The D780 Arrived (With a Thud)

I know it's only been a weekend, but I did a quick survey of some dealers I know: the D780 seems like it landed like a paperweight on most dealer's shelves. It's been awhile since I saw a brand new camera go from "New Item-Coming Soon" status to "In Stock" at B&H on the very day it shipped to dealers. 

There apparently was no backlog of folk waiting breathlessly for the D780. As I told my dealer: I doubt he'll sell another until clear, well-considered reviews start hitting. 

Nikon really only has themselves to blame for this. 

Note that I don't object to what they did with the D780: it's an updated D750 that has a quasi-hybrid ability for Live View and video it gets from the Z6 sensor. 

You may remember my earlier article about what I'd do if I were running Nikon's product development. I poo-pooed any D750 replacement, which turned out to be the D780, because of where it fits in the lineup. In essence, Nikon is trying to keep its "DSLR is better than mirrorless" cycle going with the D780. By that, I mean D7500>Z50, D780>Z6, D850>Z7. The problem with that is that the Z6 is one heck of a fine camera as is, and currently US$500 cheaper. That's a big problem, actually, as the D780 has to convince you its worth US$500 more in order to sell. 

With a D780 in hand, I'll back off my negativity regarding the D780 a bit, but only a bit. The D780 so far seems to be a very nice combination of many of the things that Nikon does best, and its hybrid nature is a good deal for someone thinking about making a slow transition from F-mount to Z-mount (DSLR to mirrorless).

It simply all gets back to cramming the price/product point. There's a lot of 24mp full frame cameras now, and there's a lot of cameras in the just under/over US$2000 mark. Nikon's trying to sell two different ones, which means that this is a full on marketing problem. As good as the engineering on the D780 might be, that's not what will sell it. Marketing will. And probably only marketing. 

So what's Nikon's overall marketing message: "Versatility meets agility." Someone's been bulking up on their English synonyms, because what Nikon really means is "Highly flexible and fast." Buried at the end of a bunch of techno/new age mumbo jumbo is the actual point Nikon needs to make really loudly and clearly: "...it's a serious upgrade in terms of speed, image processing, video capability, autofocus performance..." 

Yes, it is. Yet two of those four are also clearly done by the Z6, maybe even three. Oops. (Oh, and I stayed on the NikonUSA D780 Web page too long: a pop-up was suddenly displayed offering me a free trial for a Z50; way to market, Nikon ;~).

We're going to see more of the same when the D6 details are finally revealed: a serious upgrade in terms of speed, image processing, video capability, autofocus performance. But these are things we expect. The missing ingredient in the marketing is giving us a clear view of what these improvements enable that we couldn't do before. And again, in the case of the D780, why we'd want to pay US$500 more for two of them. 

Here's the thing I'm contemplating right now: the Z6 could have had two UHS-II slots, it could have had the new long shutter speeds (up to 15 minutes), it could have had the slide copying facility. In short, it could have been exactly a D780 in mirrorless cladding. But for some reason, Nikon thinks there are two models not separated by much that they can sell. I'll bet that making the two models exactly equivalent in every area they could wouldn't change Nikon's ultimate sales volume on them by even one camera. So I'm betting Nikon made a mistake.

That's because the underlying assumption that Nikon is using is this: (1) there are people ready to switch to mirrorless, but willing to settle for less; and (2) there are people who prefer the optical viewfinder still and will make a slow transition to mirrorless, and want more. That "willing to settle for less" bit seems inappropriate, at best. In a contracting market, all you do is disable a potential sale when that potential buyer realizes that they're getting less than they could. 

All that said, my initial impression is that the D780 is to the D750 as the D810 was to the D800: on paper a lot of simple changes, but in practice a clearly better camera. After all, "it's a serious upgrade in terms of speed, image processing, video capability, [and] autofocus performance." ;~) Why not lead with that, Nikon?

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