually, with everyone else doing it, you have to do it, too. We've now passed that place in the market. Any camera coming out today should have WiFi and a good Android and iOS app to take advantage of it. So again, a marketing failure. This is basic marketing check box type of thinking, and no one at Nikon checked the box.
- Will any DSLR other than the D5300 get a swivel screen? I'm looking at a dozen recent cameras on my desk that I'm testing. The only ones without at least a tilting LCD are Nikons. Like the last question, this is fast becoming a marketing check box item and Nikon is lagging. They're likely lagging because it's again cost versus profitability. If there's one thing I'll always give Nikon credit for it's that they are really good at counting every last penny. Accountants rule at Nikon. Unfortunately, accountants aren't great designers. Since this question is "will" instead of "why," let me answer it this way: yes, we'll see more swivel screens in the future, I think. It's a negative selling point for Nikon to not have them (i.e., competitors can point at the Nikon gear and say "see, they don't have some basic things, like swivel screens."). Unlike WiFi, which is being fueled by a change in user habit and need, swivel screens are a bit more of a "nice to have" item, so if the accountants at Nikon are still in charge, I think we'll see WiFi in more cameras before swivel screens. But we'll eventually see both. At least up to the point where cameras don't need LCDs any more because the user is looking at their smartphone or tablet to control their camera.
- When will Nikon reduce the size/weight of its DSLRs? Judging from the D3300 and D5300, Nikon seems to have gotten the message, though their first steps seem to be very small. I wouldn't be surprised to see a slow trickle of downsizing rise up through the lineup, at least up to the pro cameras. Here's one thing that's dangerous about trends like this: sometimes they run counter to other needs. Mass is actually good if you're trying to optimize your image quality. Note that we've seen a lot of vibration issues at lower shutter speeds in the light cameras. If you've got a mechanical shutter still trying to move parts at ridiculous speeds, you've got something that is creating waves of shock through the system. Mass done right can counter or dampen that shock. Likewise, too little mass means external forces, like shutter finger jabs, can move the product as well. So it's critical to not just solely focus on taking out size and weight, but to do so intelligently. The carbon fiber experiment inside the D5300 seems like Nikon is trying to take the intelligent approach. Nevertheless, most of us users would appreciate it if they moved faster.
- When will Nikon match the Olympus level of "weatherproof"? They did. It's called an AW1. Moreover, they actually topped it. Oh wait, that's a different class of camera. Personally, I've never had any real issues with using Nikon DSLRs in wet circumstances. As long as you don't immerse them, do don't dumb things by exposing the insides to the water (changing lenses or batteries in the rain), or don't try to take pictures when you can't even see through your glasses because the rain is coming down so hard, then certainly all of the D7100 and above DSLRs are reasonably weather proofed. I've actually had much more problem with rear or top LCD seals that weren't done properly and let humidity get behind the glass. Still, the question does raise a point. Could Nikon do a better job here? Yes.
- Will Nikon make a video-only camera? As I've written elsewhere, I believe that they are too late to the game to do so. That we haven't seen one yet probably means we won't see one. Canon jumped all over large sensor video, as has Sony, so I just don't think there's enough space there for Nikon to squeeze in now.
- Will Nikon make a smartphone? No. That would be one of the silliest decisions ever made by a company if they did. "Let's see, we're in a business that's mature and has no growth, so let's jump into a business that's rapidly maturing, has two dominant players that are bigger than us who are fighting to hold onto any growth." Yeah, right. I've still got shore land in Southern Florida you might be interested in. Best case scenario would be to sell sensor/lens/logic modules, but Nikon doesn't make sensors (it designs some, but it has others make them, which introduces another organization that wants to show a profit), its logic includes licensed modules and sits on another makers' chip, so that basically leaves lenses. "Nikon Inside" is a possibility, but getting slimmer every day. Also, note that cameras in a smartphone are a commodity (must have) item now; the real action in smartphones is going to turn to other technologies (more sensors, especially bio sensors).
- Will Nikon make a modular camera? They've patented a couple of modular approaches. But my guess is no, they won't. Consider the US$500-1000 range where most of the camera sales are. Can you really do modular right in that arena? Probably not. Modular adds costs and the fast cycles of the lower end cameras means you'd darn well better make sure you had made all the right decisions about how the modularity works or else you'd be starting over with a new design pretty quickly (witness Ricoh GXR). The chances that you can make good money doing modular at the low end are low. The best camera to make modular would be the D5, which isn't due until summer of 2015 at the earliest. But by the time that camera comes around, how much "pro market" will be left? Could you make much off the modularity? Probably not. I'm sure Nikon is seriously thinking about modularity as a possibility for the D5, but the collapsing market is probably forcing them away from such a decision. It could be a lot of investment for little return. The one thing Nikon needs now is growth. Modularity doesn't deliver it.
- Will Nikon make a medium format camera? I'd be incredibly surprised if they did. The MF market is barely sustaining two serious entries as it is. See previous answer: Nikon needs growth, not high R&D costs for small market wins.
- Does Nikon really need 18+ Coolpix models? No. Moreover this has huge potential to be a giant blowback event that could seriously damage Nikon. Canon just predicted that their compact camera sales will be down 20% in terms of units in 2014. CIPA says the same. Nikon seems to be saying that they'll keep trying to take market share from the others in decline in order to show less decline. It's not a winning strategy long term, and it has to wind down before the market completely withers (consecutive years of double digit decline is as scary as it gets in the tech business; that's not maturing market, that's dinosaur extinction). Nikon needs to do fewer models, higher end, and better connected.
- Will there be an F6 successor? The pro film bodies came on 8-year boundaries. The F6 was already a surprise when it popped up in 2004. We're now past the 8-year boundary with no new model in sight. What it could seriously add over the F6 is also a big question mark, as it would have to come off the D4. So, no, there will not be an F7. Of course, if Nikon did make the D5 modular, it's possible you could make a film module, I suppose. But still, that would mean nothing labeled F7.
- Why can't we bracket everything? (Focus, etc.) Because the Japanese engineers were caught looking through the wrong end of the lens. Bracketing started because a primary problem that many (especially amateurs) had with film (especially slide film) was getting the exposure dead on. There weren't a lot of functions in cameras then, so "bracketing" was originally built as something that interacted only with exposure. Electronics use and automation has expanded in cameras to the point where you have all kinds of functions that have parameters. But the original bracketing function was built for a more limited function. To their credit, Nikon has expanded bracketing to white balance and Active D-Lighting through a back door (Custom Setting), but to do what we want you have to code from a different viewpoint, which is that any function that has options should be bracketable. This also requires a rethink of UI (bracketing on/off, what, how many steps, and what options in those steps, which turns out to be a complex problem when you include things like focus, which don't exactly have steps in a way that the user can see). This, by the way, is one of the reasons why I started arguing for "programmable" cameras almost 10 years ago. What happens if I don't want evenly spaced steps, for example? It's easier to just give me a way to tell the camera what things I want done and in what sequence.
- Will XQD be supported by more cameras? Not looking good. SanDisk backed out of the alliance early, deciding to favor a new CompactFlash initiative. Lexar was in and now seems to have pulled back. So right now we have one Nikon camera (D4) and some Sony video cameras that use XQD cards, and that's it after two years on the market. That's never a good sign. I think that even CompactFlash is under some stress, as virtually all cameras in the under US$1000 realm and even some above that are using SD now. With so much volume in SD, I think that the R&D dollars have basically disappeared out of XQD and even to some degree CompactFlash.
- Will CFast be supported? CFast is CompactFlash designed around the Serial ATA bus rather than the Parallel ATA bus. Just as hard drives moved from the slower parallel design to the faster serial one, it was once thought that CompactFlash would join the shift. But it's been much the same as QXD: as I write this, the only camera I know that uses it is one used in Hollywood, the Arriflex. Note that XQD and CFast both were trying to solve the same problem, which is how to deal with the huge data streams that video cameras can throw off. 4K video may make everyone revisit their decisions on cards, but at the moment SD is chugging along just fast enough.
- Will SD Class 3 or UHS-II be supported? Yes. See the answers above. UHS-II I believe raises the speed threshold by 3x over UHS-I, and that may be enough to deal with the current video demands (it's more than enough for virtually all still camera uses).
- Will any Nikon DSLR have 4K video? Another yes. It's not a high-hanging fruit, so everyone will scramble to say they support it, especially since TV makers like Sony really are pushing 4K as the next savior of TVs. The cart is a bit before the horse, though, as we don't have a distribution channel for 4K programs/videos yet that has any true commercial viability. With broadcasting over the airwaves locked in at 1080 max here in the US, that means that cable and the Internet are the two primary ways you could move that material (satellite being a third). Frankly, the US doesn't have enough broadband to support moving everything over to 4K. 4K seems like a nice step up, but we're not ready for it yet. That said, Nikon will almost certainly put it into some cameras as quickly as the rest of the camera companies will, which is to say faster than the market accepts it.
- Will Nikon support ProRes? Or any other non-AVCHD type compression? Seems doubtful.
- Why don't we have an ETTR mode? Darned if I know. But we had similar things happen with film: many photographers were pushing their exposures on negative film as far as the latitude would let them, but the cameras were designed for mid-value exposures. I think this is the pro/amateur problem that comes up a lot. Every pro that post processes would love an ETTR mode on our cameras. Unfortunately, we're not the majority of the market. The majority of the market wouldn't understand (or even want) ETTR, which raises support issues, amongst other things. The Japanese camera companies all set their eyes on huge growth (more digital cameras were sold at peak than film camera's peak). That's all down in lower levels, so ETTR would never have gotten a lot of priority. So why wouldn't Nikon (or Canon or someone) do it for their pro camera? Probably because they're not hooked up and listening to enough pros. Heck, even a lot of pros don't post process (e.g. photojournalists, for example). So we're talking the Ansel Adams' of the world here, of which there have always been few.
- Why can't users reduce menu items to just what we use often? This is a trickier problem than it at first seems. Nikon actually tried hiding advanced settings in some of the DSLRs for awhile. One of the most common questions I got during that time was "where is the X function, it's not in the menus." Well, that's because it was turned off. In the computer world we went through the same thing, by the way. That's where the notion of grayed out menu items came from: you can see that they're there, they're just not active because you've set something else that makes that function not active. Still, menus have gotten huge in cameras. Literally into the hundreds of items on some cameras. That's a lot of stuff to scroll through to get to one item, especially when the menu order isn't prioritized well. I was working on documenting something on a camera the other day: fourteen key presses. Hope the action wasn't passing you by when you decided to set that. I think that we're at the point where we need another approach than menus (some of the touchscreen implementations attempt this) or we need the ability to edit menus ourselves.
- Why aren't the banks linked? Because they weren't linked in the first place. Wait, what kind of answer is that? I think that Nikon thinks that Save/Load Settings is the answer. Unfortunately they didn't implement that right, either. If I could have named settings and multiples on my card, then it would work. Save your current settings under a useful name, change settings, save under a different name, and repeat for as many configurations as you'd like to shoot from. Now all you have to do is load your named setting and you're good to go (which means Save/Load settings shouldn't be buried deep in the menus! It should be the first thing in the SETTINGS menu). This really seems like Computer Programming 101 level material. One of the good and bad things about Nikon is that they tend to get locked into legacies. E.g. "We had banks, so we have to continue to have banks." Then the programming they did also takes on legacy status: "We never put in variables to link them, we have no function to link them, so they aren't linked." The only way out of such corners is to have a strong willed person with a clear vision forward leading the crowd, and everyone following. Doesn't seem to happen in the firmware side of Nikon. That's mostly iteration city.
- Why can't users create Picture Control bases? I think the answer to this is that Nikon at one point decided that they wanted a "Nikon look." After all, Fujifllm and Kodak had looks back in the film days. Nikon seemed to go to a lot of trouble to lock in these looks: encrypted white balance, special sauce Picture Controls that weren't fully editable, and so on. I don't mind if Nikon has a look, but I do mind that Nikon doesn't want Thom to have his own look. I'd also feel a lot better about Nikon's look if it actually appeared that they were actively working it. We can't even download some of their previous looks we liked any more (e.g. D2X Picture Controls). We have a very small set of very limited looks. That's more like a fast food restaurant than gourmet dining, don't you think?
- Will we ever get programmability in our cameras, or plug-ins? Depends upon which of the engineers I was arguing with in Tokyo has the bigger clout, I think ;~). If there's anything I'd like to change about Nikon it's the tendency towards paternalism ("we know what's best for the user"). I think I could prove to any reasonable court that Nikon doesn't always know what's best for the user. Nikon's view of the world is limited, and thus they're limiting our choices as shooters. Some within Nikon get this. But not all. And there's great debate about how far you'd take it. The company that's come closest so far to true programability is Sony, and even they don't seem to be fully opening up to others. Has no one in Japan seen what happens when you create a developer program and open an App Store?
- Why no 1:1 crop? Generally, why don't all cameras have a fuller set of crops? Aspect ratios are the Achilles heel of photography. Let's see, I can go to my local Target or Walmart and find frames for 5:4 aspect ratio (e.g. 8x10" images), but my camera is either 4:3 or 3:2 (and both those come from different legacies, too). Yet my TV is 16:9 and likely to always be at least 16:9. Hmm, and my printer is 13 x 19". No one is talking to or acknowledging each other! Hey Sony, want to sell more TV sets? Maybe your cameras should auto connect and default to 16:9. It's sheer chaos out there. We even have 4:3 cameras with 16:9 or 3:2 LCDs and 3:2 cameras with yet different LCD aspect ratios. Okay, if that's the world we live in, we users want the ability to crop during shooting to whatever darned thing we're outputting to. Simple as that. Of course, 1:1 isn't usually one of the common outputs. Hmm. The problem, of course, is that what we really need is totally flexible cropping, but we're getting "limited to what we think are the important ones." So the answer is that Nikon doesn't think 1:1 is important.
- Why won't Nikon fully document the NEF file format? And the Bayer filtration specifications? See the answer about Nikon look, above. If you let those things out of the bag you'd be letting the Nikon look out of the bag, too. Then anyone could duplicate it. Capture NX2 sales would go down (because it isn't the best converter out there, just the only one that can match Nikon JPEGs). The camera companies also seem to think that they can hide what they're doing from their competitors, but everyone completely tears down and reverse engineers everything in their competitors' products, so all that does is slow them down a little if you've found something useful. I suspect also that there is some hidden licensing in all these ASICs that would be revealed, meaning that the wizard behind the curtain would become visible.
- Will all future high megapixel cameras all have the D800 Live View problem? Maybe, but probably not. The problem really has to do with getting a subset of information off the sensor quickly. First, bandwidth keeps improving, so we'll probably be able to avoid such big leaps in the subsamples. Second, you can develop ways to change the subsampling so that it does less skip as you zoom in on the LCD. I suspect that Nikon was really pushing how early they could get that Sony sensor into production. They wanted it sooner rather than letting it develop more fully the sampling capabilities.
- When will the 300mm f/4 get updated? Sooner rather than later. It's been designed. It's been tested. There's demand for it. It should manage to get past the bean counters.
- When will the 24-70mm f/2.8 get updated? Yes. If Nikon's still in business making FX bodies, this lens absolutely has to be updated. Beyond the fact that it's showing a little age optically, it's missing VR, it has servicing issues, and it's a staple of every FX shooter's bag (and quite a few DX shooters, too). With even Sony targeting this lens with their A7/A7r cameras, Nikon needs to be on top of their game here. It will get updated. When, I can't tell you. Predicting lenses is tougher than cameras, as the glass and polish processes aren't something that you just snap your fingers and change overnight. If you move through to prototype and discover that you need to redesign a bit, depending upon what needed to change you could be backing up a year or more.
- When will the 16mm f/2.8 fisheye get updated? The 10.5mm fisheye for DX needs an update, too (needs AF-S). Based upon what I know about Nikon, this is one of those projects that would get passed to a younger apprentice, as it's relatively straightforward but still has complexity worth learning. What I've noticed about this type of lens is that the sometimes appear quickly, sometimes not. Depends upon how good the designers it was passed to are and whether what they came up with passes muster with the senior staff. That said, I'm betting we'll see the 16mm get updated soon.
- Will the 24-70mm f/2.8 update get VR? See above. Yes. And that may be one of the reasons why it's taking awhile, as apparently wide-to-telephoto with VR poses a design problem for lenses that also have fast and extreme high quality in their check lists.
- Will the 17-35mm f/2.8 ever get an update? No. The 16-35mm was it, I think. There's not a lot of space left given the 14-24mm f/2.8 and the 16-35mm f/4. Trying to squeeze another lens in there probably just takes sales from one or both of the others.
- Will the 17-55mm f/2.8 DX get VR? Some things I just can't answer. We're entering the DX questions, and I'm going to struggle with them because Nikon has given us virtually no indication of strategy with DX lenses other than "if it's a super zoom, we'll try making it." Let me address the current lens for a moment: my copy is actually quite good. But it's big and heavy, it doesn't have VR, it's not Nano coated, and there are lenses out there that now out perform it (while being smaller). These all seem like reasons to update the darned lens. But if you remember, the 17-55mm was a 2003 lens, and it was coupled with the D2h announcement, part of Nikon's attempt to sell low light photography at the high end. The D2h was regarded as a failure at Nikon, and I'm suspicious that the 17-55mm was lumped into that perception. When the D300 came out in 2007, remember that the D3 was the low light version of the 12mp pro camera. So that wasn't the time to do an update of the 17-55mm. These days, the DX sensors are great in low light, so maybe Nikon is thinking they don't need that f/2.8 zoom. In other words, it wasn't a great selling lens and I can see how Nikon might have prioritized a remake very low. This is going to be a recurring theme in this section: Nikon isn't particularly close to their user base, so when something does less well than they expect, they think it's because they designed it wrong or worse, it was just the wrong product to do. I'm not crossing my fingers hoping for a remake of this lens. I think Nikon dismissed it as not a big seller and would pick something else they think is going to be a better seller (i.e. 10-1000mm f/3.5-11 ;~).
- When will we get a DX wide angle prime? I'll bet within the next 12 months. But be careful what you wish for, as it might not be what you wanted. I think we'd be best served by something like a 16mm f/2 to f/2.8, and a relatively pancake one at that. I'll bet we don't get less than 18mm, and that it'll be sized closer to the 50mm's.
- Will there be a DX prime set (e.g. f/1.8)? See previous answer. We've got a normal DX prime and we can use FX primes for telephoto, so technically we'd have a DX prime set if we had even one wide angle DX prime. Thus, an 18mm f/2.8 or 20mm f/1.8 would give us a set. Somehow I don't think that would satisfy those that asked this question, though.
- Will there be more FX f/1.8 primes (e.g. 20mm, 24mm, 105mm)? Personally, this is a head scratcher to me. The move to f/1.8 primes was to provide "less expensive fast primes." Why f/1.8? Why not f/2? And what happened to the f/2.8 set? But to answer the question, I believe the answer to be yes, though we'll see action at the telephoto end before the wide angle end would be my bet.
- Will the 105mm and 135mm DC be replaced? Direct replacement? No. I think the DC concept is dead. Does Nikon think we need moderate telephoto lenses that are faster and AF-S G? I think so. They've certainly been exploring this design space with potential lenses. I think they'll eventually pop one of those onto the market.
- When will we get a mid-range fixed aperture DX zoom again? The rumors were rampant 18 months ago about a 16-85mm remake that was a constant f/4. Seems like that would have been a nice D400 kit lens. Of course, there's no D400. Nikon seems totally reluctant to put out any "high end" DX lens these days. How they reason that, I don't know. It seems that every new mount that's come along has fairly quickly tried to cover the 24-70mm equivalent range with either a fast or fixed aperture lens (or both). Yet Nikon hasn't tackled this in 15 years of DX. 15 years. It's as if they have macular degeneration, and have a blurry vision of the center of the market: fast 24-70, 70-200, and 24, 35, 50, 85 equivalent primes. Then add macro, wide angle zoom, and yes, convenience lenses. Nikon has done the opposite: we've gotten macro, wide angle zoom, and convenience lenses, but almost nothing in the center for DX. That said, the fixed aperture DX mid-range zoom rumors haven't gone away, they've just gotten slightly quieter. My interpretation of what I've heard out of Japan is that they continue to refine a design, but they've been reluctant to pull the trigger. Heaven knows why not. Perhaps because the 24-120mm f/4 for FX isn't selling like crazy. I do believe Nikon will eventually launch such a lens. It seems inevitable, as they're slowly starting to show missing check boxes in their marketing message against the mirrorless competitors. So my answer is yes, we'll get one. Some day.
- Will we ever get a DX telephoto, prime or zoom? No. It seems clear that Nikon thinks the FX line deals with the need for DX telephoto lenses. That seems to indicate that they don't understand the D300 user (and maybe even D7100 user), though. What short telephoto am I going to use on the basketball court with my pro DX body? Oh, right, Nikon doesn't make a current one of those. But still, what lens would be on my D7100? Well, probably the 58mm. The 70-200mm is too long (105-300mm equivalent). It's fine for shooting the other end of the court, but does nothing for me at the short end. That's the problem: the 70-200mm f/2.8 might work for FX users in a number of situations, but not for the DX user trying to do the same thing. We really need the 35-135mm back. I note that Fujifilm is going to make a 50-140mm for the X-T1. We'll soon have a second fast telephoto zoom for m4/3. Seems the other makers are getting the message. Where's Nikon?
- Will Nikon make a 400mm f/5.6? 500mm f/5.6? 600mm f/8? A definite maybe. At least for the 400mm f/5.6. Nikon is, if anything, prone to revisit the past, and they had a wide variety of not-fast long telephotos in the film era. It's relatively easy to dust off the old designs and bring them up to AF-S, G, and VR standards. The question with Nikon these days though is "volume." Nikon is hooked on volume. When examining any of the questions about what they might bring out, the first thing you have to ask is "is there enough volume?" So how many 400mm f/5.6 did Nikon sell in the film era? Less than 20,000 in 25 years, I believe. Oh. That's why it's a maybe. Not a big seller in the past, but easy enough to do.
- Will Nikon make a wider PC-E lens to match Canon? I've written it before, but besides potential volume the other thing Nikon uses in decision making is "what is Canon doing?" When the buzz happened with the Canon 17mm Tilt Shift happened when it came out five years ago, I'm sure that caught Nikon's attention. But this is the same problem as the last question: is there enough volume? The answer is the same: a definite maybe. Probably a more definitive maybe than a 400mm f/5.6. Nikon has certainly designed a similar tilt-shift lens (see patents), but it's now officially a little late. Given that it's a high end lens, I suspect that the earthquake in 2011 had a little something to do with the lateness. When high-end glass production went critical for Nikon, the low volume stuff that wasn't already in the production queue probably got postponed a bit. So let me revise my answer: we'll see a wider PC-E, but the timetable shifted outwards.
- When will the 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor be updated? Okay, now we have a real head-scratcher. The 200mm Micro-Nikkor was a must-have staple in most serious shooters' bags. Here we have a lens that sold over 50,000 units and was a perpetual modest volume seller. It's a great lens, but not modern (no AF-S, no G, no VR). It really seems like something in this range should have been prioritized for production. Surprisingly, the 40mm and 85mm DX Micro-NIkkors have far outsold the 200mm f/4 in a far shorter period of time, and there we have that "hooked on volume" thing again. This is the thing that I worry about most with Nikon: photographically, a 40mm DX that goes to 1:1 isn't used at 1:1 all that much because you have virtually no working distance. Meanwhile, the lens many of us want for working distance, the 200mm, isn't being updated. Volume comes before photographic purpose for Nikon, it seems. I see that as a dangerous trend for a company who's primary business is now photography and who established their dominate position on the wide variety of lenses. Oh, wait, I haven't answered the question: yes, we'll get one, but it seems to have low priority.
- Will the Nikkor PC-E lenses ever get independent tilt/shift? Answer seems to be no (unless the eventual 17mm has it). The PC lenses are an anomaly in Nikon's lineup: low volume products for which they didn't just do one, but an entire line. The entire line has sold less than 40,000 units, with the 24mm being the best seller of the group. It really doesn't seem like Nikon would devote the resources to redesign these three lenses.
- Will Nikon introduce any other E lenses than the 800mm? The PC-E's make for four lenses that have electronic apertures. All of them so far have tended to be exotic and expensive lenses that have a reason for adding the complexity of the electronic aperture mechanism. So I don't think that Nikon is moving towards electronic aperture for lenses, if that's your question. I'll only believe that E is our future when Nikon comes out with a mainstream, high sales volume lens that uses it.
- Will we ever get an automated extension tube? No. Buy the Kenko tubes.
- Will we ever get an automated AF Fine Tune function? As long as we have the phase detect system, I think we'll continue to see some movement forward on fine tuning. Personally, I'd rather see the ability to tune a zoom lens at different focal lengths and automatic adjustment for lenses that have focus shift. I think those two things are far more important to us serious shooters than trying to automate the entire process. Plus, given the D800 focus issues and the fact that we now know that Nikon has a table for AF sensor position, I'd like to be able to tune that table, too. Still, note my answers about "volume" above. The "volume" request for AF Fine Tuning is "it seems too complicated so I don't do it so can you automate it?" I'm pretty sure Nikon heard that, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them try to figure out how to make some sort of auto adjustment and bury the current abilities deeper in the menus for those of us who know what we're doing.
There were a lot of questions about focus distance that came from site readers. Things like "when will DOF scales return?" or "why can't we see the exact distance?" and so on. The problem with focus is repeatability and precision. Back in the old manual focus days we had lenses that used regular glass and had a connected mechanical cam that had great precision (you often had to turn the focus ring more than 180° to go from near to far). Low dispersion glass (e.g. ED) has this tendency to move focus a bit due to temperature. The need for fast autofocus drove lens designs to a small group of internal focus elements that move very little. The need to drive mechanical complexity out has led to focus-by-wire systems. All of these things conspire against one another to be able to get a precise focus distance from the position of the elements. We'd likely need a temperature-adjusted system that can measure position in fractions of a micron. What we really need is a new technology. Basically, the current problem is that we can get some focus information from lens, but it just isn't precise enough most of the time to be useful in any true calculation we'd want to do, so why report it?
- When will Nikon create wireless flash via radio? With the D5 in 2015.
- When will Nikon build a high-end flash that doesn't overheat? Technically, all Xenon-based flash units can overheat if you're going to try to run them continuously. It's just that Nikon is a little overzealous at having a Nanny function. Nikon's next Speedlights will almost certainly have better heat dissipation, though.
- Why aren't there LED based "flashes"? Because everyone thinks that LED means "always on." There's technically nothing to stop you from using an LED "flash" system as the Autofocus Assist lamp (e.g. comes on when you half press) and leave it on until the picture is taken. There is the technical question of how fast can you go from the "off" position to full brightness, though.
- Why doesn't the Nikon 1 line support the Speedlights but some Coolpix models do? Because someone wanted to sell Nikon 1 specific accessories. That tells me that there were Product Line Managers with bottom line revenue stakes involved in the product decisions. The PLM for Nikon 1 didn't want to "share" and thought dedicated accessories would increase his bottom line. Really the wrong decision. The Nikon 1 had a lot of bad decisions made around it and still is having such decisions made poorly (I really hope the next round of Nikon 1 announcements proves me wrong on this). It just doesn't "fit" into the rest of the stuff Nikon is doing, which is a problem. Again I'll use the Apple example: Apple doesn't care if you start with an iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, et.al., they want to hook you into their ecosystem. They make it abundantly clear where they have true cleavage points and why. Accessories tend to work up and down the line unless they're tied to the specific size of the product (e.g. an iPhone case won't fit a MacBook Air). Product decisions tend to all tie to the same technology vision. The Nikon 1 is an odd man out in Nikon's lineup, neither Coolpix nor DSLR. The notion that someone starts with a Coolpix, grows into a Nikon 1, then grows into a DSLR is completely missing. Short term volume is emphasized instead of long-term strategy.
- Will Nikon Capture NX2 ever get updated substantially? I'm fearful of both answers, actually. I'm fearful that the answer is no. That with Aperture and Lightroom and CaptureOne and DxO and a host of other products that do far better jobs for a broader range of gear, that the sales curve for Capture NX2 is not increasing, but declining. Thus, as with almost everything Nikon, when margins decline they tend to abandon it. Nikon has a long history of abandoning software. I'm also fearful that the answer is yes. That Nikon is working hard to reshape and renew the product themselves. But Nikon has never managed to stay on top of two OS changes, even small ones, along the way, so when things like Windows 8 came around that would have had to disrupted them. Touch? We need to design for touch? Virtually all of Nikon's roll-your-own software ventures have been too little, too strange, too late. This is a question I hope I'm 100% wrong in my answer on. I hope that somewhere within Nikon there's a team dedicated to being the best software organization on the planet and building Capture NX3. Unfortunately, the bar is very, very high for new software these days. Which is why I said they'd need to be the "best software organization on the planet."
- Why can't we create UniWB any more? For a company that has pioneered a lot of things, they seem to abandon them very quickly when they outlast Nikon's own use. The original Capture had the ability to set a White Balance with no color coefficients (Red, Green, and Blue all set to 1, or "uni" white balance). The reason why they dropped this is the same reason we don't have any ETTR capability in our cameras: Nikon doesn't seem to be talking to the Ansel Adams type of photographer, the one who's looking to extract every last iota of image quality from their tool. Note that Kodak did talk regularly to Adams. It was one of the things they did right when they were doing things right ;~).
- Why doesn't Camera Control Pro run on iOS/Android devices? Nikon hasn't shown yet that they have skilled iOS and Android programmers. Everything I've seen from them so far on those platforms is simplistic, buggy, and needs work on both design and features. For Camera Control Pro to run on a mobile device and be useful, they'd need to get above all those problems. While I believe Nikon is behind the rest of the camera companies in this ability, none of them seem to be very far ahead, either. It's really a matter of Nikon waking up to the fact that we'll all have a mobile device with us, that it could be highly useful as an accessory, and that they need to better develop their software expertise. Note that Nikon was actually first to this space, back in the late 1980's and early 1990's with their support of the Sharp Pocket Wizard (N90s and eventually F5 remote support). But it doesn't bode well that they dropped that when they found that keeping up with Sharp updates and not having a real strong monetary stream from Nikon Photo Secretary meant that this looked like a money-losing proposition. Nikon's probably looking at the App Store and thinking "we can't make enough money at US$4.99 to justify the expense of doing this right."
- When will Nikon develop better customer support? The snarky answer is: when they eventually realize that they need it. Unfortunately, I think that's the official answer, too.
- Where do customers send suggestions? Nikon once tried having a Web presence and open suggestion boxes early on when the Internet appeared. That didn't last long. Why, I don't know, but there were rumors that they didn't like the volume or tone of what they had to deal with in an open forum like that. Given that the design and engineering staff is all in Japan and virtually everything has to be translated into Japanese—which is a notorious difficult language to get nuance into and out of translations—user suggestions pose additional issues. Like most global companies, the Japanese camera companies really have to rely upon their regional and subsidiary ventures to get consumer feedback to corporate. Which makes the lack of a suggestion box anywhere visible at most subsidiaries a head-scratcher. But note the end of my answer to the next question. Probably some of the same thing happening here: cost.
- Why won't Nikon repair Gray Market products? With warranties, it's easy to answer: it saves them real money. Let's say that you sell 100 widgets a year and 5 of them have warranty issues. If you instead sell 50 widgets via "official" channels and 50 that go into gray channels, you only have to repair 2.5 of those products. Now I'm using simple, unrealistic numbers here—a huge percentage of Nikon's product sales are through official subsidiaries—but any product that falls out of the official channels represents a potential lower warranty cost to the company. If each warranty repair has an average real cost to Nikon of US$50 and Nikon's actual repair rate is 5%, then on 7m DSLRs sold worldwide, even if only 1% of them fell into gray market, that still means the company saved US$175,000. The head-scratcher is the neighboring country problems (e.g. US/Canada) and the non repair of any gray product whenever possible under local law. I suspect this is a fiefdom issue. Virtually every subsidiary is run by a Japanese executive on temporary assignment working his way up the management chain. Repairs have long been prix fixe across Nikon, and those prices tend to be reasonably customer friendly. Thus, if you start repairing products you didn't sell and didn't get the profit for, you can actually go underwater on repairs as a subsidiary, and this would make your overall results not look so good and the executive's advancement opportunities more limited.
- Why are there still Gray Market products if Nikon has subsidiaries nearly worldwide? Simply put, because Nikon wants gray market to exist.
- What exactly are the "within manufacturing specifications" that Nikon repair often references? I wish I could actually answer this question well. We do have some hints, though. When cameras come in for repair, they're put on test stations that run some basic tests and reports back a pass or fail result. Some of the alignment within a DSLR is done by shims (focus screen, sensor position, etc.). I suspect that "within specification" for a lot of alignment type of issues means "it's within what we can do with our thinnest shim." Likewise for any adjustment screw: "it's within what we can reasonably and repeatedly accomplish by minimum adjustment."
- Will Nikon ever provide short term roadmaps of camera/lens plans? Given what happened with the Nikon 1, no. The Nikon 1 was the perfect time and place to do that for a product line, and Nikon didn't offer us a road map. They did show some samples of things they could make, some of which came into being, but they made no commitment, even vaguely, as to how they would expand the line. Absolutely every one of their competitors in mirrorless except for Canon did issue roadmaps, particularly for lenses, but often for cameras as well. Thus, Nikon took the position of "just trust us" while their competitors went further and offered a peak behind the curtain. It's not surprising to me that, coupled with all the other mistakes Nikon made with Nikon 1, that it didn't take off as Nikon expected. Customers have no idea what it is or where it is going. Thus, I'd have to say this is an institutional attribute: Nikon doesn't even hint at what comes next. So no road maps.
- Will Nikon ever become customer friendly, or put the customer first? I doubt it in the sense the question was asked, at least not without Nikon first realizing that their previous customer stance was one of the things that limited how far they could take their camera sales. There are many isolated examples where a Nikon employee or subsidiary tries to do the right thing, but this doesn't seem to be well supported at the corporate level, which is much more worried about pennies earned.
It may seem that many of my answers form an overall negative impression of Nikon. Not exactly. Note how many of the answers all devolve to something regarding "sales and profit." Businesses are first and foremost looking to make sales and profit. Those are the primary engines of business longevity. Lose either of those things, and the future viability of the business is far less certain. Note that film was still profitable for Kodak as sales declined. But the sales decline was rapid enough that the company couldn't discard its built-up infrastructure fast enough, nor could it find a new growth engine that could justify that infrastructure.
The flip side is profitability. When you stop making profits your cash situation tends to reverse: cash flow becomes negative meaning you start drawing down and limiting your resources (assets, loans, etc.). This is the problem that Pentax got into: it couldn't keep up with the major players and had troubles at the switchover from film to digital because it simply couldn't put the same amount of resources into future products. They were bought and dismantled by Hoya, who kept the viable parts and resold the unviable part to Ricoh. Ricoh has deep pockets, so it can ignore the low sales and unprofitability of a group that is an incredibly small piece of the overall company. For the time being.
My concern about Nikon is that we've started into a market pivot moment. It started with smartphones and has continued with the concerted efforts in mirrorless, which should generate cost advantages if it can achieve consumer DSLR performance (see Roger Cicala's tear down of the Sony A7r). Nikon seems slow to pivot, and thus all the customer questions start to get looked at more carefully and more critically.
But let me give Nikon some credit for a moment. They managed a large growth in sales at a time when many of their competitors were seeing declines. They managed to retain profitability in market conditions that were extremely tough. I've always admired their ability to manage their finances. Nikon is usually ruthless at cost cutting and has gotten far better at generating consumer sales (and to a lessor degree, marketing).
As most of my answers above might indicate, though, serious Nikon users are starting to perceive some downsides of Nikon's accounting-driven culture. My personal fear is that Nikon has gotten a little too driven by the pennies, and not enough by solving tough customer problems. In B-School jargon, Nikon appears to be taking on the race to the bottom. This is highly visible in the Coolpix line up, where Nikon seems to be the most aggressive at continuing to iterate the very low cost models in the face of a really incredible market shrinkage. Canon just forecast a 20% decline in their compact sales for 2014, yet Nikon seems to be "all in" with pretty much their same Coolpix strategy as before, which means they must be racing to take costs out of the business, too. This surely can't continue much longer, lest it create the problem I noted with Kodak: the infrastructure at some point capsizes the smaller sales pattern.
So there's a bigger question here than all the ones I tried to answer. What drives Nikon in the future? Where will new growth come from? I don't believe that we've seen Nikon's answer to those yet. They've hinted that they think they know the answer, but frankly any management team that would tell investors and customers that they don't know what the future is isn't going to last very long.
I'm cautiously optimistic, believe it or not. I know enough of the upper management to know that they realize the bigger problem in front of them and the need to address it soon. What I don't know is what their solution will be.
Personally, my strategy would have been to shore up the enthusiast/pro products (basically D300 and up), let the rest iterate one more time, and quickly find the new disruptive engine that I could ride in the US$300-800 price range. As most of you well know by now, I believe that most of the disruption in photography will come on the software side now, even as we continue to see hardware advances. That's because the number one problem facing photographers is no longer image quality. It's workflow in all its forms, pre, during, and post shooting. Pre, during, and post display.