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. 

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Best Versus All-Around

I've written many times that the Nikon D850 is the best all-around ILC you can get, and the Sony A7Rm3 is my runner up. I haven't explicitly laid out the case of how I make such a determination. So let me do so today.

To understand how you get to a really good "all around" camera definition, you have to first understand "best."

Jim Kasson recently posted something that spoke directly to the way I think. 

Think of it this way: what's the best camera for sports? For landscapes? For portraits? For black and white shooting? For macro work? (We can keep generating more task-specific cases, but let's not make this article too long ;~). 

Basically pick a specific category that someone might specialize in and choose the very best still camera tool we currently have available for doing that. What we end up with is something like this:

  • Best sports camera — I'd argue that the Nikon D5 is that camera, with the Sony A9 being a strong contender for certain situations where the 20 fps or silent shooting is truly necessary. There's just not a better camera at capturing moving subjects at any speed at high frame rates than the D5. The "keeper rate" on my D5 is higher than I've achieved on any other camera, and I've spent a lot of time with other products trying to top that. It also helps that the D5 is brutally rugged—never know when that receiver is going to knock me over on the sidelines—and as weatherproof as anything the big boys have made. These things are all reasons why the A9 comes in second, by the way. Yes, I know some Canon fans are upset at this point because I didn't put the 1DXm2 at the same level. But truly, I don't think it is. It's not that the 1DXm2 is a bad camera, it's just that it is now lagging slightly in a number of areas that I feel would be important to a sports shooter. Not lagging by much, but remember, we're trying to define "best." The bars being set here are: focus performance, buffer performance, frame rate, low light performance, ergonomics, battery life, and the intersection of all those things.
  • Best landscape cameraI think we have to look at medium format for this, which nets us the Fujifilm GFX50S as best. Why not the Hasselblad X1D? It's a simpler camera lacking a few features that landscape shooters will almost certainly want. In terms of image quality, though, the differential is pretty much solely dependent upon what lens you put in front of that big 50mp sensor, so one might argue for either camera. I haven't tried all the lenses, so can't say if that shifts my choice a bit. The bars being set here are: dynamic range, pixel count, and static focus help.
  • Best macro cameraWhile macro is basically defined by lenses—which puts an early lead to the big lens sets of Canon and Nikon—the camera can contribute heavily here, too. Focus stacking, dynamic range, ability to remove all shutter/vibration from the image data, and focus peaking become the bars that establish one camera as being better than another here. Arguably the Fujifilm GFX50S and Nikon D850 fit those parameters best at the moment.
  • Best black and white cameraIt won't be a Bayer camera ;~). One might argue that an X-Trans camera would be slightly better, but it won't be an X-Trans camera, either. In all likelihood, it's not even a Leica Monochrom M that turns out to be best, but a Phase One monochrome back. The bar here is simple: full luminance data captured at every position, and plenty of pixel count. 
  • Best portrait cameraHere we'll likely get into some arguments. Portraits (and most studio work) set both a high bar and a low bar simultaneously. And that has mostly to do with moire. While the high-end studio/portrait work wants high resolution, it also doesn't want moire, nor does it want to spend a lot of time doing post processing to remove detail. So this is a tricky category. Very tricky. Cameras that do pixel shift to build RGB data for all capture positions—such as the Olympus E-M1m2, the Panasonic G9, the Sony A7Rm3—have the problem that this function doesn't work with moving subjects, and that can rule them out for portraiture, though not for taking static product shots that include fabrics. I'm not sure there's a "best" in this category, which is a bit shocking considering how big a photographic category it is.

Now take the Nikon D850 and run it against all the "bests" (including in categories I didn't mention here). It's already in one of the lists (macro). It comes reasonably close to the sports camera at the top of list, giving up bits and pieces at each piece of the bar, but not a lot. It comes mighty close to the landscape best, missing a bit with dynamic range and a tiny bit with pixel count. The two weakest aspects would be as a black and white camera or as a portrait camera: in both those cases it has clear weaknesses to whatever we might proclaim as best. 

The Sony A7Rm3 is a bit behind the D850 in sports, landscape, and macro (and again, other categories I'm not defining here). Not far behind, but in my analysis, behind. Which is why I proclaim it as the second-best all-around ILC you can purchase.

At this point you might be able to see how the other cameras start to fall further behind in the all-around category:

  • The m4/3 cameras miss on dynamic range, pixel count (for any moving subject), focus performance, and more in the all-around category compared to those two full frame cameras I just mentioned. Likewise, the DX/APS-C cameras tend to have many of the same weaknesses. (Note: this doesn't make any of them "bad cameras," just that they're not going to get my "all around" endorsement over the two cameras I've identified.)
  • The Canon DSLRs are a bit long-in-the-tooth at one end (e.g. 1DXm2) and didn't quite match the level of the Nikon/Sony at the other (e.g. 5Dm4). The common complaint you hear from Canon users is that they wish their cameras had something that they see in the Nikon DSLRs or Sony mirrorless cameras. Those Canon shooters are basically happy, but they see that they've been leapfrogged. That's not the first time that's happened, and Canon has always eventually leapfrogged back, but that's not the case today as I write this.
  • The Sony A7m3 is an interesting case in point. No, it does not focus as well as even the A9 for sports. No, it doesn't have the pixels for landscapes. It's not set up to shine at macro work. It has a one-axis AA filter which I don't think really solves the moire problem. At least not the way I'd want it solved. Is it a "good all around camera"? Sure. Is it the best? No. 

You'll probably have noticed that I didn't mention event shooters in the above discussion. That's because you never really know what you'll need in event shooting. The pixel count bar typically isn't very high for event shooters, which leads them to lower pixel count cameras to keep low-light abilities up, but in most of the other things an event shooter is going to want the best all-around camera. 

Which is one reason why I see a lot of event shooters step down one step from what I call the two-best all-around cameras to the next two-best: the 24mp full frame cameras, specifically the Nikon D750 and the Sony A7m3. 

I also haven't mentioned video. I do take that into account when I anoint my best all-around comments to a product. As it turns out the Nikon D850 and Sony A7Rm3 are both really good video cameras, with slightly different drawbacks (for Nikon it's video autofocus, for Sony it's the fact that the A7Rm3 bins 4K at full crop, or makes you go to APS-C crop to get a better image). 

Still, I also note that very few DSLR/mirrorless shooters outside a number of Sony vloggers are shooting video with what are effectively still cameras (at Kando 2.0, I noted that many of those Sony vloggers are using A6xxx bodies anyway, because they want something small, light, and better suited to a handheld gimbal). 

So there you have it: I start by trying to define best in a number of photographic categories (again, more than I've described above), then evaluate all cameras against how they stand up to those bests. Sometimes I discover a new "best" winner, as I did when I started using and then reviewed the Nikon D5 (sports). Sometimes I discover a camera that does really well up against the best, as I did when I started using and evaluating the Sony A7Rm3 and Nikon D850 (landscape). 

But I'm always looking at the balance across categories, too. That Nikon D5 is a beast for sports, but it's not even close to the camera I'd pick for landscapes. The Nikon D850 isn't terrible at sports—indeed it's better than we had a couple generations ago—and it is a camera I'd pick up for landscapes.  

Downsizers

I've written about Samplers, about Leakers, about Last Camera Syndrome folk, but it appears that there are still categories of camera purchasers that I haven't written about. 

Recently I got an email from someone that reminded me of another category I've wanted to write about: Downsizers. This particular person decided not to upgrade from their Nikon D7000 to a newer D7200 or D7500, but rather ended up with a Canon G5X. He downsized.

That isn't as unusual as you might think, and it once again calls attention to Nikon's terrible decision not to produce the DL models (or update the Nikon 1, or update any true pro Coolpix). 

It isn't just smartphones that have gotten better over time until they became "good enough." Putting 1" sensors in small cameras was a big step up from the even smaller sensors that compacts and casual cameras had been using. In particular, the Sony RX-100 is a common camera I see people downsizing to, as it fits in a shirt pocket, so it's convenient enough to use over a smartphone. 

Other examples of the small camera we've seen are the Canon GX series, the Panasonic LX and Z series, and even something as big as the Fujifilm X100.

But you also see downsizing in the move many make from DSLR to mirrorless. The Canon M5/M6/M50/M100 are near Canon DSLR-like in ability and image quality, but considerably smaller. Sony, of course, capitalized on the smaller A7 body sizes with some early small (but mostly poor) f/4 lenses, highlighting the fact that you didn't have to hang a four pound brick off your neck when you traveled with full frame.

Note the three "hot" cameras in full frame at the moment: the big-as-always but better-than-ever Nikon D850, which is catering to the faithful; and the two A7 Mark III models that are as good enough but smaller and cater to the downsizer. 

It's not that capable DSLRs aren't selling. They are, and they continue to outsell mirrorless cameras. It's that slowly but surely, people are peeling off from the DSLR duopoly for one reason or another. Last Camera Syndrome folk just stop updating their bodies. Samplers don't update their DSLR but rather check out a mirrorless system to see if it's "good enough." Some Samplers turn into Leakers when they discover that the mirrorless system is good enough, and that it has some other attribute—typically size/weight—that is appealing. Downsizers just get tired of pulling their four-pound behemoth out of the closet every few months to carry along on a trip they want to document.

The only camera company that I think gets all this is Canon. (Okay, it's possible they're just iterating everything because, well, they can.) In the Canon world, DSLR users can: (1) stay with DSLR and just continue the upgrade cycle; or (2) downsize into a smaller DSLR (SL2), mirrorless (M), or compact (GX). Heck, we even have a GX, M, and DSLR set of cameras using the same APS-C sensor, so it isn't exactly image quality you're changing as you downsize in the Canon world.

If you wonder why Canon is continuing to dominate compacts and ILCs, it's simple: they dominated before and they have all the cameras necessary to keep people from leaking or downsizing outside the brand.

Yes, yes, I know that some of you are screaming at your computer/tablet/phone as you read this: "but Thom, the Canon sensors suck." No, they don't. They may not quite currently hit the levels that the Nikon/Sony sensors are reaching in terms of dynamic range, but note the words "good enough" and how many times they appear in this article, in other articles and reviews, and in customer discussions. 

Good Enough usually wins in the marketplace. There's usually a solid niche available for Better Than Others. But Good Enough is where the volume will be. 

I'll be writing about the Sony RX-100m6 and the Panasonic ZS200 this summer. I believe my conclusion will be that one of those is Good Enough, while the other isn't. Downsizers stay tuned.

Supreme Court Overrules Supreme Court

You can tell when a court isn't itself totally clear about what to do. We have one conservative voting with three liberals, and one liberal joining with three conservative justices. The justice in the middle of those ideological leanings, Anthony Kennedy, once again was the deciding vote.

What am I referring to? The case in question is South Dakota v. Wayfair, a case about whether sales tax has to be collected by out-of-state entities. The case overturned is Quill Corporation v. North Dakota. (What is it about the Dakotas and out-of-state sales tax?)

You've probably been reading lots of opinions and articles about the Wayfair ruling today. Much of what is being written is not being written accurately. Moreover, most of the arguments that people are using in Internet fora and most of the descriptions about why things like Amazon stock took a plunge are just dead wrong. 

It's a bit important that you know what's going on here and what the problems are. That's because a majority of camera gear is bought online now. Many people thought they were saving money when they bought online and avoided sales tax. They weren't. Most were breaking a law. That's because of something called use tax, which all states with sales tax have in place for when you don't pay sales tax to an out-of-state sales source. 

Let's back up.

45 US states have sales tax (some variation exists on things that are exempt from sales tax, such as food, drugs, or clothing; and some states have one day each year where sales tax isn't charged). Whether you like sales tax or not, it exists through much of America, and it's one of the few methods by which state and local governments can get direct funding from their constituents. If you get something from out-of-state and don't pay sales tax on it, you are legally obligated to pay a use tax on it, which you generally report on your income tax return.

So far, so good. 

You may remember a time when mail order thrived. You'd get catalogs in the mail and you could phone or mail in orders that would be delivered directly to you. The initiation of free rural mail delivery through the US in 1896 played a role in that happening, as it allowed people in small towns to buy things they couldn't get locally. Sears, Roebuck, and Company was one of the first big practitioners of mail order, though over the years many other companies got into the mail order business. 

Eventually, states figured out that people buying mail order from out-of-state businesses weren't paying sales tax on their purchases. So we got lawsuits. The first of which that gave the modern definition that the term "nexus" had in conjunction with mail order was, I think, National Bellas Hess, Inc. v Department of Revenue of Illinois, which the Supreme Court decided back in 1967.  It was followed in 1992 by Quill Corporation v. North Dakota. Those two cases are the ones that are usually cited in sales tax discussions, though there are others.

Basically, up until this week, the premise was that a business had to have a physical presence ("nexus") in a state for a state to require that business to collect sales taxes. 

What the Wayfair decision has done is overturn Quill. But you're probably hearing about this in coverage that doesn't understand nuance. The reason why the court decided as it did in Wayfair is that South Dakota wrote particular language into their sales tax legislation that they claimed—and the Supreme Court has upheld—avoids the problems of burdensome reporting and established a meaningful de minimus (minimum) threshold. South Dakota has many local sales taxes as well as state, but they claim these are minimized to outside entities. 

It's the de minimus threshold that probably swayed the court, though. What I mean by that is that only businesses with at least 200 transactions or US$100,000 in sales to South Dakota residents need collect the sales tax and report it.

For large online sales companies, this isn't a big deal. The implication is that those companies will do enough business that they'll now have to generate 45 sales tax payments and reports to the states (though I should point out that the timing of such reports varies from state to state, and we still have to get to the part about local sales tax and variations on what is actually taxed). 

For small companies like mine, the new standard is totally burdensome, however. There are a handful of states that I do 200 transactions in a year. What they are, I don't know as I write this, as I'll have to go back and do a lot of accounting sleuthing to figure that out. And I'll also bet that it has varied every year. There are no states in which I do US$100,000 of online sales (duh). 

What I argued for—and what Congress has had in draft form for a couple of decades now but has never had a vote on the floor that I know of—is a centralized collection point. Because online commerce is mostly interstate, it really is the Federal government that needs to be in charge of online sales that cross borders. 

The proposal for the Federal government to collect the appropriate state sales taxes and distribute it properly has been drafted many times, but still not law. It's the only solution that would address the nexus issue, the de minimus issue, the burdensome reporting issues, and the whole notion of laws that apply to someone that can't vote for or against them. Indeed, it was the Supreme Court in Quill that suggested the centralized Federal approach ("not only [an issue] that Congress may be better qualified to resolve, but also one that Congress has the ultimate power to resolve."). Note that states and locales would still be able to select their tax rates and what those apply to under a correctly Federalized approach.

What's going to happen now, though, is that 44 other states are going to adopt some variation of the South Dakota law language and insist online businesses to pay and report sales tax directly to them, regardless of where the business is located. I'll make you a wager that some try to finesse and change the South Dakota language, so we'll get more confusion, not less. 

To put it succinctly, we currently have at least 10,814 sales tax jurisdictions in the US (state, local, and city). Texas alone has 1594. While people tell me there is software to do all the work of figuring out the proper tax and reporting it, I'll also point out that all those that have tried to do that came up with conflicting reports. Neither postal code nor street address seems to be able to convincingly point to the right answer for any given delivery. Worse, what is taxed varies across tax jurisdictions (keep reading). This comprises burdensome reporting, and it places out-of-state entities at risk of penalty that they have no real way to challenge (they have no legal presence in the state, thus no representation they can complain to). 

Within a few months, companies like this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H, will likely be collecting sales tax nationwide. Get ready for it. It will happen. If you're one of those that think that use tax is a rule that you can and should break, you have very little time left to break that rule ;~). 

Which is where we start to get into all the wrong information being bandied about on the Internet. For example: "this new ruling will hurt Amazon." Nope. Amazon is already collecting sales tax on orders they serve across the country. It probably will hurt very small companies that are using Amazon as their ecommerce engine (e.g. the ones that say "fulfilled by Amazon"). The ones that say "Ships from and sold by Amazon.com"? You're already paying state sales tax on those (you might not be paying local taxes, but note what I wrote about 10,814 taxing jurisdictions that computer programs don't agree on yet and which generate a reporting burden; that still needs to be fixed, and there are several states where Amazon is not yet doing that). 

You'll also see statements that the Wayfair ruling will help local brick and mortar stores. I've seen not a single shred of evidence to even imply that this will be true. Amazon started collecting sales tax, yet they increased sales. That's just one example that suggests the contrary: it seems that convenience and selection and delivery guarantees play a large part in growing online sales and contracting brick and mortar sales. The "sales tax avoidance" idea may be a justification to many, but as I noted, that's not a legal justification. (I've long been paying use tax on my out-of-state purchases, because, well, it's the law.)

Finally, you'll see it written that small online business entities will be hurt by this ruling. That's completely unknown at this point. In theory, the 200 orders threshold ought to apply to local tax collection, too, otherwise the ruling would absolutely hurt a lot of smaller businesses. But it might not, who knows? That's because the Supreme Court really punted on a lot of the issues being argued. The ruling seems to basically say "yeah, the South Dakota language doesn't seem too burdensome." But then it goes on to say that the previous cases are overruled. The problem? those cases held the only established standards. The court did not really address the de minimus and reporting burden issues other than what I just noted: doesn't seem too burdensome. 

Indeed, the court wrote "The potential for such issues to arise in some later case cannot justify retaining [Quill and Bellas Hess]." Gee, you five guys and gals in the robes, you even admit that you're going to end up hearing more cases as states deviate from the South Dakota language and small businesses begin to be able to prove burden. Way to make things clearer.

Justice Roberts got it right in his dissent: "The Court, for example, breezily disregards the costs that its decision will impose on retailers. Correctly calculating and remitting sales taxes on all e-commerce sales will likely prove baffling for many retailers." He cites examples of exceptions to tax rules that vary by jurisdictions, including New Jersey's baffling "sales tax applies to yarn for art projects, but not sweaters" law. Plenty such examples exist, and remember, they can exist in over 10,000 different pieces of legislation now. I should also note that there are plenty of so-called brick and mortar stores that sell to out of state customers. I buy most of my Nikon gear from Jack's Camera in Indiana, for instance. Jack's is now going to find themselves caught up in Wayfair fall-out, too. 

Three bills that address the issues still sit in Congress waiting for a party with a spine to get them to a vote. Most notably the Marketplace Fairness Act, which has been pending since 2011. I support that legislation—even though it isn't perfect—and so should you. It's a better solution than the mess we're about to have.

The Silence From Nikon

Given Nikon's silence on new camera products for almost a year now, look what's happening with this spring's camera buying. NikonUSA really only has two cameras that are generating any big dollars for the company, and for opposite reasons: the inexpensive and always on sale D3400 and the can't build enough D850. In the UK and Europe, Nikon raised the price of a number of products only to immediately offer cash back sales, which makes it look like they're on sale.

A number of you objected when I earlier wrote that Nikon needed to put out a D500s (and a D5s and D5x; but let's just focus on the more affordable D500 here). Your arguments tended to be that we didn't need another "lightweight" update. 

First, would it have really been all that lightweight? Add the D7500's better touch capabilities to be best in class in handling. Add the D850's focus shift and silent photography features to be best in class in feature set. Pioneer one new thing—I'd suggest adding C1, C2, and C3 to the Exposure Mode settings—and you'd have more than enough to issue the press release that says "the best APS-C camera on the planet just got better and retains its lead over the others. More useful features, and now handles better than ever." 

Add in Dynamic 9-point and the other two group AF settings from the D5, and the D500s would still be the mini-D5 anyone can afford and well ahead of the competition. I'm betting that the R&D costs of doing all those things I just mentioned would have been minimal. They require virtually no changes to the camera body or manufacturing process, and there's probably no significant internal changes, either. It's all firmware—and maybe some more internal memory to store that—for the most part. How much would such an effort really cost?

Instead, we have a fairly lame "get a battery pack and a slight discount" deal going on instead of a renewal of product leadership (see this companion article). And, of course, the UK higher-price-but-on-sale thing. When I look at retail sales numbers for the D500, what I see is that it has been slowly sliding lower and lower into irrelevance. The excitement is gone. And with that, the dollars. 

Note also that the product upsell in the DX line is also damaged. While everyone complained about the features that were taken out of the D7500, the D7500 still has a better touchscreen implementation than the D500 (plus it has C1, C2, and C3). It comes close to matching the D500 in key features and matches it in image quality. Which means that you need to push the D500 a little further upscale to justify the price differential, not reduce its price so that it's closer to the D7500 in price. 

Now I know that this is just me voicing lessons learned over a long career in Silicon Valley versus a whole building in Tokyo full of accountants, analysts, and Japanese CES-trained staffers. Yet I'm pretty sure I'm right and they're wrong. They'll argue that they're "optimizing the net ROI across a product line." I'll argue that you have to be careful what you measure if you measure narrowly, because that's what you'll achieve. When everything becomes an ROI cost decision, you're also making an assumption the public won't notice and it won't affect anything else in the buying cycle. I'm telling you—and I'm 100% confident in this assessment—that public perception has turned against Nikon. Thus, each new cost reduction or missing product update becomes a negative on overall ROI as people don't update or worse, sample or move to other brands.

Underlying Nikon's decision not to create a D500s is probably this: the D500 didn't sell as well as they thought. Oh, initially it lit a fire. That first 25k units flew out the door. After that, things got much more difficult. But that, too, is Nikon's own fault. Beyond cutting back on marketing and advertising in that period after the D500 got its foot established, we have the issue of lenses. The D500 became popular with sports and wildlife shooters on a budget, and those folks just used existing lenses. Indeed, the budget go-to is the D500 with the 200-500mm f/5.6. Unfortunately, sports and wildlife shooters are just a subset of the full range of shooters. The rest of the bunch? Hmm. No real lens set to match the camera (buzz, buzz). 

Worse still, the D850 effectively rendered the D500 irrelevant other than price. In essence, shooting DX on a D850 is the same as shooting DX on a D500 in pretty much every aspect. There's nothing unique about the D500 any more other than price.

The word I get out of Tokyo is that top management is effectively now saying "no" to most anything the Imaging Business prototypes or suggests. They want to see immediate and clear ROI on anything, and there are just too many open variables with clear costs in the path of virtually anything Nikon's camera group might want to put out.

The DL cancellation was the first clear indication of top management saying no. DLs weren't cancelled by imaging management. They were cancelled because soft sales projections and high known costs didn't square with top management. Let me remind you: the topmost management at Nikon currently consists of: 2 managers mostly with semiconductor equipment experience, 7 banker, life insurance, and financial side managers, and 2 former imaging group managers. And for those two former imaging group managers: one went on to run the healthcare side of the business, while the other spent the last decade in corporate planning. For a company where 50%+ of their sales still come from the fast-moving camera business, this seems like an incorrect balance of management, to say the least.

You may remember me writing about Nikon's approach to mirrorless and possible models to launch late last year or early this year. That, too, apparently is undergoing the same tight scrutiny for potential ROI that the DLs got. I've heard at least two stories now where the directors pushed back on the Imaging group, and mostly because of costs. There won't likely be any new ILC camera introduced before fall, and even come Photokina there are still indications that nothing is set in concrete. This isn't because things haven't been designed and prototyped. I believe it is because product plans aren't getting past top management.

Nikon is doing the opposite of what I learned to do. First, generate the excitement and volume. Then make sure you can drive costs out to produce the profits. Nikon is currently in a "first cut costs out of everything and then see what product you can still make" mode.

  • That resulted in a lame D3400 update.
  • That resulted in a lame D5600 update.
  • That resulted in what many perceive (mostly incorrectly) to be a lame D7500 update. 
  • That hasn't resulted in an update to the D610.
  • That hasn't resulted in an update to the D750.
  • That didn't result in an update to the D500.
  • That didn't result in an update to the D5.
  • That has resulted in mirrorless products that have yet to appear.
  • That resulted in the DL line to be cut before production started.

Nikon has been in a downward spin for the last five years. What Nikon management has done is decide to just control the spin. That doesn't help you stop going downward ;~). 

Something's got to give, and the time for that to happen is getting shorter and shorter. 

Who Leads, Who Follows, Who Wins?

One way to look at the changing landscape of cameras is to look at the "who is leading, and who waited to follow?" question. As it turns out, the true leaders in deploying significant technologies have almost always ended up with higher market share initially. Sometimes the followers caught up and re-asserted themselves, but not always.

A few examples:

Autofocus — While Nikon and others experimented and prototyped and even produced nascent examples of autofocus for film SLRs, it was Minolta that burst out into the lead with phase detect autofocus built into the camera. It was being slow to the autofocus era that made Nikon slip from the leader in film SLRs to third place. Eventually the Honeywell patent suit against Minolta zapped the Maxxum momentum completely, and Nikon was able to push back into a second place position, though now well behind Canon, which had jumped in with both feet quickly, mastered marketing messages, and took over the film SLR leadership.

DSLR — While Kodak, Fujifilm, and yes, Nikon experimented and prototyped and even produced examples of early DSLRs, it was Nikon that made the first major move into making this more a consumer product with the D1, quickly updated into the D1h/D1x and supplemented with the D100. Not only did this almost immediately push the film SLR market into contraction, it took Nikon back to a leadership position. At least until Canon followed and got aggressive at doing things that Nikon didn't initially push (e.g. more pixels, larger sensor sizes).

Mirrorless — The m4/3 duo was really the first to make a major move here and established early dominance, particularly in the markets that first embraced mirrorless cameras (the Asian markets). Sony moved aggressively very soon after, and took over the leadership position. In full frame, Leica was very early with what can be said to be "mirrorless", but Sony was the one that established affordable and more conventional full frame mirrorless. Nikon was relatively early to mirrorless, but with oddball and strange pricing efforts. Canon was late to the party, but has now started moving faster and more aggressively.

We have basically seven camera "companies" that have survived 50 years or more through all the different sophisticated camera technology rollouts. I put "companies" in quotes because some have changed hands and the owner is now different. Those seven are: Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Pentax (Pentax->Hoya->Ricoh), and Sony (Minolta->KonicaMinolta->Sony). Panasonic is an eighth company you might throw in there, but their history doesn't really include film SLRs.

So who are leaders, followers, and winners?

  • Canon — Initially a follower in film SLR, eventually a leader in autofocus SLR; then a follower in DSLR that again flipped to leader; then a follower in mirrorless which may be flipping to leader. Sense a pattern there? Canon isn't generally the first mover, but when they move they move. I think that anyone who underestimates the EOS M and whatever full frame mirrorless Canon decides to produce needs to rethink their position. I'd call Canon opportunistic and well managed. I wouldn't call them the innovator that's going to trigger the next changeover in camera designs by leading the way, but they are quick to understand when that changeover is occurring. Follower that becomes a Winner.
  • Fujifilm — I'm really tempted to just call Fujifilm a Dabbler and move on. Historically, the Fuji Photo Film side of the company has been in virtually everything, starting with film, then expanding into optics, and eventually cameras of various sorts. But the company also has been a leader who looks beyond the products they started with, which has taken them on many tangents (medical, copying, printing, instant photos, and much more). The company is now quite large, but not the digital camera group. I would tend to say that Fujifilm has been a Leader that often backs away. They were an early participant in DSLRs, for example, then completely abandoned them. 
  • Leica — We have to go all the way back to the rangefinder film cameras to find any real threads of leadership at Leica. Indeed, their most mentioned camera even today is still a rangefinder, albeit a digital one. They were late to film SLR, late to autofocus, never made it to DSLR, late to digital (though that made them early in mirrorless; technically you could say they actually pioneered mirrorless way back in 2006, not m4/3 in 2008/2009). Follower.
  • Nikon — This is the most curious company of the bunch. Technically, you can easily see that Nikon was tinkering with virtually every new camera technology that came along, and almost always out in front of the other companies. They were first or early with prototypes to SLR, autofocus, DSLR, and yes, even mirrorless. They were first to patent VR and on-sensor PD, among other things, though not first to make them mainstream. But Nikon truly only entered the market as a leader with SLR and DSLR. They let others lead in autofocus and mirrorless. Nikon is also the company that has grabbed the lead or come close a number of times, but never fully asserts themselves to the point where they hold any lead. Temporary Leader that becomes a Follower. 
  • Olympus — Another curious company. Their problem has traditionally been that they are a follower that never manages to win. Late to SLR, late to autofocus, late to DSLR. This led them to experiment with trying to find a market that they could win (Reis & Trout style): bridge cameras and mirrorless being the two prime examples, but the half frame SLR (original Pen), and small SLR are additional examples of how they tried to "niche themselves." Follower who branches off.
  • Panasonic — The company with the least history. They seemed to have seen the rise of digital at the turn of the century as an opportunity (they were already in the digital video realm). Along the way they've partnered with Leica and bought Sanyo (who was a major OEM provider of digital cameras to others, though Panasonic mainly wanted them for batteries and solar products). Despite the early entry into m4/3 with the G1 and their many experiments with things like the LX100, it's difficult to call Panasonic anything other than a Follower in terms of their overall camera history, and they've been quick to pull back at times on their efforts due to low ROI (a trait Nikon is now employing). They also lean more towards the video side than any of the other digital camera makers other than perhaps Canon and particularly Sony.
  • Pentax — Being small means you have to be faster and nimbler. Pentax was early to SLR and had a long run there, but from there the story gets clouded by size and cashflow and corporate machinations that ended up out of their control. Being even a little late to anything can hurt the smaller players. It's ridiculously hard to be the smaller player, be a follower, and to eventually win. In fact, it's fairly easy to be a small player that's a follower and eventually lose. To some degree, that's what eventually happened to Pentax as the camera group became a pawn in other games by bigger companies. Hoya wanted other aspects of Pentax, particularly the medical side. Hoya I think can now be reliably said to have never really wanted the camera side, so guess what happens when you're following and your resources start to get squeezed? The transfer to Ricoh hasn't changed anything, as Ricoh now has its own problems to deal with, and Pentax is a very small part of the overall company that's never been fully integrated. Follower, and getting slower at doing so.
  • Sony — I'm going to include the Minolta/Konica entities in Sony's history, because Sony pretty much took on the Minolta mount, nomenclature, base designs, and most of the Minolta/Konica camera group in their acquisition, and has been iterating off that for some time now. Thus, in this augmented history we have a leader in autofocus and an early mover in DSLR. And now an early mover in mirrorless that became the leader. Overall, a Leader that sometimes becomes a Winner.

Now these are broad generalizations. I could write a doctoral thesis on the details that lead me to the above simple statements. You may not completely agree with my assessments, but I'm willing to argue them as a strawman for the purposes of discussion. 

Some will note that I used the boldface Winner only twice: Canon and Sony. I used the boldface Leader only three times: Fujifilm, Nikon, and Sony. I'd argue that, removing Fujifilm, is very much the historical context to where we are today. The three remaining companies I just mentioned currently own 60%+ of the compact camera market and 80%+ of the ILC camera market. 

Winner is the easiest to evaluate and conclude about. Who sells the most, and does so with clear and reasonable profitability. Leader is a little trickier to evaluate, as you can lead with a technology, a feature, or a performance aspect, but that lead is often quickly matched by the others. To me, to lead means not just to find the innovation in the first place, but to successfully bring it to the forefront of the market but then hold that lead for some meaningful amount of time. You figure out the true leaders by looking at who the followers follow.

Which brings us to my final point. To a varying degree, everyone follows everyone else. Any company that finds a new technology, feature, performance aspect, product type, or anything else that might result in "leading" (and hopefully eventually "winning") will almost certainly be followed by the rest. 

Thus we constantly have this pull back towards sameness in the products. As any new innovation matures (autofocus, DSLR, mirrorless, etc.), we find all of the players tend to get there with their implementation. Right now we're not quite to that "everyone is following" game with mirrorless.  Nikon and Pentax are conspicuously missing, and Canon took some time before they finally started to get serious about it. 

The curious thing is that DSLR has now only three players in it: Canon, Nikon, and Pentax. Most of the followers all gave up on this market. And two of those remaining players now basically "lead and win everything" in that category, as they hold over 95% of the global market share. Don't discount that and don't overestimate mirrorless. DSLRs still account for a large majority of ILC sales. As I've outlined before, we're still a couple of years away from mirrorless possibly catching DSLR in sales volume. 

Thus, the thing that I'm watching is how fast and aggressive Canon moves to go from Follower to Winner in mirrorless across the board. They've already started to make that transition with crop sensor mirrorless, but when will full frame be added to that push? 

Nikon, meanwhile, is once again in their traditional Temporary Leader that becomes a Follower position. They did some pioneering things in mirrorless (Temporary Leader), messed that up and backed away from it. Given that I'm expecting Canon to move to the Winner position, that will make Nikon once again a Follower if they ever figure out how they're going to re-enter the mirrorless market.

Thing is, customers like Winners. Winning has a gravitational pull on customers that reinforces the win. Do you as a consumer want to buy the "third best selling" product? No. Indeed, in order to do so, you have to convince yourself that there's something the rest of the world didn't notice or figure out. Or the product has to be offered to you at considerable discount or convenience. Either way, it's a justification excuse. 

The so-called Fan Boy phenomenon isn't anything recent. It's a curious combination of two very different groups: (a) those that want to be associated with the "winner"; and (b) those that need to convince themselves that they are on the winning team. Sometimes (a) attracts (b), sometimes (b) helps produce (a). 

All this, of course, says nothing at all about photography ;~). I know great photographers who use Canon, Fujifilm, Leica, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, or Sony cameras. 

So as we finish up the Spring Buying Season, you have to ask yourself a much more fundamental question: does buying X help me make better photographs? If the answer is no, you've probably gotten caught up in wanting to be on the winning team (however you justify the definition of winning).

The irony of writing this article is that I don't have any truly photographic excursions planned until fall. So all this summer I'm basically looking at gear and trying to catch up on reviews. Doh!



Nikon's Second "New Product" in 2018

Apparently even the crew in Tokyo has decided that Nikon has been too quiet. With only only one announcement so far in 2018—the 180-400mm f/4E lens—and no camera announcement since the D850 late last summer, Nikon has finally made another product announcement.

Only it's not a product launch, it's a "development announcement." 

Nikon has used this technique of pre-announcing an announcement a number of times over the years, including most recently last year with the D850. The range of time from the development announcement to the actual announcement of a product has ranged from one month to eight months in the past, with the median three months. 

Why Nikon thinks they have to do this, I have no idea. Perhaps the marketing department was just tired of waiting for something to write a press release about. But functionally, these development announcements serve almost no purpose. It's not that Nikon is trying to "be there first" or throw shade on another company's announcement (e.g. FUD). It's not that there is an expectation for the product being developed (in every case I can think of to date). 

I suspect it's Nikon's awkward way of "trying to go viral." Rather than leak a rumor somewhere, they just come out an say "we're working on X." But why? No one knows. And why announce today? Completely unclear. (One possibility is that Nikon is worried that a lens or lenses being tested out in the wild will be outed, I suppose.)

What product has Nikon announced they're developing this time? Well it has an official name: AF-Nikkor 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. But it has very little other detail ("final specifications and pricing...will be announce later this year").

This new lens will be the 500mm brother of the 300mm PF. By using a phase fresnel (PF) lens element, this simplifies the optical path, making the lens far shorter and significantly lighter than a 500mm f/5.6 lens designed normally. But Nikon offers no details here.

We do have existing patents on 400mm f/5.6 PF, 500mm f/5.6 PF, and 600mm f/5.6 PF lenses from Nikon. The 500mm f/5.6 one features 18 or 19 elements. Total length of it was about 280mm. The current 500mm f/4 is 387mm in length, by comparison. 

I'd expect the 500mm f/5.6 PF to be close to the size of the 200-500mm f/5.6E (270mm) and lower in weight (<5 pounds [2.3kg]). How much lower is the question.

And so Nikon faithful continue to sit and wait. Now at least there's something known that they're waiting for...

No Show Versus All Show

You might have noticed that Sony announced another camera last week: the US$1200 RX100m6 (Mark VI in Sony's Roman numeral fetishism). You probably couldn't escape noticing. 

bythom sony rx100vi

I'm not sure how many media and web folk were at the Sony event in New York City where the launch was also live-streamed, but just a day after the event I could already count almost two dozen vlogs claiming "first look" or something similar. And, of course, dozens of blogs and news articles trumpeted Sony's marketing of the new camera. 

Behind the scenes, I can also tell you that Sony is being very aggressive these days about loaners, too.  And those loaners are shipping with pre-orders or just before. 

Basically every time Sony announces something, the Internet drums are beating heavily in support. Add in events like Kando, a very active Image Artisans group, an active and engaging alphauniverse site, aggressive advertising and marketing campaigns, dealer support, third party lens announcements constantly tickling the wires, plus the enthusiasm of the fan boys, and what happens is that every time Sony launches a product you get this wave of un-ignorable publicity.

Canon and Nikon? Not so much. 

While I get press releases from Canon and some support from them, those tend to be late. They're so afraid of leaks that they've cut off many of their press from embargoed press releases now. Canon's Web online learning site looks drab and old-school compared to alphauniverse. I also can't find a way to sign up on that site to get push notification of new materials being posted, which means Canon hasn't fully discovered how to use the Internet the way Sony has. Canon's approach is a very "you come to us" one, while Sony's is a "we'll come to you."

Meanwhile, Nikon isn't announcing anything, it seems, and despite having asked nicely more than a half dozen times, I never get press releases from them when they do announce something. The last few times they have produced a new product, Nikon has seemed to be completely lazy in doing so. In my review I've written about how the excellent D7500 has basically been mostly neglected by Nikon marketing. From the very launch through today. 

Nikon counts far too much on old-school word-crafting in press releases and on their Web site (buried in the D7500 product details: "the D7500 is built to outperform any camera in its class with top-tier image quality, blazing speed, flawless autofocus, 4K Ultra HD video and pro-grade creative tools..."). Outperform! Buried. Why that isn't the lead and why that isn't then proven via others like their Ambassadors is beyond me. Because it does outperform its class rivals. And some classes above it, as well.

Like Canon, Nikon is very much "you come to us." There are a few exceptions. Nikon has an active Twitter account (though frankly, B&H's active Twitter account is more pro-Nikon than Nikon's). 

One problem is that Nikon hasn't really gotten aggressive about courting tags. NikonUSA will retweet and highlight #nikon type tags. But what's generating those tags? Note that Sony at Kando was giving away tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear to people who used the @sonykandotrip tag in their posts across all social media (disclaimer: I made one such post, and I didn't win anything ;~(. This isn't the first time Sony has used incentives to get more posts, which they then can turn around and point to via things like alphauniverse.

You engage customers via emotion. Via storytelling. Via supporting the customers' own messaging. In this world, I'd have to give Sony an A-, Canon a C-, and Nikon a D (bordering on an incomplete now that they have stopped announcing new products, at all. Bueller? Bueller?).

Sony shows up big time with every new product. Canon shows up. Nikon is mostly absent. So is it any wonder that Sony's sales are up and the Web is full of Sony stories these days? 

Nope. 

I'll state it outright: the bean counters in control of Nikon right now are making a huge mistake. By slowly disconnecting the company from its customers in all forms—new products, marketing, advertising, Internet social media, customer service, etc.—it is making the obstacles to stop their continued sales contraction almost impossible to overcome. 

The Nikon faithful are all waiting for any indication from Nikon about how the company will handle any addition or transition to mirrorless. The problem now is simple: even an exciting product, if launched and marketed the way Nikon has been doing, will probably not change the customer perceptions enough to change Nikon's trajectory. 

As an aside in support of my thesis, I'm going to comment here about something I asked Nikon at NAB. That show was now two months ago. The question was whether Nikon could say anything about the future of XQD/CFexpress and how that applied to the existing XQD cameras (D4, D4s, D5, D500, D850). I was assured by three Nikon personnel they'd look into this and get back and answer. I've since asked two additional times about whether there would be an answer, only to met with the same "we'll get back to you." So. Instead of engaging current customers on a topic that is of express—pardon the pun—interest to them, Nikon is still in hibernation. Not even a corporate "we're exploring that..." Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. 

If Nikon wonders why Sony is stealing their thunder, they only have to look at Nikon's own actions. Or rather, lack of actions. There seems to be some belief within Nikon that they can just wait until they have something Big to announce and that this will make everything right. I'll point to the D850. Best received camera of the last year despite somewhat lackluster efforts on Nikon's part to promote it. But Nikon is still contracting despite having a hit product. 

The notion that "a product will solve our problems" runs rampant in tech, but it's rarely the case that the product all by itself does so. It takes a lot more, including customer engagement. Sony gets this. Nikon does not. Canon is in the middle. 

To no show or not to show—that is the question. There's only one right answer.



The Nikon D750 Versus the Sony A7m3

I’ve just posted my review of the Sony A7 Mark III (which I abbreviate as A7m3). Almost immediately the questions started coming in about whether someone should buy a D750 or an A7m3. Indeed, those questions have been coming into my In Box since the A7m3 was announced. 

Let’s start with something obvious that doesn’t seem to be obvious to most people: are you buying at the front edge of camera technology or the back edge? The D750 is almost four years old now. That’s a couple of generations of age, even for a full frame prosumer product. The D8xx series has been iterating faster, and the D7xxx series that the D750 was originally patterned after also has been iterating faster. 

You simply can’t claim that the D750 is state of the art. 

Yet surprisingly, it holds its own pretty darned well against the A7m3. The A7m3 sensor really only beats the D750 at two things: (1) the A7m3 has dual gain, so it gets a slight boost in dynamic range above ISO 640; and (2) the A7m3 has clearly better video capabilities, including a quite nice 4K. 

But the A7m3 is literally just out of the gate. It should be considered leading edge. Again, the D750 is trailing edge. 

Thing is, price becomes a factor very quickly when you compare leading versus trailing edge products. It’s a bit like shopping for a 2018 car come September 2018: the older model will be discounted, the newer 2019 one will be full price. So, as I write this, you get a Nikon D750 for US$1496 [advertiser link] with a vertical grip, extra battery, 64GB SD card, a small shoulder bag, and a US$29.92 coupon on a future purchase. You get the Sony A7m3 for US$1998 [advertiser link] and you’ll wait because it’s backordered. (I’m using this site’s exclusive advertiser for prices, thus the links).

I’m not sure about you, but US$500 and some goodies thrown in is tough to ignore. Thus, the real question is are you getting US$500 worth of something for buying at the leading edge?

Maybe.

First off, I’m with Richard Butler of dpreview on one thing: if you’re using telephoto lenses with any regularity, you should probably be using a DSLR. I’d double down on that if the things you’re shooting are moving with any speed whatsoever. (Caveat: you must take the time to learn and master the autofocus system.) 

There are multiple reasons for that. One is that Nikon’s (and Canon’s) phase detect simply works better when set correctly for the situation; the DSLRs have more focus discrimination in AF Continuous and are more consistent than any mirrorless camera I’ve used in nailing the focus plane. I get a lot of drift on the focus plane from the subject with the Sony cameras in AF C. Not that the resulting pictures are unusable, but the edge acuity just is night and day different when you nail focus versus when you almost nail focus. 

Second, there’s ergonomics. The DSLRs have all evolved to handle the situation where you’re using big, heavy lenses while still controlling the camera. Nikon, in particular, has probably the best right-hand position designs ever made, a result of their consultations with an Italian designer who knew what he was doing. I’m pretty sure you know my one real gripe with the Sony mirrorless cameras: the ergonomics are still too gimmicky, scattered, and sometimes downright problematic (using even light gloves, for instance). 

Finally, there’s lens choice. Canon and Nikon have decades of lenses built up in the telephoto range, and many of them are simply superb. Canon and Nikon both have experimented with optics that reduce size and weight (DO, PF), which produces some unique choices that rock. Sony will get there, I’m sure, but they still have lots of gaps and issues in their telephoto lineup.

So, if you’re doing a lot of telephoto work, I’d argue that the D750 is still the better full frame entry point, and you’re getting a discount for buying late instead of early.

Where the A7m3 starts to have edges in my estimation are in a few key areas:

  • Video — simply put, the A7m3 has more and better options here. 
  • Stabilization — despite my belief that IS/VR should only be used when needed, not full time, the sensor-based IS on the A7m3 means that you always have it available. There are a lot of Nikkors that don’t have VR, so you can be without stabilization on a D750 at times when you might want it.
  • Static focus — Yes, the A7m3 has focus points all over the frame (90%), but to me that really comes mostly into play with AF Single Servo shooting. It really comes in play with both the Face detect and Eye detect focus abilities when you’re shooting more static subjects. 
  • Size — Be careful with this one. You start putting equivalent lenses on the two cameras—e.g. a 24-70mm f/2.8—and you mostly lose this advantage. But, yes, the A7m3 body is smaller and lighter than a D750. But be very careful about comparing apples-to-apples. Yes, the A7m3 with the 24-70mm f/4 lens looks really small compared to a D750 with the 24-120mm f/4. But that D750 will outshoot the A7m3 with those lens choices. The 24-70mm f/4 is one of the weakest lenses you can put on an A7, in my opinion. It’s just a mess as you move out from the central region.

Thing is, you have to consider what a refreshed Nikon (e.g. D760) might be like in the coming months, or even a Nikon mirrorless that would replace/supplement the D750. My guess is that the video benefit of the A7m3 would mostly go away. It’s unclear what Nikon might do about the other three things I note as A7 advantages, but I’d expect improvements in at least two of those, and who knows, maybe equivalence if Nikon really does go full frame mirrorless this fall. 

Given the Sony 12-24mm f/4 and 16-35mm f/4 lenses, I’d tend to also say that at the moment Sony might have a bit of an advantage for some in the wide angle zoom realm, as they’re producing very good lenses that are smaller and lighter than the equivalent or near equivalent Nikkors. 

You’re probably surprised that I haven’t mentioned a few things that get a lot of discussion, like dynamic range. What little the Sony gains over the Nikon the Sony gives back in other ways. Nikon’s compressed raw files are simply better than Sony’s (and smaller), and free from artifacts that the Sony produces at times.

But here’s how I think of things: it’s good that we have more competition. It will keep Canon and Nikon more on their toes. For a long time, Canon owned full frame (e.g. 1Ds and original 5D) and Nikon lost ground with pros and prosumers. Then Nikon came in with the D3/D700 and we started getting some real ping-pong action as the two companies tried to top each other. Frankly, I’d say that Canon was slow to make some adjustments (e.g. sensor performance) and that allowed Nikon to arguably make a claim of better full frame image quality, and pretty much across the board (e.g. D750 versus 6D, D850 versus 5DIV/sr, D5 versus 1DxII). 

That Sony is now in the full frame business and pushing the technology edge pretty quickly just means that Canon and Nikon now have to watch another competitor and make sure that they stay at least abreast, if not leap frog ahead again.

This is game we should all encourage. Indeed, I can state unequivocally that there are things on my Sony bodies that I wish were on my Nikon bodies and vice versa. I’ll bet the product designers are looking at that same thing and we’ll slowly see more equivalence rather than less.

But today the answer is simple: buying a D750 is buying a great trailing edge camera at a strong discount, while buying an A7m3 is buying a very good leading edge camera at full price. A year or 18 months from now, the A7m3 is likely to be looking more long in the tooth and perhaps I’ll have to write an article that’s a bit inverse of this one. 

Finally, one last thought. I encountered it again this morning at breakfast. The waitress saw the A7m3 I was carrying around as I finished up my review and said she wanted one (camera, not review ;~). A bit of discussion and it turned out she has a Canon 5Dm2 and has decided it’s time to upgrade. The features weren’t exactly the compelling thing that has her looking at Sony, it seems. It’s the story. “Everyone’s raving about the Sony.” She was shocked when I suggested she wait a bit and see what Canon does this fall. “You’re the first person who hasn’t just said buy the Sony,” she said. 

I’m telling you: the marketing story is more important than ever in the camera business as the volume declines. You want others to be giving that story lots of word of mouth pass thru. Sony is pushing a great story at the moment and people are buying it and spreading it. Kando wow, super technologies. Nikon doesn’t appear to have a story. Canon is still telling the same older story. 

The more I interact with camera purchasers, especially those that are younger, the more I’m finding that one of the reasons why the DSLR crowd is slowing purchases or moving to mirrorless is centered around story. Somehow, Canon and Nikon have allowed the DSLR story to become “only for those dedicated folk already committed, and who need to update.” 

I’m going to tell you a story: give me a D850 and I’ll shoot rings around someone shooting with an A7Rm3. Just better images, and achieved more easily, and with a broader choice of lenses. Give me a D7500 and I’ll shoot rings around someone shooting with an A6500. Better images, achieved more easily, and with a broader choice of useful lenses despite...cough...buzz, buzz. That Nikon can’t tell this story is disappointing. But then, what do you expect when you cut your advertising budget into non-existence? 

Nikon Adds Some Lenses to Rebates

Nikon's "See, Thom, we do have some DX lenses (unbuzz, unbuzz)" instant rebates are now active. As usual with Nikkor rebates, I'll outline my thoughts on each lens [all links go to this site's exclusive advertiser, B&H, who often throws in some extras]:

  • 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G DX — US$30 off. A modest discount on a modest lens. For most more casual DX shooters, this is probably the wide-angle DX zoom you want. It's small, it focuses fast in both regular and Live View use, and it has VR. Like virtually all the wide angle zooms so far created for DX, it works pretty well stopped down, but has corner issues wide open. This is absolutely the lens that D3xxx and D5xxx owners should consider, and even D7xxx and D500 users will find it pretty good. And for the <US$300 price, a value, at that.
  • 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX — US$100 off. This lens still manages to list for US$800 or so with the discount, so it needs to be US$500 better than the preceding one, doesn't it? It isn't. Sure, it gains about a stop of aperture ability, but it also loses VR, is sluggish in Live View, and doesn't really push the optical edge you'd expect from paying so much more. Skip.
  • 12-24mm f/4G DX — US$200 off. This is one of Nikon's oldest DX lenses. I'd argue that it's starting to show its age and really needed an update it never got. On the 6mp and 12mp DSLRs it was great. As we pushed higher into pixel counts, its flaws became more evident, though in the middle of its range stopped down a stop it's better than most anything else. Hard to justify picking it up, even with a discount that brings it under the US$1000 mark.
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3G DX — US$50 off. Remember that there are two 18-300mm lenses, this being the "slower" and less expensive one. I'm not a fan of superzooms. This one has lots of optical issues to discuss, including extreme focal length breathing, which means it really doesn't get to 300mm at the distances you'd be using it at. Skip.
  • 35mm f/1.8G DX — US$30 off. A perennial best seller and a DX lens that should be in everyone's kit. That's despite the fact that the lens is showing its age a bit now with the high pixel density bodies. Still, it's f/1.8 and competent, and stopped down it is quite good. All that in an inexpensive and small lens. Where the 16mm and 23mm versions of this lens are, no one knows. They would have stopped quite a few Nikon DX users from going to Fujifilm. Best buy of the bunch.
  • 40mm f/2.8G DX Micro-Nikkor — US$30 off. Okay, I can't fault the optics here; this is a really strong performer in terms of optical quality, particularly as you move in closer to objects. But that's the problem. At 1:1 magnification, it has exactly 2.1" (52.5mm) of working distance from subject to the front of the lens. It's difficult to get light in that space that looks good. Most people end up using it as a slightly short "telephoto" lens, which is fine, but it's a bit pricey for that compared to the next one.
  • 50mm f/1.8G — US$40 off. Another lens that probably ought to be in every DX user's kit, as it subs in as a very low cost (<US$200) portrait type lens. It's acceptable for portraits at f/1.8 (the corners will be a problem, but you don't shoot portraits into the corners). It's excellent at f/2.8 for portraits, and it's fine for any telephoto work at f/4 onwards. It's small, a trait that works well with DX, but like most of the Nikkor primes, it's a bit sluggish for autofocus. 


Nikkor Lens Availability

It's about this time each year when Nikon seems to have the most trouble keeping lenses in stock. So I thought I'd do a check to see what is and isn't available through both B&H and the NikonUSA store.

First, B&H. Out of 148 listings (some refurb, some imports), the following are the Nikkor lenses currently unavailable:

  • 14mm f/2.8D (more on the way)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II (more on the way)
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 24-120mm f/4G (more on the way)
  • 24-120mm f/4G refurb (back-ordered)
  • 55mm f/2.8 MF (more on the way)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G II refurb (more on the way)
  • 70-200mm f/4G (more on the way)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G DX (back-ordered)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E refurb (currently unavailable)
  • 180-400mm f/4E (new item — coming soon)
  • 200-500mm f/5.6E (back-ordered)
  • 200-500mm f/5.6E refurb (back-ordered)
  • 300mm f/2.8G (back-ordered)
  • 500mm f/4E (more on the way)
  • 600mm f/4E (back-ordered)

In B&H's vocabulary, "more on the way" means that Nikon has given them a ship date for more inventory to come, typically a few days to a couple of weeks out. "Back-ordered" means that B&H has no idea yet when they will get more stock. "New item — coming soon" usually is reserved for where B&H has ordered a new item, but does not yet know how many they'll be getting, or when.

Meanwhile, over at the NikonUSA online store, here's the current situation for their 106 listings:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E (back-ordered)
  • 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 20mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 24mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 28mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 28mm f/1.4E (back-ordered)
  • 35mm f/1.4 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.2 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.4 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 50mm f/1.4G (back-ordered)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VR DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G VRII DX (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G DX (back-ordered)
  • 55mm f/2.8 MF (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E anniversary ed (unavailable for individual sale)
  • 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D VR non AF-S (temporarily out of inventory)
  • 105mm f/2.8 MF (back-ordered)
  • 105mm f/2.8G VR (back-ordered)
  • 180-400mm f/4E (back-ordered)
  • 200-400mm f/4G (back-ordered)
  • 300mm f/2.8G II (back-ordered)
  • 400mm f/2.8E (back-ordered)
  • 600mm f/4E (back-ordered)
  • 800mm f/5.6E (back-ordered)

Overall, we currently seem to be in a bit better situation than in previous years, though the long telephotos still tend to be a problem, probably because of their low manufacturing quantities (many can be measured in dozens a month). In the summer months, the long lenses tend to be in short supply. So if you're planning a late summer vacation where you need one of the longer lenses, you'd best be securing that copy soon.

Curiously, at NikonUSA, the older AI manual focus lenses and a fairly large list of DX lenses seem to be out of stock, as well. 


text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2017 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
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