And the Final Group: Waiters

Finally, the last cog in the camera growth problem for Nikon: those people that are just waiting for something. I’ve described leakers and samplers to competitive products in previous articles, this time we look at the group that’s really causing the most problem for Nikon at the moment, the waiters. 

If you’re not upgrading your camera, then your only choices are Wait, Leak, or Sample

It’s probably obvious that D300 users form a big group of those waiting for something from Nikon that entices them to upgrade, but they’re not the only group. I’ve mentioned Last Camera Syndrome before, and anyone that bought any Nikon gear in the last few years thinking “this will last me for a long time, maybe forever” also falls into the waiting category. 

Here’s the reason why waiters are the biggest problem facing Nikon (and the industry in general): we’ve pretty much hit household penetration with sophisticated cameras in the developed countries. Not many households need more than one competent DSLR. Heck, not all households even need a competent DSLR. You can only get growth in sophisticated camera sales from two things: population growth or replacement. Thus, household penetration saturation is a very nasty problem.

You may have noticed that for the past few years that Nikon and others have been emphasizing just how they’re going to move into third world and emerging markets. All those folk without cameras look like population growth to the camera companies. But that hasn’t worked out nearly as well for the camera companies as they thought. For one thing, a digital camera really requires that you have a computer, doesn’t it? Otherwise, how do your images get saved or moved? A large portion of those markets that the camera companies were counting on simply did what they often do: they skipped technologies. Their camera AND their computer is their smartphone. Oops.

So replacement sales are the thing that really will keep the camera companies going. A recent study by one company that reports on the camera industry to its investors tried to come up with their best guess at what the replacement market would be in the future. They came up with a sustainable ILC market of about 11m units after all their fancy modeling and factoring was said and done, and over half that was replacement units. Compare this with the Sony forecast of something like 8m total units in fiscal 2017. The current year will probably come out around 14m units. So 11m seems certainly to be in the realm of plausible. 

But oh my that’s going to hurt the camera companies, as it represents continued decline, and that's going to hurt them even more if they can’t trigger a lot of replacement purchases. While the D810 is a better camera than the D800E by a small bit, it’s a relatively small step forward. That kind of step in the future will just trigger smaller and smaller replacement percentages. 

Let’s do a back-of-the-envelope calculation for a moment. Nikon this year will sell almost 5m ILC cameras in a market of just shy of 15m overall. 33% share. With a market of 11m overall, that means if Nikon can keep share they will sell 3.6m units, or a decline of almost 1.4m units in a couple of years. And that’s if they hold serve and the investment company’s model is right. 

In dollars, the average selling price (by Nikon and others into distribution) of a DSLR this year is US$441. To keep the same level of sales with the same market share, Nikon would have to raise that average selling price to to something around US$560. This, by the way, is probably one reason for Nikon’s strong FX push: selling US$2000+ bodies can make up for selling fewer US$1000 bodies, especially if you don’t give the user a clearly desirable path to upgrade downwards (e.g. D300s owners going to a D7100). As someone pointed out to me, the D610 is right at the D300s’s price point, so you can see how easy Nikon will make it for you to switch from DX to FX (sorry about the loss of pro build, controls, and frame rates, though ;~). 

I’ve written many times before about “need” versus “want.” Some pros need continuing updates to push their imagery in ways that they couldn’t do before. Sometimes it allows you to better compete against higher end product use, too (e.g. D810 versus medium format). But amateurs don’t tend to need that, so the camera makers have to concentrate more on what they want. 

As we get further and further into the DSLR era, the “need” part of the update cycle becomes less and less apparent to more and more people. We all needed more than 2.5mp (which is where we started with the D1). A few of us needed more than 6mp. Still fewer more than 12mp. Very few more than 24mp. Likewise with dynamic range and other improvements. There now needs to be a shockingly obvious improvement that everyone needs (may I suggest easier, more user-controlled workflow in a communicating, programmable camera? ;~). Otherwise the upgrade market is all about “want.” 

So what is it you really want? Well, over time that has changed, too. Not only did you need more pixels, but you wanted them, too. Now, other things have gotten higher on the want list, and none higher than “smaller, lighter,” which the DSLR makers seem to be very slow to react to. Indeed, if you consider crop sensor lenses, too, the DSLR makers for the most part just aren’t catering to smaller/lighter. (Yes, I know Canon made a pancake EF-S lens recently. Hurrah. One product exception to prove the rule. ;~)

Since this is mostly a Nikon-based site, what is it that the Nikon faithful are waiting for? Here’s the short list of the things I see most requested in the Nikon base:

  • A D300s replacement. (Possible, but long overdue)
  • A D700 replacement. (Not likely given the D610, D750, D810 trio
  • A D7200 with a larger buffer. (Likely in 2015)
  • Radio controlled flash.
  • A reasonable full, appropriate DX lens set (that can include some FX lenses, but we still need them to be priced and sized for DX users to qualify). (Nikon says more DX lenses coming, but this might not be the ones the users want)
  • 4K video.
  • 200mm Micro-Nikkor, 300mm f/4 updates, a 400mm f/5.6.
  • PC-E lenses that can be shifted and tilted on both axes.
  • A small Coolpix Pro that can match or better an RX-100 and LX100. 
  • A D4x. (Yes, this is a reasonably strong request. As I’ve noted before, if you sell a pro a D4s, he’s going to want a D4x, not a D810)
  • A Nikon 1 V4 that’s basically a small DSLR, with no compromises other than sensor size.
  • Additional CX lenses to round out the Nikon 1 lineup, and given the above, a couple of fast zooms and a fast 24/28/35mm equivalent prime would be on the list. 
  • Even better autofocus.

I’ll leave off the other software and specific feature requests for now because those are a bit different than “products,” especially now that Nikon seems to be mostly out of the software-for-sale business.

Note the thing that doesn’t seem to be on the list: more pixels. 36mp was a reach too far for some of the Nikon faithful, and everything else other than the V3, D4s, and Df are 24mp. Personally, I never frown at “more sampling,” but it isn’t high on my demand list at the moment, either. 

Are there people waiting for a J5, a D3500, a D5500? Not a lot. I’m also not sure what they’re actually waiting for. I believe those folk may actually be more interested in a “mirrorless DSLR” (or at least hybrid) version of the latter two cameras.

The funny thing is that there isn’t anything that can’t be done—excuse me, couldn’t already have been done—on that short list. The fact that none of those things do currently exist seems to indicate to me that Nikon specifically and intentionally is moving slower and not trying to stay a leader outside of a very narrow window (first to all 24mp cameras, first to a full line of FX cameras). This would imply that those that are waiting for something on that list may have a longer rather than shorter wait. 

Which just brings us back to Leakers and Samplers. The longer Nikon users wait, the more likely they stop being Waiters and end up Leakers or Samplers.

Nikon feels “creaky” right now. Or maybe more like a prize fighter who got a punch they didn’t expect and has gone into safety mode while they rethink their strategy. That’s just bad timing, frankly. The best time to move faster and better is in downturns. The worst time to move slower and more poorly is in downturns. 

So the operative question if you’re in this group is simple: how long will you wait? 

Update: Most of the email I’m getting on this article says that the clock is ticking. Quite a few are waiting only until February 2015 before they decide whether to leak or sample. Others will wait until the end of summer 2015. Virtually none say they’ll wait indefinitely. So the clock’s ticking, Nikon. Moreover, it’s been ticking for awhile.

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