Nikon Shows Up Empty-Handed

(news & commentary)

Just prior to the key CP+ trade show in Japan, Nikon made their early 2015 product announcements: D810a, D750 filmmaker’s kit, and a raft of iterated Coolpix. Essentially nothing for their primary customers.

The D810a is a D810 with a modified filter over the sensor. The new filter passes H-alpha light better to the sensor, which allows for a more vivid red when taking pictures of some nebulae and galaxies. In addition, the camera has 60, 120, 300, 600, and 900 second shutter speeds. Live View has been modified so that it can display a long shutter speed rendering, useful for focusing on stars and seeing your composition. Other than that, the camera is a D810 as we’ve come to know it. Price is US$3800, and the new niche version of the D810 will ship in May.

The D750 Filmmaker’s Kit is a special boxed set similar to what Nikon did with the D800. It consists of a D750 body, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8G lenses, an Atomos Ninja external video recorder, an ME-1 microphone, two Tiffen variable ND filters, an HDMI cable, and two extra batteries for the camera. The kit is priced at US$4000 and will be available later this month. 

The Coolpix are mostly ignorable by readers of this site (S33, AW130, S7000, S9900, L340, L840, and P610). Nikon was reaching for features with this set of cameras (e.g. “first Coolpix camera to be equipped with an electronic viewfinder with a built-in eye sensor”). The S9900 was touted with a “elegant, orthodox design”; in layman’s terms: we abandoned the standard Coolpix consumer UI to return to something that looks more like what old farts think is a camera. 

Serious Nikon fans are disappointed today. No D7200. No D300s followup. No new lenses. No radio activated flash. Not even a new Nikon 1 product. Not much of anything of interest to most of you reading this site.

Moreover, in almost every introduction today you can see fundamental problems that Nikon simply isn’t addressing:

  • DSLR shooters have asked for longer shutter speeds for years. Now we have them, but only on one camera catering to a small niche. Will it sell a few more D810’s? Maybe. But you wonder why this isn’t what the D810 definition in the first place. If the extra shutter speeds and long Live View refresh aren’t in a firmware update for D810 users soon, Nikon will have created a new product that just upsets current users. 
  • You’d think a video kit would be well refined. But Nikon has zero video-specific lenses, and doesn’t even include an accessory to manually pull focus reliably; hope you like autofocus jitter in your videos. Nikon makes a big thing of the custom foam holders for the gear, but exactly which bag is that designed for NIkon? Or do you just want us to carry around the original cardboard box? Nikon wants to sell to video users, but it doesn’t fully understand their needs. 
  • The Coolpix AW130 is a great example of why iteration sometimes sucks. I had to look long and hard to find the differences between the new camera and the US$100 cheaper older one: yellow versus camo as a color, 6-level brightness adjustment instead of 5-level on the LCD, slight gain in weight, fewer video options, .1 fps additional speed, and NFC support for the WiFi connection. Wow, those engineers were busy ;~). Meanwhile, the one thing that the AW1xx series needs is still missing: NEF support. Why NEF support? Because if you use this camera snorkeling or underwater as Nikon suggests, you’re going to almost certainly be changing color rendering after the fact because the camera doesn’t get it right (none do in my experience). And I want to change that color with 12-bits of data, not 8-bits that are compressed. 

I’ve written for some time that Nikon designers and product marketing seem completely disconnected from their best customers. Not only does that continue to be the case, but it’s becoming more apparent to those customers, too. Nikon’s products are not being designed for their users. They don’t solve the biggest problems facing existing users. Someone in Japan thinks they know best what we want, and they don’t. 

So what do we make of the fact that new Nikon 1, new DLSR, and new lenses were not presented at CP+? 

This could be good news or bad news, I suppose. It could be good news if someone in management at Nikon decided that simple iteration isn’t the cure to selling more cameras and this pushed back introduction schedules so that something more substantive could be achieved. It might be good news if someone in management in Nikon decided that the high end products needed more QA and testing before releasing them into the wild where users find flaws that are then costly for Nikon to correct. 

I suspect, however, that it’s bad news. Designs didn’t get locked in time, parts didn’t show up on time, production took longer than expected, that kind of thing. Heck, the slow down at the West coast ports in the US could even have affected announce dates if products were shipped by boat but are likely to sit offshore for some time. 

What I hear is that Nikon wanted to have new serious gear ready for CP+ announcement, but now it has been delayed for a few weeks. That’s going to put even more pressure on Nikon to finish out their current fiscal year without missing their recently lowered projections. 

I’ve been saying that something is amiss at Nikon for awhile now. It should be more obvious to others now that I was the canary in the coal mine on this. 

Can they correct this? Sure. But the number of tasks they need to complete successfully gets higher every day they continue down what I call the paternalistic-iteration-forever path. Nikon needs to connect with its core customers and really excite them. The list of things that need to change grows longer with each passing trade show. And this time, the trade show passed and the Nikon faithful are still waiting for details of new products that they might be interested in.  

It’s a sad day in Nikonland. 

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