Solving the Camera Decline

Final article in this week’s series

Overall, it doesn’t seem like Nikon’s biggest problems are at the higher end of their DSLR lineup. While, yes, there has been some lower volume in a few cases, some of that has to do with price increases as much as anything systemic in the market. 

The D8xx, D5, and D500 prove that Nikon can still excite at the high end, and the strong sales of newcomers like the D750 and D7200—which yes, aren’t fully reflected in the charts I presented this week due to the data set used—seem to indicate that those products are holding their own in the prosumer portion of the Nikon customer. 

The real issue has been further down in the lineup, and you could see that without the information I presented: the multi-generation inventory that has been getting sold off for the past few years. The D7100, D5300, D5200, and D3200 all remain in the current product catalog at NikonUSA, and can be purchased at the Nikon store new. Heck, you can still get many of the non-black older models new, too, if you want to return to the “cameras can be colors” fad. 

Nikon’s being practical in reducing this inventory, pricing and marketing it in slots between current DSLRs, but that also causes a great deal of resistance in customers, as there are now seven models bunched into a US$650 price range. That’s not only a bit much, but I think it’s beginning to exacerbate the problem. Why buy a D5500 today when it will obviously be at reduced price by the holiday season and certainly when the next model (due in early 2017) appears?  Or why not just save some money today and buy a D5300 instead?

So that brings me to Nikon’s fundamental dilemma: continue to milk the existing customer prosumer/enthusiast base with new and better D7200 and up models? Or figure out how to attract the next generation into Nikon digital cameras by making them compelling for the younger generation? 

You know what I’ll say: do both. 

Funny thing is, even though when I presented my ideas to Nikon in 2010 centered around communicating, programmable, and modular cameras in terms of professional gear—I used all pro shooting scenarios in my examples—the first two are actually the solution to the weakness at the low end and the thing that would compel new users into the Nikon customer base. 

In particular, these two things loom big for a truly modern consumer camera:

  • Send to Web. No, not send to smartphone, but send through the smartphone to the Web. I mean if I want the photo I’ve just taken to go to my Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, email, or whatever other media account I’m active on, I need to be able to do it from the camera. I shouldn’t have to hit buttons on the camera to send the image to my smartphone (D7200, D750, D500 can do this now with a double button press), then pull out my smartphone, get to my camera roll in an app (tap tap tap tap tap), and then send from there. (Plus don’t forget, since I sent it to my smartphone, I’m using up the smartphone’s memory permanently unless I go in and manually erase those images.) I mean Nikon’s current “Select to send to smartphone device/deselect [sic]” option needs to be “Send to X,” where X is configurable and/or selectable and the companion app on my mobile device (or home computer) understands what to do with images that get passed to it from that function.
  • Put in Private Space. I don’t want to share every image I take, but I certainly want to save them. No I don’t want to take a card out of a camera, put it into a card reader—hey Apple, why is that on the back of my iMac?—ingest the images, save them someplace, then use software to organize those in my private space. Moreover, why do I need to even be at my home computer to do this? Whether it goes to my cloud account or to my NAS or to my home computer shouldn’t matter, but it should get there without me having to jump through hoops every time I need to get my private images from the camera to my storage choice. Moreover, if I tagged my images “Botswana Moremi” in the camera, they should go to the right place in my cloud or NAS or computer without me having to put them there. Configure once, then press a button to repeat in the future. 

Two things. That’s it.

They’re not small problems to solve. But solving them plus making the UI of the camera more modern and approachable for someone who grew up with mobile devices that are touch- and voice-controlled means you could get immediately past the biggest objections of the smartphone crowd and right to the “better images that will still look great as display tech advances further, while allowing you to partake of the full realm of photographic techniques from true depth of field control to perspective.”

Now byThom site readers have balked a bit at this possible future. They see it as a dumbing down of cameras. I don’t. I see it as cameras living in the modern world and taking huge chunks out of your workflow time and steps. 

There are only two things I really want to be doing in photography: (1) make camera/lens decisions just prior to and even at the critical moment I’m capturing, and (2) make post processing decisions with the final (hopefully optimal) bits I captured in #1. All that crud in the middle I currently spend hours dealing with after a shoot can and should be automated. Absolutely none of it is “photographic” in nature, it’s just logistical make work. I want to make decisions that impact the bits that get recorded. I want to make decisions that impact the way the bits get displayed. That’s it. I’m pretty sure that the Millennials who grew up with mobile devices think this way, too.

I’m certain that working pros in PJ, sports, weddings, and more areas would agree with the statements I made in the last paragraph. I don’t know a single one that enjoys the workflow part of the business. They’re not making money when they’re doing that, after all. 

I’m pretty certain that the prosumer/enthusiast would also embrace those statements, though I suspect a lot of them get some satisfaction from doing all the workflow steps necessary as it makes them feel in charge of something. 

But I’m most certain that you can’t stop the leakage at the consumer camera position without fully embracing the modern world, and that means at a minimum communicating cameras with some degree of programmability (customization, if you will). 

Does it matter to the consumer whether such a camera is mirrorless or DSLR? Not at all. (And before someone tries to argue that it has to be mirrorless to be small, go back and look at how small many of the 35mm film cameras were. DSLR is not equal to “must be big,” it’s only big because that’s what is easiest for the camera companies to do.) 

Okay, now for a bonus round. 

What I describe above is forward thinking. Highly forward thinking for the camera companies, barely forward thinking for the smartphone companies. 

Now think further forward. 

Why can’t cameras themselves be social? ;~)

Oh dear, I just opened a huge can of worms, didn’t I?

Let’s say that a bunch of us are going to a big party in Las Vegas with our FutureSoshallKameras. It’s a big party at a big venue. I can’t even see where you are at the moment. Why can’t I take a photo of the stupid thing my companion is doing and share it with your FSK camera so that you can see it, no matter where you happen to be at the moment (and vice versa)? Even if we were next to each other, why do I have to look at your camera’s screen—often an awkward thing given the small size of the screens—in order to see what you took? Why can’t I just see it on my screen if I want to? 

Think the Millennials might want a camera that can do what I just described?  I do. Do I want this in a D6? Probably not. What I do photographically generally isn’t social in nature. (That said, pushing images to my client’s smartphone or mobile device as I take them is a social interaction I might want, and related to what I just described.)

Being social with photos is part of the thing the camera companies haven’t solved. Their current DSLR customers think like they’ve always thought. They’ll accept the status quo. But the camera companies’ potential future customers don’t think that way at all. They absolutely see photos as something that is a social construct. But the cameras that they see in the store don’t even begin to play in that game. 

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