News/Views

News and commentary about the Nikon DSLR world and photography in general. This page automatically updates with links for each new news/views story and is a good place to bookmark if you want to see the traditional bythom "front page" type of story. 

Latest News/Views stories (top is most recent):

Who Listens Most?

A couple of my articles recently, particularly the "What We've Never Gotten" article last week, have provoked some comments to me about who is and who isn't listening in terms of camera makers. Of course I have my own views on this ;~).

Certainly Fujifilm seems to be the company listening most to its customers right now, and is actively encouraging feedback from them. They did a good job early on in the X era in picking out a few pros that helped them identify gaps and opportunities in their product feature sets that they needed to fill (and are still filling, witness the upcoming X-T2 firmware update). At trade shows, I often see Fujifilm execs, and they're always willing to talk. They seem eager to understand the camera market from the customer perspective. Moreover, it's very clear that anything that they hear as a deficiency in their products tends to get down to the developers and addressed.

Somewhere behind Fujifilm I'd put Hasselblad (at least recently) and Leica. Both now seem very approachable, even as a customer, and both seem more than willing to listen if you engage them. Leica seems a little slow in rolling out customer suggestions for improvement, but I've noticed that issues that customers point out tend to eventually get addressed. They're listening, they're just not as quick to the punch as Fujifilm. Nor are they doing a good job of pointing out that they're listening.

Next down the list I'd put Panasonic and Sony, but both with a particular caveat: they'll listen to select customers or those that they've identified as experts that they believe can help them. And generally only on problems they're trying to solve. So, for instance, the GH line of cameras is getting a lot of attention specifically targeting the videographer customer Panasonic seeks. Thus you can see that the GH5 has a wealth of new specific video features and performance that tackles the things that Panasonic's listening uncovered from GH4 users, and not so much changes to the body and basics of the camera. Amusingly, I note that they still use very strange wording and abbreviations in their menus, even when they've got room for the whole word.

Sony is pretty much the same thing. But in both the case of Sony and Panasonic I note that it seems that the ergonomic/UI types of suggestions they should be hearing don't seem to be getting the same level of attention as specific performance suggestions. (To put some perspective on this, Sony did hear the complaints about the original NEX ergonomics/UI and made changes. But since then, not quite so much. The most recent change in the menu system is welcome, but still doesn't fully address the complaints users had.)

I'm not sure how to characterize Olympus. It seems that they finally heard that they needed to do something about their menus, but that seems to have been interpreted as "new font is needed" more than a full on restructure and naming drill. So we still have the head-hurting "exactly how do I set this camera up to the way I want it" problem we've had with m4/3 since the beginning.

Nikon falls at the bottom of the list. I don't see them doing a lot of listening. Indeed, the last two trade shows I was at, Nikon went so far as to hide their corporate attendees and make them mostly unavailable. I walked up to one Japanese executive I know and he immediately said, "Hi Thom, I have to go." And left. That's kind of the opposite of listening. 

Does it matter if the Japanese camera companies listen to us? 

You bet it does.

Not necessarily in the way that Fujifilm is approaching this ("give us a checklist of things we still need to add or fix"). But rather in the way that you understand what your customer's frustrations are. What problems are they trying to solve where the product actually gets in the way? How do they find the experience of using your product? What do they appreciate about the product and always want retained, if possible? 

Some think you can get this by surveys. To some degree you can, though I've not seen a well-designed Nikon customer survey that would get to the sort of information I'm talking about. 

Meanwhile there's something interesting happening in the digital photography software side of the business: as more companies have taken on the challenge of Adobe's entrenchment, those companies have been pursuing actual photographers en masse. They want to know what they need to work on in their product, they want presets and training from people who know what they're doing, those software companies want to figure out how to ease user problems before Adobe figures it out. So maybe there's hope for some of our workflow issues yet. 

Some Final CP+ Info

Just a quick follow-up on the CP+ show in Japan back in February, as I've not seen this information posted anywhere else.

Four products were awarded a World Premiere award:

  • Interchangeable Lens Camera: Canon EOS M6
  • Lens-Integrated Camera: Fujifilm X100F
  • Interchangeable Lens: Sigma 135mm f/1.8 DG HSM
  • Photo Accessory: Toshiba Exceria Pro SD UHS-II card

These awards appear to be given only to new products at the show, of which there were a limited number, but still it's interesting to see what was regarded in Japan as the most interesting new gear. Nikon, of course, having nothing new at CP+, wasn't even in the running. 

I'm also curious about the following in the final CP+ press release: "CP+ 2018 is scheduled to take place March 1 to March 4 on a larger scale." (Emphasis mine.) The final attendee count for this year was 66,665 persons. Both 2015 and 2016 had just over 67,000 visitors, so show attendance has remained relatively flat recently. Thus, the "on the larger scale" comment is curious.

What We've Never Gotten From Camera Makers

The first useful digital cameras appeared in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s most of the camera makers had digital options of some sort, even if only at the low end. With the turn of the century, digital kicked into full gear with the DSLR era. Digital camera shipments grew dramatically for just over a decade, then peaked a few years ago. We’re now in what is a “mature market.” A declining market.

Funny thing is, during all this time there have been things that photographers have asked for that have just not been put into our cameras, our files, our software, or our documentation. I was reminded of that when a quote from one of my articles last week started getting repeated: "So here we are nearly 30 years after I first started shooting with digital cameras and we still don't have a single program that nails image ingestation." 

Here are few other things that are astonishing that we don't have yet: 

  • Raw histograms
  • Expose to the Right automation
  • Spectral information
  • Useful file naming
  • IPTC data entry (full, not limited)
  • Programmability
  • Motion sensor data
  • Nodal point ID for lenses

The list actually goes on and on. I’ve just highlighted a few of the things that would make my day as a photographer easier, but haven’t happened. 

My bet is that most of those things I mentioned will now happen on smartphones first (a few are already starting to happen in the labs). Which is another indictment of the notion that the camera makers are making the best and the right tools for photographers. 

My friend Iliah Borg, who helped develop RawDigger, tells me that while a couple of camera makers and people involved in the sensor business in Japan have licensed RawDigger, none has ever provided any feedback, and after asking a couple of questions about how RawDigger operates, none have been heard from again. This isolationist type approach on the part of the Japanese just won't get to the best answers and implementations, I fear. Given that Iliah is one of the most knowledgeable folk on the planet about exposure and color, particularly as it relates to capturing and reproducing those correctly, the fact that the Japanese aren't actually engaged in dialog with him is distressing. 

My suggestion? 

Make CPS and NPS annual fee-based programs that also include an annual conference in each of the major territories (Asia, North America, Europe). Make camera engineers and designers available at that conference to interact with (inform) and listen to (survey) the people that are really using their cameras and need more from them.

Right now that’s sort of done through the Canon Explorer of Light and Nikon Ambassador programs, but the problem with that is multiple. First, for obvious reasons, these are promotional programs and the small number of participants are selected by the camera companies for visibility and ability to articulate the company message. 

Second, suggestions from those participants happens sporadically and is always translated up through the subsidiaries to the home office, and then additionally filtered there before it gets to the development teams. In other words, the information is getting managed before it gets where it needs to go. 

Third—in Nikon’s case for sure—there’s too much paternalism in the design process. I’ve watched Nikon ignore many user requests over the years, and dilly-dally on responding to others (the long absence of trip focus and then whether it was consistently implemented when it returned, for instance).  

Thing is, if you're going to try to sell more expensive products to a smaller group of people—which is where the Japanese camera industry is headed—you'd better be sure you're really serving the needs of those customers. And the only way to do that is to get closer to them and hear their specific comments and requests. 


What Goes Away Isn't Camera Companies

As we see the overall demand for cameras shrink and shrink and shrink, it isn't camera companies that go away. The fact that Pentax is still designing and selling DSLRs should tell you that camera companies don't die in Japan. They just morph while getting physically smaller and finding a bigger parent to shield them. 

Just tracking the last four full years:

  • 2013 shipment value total = 1.671b yen
  • 2014 shipment value = 14.4% decline
  • 2015 shipment value = 6.7% decline
  • 2016 shipment value = 18.3% decline

The question is what happens if this sort of continuous decline continues. Canon isn't going away. Fujifilm isn't going away. Nikon isn't going away. Olympus isn't going away. Panasonic isn't going away. Ricoh/Pentax isn't going away. Sony isn't going away. (The reasons vary for this, but that's not important to this discussion.)

No, what goes away is the supporting ecosystem. We've already seen big dealer collapses: Keeble & Shuchat (my old dealer in Palo Alto, CA) closed and Showcase in Atlanta is now closing down. And I've just heard of Crick Camera closing in Kansas City. Prior to that we had the big camera chains like Ritz and Wolf with issues. Next we're seeing magazines disappear: Popular Photography just shipped its last issues and just to show that video isn't immune, HD Video Pro just became a piece of Digital Photo Pro, which means that both of those publications are probably on life support. 

If you haven't been paying attention, you might not have noticed that some third-party companies that looked like they were successful have disappeared, too. Triggertrap—the product I used to control many of my cameras remotely for things like time-lapse and long exposures—is no longer. I've counted as many as a dozen other "small" failures like this in the last six months. There will be more. 

There's also been consolidation going on. Gura Gear took over Tamrac, for instance.

Meanwhile, for things like basic Arca-style plates and other camera accessories, the rise of the Chinese cloners have put immense pressure on that part of the camera industry. In case you haven't noticed, flash units got cloned big time, and if you can put up with variably quality control, you can get Speedlight/Speedlite replacements for pennies on the dollar now.

If you look at Web stats for any digital photography site, including this one, you'll see that visitor traffic has fallen in the last year. Even places like B&H are seeing a significant decline in year-to-year site traffic, and that can't be good for any of us in the long run. 

What's happening is that the previously vibrant ecosystem for photography is slowly shriveling up and dying as the customer base gets smaller and the existing users slow their upgrade cycles. 

Now it may seem ironic that this article appears at the same time as the one on High-End Unavailability: how is it that the overall photography market is dying while we can't seem to get enough new top end gear to meet demand? But these two things are part of the same overall trend: the truly engaged and serious photography professionals and enthusiasts want to stay at the top of the game and push the limits further. Thus, high-end gear that provides that ability is going to be gobbled up, at least up to the point of saturation for that group. Unfortunately, that group is a small and an aging subset of the overall photography market. The young (and even middle-aged) aren't buying DSLRs and dedicated camera gear in the quantity that they used to. Indeed, photography for them has changed from something that you produce and share physically, to something that's shared instantly and can be highly ephemeral (e.g. Snapchat's disappearing images). 

Heck, a magazine for photography probably is out-of-date with the latest Internet photo fad before it hits the newsstand, even with best just-in-time content practices. The paper version of Sports Illustrated is having a hard time keeping up with the Web even with its weekly publishing schedule.

Can you and I do anything to stop the trend that includes closing stores, accessory companies going under, magazines going out of print? Not really. The only ones that can save the industry are all located in Tokyo at the moment. It requires them to make photography approachable, fun, connected to the modern world, and to do that at prices that the majority of people can afford. 

It's probably going to take a combination product to pull that off: something like a really good compact camera mated with a full and large touchscreen interface, application support, and an embedded cellular system. Like this:

Here I've just taken a photo with this new hybrid and it's being displayed, with options to send it to my blog, Facebook, and Twitter (yes, probably delete, send to cloud and other options should be there, too, but I'm too lazy today to completely mock up the perfect camera ;~). You should control which of those icons appear in various modes and the process of using them should be direct and fast. Such a camera still has direct photographic control (note the aperture ring, shutter speed dial, exposure compensation, and maybe a couple of other buttons), but everything else is just touchscreen based, and tries to anticipate what you might want to do (e.g. giving you sharing options while displaying a photo you took, as in the example). 

Unfortunately, we're not seeing that kind of innovation from the camera companies, so we're stuck in the doldrums until they get out of theirs. 


High-End Unavailability

At least for the latest cameras, we're back to seeing a trend we saw many years ago during the digital era ramp up: back-orders on new products.

As I write this, Fujifilm claims that the X-T2, X100F, and GFX 50S demand far exceeds supply; Olympus and Panasonic can't keep up with their OM-D E-M1 Mark II and GH5 orders; Hasselblad can't keep up with X1D orders; the Leica M-10 is in low supply; and the Sony A99 Mark II is back-ordered pretty much around the world. 

The interesting aspect of this is these are all recent high-end products in their categories. The lower end products that have been released in the same time frame all seem to be available in more than adequate supply, at least here in the US. Meanwhile, higher end cameras that have been around for awhile—the D810 comes to mind—are near the end of their production runs and are in good supply, it seems.

So one of these things has to be true: (1) camera makers under-produced initial quantities of new high-end gear; or (2) camera makers didn't anticipate the strong demand for high-end gear. I suspect it's a combination of both. The higher-end products don't just get spit off of automated production lines like beer bottles. Top sensors for high-end products are made in low volume, and you can't just turn the fab line for them up from say, 7 to 11. But clearly the dedicated and serious photographer still demands more performance out of their gear and will pay for it.

Still, I can't help feel in talking to various camera companies that they weren't exactly expecting demand to be as high as it is proving to be for expensive gear. The Medium Format marketplace is going to see huge growth in unit volume this year solely because of Fujifilm and Hasselblad. It may even more than double. Despite prices that start near US$7000 for a body. 

I predict that the camera makers are going to get confused. "Wait, didn't people say they wanted smaller, lighter systems that were simpler?" "Haven't all the Web sites and blogs on photography been complaining about higher prices?" 

In truth there are multiple customers in photography. The one type of customer that the camera companies seem to know how to win over is the one that is critically demanding of "more" pretty much across the board. More pixels, more dynamic range, more focus speed, more frame rate, more everything. And it seems obvious they're willing to pay for the privilege. So if you fall in that group, be careful what you wish for. I'm now hearing rumblings from multiple companies about >US$5000 projects they've got in the pipeline. 

Of course, meanwhile none of the camera companies seem to have any clue about how to create new, lower-end customers. The Japanese camera companies are mostly iteration-driven, not particularly innovation-driven. It'll take true innovation to find new camera customers in the US$500-1000 range is my bet. 

A DSLR System Has Died

It's been over six years since Olympus released any new 4/3 DSLRs, the E-5 being pretty much the last of the breed. But everyone is now noticing that the latest lens catalog from four-thirds.org also states that production of 4/3 lenses has now officially stopped, as well. As I write this, subsidiaries like Olympus USA still list the 4/3 lenses as available (most with big 25% discounts at the moment) and B&H still lists them as current (typically Special Order, though). I expect this to start changing soon as supplies run out.

bythom olympus e1

I wasn't very kind in 2003 when Olympus brought the 4/3 DSLR into being with the E-1. I wrote specifically that using a 4/3 sensor for a DSLR was like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Another quote from my comments in 2003: "Does Olympus really think that they can get a premium over the the Canon 10D, Nikon D100, and Fujifilm S2 Pro with fewer pixels and the requirement to buy new lenses?" 

More importantly, we already had a 11mp full frame Canon 1Ds and a 14mp Kodak Pro 14n DSLR back when that first 5mp 4/3 Olympus DSLR appeared, but the real issue was that sensors then didn't have very high QE (quantum efficiency), fill factor, or lack of read noise, so dynamic range wasn't close to what we expect from sensors today, and a smaller sensor suffered more from all those things plus the issues with the randomness of photons. Thus, smaller sensors were really challenged in low light situations. Heck, all sensors were challenged in low light situations back then, but smaller was a clear disadvantage. 

Unfortunately, we can't go back to 2003 and see reliable, repeatable, tested raw results that are directly comparable, but we can go back to 2007 when the similarly-priced 10mp Olympus E-3 and the 12mp Nikon D300 came out. So even four years after 4/3 appeared, the flagship 4/3 DSLR was still struggling against the flagship DX DSLR, with more than a stop difference pretty much across the board.

Over the years, Olympus iterated a number of 4/3 DSLR models, but another problem kept cropping up, too (pardon the pun): both the 4/3 DSLR bodies were often close to APS/DX body sizes, as were the lenses. That opened up other complaints about 4/3 DSLRs: because they had smaller sensors, they had smaller mirrors, too, and the amount of light getting through to the viewfinder was often referred to by users as a bit of a tunnel vision compared to the big full frame DSLRs that were beginning to proliferate, particularly when Nikon made their FX move in 2007. So why would you want a camera as large as the larger-sensor DSLRs, with a dimmer viewfinder, and a sensor that would struggle earlier in low light?

When Olympus went mirrorless with m4/3 in 2009, the 4/3 DSLR was clearly about to be tipped into the grave. Olympus paid clear attention to better sizing choices with m4/3, evoking the smaller Pen (half 35mm film frame) cameras, and within a couple of years getting down to compact camera size with the E-PM1 body. Therefore the current mirrorless m4/3 system now has a bit more differentiation from the modern DSLR than the 4/3 DSLR ever did, plus sensors have gotten so much better that m4/3 perform more decently in low light while the EVF makes up for the tunnel vision viewfinder.

So we're now down to three DSLR systems with mirrors and prisms (Canon, Nikon, and Pentax) with a hybrid from Sony (fixed mirror SLT models). Of those, the Canon and Nikon systems have over 90% of the sales. The next DSLR vulnerability is how long the Sony SLTs are viable given their very low sales numbers. 


Why I Think the Nikon DL Cancellation Was Wrong

Here's exactly why the DL series cancellation was a terrible decision by Nikon even if they weren't going to make as much money off it as they originally expected. From my In Box:

"Just before Nikon announced the demise of the DL series, I reluctantly gave up and bought my now college-age daughter a Sony RX100 V to replace the camera that she crunched when her light carbon-fiber tripod blew over as she attempted to insert herself into a dramatic image on a blustery day. I asked her to wait to replace her camera until Nikon produced a tiny DL unit with reasonable controls or Panasonic updated the LX100, but her birthday arrived and she wanted something sooner rather than later. She's delighted with the minuscule Sony. Moreover, I'm impressed: the Sony easily surpasses the similarly-tiny Olympus XA cameras that I used years ago while climbing. With that introduction to Sony, I started to ruminate on replacing my Nikon stuff."

Enabling competitors is one thing that you never want to do when you're part of a successful duopoly. Sony is now bracketing Nikon on what remains of the compact camera end, and successfully so. They've tried a couple of times to bracket at the high-end (the A7rII, for example) without quite managing to make a clean go of it, and I'm sure they'll try again soon.

Nikon has their work cut out for them. The only thing that truly defensible for them at the moment is FX DSLRs and perhaps the high-end DX DSLRs (but buzz, buzz*). 


* Just a reminder: buzz, buzz is my shorthand for nagging Nikon for neglecting the DX lens set. I'm going to stay persistent like a fly buzzing round their head until either DX dies or Nikon comes to their senses. I just did a snap survey of D500 owners. From wide angle through mid-range, the majority are using third party lenses. Buzz, buzz. 

Full Series of Nikon Firmware Updates

The D3400, D5600, D7200, D500, D750, and D810 have all gotten recent firmware updates. In the case of the D3400, D5600, and D500, these are all updates designed to make SnapBridge more reliable, with no other known additions or features (I find that very strange for the D500, which clearly still has some issues that should be fixed in firmware). The SnapBridge mobile apps were updated previously to these firmware updates for reliability. 

The D7200, D750, and D810 firmware updates are more extensive. In all three cases, the WT-7 wireless transmitter is now supported, but each of these cameras had bug fixes as well, many of them significant. 

Curiously, the D610 did not get a firmware update, the only one of the main current DSLR models not to. 

I've updated the camera database to reflect the current firmware numbers, as I always do.


Nikon Hasn't Lost Everyone

After my article last week on what Nikon users are thinking, there was a minor blip in the In Box that countered some of what I wrote, so let's get right to that.

"I wanted to give you the viewpoint of someone who recently doubled down on Nikon rather than walk away from them... I just bought a D500, 16-80mm, 70-300 VR AF-P (I got it in a bundle for $250 and have been very impressed with it, especially for its size and weight), and an 85mm f/1.8G."

I've never written that Nikon doesn't have competitive DSLRs. In particular, I can see from my book sales and correspondence that the D500, D750, and D810 in particular resonate quite well with the traditional Nikon user. Of course, there were four extra years where the D500 purchaser had to wait for anything interesting, the early D750 user probably had to send their camera back to Nikon to make right, and even the D810 had an early "white dots" hiccup. 

Still, I'd be the first one to claim that from the D3400 to the D5 Nikon has an excellent and arguably state-of-the-art DSLR product line. Even as disappointing as the D3400 update was to some, I found it to be a step forward, particularly in Live View focus. If SnapBridge gets stabilized, fixed, and enhanced, there's nothing wrong with a D3400. But it's a tough sell because DSLRs are now a tough sell. 

The problem Nikon currently has is the same one they had in the 1990s: they've gone one-dimensional, and some of their execution points with new technology are coming up short. I have no doubt they'll fix both those things eventually, but right now, Nikon is still becoming more one-dimensional, not less. 

"I’m as distraught over company direction as everyone else but there is no way I’m changing brands. I love my setup and it really is a joy to shoot with the D750 (for me and my needs). It’s weird to tell people [that] I love my setup and wouldn’t trade it out for anything else and also advise them NOT TO start with Nikon."

Statements like this should scare the living daylights out of Nikon executives. The good news is that this person is staying loyal to Nikon (and already has, having upgraded from a D300 to a D600 to a D750). The bad news is that they wouldn't recommend a Nikon product to others. 

Just to be clear, I'm not in that camp. I'm perfectly happy to recommend most any Nikon DSLR to others. Having used pretty much everything that's available, if you're in the market for a DSLR, I believe that Nikon makes one at every level that is arguably state-of-the-art. But I'm finding more and more folk who are more like this correspondent, where they will continue to upgrade their Nikon DSLR over time, but have stopped recommending them to others. 

If this really is a trend, it's a terrible trend for Nikon, who's battling for increased sales numbers in a declining market. If all you have are upgraders buying your product, over time you slowly lose sales. That's particularly true for the mature DSLR market, as many DSLR users are at retirement age or older now. They simply won't buy as often and will eventually stop buying. 

"Unlike some, I have no plans whatsoever to replace my gear with that of another manufacturer's. In fact, I just filed my 2016 income tax return. With part of my refund I plan to upgrade to a D7300 in 2017 or 2018. I'm also looking for a good used Nikkor 17-55mm f/2.8 or 16-80mm f/2.8-4 as well as the 200-500mm f/5.6 eventually."

Not all the In Box messages had negative statements within the positive. There's no question that many Nikon SLR/DSLR owners are wedded to their brand of choice. There is a question of how many of those remain. But still, it's good to know that people who were in the sweet spot (D70->D80->D90->D7xxx) of the Nikon DSLR lineup are still looking forward to moving up when they can. 

And then there are the pragmatists:

"As a faithful Nikon shooter since 1976 also an NPS member for the last few years. I just wonder what Nikon has been thinking. They got rid of the great support staff in Canada, moved off shore, now back to USA, and changed the time to regular business hours. What are they thinking service costs money so let's lose business? I have been thinking seriously about moving to Canon, then went to the Mt, and asked myself do I really want to change? No, for if they do go under there will be some really good bargains out there in used gear. I'm going to stay put and not learn a whole new system. But I would really like to talk with some of the big Nikon execs."

It's messages like this that reveal the real issue for Nikon: perception. Like many of you, this reader has been paying close attention—note the comments about how support changed over the years. Also like many Nikon users, he doesn't want to disrupt his learned camera control or workflow, thus puts a value on staying within the brand even if the brand self-destructs. 

It used to be that I could track Nikon "brand value" through companies that rate that sort of thing. But slowly Nikon fell off the list of the top brand values and now I'm not exactly sure where they fall. But fall is the operative word. Nikon has lost brand value, and that's all about perception of the customer. Even for these customers who are sticking by Nikon, the perception is of a company that has gone downhill, not gotten better for them.

"I have been a Nikon user since 1967 and stayed loyal for a long time. In the last 2 to 3 years I have bought a Tokina, Sigma, and a Tamron lens. The Tokina because Nikon don’t make one, the Sigma on price and the Tamron on price and size."

I'm hearing more and more stories like this one, too. You'll note almost immediately that we're talking DX cameras here (Tokina 11-16 or 11-20mm f/2.8 is the first lens in question). In other words, the user is staying with Nikon in terms of camera body, but supplementing the system with lenses from third parties (buzz, buzz Nikon! ;~). Is that really what Nikon wants? Just to sell camera bodies? Somehow I think not. Yet it's becoming more and more the case even among the faithful that are sticking with the F-mount.


But note I wrote "minor blip" up top. The other commentary coming to my In Box basically remained similar:

"Someone needs to right this rudderless ship."

"Nikon has a cultural problem, and there is no sign of revolutionizing on the corporation horizon."

Personally, I'm willing to give Nikon some time to show that they understand their predicament and can forge a plan to get out of the box they've put themselves in. As I've tried to say from day one: Nikon makes great DSLRs, they make great FX lenses, but they're slipping in terms of customer perception and their forays into other products haven't been fruitful. If Nikon doubles down on DSLRs, produces DX lenses, and comes up with a viable mirrorless alternative, that would go a long way towards restoring the brand faith, I think. Sprinkle in something remarkable in the compact realm (e.g. more Leica Q than Canon G X), and I think they can shore up the base. 

But the clock is definitely ticking, and the DL fiasco meant that a whole bunch of ticks went by without anything useful appearing. 

Admitting Failure the Wrong Way

It's rare that the Japanese admit failure at something, but when they do they often make the admission in ways that simply don't resonate right with Western audiences. 

Take, for example, the cancellation of the DL premium compact cameras. If you go to NikonUSA's site you'll find that "Premium Compact" is still in the menu system under "Nikon Products". When you click on that item, you get the following page:

bythom nikon dl cancellation

This just seems odd to me in every way. We have a section on their Web site for products that basically says "no such products will be available." I don't think that's what Nikon intended. 

Having long had to read between the lines with Nikon's wording due to the translation component, the "cancellation...of the DL series of premium compact cameras" (my emphasis) I think is supposed to be interpreted as "we'll have premium compact cameras, just not the ones we announced in early 2016." Yet the takeaway from everyone who comes to that page will be that Nikon has no premium compacts and won't. 

But there's more. Nikon makes the admission on that page that their engineering had issues, which caused an initial delay, and then corporate decided that these products wouldn't be profitable enough once fixed. For the Japanese, this is the equivalent of airing dirty laundry in the front yard and inviting everyone over to look at it. 

To what end? As long as this page sits in the Nikon product listings, it's just an open statement of embarrassment that will probably produce incorrect inferences (again, that Nikon won't make any premium compact cameras). 

The cancellation should be left as a news story in the Press Room, not a long-term marketing statement in the Products section. While I appreciate the apology within Nikon's statement, given that there is no statement of how they're going to deal with this product segment in the future, having this page so prominent in their product section is just going to send people to competitors. The on-going takeaway is simple: Nikon is not capable of producing such products (premium compacts). 

Note: the Japanese site is a little better. When you get to the Premium Compact page, you just get a simple statement that the series was cancelled on February 13th (though if you click through on the individual products, you'll get the full apology statement).

The irony here is that Nikon is trying to be open and communicate with its customers, something I've called for many, many times in the past. Yet in doing so here, they've actually got much of their customer base wondering what the heck is going on in Tokyo that this product launch could have gotten so completely messed up. 

The missing component is the usual missing one in an apology: what actions are you going to undertake to make sure this doesn't happen again? Nikon mentions "inconvenience," but that's an open-ended inconvenience for anyone thinking that they might buy a Nikon premium compact camera in the future. Nikon gives us no forward-looking statement as to what they're going to do about this market segment, not even a throw-away line like "we're working on coming up with better solutions in this product category." 

Frankly, if the DL products were ready and performed as expected, Nikon should have just released them. Or maybe only a subset of them. The damage that Nikon is now doing to their reputation is ongoing, considerable, and won't be repaired until such time as Nikon has a premium compact product on the market that is competitive. 

There are times when you sometimes have to produce a product that has a lower return on investment than you'd like, mostly because it shores up a hole in your business and confirms your brand reputation while establishing a placeholder in the category. The DL line should have been just that. 

Given the last minute decision to cancel DL, I highly doubt that Nikon has anything in the pipeline that will soon make us forget these now non-existent models. But their competitors do. 

With KeyMission in retreat, Coolpix gone cold, Nikon 1 in a state of suspended animation, the lack of DL models now makes Nikon "only a DSLR company." As good as Nikon's DSLRs are, they're not good enough to insure long-term viability. Nikon is in danger of going rapidly from a broad line camera company to a niche DSLR company and all that implies. 


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