Nikon Announcement Feedback

I have to be a little careful with this, as some of the feedback I get mimics what I write, thus serves as a confirmation bias. Still, I've been closely watching my email, actively talking to other pros, looking at responses around the Web, and more. All trying to suss out what is really being said about Nikon's recent announcements—we had four, three of which impact my main two sites—and whether that has any basis in reality.

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The D780. Most of the photography and tech press have been quite positive about the D780, and for the most part Nikon seems to have avoided some of the ugly headlines they got in the recent past. Yet most of the customer feedback I've heard is far less positive. 

This cuts right to what I've been writing about recently. As an update to the D750, the D780 does bring quite a bit to the table: newer sensor, faster focus, new EXPEED functions, faster (and slower) shutter, better weather sealing and body structure, better video capabilities, faster card slots, longer battery life, and a handful of features that are in the D850 but not the D750. From a press release standpoint, there's a lot to be positive about, as, on paper, the D780 clearly looks to be a better camera than the D750 it replaces. In many ways, they D780 may be very much like the D810 was to the D800, and the D850 to the D810: a solid set of changes and improvements that truly make for a better camera.

The problem, of course, is "who's going to buy it?" Not new-to-Nikon-DSLR users. So basically we're mostly stuck with D600, D700, and D750 upgraders that might buy it. And there's the rub. 

So far, the majority of those folk are telling me that they're not interested. It's a simple cost/benefit analysis on their part: "for US$2300 what do I get that I don't already have, and do I actually need that?" Worse still, recent discounts on other cameras, such as the Z's and the D850, make some ponder a different choice entirely (typically D850 for the crowd that would be interested in the D780). 

I'm a little worried about this disparity (press liking it, most likely customers not yet liking it). Somehow, Nikon's marketing needs to amplify the former and directly address the latter if the D780 is going to manage truly useful sales levels without significant discounting. I suspect that the D780 is going to be a significant upgrade to the D750, but is Nikon getting that message clearly across?

To answer your question: yes, I'll work on a book for the D780, and I'll have my usual thorough review once I've had enough practical shooting experience with it.

The 120-300mm f/2.8. All my pro shooting friends say the same basic thing: they're not buying it. I guess that means that there will be plenty on hand to borrow in Tokyo at the Olympics for NPS members ;~). Two of my sports photographer friends said almost exactly the same thing: they were interested in the lens and had budgeted for it, but at US$9500 it is way over what they had planned. More like US$5500 was what they were expecting (again, the Sigma version of this lens is currently US$3100). As my friends looked more at the final specifications, they caught the thing that makes me pause about the new lens: it's too heavy (and probably again front heavy). 

You really have to look at this new lens as a replacement for the 300mm f/2.8G VRII (which sells for US$5500). It's about the same size and weight, it's designed to be sharp at 300mm. So for US$4000 more what you're actually getting over the original prime exotic is the 120-299mm focal range. No one I know can justify that, particularly considering that they've already got the 70-200mm focal range well covered with the expensive f/2.8E they previously bought. So what we're really talking about on the sidelines is that the 201-299mm focal range is costing you US$4000.

Okay, so let's stick a TC1.4E on it. Now we're at 168-420mm f/4. Wait, doesn't Nikon make a lens like that already? Yep, the 180-400mm f/4 to 560mm f/5.6 (with built-in TC). Against that the 120-300mm f/2.8 looks like a bit of a bargain, as the 180-400mm is US$12,400. Hmm, so which would I rather have? I can't say for sure since I haven't used the 120-300mm, but if I'm spending the equivalent of an excellent condition used car, I'd lean towards the 180-400mm to couple with a 70-200mm on my other camera.

Let's hope that Nikon got a clear signal from Sony when they get around to making mirrorless exotics: maybe the price is okay and exotics are just costly to produce, but that price is only okay if you can drop weight and balance our cameras better (e.g. move the weight in the lens more towards the mount). Because when Nikon finally gets around to making a Z-mount exotics and they don't weight reduce and rebalance, we're going to be in "more of the same" territory and still not taking our wallets out. 

The 70-200mm f/2.8 S. This lens was being much maligned before it's official announcement. People had seen it in glass cases at shows and didn't think much of it. That's mostly because Canon did a rethink—almost exactly what I mention in that last paragraph on the 120-300mm—and designed for compact (and lighter) with their RF 70-200mm f/2.8. That Canon RF lens is slightly less than 6" in length when retracted and 1070g. The new Nikkor comes in at almost 9" and 1360g without the tripod collar, and I think that's about where everyone was thinking it would be after their in glass case examination. (By comparison, the current f-mount lens is 8" and 1430g.)

What changed people's minds with the actual announcement from Nikon was the accompanying MTF charts. They're clearly better than any other 70-200mm f/2.8 we've seen, including the current champ, which is Nikon's f-mount version! Now MTF's derived from theoretical design are not necessarily what you get in practice, but still, most of the reaction was a very appropriate "wow!" 

But wait...there's more!

The lens is both parfocal (doesn't change focus with zoom) and benign with focal length breathing (no focal length change when focusing). That gets my attention. Even though I probably won't use the lens for video, I still like parfocal, because I can zoom in, magnify, and focus, then demagnify and zoom out and know I'm focused exactly where I want to be. You can't do that with the current 70-200's. 

The multi-motor focus, weather sealing, and the internal VR that works with sensor VR just dot the i and cross the t. I think Nikon may have a winner here, just like the 24-70mm f/2.8 S. And by the way, the 14-24mm f/2.8 S has popped up in the glass case at CES. It looks pretty much like we expected it to, and near the same size and look as the 24-70mm f/2.8. Nice, particularly if once again the MTF is top notch.

For what it's worth: the lenses that are appearing as near final are the 14-24mm f/2.8 S, the 20mm f/1.8 S, and the 50mm f/1.2 S, all of which were on the 2020 release schedule from the original lens road map. None of the other lenses on the Z-mount road map have dates associated with them other "by the end of 2021."

Final Thoughts. Product in hand and being put to real world test is what you really need in order to make effective buying decisions. I'm told that all three of the above goodies will be available by the end of February, so it won't take long before the Internet chatter about these products goes from "initial impressions" to "actual ability." So don't get too caught up in anything that's being written at the moment, including from me.

Bonus: Meanwhile, over at Canon, their European Senior Product Marketing Manager was quoted as saying: "...should the market demand it, we are ready to create new EF lenses. But for now, our focus is on RF." This is being widely interpreted as "no more new EF lenses are coming." At least not unless Canon sees a change in customer demand.

This wasn't the way to "announce" such a change, if that change is actually true. At a time Canon still needs to sell DSLRs, in particular their new flagship 1DX Mark III, you really don't want to send a message that says it's an orphan now. And you certainly don't want to send such a message from a mid-level manager at a subsidiary. I suspect we're going to see a followup statement from corporate that is a little less direct.

To Nikon's credit, they aren't making that same mistake. They're still 100% on the "DSLRs have a future" plan at the moment, while continuing to invest in their mirrorless future. Thing is, Nikon is correct: DSLRs and mirrorless can (and have) cohabit for awhile. My only problem is that Nikon has undermined their new DSLR product a bit (removing flash and grip, for example). If there is truly ongoing DSLR demand, you need to more boldly serve those customers.

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