What to Expect

(prediction)

Nikon is a fairly systematic company. They create predictable behavior because of that. I've tended to move away from predictions, but enough of you are asking about what's coming that I think the topic warrants addressing.

On August 8th Nikon presents their quarterly financial results. Traditionally, Nikon has used the day around that for announcements of the lower end products (Coolpix, Nikon 1). Because the results this year are on a Thursday, one might expect that Nikon could make their first late summer/fall announcements on August 7th. It wouldn't likely be for DSLRs, though. There's also a good chance that they'll just push the first announcements into the following week. In other words, I expect some sort of minor announcements this week or next.

One issue for Nikon at the moment is that with the compact camera market collapsing so much, so fast, everyone will be looking at Nikon to see what they're going to do about that. Nikon is the only camera company that calls out specific compact camera numbers in their financial reports in enough detail to get a good handle on that. Thus, Nikon would have a difficult time announcing numbers but not announcing any products that generate those numbers. Nikon has traditionally had twice-a-year Coolpix announcements, so not having one within a week or so of the usual financial report closest to one of those periods would be eye-raising. More on compacts in a bit.

The DSLR announcements have traditionally been a little later in August at the earliest, though in recent years we've had a lot of September announcements (which I believe is a better choice as I've written before; post Labor Day and European August vacations tends to get more customer notice than pre). I'm not hearing anything that indicates an August DSLR release is likely, but I am hearing enough rumblings to believe that a September one might be. If we look at the last few years we see:

  • 2007: August, D3 and D300 (pro related)
  • 2008: August, D90 (consumer)
  • 2009: October, D3s (pro)
  • 2010: September, D7000 (consumer)
  • 2011: September, Nikon 1 (consumer)
  • 2012: August, J2 (consumer); September, D600 (consumer); October, V2 (consumer)


In six years we've had 10 cameras announced in the three month fall period, and of the six DSLRs in that mix, half were pro (2007-2009) and half were consumer (2010-2012). I'm not sure what to read into that, but let's look at things a different way:

  • Jan/Feb: 10 camera intros
  • April: 5 camera intros
  • July/Aug/Sept: 15 camera intros
  • All other months: 10 camera intros


It seems clear that the target launch dates are centered around February, April, and August, with Photokina years sometimes bringing the the cameras into September. Thing is, though, we haven't had an interchangeable lens camera announcement from Nikon since February. Since the D2h, the longest period we've had without a DSLR announcement was ten months between the D3s and D3100. We're entering six months post D7100. No announcement in August through October would pretty much put us back at that historical length lull. I don't know why you'd do that when camera sales are slipping. You need something to get customers back into stores thinking about new cameras.

No matter how you analyze it, we are coming into a period when Nikon is traditionally very active. In some years, we've had three or four sets of announcements in the August/September time period. This has two fundamental causes: (1) last chance to get new gear into the Christmas thinking of distributors and resellers; and (2) we're a quarter into Nikon's fiscal year and this is the big slot for showing shareholders and the financial market the products that will influence the yearly results they're predicting in their full-year financials.

Short answer: I expect one or more announcements from Nikon in August and September (worst case October).  

So what is it we expect?

  • Coolpix needs redefinition. Everyone's moving upscale and upmarket to get away from the smartphones. That typically means larger sensors and longer lenses. Why Nikon isn't already making 1" sensor compacts, I don't know. My guess is that if they had made the J1 a compact camera with retracting 10-30mm lens and priced it right they would have sold far more of that than they did of the interchangeable lens model, even after the fire sales. Compact camera sales are in steep decline: in the first half of 2012 we had 42.6m units shipped by Japanese camera companies, while in the first half of 2013 only 22.6m. How Nikon deals with that decline will be important. One hint will be in the mix of L, S, P, and A models. Frankly, it ought to be pretty much P and A models, and with raw support, in order to go upscale. WiFi is pretty much a given now, and the sensor sizes need to step up and the lenses differentiate. Nikon feels behind in most of these things. Nikon currently lists 24 Coolpix as current: one A, three P, 13 S, 2 AW, and 5 L. Of those 13 S models, one doesn't sell (the Android based one), two are being eclipsed by smartphones, and the 6x, 7x, 10x, 12x, 18x, 22x lens zoom distinctions seem a little too much choice for the remaining market. Typically about half the line refreshes in the fall, half in at the start of the year. I'm actually expecting very little in the way of fall announcements, with Nikon probably scrambling to make January announcements of a new, clear Coolpix direction.
  • Nikon 1 has had yearly updates. Announced in fall 2011, updated in fall 2012. It seems likely that this is a pattern that will be repeated with a fall 2013 announcement or two, and I've seen one blurry photo of a Nikon 1 model that's clearly not one of the current models, so there are definitely some prototypes floating around. However, I don't really believe it's the model designs that need updating, it's the pricing. As long as Nikon reaches for DSLR-like pricing, I just don't see how any new Nikon 1 model is going to resonate in the market. 
  • A DSLR, maybe two, are MIA. The D4x rumors have been flying for quite some time. I'd think that Nikon would want to introduce that camera around some sort of event that has a lot of pro photographers around, though. The high end models don't sell in large numbers, and you want to reach directly to the real user base and generate immediate buzz within it for such models if you can. A September announcement with an October ship would play into the big fall pro show in NYC, PhotoPlus, for example. I certainly expect the D4x to be announced this year. I'm hoping for something other than that D3x December announcement, though. Some people think that Nikon won't do a D4x, but I differ on that. While this won't be a big selling camera, this is a bragging rights competition, basically a "halo" product. You want the world to know that you build the best camera possible, and that technology trickles down and through everything else you do. So I believe we'll get the D4x, and sooner rather than later. Which brings me to the D400. It's been prototyped and a mule in the field. Details are sketchy, at best, but it's clear that Nikon has worked on a D300 followup and tested it. August/September are really Nikon's last good chance to capture the long-waiting D300 upgrader with a product targeted directly at them, I think. Failure to launch in this window will be definitely taken by most that a D400 isn't happening and that they have to come to grips with that. I definitely would be scratching my head if we don't see a D400 by the end of September. I know a lot of you argue that "FX is the future" or believe the "D7100 is the flagship of DX" line Nikon has used. The reality is that surveys show that there's still strong demand for a D300 followup (basically "the pro DX"). Strong demand at a time when a lot of camera groups are showing declines in sales. And for a product with a pretty high profit margin. I've written it before and I still stick by it: we should see a D400 this fall.
  • Lenses. My Patents Predict article shows all the more recent patent action Nikon has had in lenses. Plenty of R&D activity going on. But the real game is in trying to handicap all that data. The lenses I keep hearing about from back channel sources are the f/1.2 "normal", the 300mm f/4 replacement, the f/4 fixed aperture DX mid-range zoom, and super zooms. I wouldn't rule out something outside the mainstream, such as a super wide prime or the 17mm tilt/shift, and you can never rule out modest updates of current lenses (adding VR II, nano coating, weatherproofing, maybe even modest optical redesign). That last bit tends to happen with little or no notice, and fairly regularly. Don't expect an onslaught, though. A reasonable expectation is that we'd see between 2 and 6 lenses, and we'd tend to only see the higher end of that if there are a lot of modest redesigns in the mix. I'm betting at the low end of the range (2 or 3), and probably spread out (not all announced at once). 


As many of you know, I'm slowly moving out of Internet access this month. Traditionally, I've taken August completely off, though this year I'll be offline for less time than usual. Rest assured that I'll get to a full analysis of any announcements Nikon makes in August as soon as get back into Internet territory again. 

© Thom Hogan 2013 / All Rights Reserved bythom.com  @bythom #bythom