Video, Feature or Function?

Eight years ago Nikon was the first to introduce video to a DSLR with the D90. Since then, we’ve gotten a slow progression of video ability to the point where we now have 4K capability in the D5 and D500 (but not the more recent D3400).

Still, Nikon is treating video-in-a-DSLR as a feature. It’s been mildly incremented in some way at each model iteration, but that’s about it for video. Moreover, we got an entire set of f/1.8G lenses along the way that aren’t particularly well suited to video use, yet it would be primes like those that the video crowd would be most interested in had they been done correctly.

Meanwhile, Canon quickly followed Nikon into the video-as-DSLR-feature arena, but then Canon started doing something very interesting: they created the Cinema-EOS line in addition to adding video to their DSLRs. Those C-line models started out as clear DSLR spinoffs but have now developed into a true interchangeable lens video product line, complete with its own lenses.

Likewise, Sony did the same with the E-mount, starting with still cameras that had video capabilities, but rapidly adding video cameras that used the same lenses. Today, Sony has an entire FS series of dedicated video cameras, as well as the start of dedicated video lenses in the FE-mount (soon to be added to).

The question you have to ask is this: what does Nikon really see as the future of imaging? DSLR still cameras, with a handful of smaller still cameras (e.g. DLs)? Or a full range of both still and video products? 

The missing KeyMission was Nikon’s first real foray into a pure digital video camera, but seems stillborn at the moment. Moreover, it seems to be targeting the GoPro crowd long after GoPro lost its luster and sales growth. Leaving us the question of where Nikon really sees video playing a role in their product line. At the moment, the answer is “it’s a feature we implement in still cameras.” 

That’s not a particularly good answer for the future. 

I believe video will take more and more of a role in future imaging. It’s already true at the professional level, but this will work its way all the way down to the true consumer level, as well.

The problem with video from a customer viewpoint is the resources it consumes. High quality video gobbles up gigabytes like Cookie Monster does Chips Ahoy. Personally, I shot nearly 2TB of video in two weeks in Africa last year, and I was being somewhat conservative. My video office is strewn with RAIDs, and those are nearly full so I’m about to hit the situation where I need to start thinking about something other than connected drives (e.g. SANs).

Meanwhile, if you’re going to share video, you have the same problem with bandwidth: video transmission via the Internet gobbles up Mb/s like CNN, Fox, et.al., do from a Trump speech. 

I’ve learned over the years never to bet against storage or bandwidth: they run on Moore’s Law-like patterns that guarantee that there will be significantly more tomorrow than there is today. At some point the amount of storage and bandwidth available to the consumer will be enough that it “enables” common use of video. We’re close to that point already, though still a few years away from “take off."

That leaves only one other area that is truly holding back video cameras from being ubiquitous: software. A key attribute of (current) video is that it is more complex in post shooting workflow than stills are, and stills aren’t exactly simple (unless you’re shooting them from a smartphone ;~). 

Unfortunately, this is a software problem and we all know how good Nikon is at software: not. Indeed, I suspect software is the reason why KeyMission was delayed.

But I’d say that missing video in the Nikon lineup is more importantly a top management problem. Nikon has been desperate for growth for the last several years as the camera market contracted while the semiconductor equipment market hasn’t exactly been lighting up with growth, either. Yet here’s a clear area (video) that was directly related to things they were already doing yet hasn’t been addressed at all. It could have formed a clear area where incremental sales could have been triggered.

But in fact, video as a potential product line has been un-addressed: Nikon dropped out of the NAB and IFC trade shows, losing their place in the booth selection process, meaning that any change of mind in the future and re-entry into video would be paved with additional problems beyond the products themselves.

The real reason Nikon top management dropped video: cost control. In order to keep short term results up, Nikon has been jettisoning anything that isn’t fastened to the floor in Tokyo. Those NAB and IFC booth costs? In the millions. Potential marketing and roll-out costs for a video line? In the millions. R&D costs of doing it right? In the millions. 

Someone in Tokyo looked at all those millions that would go out the door, didn’t believe that millions would come in the door by making video products, and said “no.” That someone doesn’t seem to know how to grow a company.

As if to highlight my point, the day after I wrote this Sigma announced the start of their new “Cine” line of lenses (18-35mm and 50-100mm t/2), but only in Canon EF and Sony FE mounts.

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