Perception is Everything

"Uncertainty from poor Nikon service made me notice the innovation from a competitor.” 

Sometimes I get one-liners in my email and other correspondence that manage to capture a thought perfectly. 

Sony’s introduction of a halo camera—the 20 fps full frame A9 in this case—has the Nikon (and some of the Canon) faithful either circling the wagons or crying out in the wilderness. It shouldn't. There's nothing wrong with Nikon's high-end cameras.

Well that's not exactly correct. There's less wrong with Nikon's high-end cameras than I currently find with Sony high-end cameras. While Sony wins on body size, they lose on control placement/ergonomics, lens selection, and a few other things. So to see so many Nikon folk lauding Sony and complaining about Nikon seems a bit strange.

It's called displacement. Nikon user anger at other things—customer support, clear information about how focus systems work, lack of addressing problems in updates, strange battery/card behaviors, slower and worse repair services, constant stream of quality control issues on new cameras, lack of DX lenses, etc.—is what is causing Nikon users to be so negatively vocal lately. 

Then there's the strategic: what the heck is Nikon doing in serious compacts and mirrorless cameras? At present, nothing. And that's nothing since mid-2015 when you ignore the DL announcement and rescinding. So it seems as if Nikon might be asleep in R&D on top of all the customer complaints that aren't being responded to.

This is now a crisis. A crisis of Nikon management's own making. It didn't have to be this way, but all that cost cutting produced collateral damage that can't be ignored.

What's the crisis? Sampling and leaking from Nikon DSLRs has risen and with perhaps the exception of three models, significant Nikon DSLR sales aren't happening against the competition right now. The data seems pretty clear on these things. 

Funny thing is, the leakers aren't exactly happy. As I was writing this article I got an email from one who was trying a Sony A6000 alongside his D750 on vacation at a beach resort. What was he complaining about? The Sony A6000's viewfinder in bright sun. That's a fairly typical complaint I hear on the mirrorless side: the EVFs are fine as long you're not in very low light or very bright, contrasty light, at which point they can become problematic. 

That'll get fixed (though first on the high-end mirrorless cameras). But what I wrote above is still true today: there are fewer issues on the top Nikon DSLRs than there are on the similar mirrorless cameras from a pragmatic, shooting point of view. Yet leaking and sampling is increasing, not decreasing. 

Simply put, some of the Nikon crowd seems to have lost faith in the Nikon brand. Generalized, we see these five complaints:

  • Nikon isn't producing the product I want — you hear this about serious compacts, about mirrorless, and to some degree about DSLRs; plus you hear it about lenses, particularly DX lenses.
  • Nikon quality has eroded — the D500, D600, D750, D800, D810 all shipped with clear issues that needed fixing, some particularly bad (D600 shutter splatter and D750 vignetting). Even the very minor ones, such as the D810 white dot one, now get amplified.
  • Nikon customer support is poor, and serious support is unreachable — I've been getting more and more complaints at the NPS level lately that mirror the experience of the regular customer, so this isn't just about serving naive D3xxx users.
  • Nikon is uncommunicative about feature nuances — the new focus, exposure, and flash system all have changes to them that impacts how you set and shoot with them, but Nikon hasn't come close to documenting those. And is Nikon ever going to mention focus shift correction, and which camera/lens combinations have it?
  • Nikon's software sucks — SnapBridge, Capture NX-D, even something as simple as Transfer seem to be sub-par these days, and getting more sub and further from par every day. 

So even when Nikon does introduce something great—the D5, D500, 70-200mm f/2.8, 105mm f/1.4, 19mm PC-E all come to mind in the last 18 months—the net positive that Nikon gets from those products is not exceeding the negatives from the complaints I just listed and which are weighing down their customer base. 

I'm of the opinion that a handful of new, great products from Nikon isn't going to solve their problem. I get emails and comments from Nikon users all the time that run along the lines of these:

  • A D810 update with a bigger, better sensor and the D5 autofocus system will help
  • Nikon needs a mirrorless product that will compete with Sony
  • Without a full set of lenses, I'd rather go to Fujifilm than Nikon for crop sensor

Product is not the answer, though it would certainly help Nikon to get the right products to market. 

What would help Nikon far more is in changing how they deal with customers (that includes dealers, who are the more direct customer of Nikon than photographers). All the cost cutting preserved profit margins, but it has a downstream negative effect on sales now. In other words, Nikon solved their corporate short term problems at the expense of long term customers. 

This has to stop. Go back and read that top bullet list of five complaints: three of them aren't about product design or capability. Those three items should be fixable tomorrow without requiring any new engineering. Tomorrow. As in the day after you read this. All it takes is a management decision properly communicated and executed. 

Often the job of CEO is knowing what the right problem is to solve first. 

Let me illustrate that by taking a point argued by someone in Europe who I know and debate with: he is insistent that Nikon needs to introduce a new mirrorless system that's highly capable by this summer. 

Really? Does it really matter if such a product comes in three months, six months, or a year? Nope. Not if the other things I note aren't fixed. Why do I think that? Nikon has a stable of great products already. Arguably the D7200, D500, D750, D810, and D5 are best in class. Ditto with most of their lenses. Yet Nikon is being dragged downhill not by these products, but by public perception of the company. Just having a new mirrorless platform doesn't do a lot to change public perception. Nikon's problem is more fundamental: they have to rally their customer base and tell them that their future is still Nikon and why that's so. Some of that will involve product, for sure. But even a statement like "as we eventually introduce new products, such as mirrorless, we're going to reward those that have stuck with the F-mount since its beginnings" would go a long way. 

Nikon needs to open a dialogue with its customers. With those that cover it in the press. With its committed enthusiast and professional photographers. With the entire photographic community. They need to field the complaints and respond in the following way: "1. We hear you. 2. We will address and fix that. 3. We appreciate your feedback and what you provide us as a customer." 

Failure to do that will be failure in the market, regardless of whether we get a great D810 replacement, a 70mp high-end camera, a new mirrorless system, more DX lenses, or whatever else it is you're wishing for. 

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