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):

Sigma Joins the Black Friday List

If you're looking for a Sigma Art lens, most of them are now getting a US$100 discount for the Thanksgiving Holiday. 

DX users should pay particular attention to the 18-35mm f/1.8 and 50-100mm f/1.8 lenses. These are great lenses for the D7500 and D500, though the D500 can't focus with the outer sensors on the 18-35mm reliably (just use the center five columns). 

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bythom 284

Canon's Black Friday Specials

Everyone wants your money. Canon wants you to Rebel (or better). 

I'd say that this year Canon finds themselves a bit in the same position Nikon did awhile ago: there's a lot of previous generation gear showing up in the Canon holiday offerings. What that tends to mean is no dual-pixel sensor, so be careful in analyzing the offerings. Unlike Nikon, Canon is discounting the King of the Hill (1Dx Mark II in Canon's case) at US$5699 (US$300 savings). 

There are quite a few offerings from Canon, so use the advertiser link at the bottom of this article to access them all. 

Overall, there's quite a range of older gear (EOS M3, SL1, Rebel T5/T6, 5D II/III) mixed in with a few newer bodies. A lot of key lenses do have a discount. A couple I can heartily recommend:

  • 40mm f/2.8 STM for US$179 (US$20 savings)
  • 70-200mm f/4L IS USM for US$1099 (US$100 savings)
  • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM for US$1999 (US$200 savings)

Some of the EF primes have a modest discount if you need to fill in a hole, too. Click on the banner below to see all the savings.

bythom b&h canon

Nikon's Black Friday

The Nikon Black Friday flyer deals have been leaked. These deals start November 23rd. 

The big news is the return of the body+grip values for the D500, D750, and D810:

  • D500 + grip: US$1799; add a 16-80mm f/2.8-4: US$2399
  • D750 + grip: US$1499; add a 24-120mm f/4: US$1999
  • D810 + grip: US$2799; add a 24-120mm f/4: US$3299

Yeah, a bit odd. 

The D500 price is a return to last year's sale price, basically. It was a great value then, and it's a great value now. Indeed, given how good that camera is, it's by far the best bargain in Nikon's lineup at those prices. You might even be able to do what I did last year and get your dealer to buy back the grip if you're not going to use it. Even getting US$100 back for the grip means you're getting a D500 body at US$1699. What product at that price point delivers the bang for the buck the D500 does? Adding the lens if you need it nets you a few extra dollars of savings, and it's a very good lens.

But look at that D750. With the kit lens you're still under US$2000. That's a move by Nikon to get some full frame dollars back from Sony, and it's also a hint that the D750 is nearing end of life, and pricing the 24-120mm at an effective US$500 would seem to indicate to me that the lens may be nearing end of life, too. Either that or an awful lot of them have been piling up in warehouses.

The D810 price, given the D750 price, is the other odd bit. It's not much of a discount, especially considering the price of a new D850 and how much more it brings to the plate. At the D810 pricing, my guess is that there aren't a lot left and it won't be lingering around in the lineup for too long.

While we're on bodies, let's go through the rest of the DSLR line:

  • D3400 — US$399 for body and AF-P kit lens, or an extra US$100 adds the 70-300mm AF-P DX non-VR, a travel bag, and some online courses. That's a pretty phenomenal price for that camera and those lenses, though you really want the VR version of the telephoto. The image quality, focus speed, and other performance is actually really quite good, and the body is as small and light as it gets in Nikon world. Too bad Nikon spent so much time crippling it and not building out a line of DX primes.
  • D5600 — US$649 for body only, add US$100 for the AF-P kit lens. Not particularly a bargain. This camera is a tweener that sells mostly on a couple of features added to the D3400 specs. And the price differential isn't worth it, as the image quality is basically the same.
  • D7200 — US$799 body only and US$999 for a dual lens kit (18-55 and 70-300mm AF-P non-VR), a bag, and some online classes. Nikon seems to want to move this baby. It's the other "everything you need" box for this Christmas from Nikon. Of course, Nikon doesn't tell you that they've never updated the firmware of the D7200 to be totally compatible with the 70-300mm AF-P; it has this little time-out problem.
  • D7500 — US$1549 for the body with the 18-140mm lens. Pricing doesn't excite me. The D7500 is ripe for additional discounting in the not-too-distant future is my guess.
  • D850 and D5 — no discounts

We did get two lenses added to the instant rebates:

  • 50mm f/1.8G gets a US$40 discount to US$179. I'm very meh about this. None of Nikon's normal lenses excite me. None of them really live up to levels of the other primes Nikon has done recently, and all of them need a remake. Don't be tempted.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E gets a US$200 discount to US$2599. Absolutely great lens. Best 70-200mm made by anyone as far as I can tell. So those times when it gets a little discount like that are the times you want to wait for to snap up your copy. 

These discounts are subject to change and as I write this have no end date. It's possible that NikonUSA will just leave this program in place through Christmas, it's possible that they'll tweak it or add to it. Nikon's currently in a world where they have to "make their numbers." So it's all going to depend upon how many people buy versus how many people NikonUSA expected to buy. 

Click on the advertiser banner below to access all the specials:

bythom b&h nikon


Sensor Wars Update

I wrote about the sensor battle earlier this fall. I've gotten some new information and I've done a bit more analysis of the situation from Nikon's point of view. 

Canon, as I've noted, seems to be coalescing around a single 24mp APS-C for compacts (GX), mirrorless (M), and low DSLRs (Rebels). We currently have one PowerShot (G1 X Mark III), three M models (M5, M6, M100), and five DSLRs (SL2, T6i/s, T7i, 77D, 80D) all using basically the same dual pixel APS-C sensor. We don't know how many more PowerShots are headed this way, but I'll bet several. So we could be at a dozen cameras using the same basic image sensor.

Now let's look at Nikon's lineup: Coolpix is still on sub-1" sensors, more than a generation behind where Canon is. There's really no mirrorless at present (though Nikon will sell you a two-year old J5 with a 1" sensor), and even if Nikon did produce an APS-C (DX) mirrorless, it would need a sensor that currently isn't in the mix. The D3400/D5600 share sensor tech, the D7500/D500 share a different sensor tech.

So, now you're the head of each company and you notice that demand is high for a couple of your models, not so high for a couple of your other models. How's that impact your sensor use? 

For Canon, not really. They just keep making the same sensor at the fab and they just allocate the quantities differently among the product lines. Sensor costs don't really change. 

For Nikon, it sort of depends upon which model went weak and which is strong. 

Well, that would be D3400/D5600 going weak (DX sensor #1) and the D500 remaining strong (DX sensor #2). You can't shift the sensors you committed to for the low end products to another product, as there isn't another product to shift it to. Moreover, any DX mirrorless system Nikon might produce soon is going to require DX sensor #3, which will have PD-on-sensor and possibly more. Now, you could eventually roll that sensor to other models (e.g. D3500/D5700 and maybe even the other higher models), but right now you'd have five or six cameras using three different sensors against a competitor that could have a dozen cameras using one sensor. Who do you think has the advantage there?

So, on to the new news: Sensor shortage.

Let's just look at mirrorless for a moment, because you can see the problem very clearly there. The trailing 12-month numbers went down from 3.5m units in 2014 to 3m units in 2016, but back up to 4.1m units this year. Sensor demand just in that segment probably dropped last year by one-sixth due to the quake, but this year it's trying to increase by one third. Sensor demand is up pretty much across the board with dedicated cameras, and pretty much everyone is using some part of Sony Semiconductor at the moment.

Worse still, everyone is doing "custom jobs." Sony has their set of sensors, Olympus a different set with some different tech, Fujifilm still another set with different tech, and so on down the line. All coming out of essentially one vendor (other than Canon, which sources their own sensors other than for some of their PowerShots, and which I dealt with, above). New and different sensors always start with lower yields, and take time to work up to production levels that you can fully count on. 

What I hear is that Sony wanted Nikon to use the 42mp sensor (or at least only a slight variation of it) for the D850. Nikon insisted on a new sensor and yields to date have been lower than expected. 

So think about the FX lineup from Nikon: D610/D750 share a sensor, D850 has a different sensor, D5 has a different sensor, and the Df has yet another sensor. Five cameras, four sensors. And if Nikon makes a mirrorless FX system, guess what? Yep, another new sensor. 

So Nikon alone is adding to the sensor shortage problem by trying to get new sensors to market. 

Many of us noted something in a number of statements and presentations made in the past year by TowerJazz. TowerJazz is the company that initially started by taking over the old National Semiconductor fab (original makers of the Foveon sensor, I believe), and eventually formed a joint venture that bundled in Panasonic's sensor efforts and fabs, among others. 

Several things that impact the above have been discussed openly by TowerJazz lately. The first of that I saw of was a report about a year ago that indicated that they wanted to increase their market share in CMOS image sensors for the photography market considerably. TowerJazz has been rumored to be the manufacturer of the sensor in the Leica Q, for instance, though that's never been confirmed to my knowledge. Pretty much any new client would increase their market share ;~).

Next up were announcements from TowerJazz about plans to build a new plant in China that could provide BSI for CMOS image sensors. The thing that stood out in that press release was "including large formats requiring stitching." That would be full frame, FX (also medium format and larger: TowerJazz can make a single sensor on an 8" or 12" wafer if you want).

That press release went on to say that Stacked sensors would be next in the portfolio of CMOS imaging technologies they have available to customers. State of the art CMOS (2.5 micron pixels with global shutters, 65 nm process, 100dB shutter efficiency, tighter stitching than currently available from others, better dark current numbers, and much more). 

Most recently, at their quarterly financial statement release, TowerJazz was quoted in their conference call as saying they were "engaged with one of the [digital SLR market] leaders in the world in the development of their next generation sensors." Well, let's see, DSLR leaders? That would be Canon and Nikon. And Canon makes their own sensors. So it must be Nikon.

When the D850 came out there was a brief kerfuffle over whether TowerJazz was the sensor provider. It isn't. The technologies that the D850 has at the sensor aren't yet ready from TowerJazz: "provide our customers mass production [of BSI CMOS] starting in mid-2018."

And this all squares with what I'm hearing out of Tokyo. Sony fabs that produce the larger-than-smartphone sensors are basically running at full capacity, and every new sensor—yes, even for Sony Imaging—has to grapple with the increased demand for those sensors overall. Nikon has lost some key sensor staff to Sony itself recently, and it now appears that Nikon is going to try running with a different partner, at least for some of their products. 

But this brings me back to where I started: the only reason to pursue the more costly "different sensor for every camera" strategy is if you can market the difference in image quality that produces. Canon, for instance, has somewhat worse dynamic range capabilities on that 24mp APS-C sensor than the Sony sensor cameras, including Nikon's. But where is Nikon calling that out? Are they expecting customers to figure that out for themselves?

No doubt we're in some very interesting times now. 

Nikon's First Half Financials

Nikon's first half of their fiscal year results are in. They're not what I'd call good, though Nikon, as usual, puts a positive spin on almost everything. And someone pointed out to me that Nikon doesn't actually mention customers any more in their presentations. Instead, they take time to talk about "management DNA" and shareholder returns, but they just don't mention customers.  

Overall, Nikon is still shrinking. Revenue for the same period compared to the year earlier was down 4.5%, profits down 15.1%. The Imaging business did better, down 1.7% in revenue but up in profit to 4.1% (due to "strategy to focus on high value-add products"). Nikon hid the true extent of their recent medical business losses by creating a new Healthcare business unit that incorporates the former (and profitable) microscope business (and I think a few other bits). 

Curiously, Nikon seems to be leading with the Imaging business unit numbers now. It used to be that they always started with the Precision business (semiconductor unit). I take that to be a long-overdue recognition that the actual health of the company is more due to cameras and lenses than semiconductor equipment, which must be embarrassing for the CEO, who came from the semiconductor side. 

In terms of those cameras, while the overall numbers don't seem all that terrible (again -1.7% in revenue, +4.1% in profit), there's clear weakness in the actual unit volume: 8% decline in ILC, 1.5% decline in lenses, 3% decline in compacts. So much so that Nikon didn't share their usual market share numbers in the main presentation for the first half (they did for the full forecast year, which I'll get to). 

Elsewhere we see evidence of a great deal of micromanagement of big things. Deferred sales, deferred R&D expenses, differed expenses, and upcoming but as not yet taken cost reductions (e.g. the closing of the Wuxi factory in China and the tax consequences of doing so). More so than any other time I can remember, there's a lot of fairly unambiguous number juggling going on in Nikon's balance sheet. That's on top of the direct mentions. Headcount for just the Imaging business unit alone is down 3350 people, though it's not clear when that reduction was done. 

Nikon also keeps mentioning "market shrinkage" in their presentation. Hmm. So I pulled up the CIPA numbers for the last 12 months versus the previous year 12 months (e.g. 12 month trailing sales):

  • Compacts: value up to 227b yen from 200b
  • Lenses: value up to 412b yen from 387b
  • ILC cameras: value up from 587b yen from 504b

Unit volume shows Nikon's problem: DSLRs down 2.9%, mirrorless up 36.6%. 

Since they didn't report it, what market shares did Nikon have for the period from April 1st to September 30th?

  • Compacts: 20.2%
  • ILC: 21.6%
  • Lenses: 20.3%

Now you know why they didn't report it. ILC unit volume is only about two-thirds what it used to be. That "market shrinkage" Nikon keeps mentioning? It's mostly "Nikon shrinkage." 

For the full year Nikon forecasts market shares of  22%, 24%, and 22% respectively. I'm unsure where Nikon got their full market numbers from, though. It appears that they're using some outdated CIPA values. They cite, for example, a total market of 11m units for ILC, but the current trailing twelve month number is 12.3m and rising. At 11m units, it's a 24% market share. At 12.3m, it's a 21% market share. Hmm, just a bit under where they are now. So Nikon's financials are now essentially trying to tell a story that probably won't happen. Nikon is in a market share slide that's unprecedented in modern camera manufacturing history. 

Maybe there's significant new product coming? Doesn't seem to be. The second half of their year (Oct-Mar) has lower volume numbers in every segment of imaging than the first half (Apr-Sept). 

Nikon's forecast for the full year now includes significant restructuring costs in the Imaging business unit. If I'm reading their numbers correctly, the impending restructuring costs will basically be more than the increase in revenue from higher priced camera sales (e.g. D850). And oh, there's been a modest build-up of inventory in the Imaging business unit. That's going to need to be dealt with, too.

And yet, if we're to believe Nikon's overall numbers, they're increasing cash and equity without having much in the way of corresponding debt increase. They've increased their dividend payout, too. All of which goes back to Nikon's focus on shareholder returns. It appears now that Nikon has come to the conclusion that "if we shrink, we shrink." But they'll do just about anything to protect that profit margin as they do.

Customers will have something to say about all this. Nikon's next product announcements are going to have to reverse the significant slide they've seen. But they've cut sales and marketing costs substantially, so how are they going to do that?

Nikon's putting a lot of pressure on their top DSLRs to produce. The good news is that the D850 is a great camera, and so are the D5 and D500. Nikon knows how to make good products. What they don't seem to know how to do is find true consumer relevance in most of their lower-level products. That's just driving this crazy chicken-egg problem where they cut sales, marketing, and customer support costs, which means that they aren't seen as visibly by customers, which drives volume down, which causes Nikon to cut costs, which...yeah, it's a vicious cycle they're in. Let's hope that there's something in the works that breaks it. 



Nikon Lens Rebates Return

NikonUSA's lens discounts are back, and thus so are my detailed commentaries to help you decide if any of these are for you:

  • 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G DX — US$799 (US$100 rebate). Nope, not going to bite on this one. First, B&H has the better Tokina 11-20mm f/2.8 on sale for US$479 (US$120 rebate); second, the new AF-P 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6 DX, while it looks like less of a lens on paper, is probably a better choice at its US$310 price (or in the Landscape and Macro bundle with the 40mm DX). B&H [advertiser link]
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G — US$1699 (US$200 rebate). A great lens with one small thing you need to be aware of: field curvature. This is a well loved lens (and well used by many of us), and deservedly so. We all wonder about an E update on the horizon, but I'm not sure what that will bring us other than a price increase. If you need something in this range, this is a good price on a great lens. B&H [advertiser link]
  • 16-35mm f/4G — US$999 (US$100 rebate). I like this lens, but it has a flaw that some find problematic: huge linear distortion. That means it probably isn't the lens you want for architectural or city travel shots, but it's fine for landscapes (and it has a filter ring, which the landscape folk might find useful compared to the 14-24mm). This is decent price for a decent lens.
  • 24mm f/1.4G — US$1799 (US$200 rebate). I like this lens, but the question is whether or not you really want to spend US$1000 for the boost from f/1.8 to f/1.4. I haven't found the value in that, myself. B&H [advertiser link]
  • 24-70mm f/2.8E VR — US$2199 (US$200 rebate). Be careful with the reviews on the Web with this one, a lot of those used close-up chart MTFs to come to the wrong conclusion about the lens. Yes, it may be a tiny bit softer in the center compared to the original version, but that's still very sharp. Where things are different in the handling out to the corners in real world shooting. This was an impressive redesign, and I recommend this lens for FX shooters needing the fast aperture in the mid-range. The one drawback is that the lens is big and heavy. It didn't lose any weight or trim down the waist in the redesign. B&H [advertiser link]
  • 28mm f/1.8G — US$599 (US$100 rebate). Be aware that this lens has some downsides: focus shift, longitudinal chromatic aberration, and strong vignetting. Personally, I find this the most disappointing of the f/1.8G primes Nikon makes, and am not surprised that Nikon is having to discount it. B&H [advertiser link]
  • 35mm f/1.8G DX — US$169 (US$30 rebate). I recommend this lens to all DX body owners without a rebate. Guess what, it has a rebate. Even a rock can recognize that as a bargain.
  • 50mm f/1.4G — US$399 (US$50 rebate). The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art blows this away. Of course, the Sigma is US$949. Not quite up to the Sigma but still far better than the Nikkor is the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 VC at US$399. You lose a third of a stop, you gain a better optical performance and Vibration Control. Guess which one I would recommend?
  • 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6G DX — US$149 (US$200 rebate). Note that refurbished versions on the NikonUSA site go for under US$100. At this price, if you don't have a light, telephoto zoom for your DX camera, you might want to take a close look at this one. While the new 70-300mm AF-P DX is the clear choice for the recent 20/24mp sensor DX bodies, it's also a lot more expensive. Stop the 55-200mm down to f/8 and you'll be fine.

Advertiser link to all the rebates

Meanwhile, NikonUSA also has a few refurbished lenses you should know about, particularly these DX ones:

  • 16-80mm f/2.8-4E ED VR US$699.95
  • 55-200mm f4-5.6G ED VR II US$99.95
  • 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR US$179.95
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED (no VR) US$129.95

Canon Versus Nikon Lens Production

There's a lot of buried information on this site. For example, you probably didn't notice that I keep track of lens production for both Canon and Nikon (click here, for instance). Both companies send out press releases when they hit what they consider the next milestone, and Canon did so last week to point out that they've now hit 130m EF lenses produced. 

In updating that information on the site I noted that this data is a bit more telling than it might seem at first. Here are Canon and Nikon lens production graphed over time:

bythom lens production

Recent numbers from Nikon have been bringing their long-term slope downwards. Canon's slope dipped a bit between 2014 and 2015 but then transitioned back again to a higher slope than Nikon's. 

These two charts say everything: Canon's position in lenses is stronger than Nikon's. Not by a huge amount, but by enough to clearly identify the market leader, and to suggest that the market leader is not diminishing in strength.

Another Canon APS-C Option

bythom canon g1x

Canon today announced the PowerShot G1 X Mark III, their high-end compact camera with an APS-C sensor. By all appearances, this is the same dual-pixel 24mp sensor used in the M series, the SL, and in some of the DSLRs. 

In front of the sensor is a 24-72mm (equivalent) f/2.8-5.6 lens, and that lens focuses down to 4" (10cm) at the wide end, 3x that at telephoto, so modestly macro. At the back end we have a .39" 2.36m dot EVF and a 3" 1.04m dot touch/full swivel LCD (left hinge). Video is specified at 1080P/60 tops, and continuous shooting with focus is 7 fps (9 fps without). 

All the usual other goodies are included, particularly Bluetooth, NFC, and Wi-Fi. Battery used is the NB-13L, which produces a measly 200 shots CIPA. There's a three stop ND available internally, and the lens is image stabilized (4 stops CIPA). The whole package weighs in at 14.1 ounces (399g). Price is US$1299 and the camera should be available sometime in November. 

The G1 X Mark III is a bit of an ugly duckling. The proportions don't look right, with a large EVF+flash up top and the declining size, multi-stage power zoom lens looking very odd together. It's also unclear why the right hand grip is as shallow as it is, given that the collapsed lens still sticks out further. 

I like Canon's strategy here, though, while I also don't like it. Let me explain.

The part that strikes me as 100% correct is the re-use of sensors while giving shooters their choice of camera type/style to use that sensor in. If I'm looking for Canon's 24mp APS-C level of quality, I can get it in quite a range of cameras now (compact, mirrorless, multiple levels of DSLR). That is dead on correct strategy as far as I'm concerned. Don't force the user to buy an ILC if they want a compact, or a mirrorless if they want a DSLR, or any other combination of two. Let the user decide what they buy. After all, it's still a sale to Canon. 

Where Canon's strategy starts to fall apart is in the details. The EOS M5 is US$1099 with the kit lens that (mostly) matches the G1 X Mark III, which for some reason is US$200 more. The weights are within .9 ounces of one another (28g), and the sizes are similar other than the height (the M5 stands taller). 

But curiously, the controls are completely different. The cheaper camera (EOS M5) has the better controls and a better shutter. The cheaper camera has a better LCD, though an inferior swivel. The cheaper camera gets more shots per battery charge. It's almost as if the compact camera chooser is being penalized for some strange reason.

I have to wonder if there's dissension within the engineering teams at the big companies like Canon. The G1 X Mark III designers seem insistent upon using their ugly front-of-body dial that is totally unergonomic, while the EOS M5 designers came up with an almost Nikon-like approach of opposing front/rear dials, while the DSLR designers are sticking with the vertical front dial behind the shutter release and the rear dial being around the Direction Pad. 

That's wrong. Totally wrong. Pick a style and stay with it. As I've written many, many times, serious photographers own multiple cameras. We hate it when those cameras have different ergonomic designs and we have to think about which camera we have in our hands and what controls do what. 

Moreover, there's the "learnability" factor. If you're hooking someone in at the bottom of your lineup (GX, EOS M) and then move them up a step or two, the controls and options shouldn't be different as they go to more sophisticated cameras. There should simply be "more controls and more options and better performance." 

So, two things Canon's going to have to explain to me about the new G1 X: (1) pricing; and (2) why all the different ergonomic approaches?

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What Is Happening in Tokyo?

Generally I only hear from a couple of reasonably well-placed individuals in Japan about what's happening there, and then often somewhat ambiguously or in ways I have to interpret. Recently, I've gotten additional unanticipated and anonymous contacts with more information.

I can tell you this: these contacts aren't the only reports I've heard about arguments going on within Nikon top management. And note that Goto-san in a recent interview in China made his pitch from his window-with-a-view adviser role (to whit: mirrorless must be FX). Arguments about what to do abound at Nikon these days it seems.

That's good news. It shows that management is aware they have a problem.

I've written before that Nikon has prototyped pretty much every mirrorless option. By that I mean both DX and FX sensor sizes, as well as new mount versus existing mount in both sizes. That's four distinct possibilities, and as far as I can tell, all are still proceding towards manufacturing. There are two questions that are apparently contentious within Nikon: (1) whether they should do both new mount and an existing mount mirrorless cameras; and (2) in what order do you release new mirrorless products?

The four possibilities:

  • New DX with new mirrorless mount: This is the Canon M5 chaser. Canon's success with the M series, at least once they tweaked a few things and released additional lenses, certainly got Nikon's attention. The problem with this entry will be lenses. I only know of two that are going to be ready when the camera is (again mimicking Canon).
  • New DX with current F mount: This is the D3500. It gives Nikon a do-over on the D3xxx line, which they need to sell better. The recent AF-P DX lenses are a clue here. The problem with this entry will be price. It has to stay at or near the current price point to succeed, I think, and with a new mirrorless mount DX camera also in the lineup, there is price point contention that has to be resolved. The other thing is that any D3500 mirrorless needs to be even a bit trimmer and lighter than the current D3400.
  • New FX with new mirrorless mount: This is the Sony A7 chaser. Nikon can't shoot at the A7rII, A7sII, or A9 with their first shot, so they have to aim lower and hope that works to get traction. I believe that there's also a goal to make this camera a bit more traditional (e.g. retro in style). The problem with this will again be lenses, and given that Sony will soon enough introduce the Mark III A7, keeping up in the features race.
  • New FX with current F mount: This is the anticipation of a Canon entry, and the D610 potential replacement. The problem with this product will be both price and size.

As far as I can tell, all four of those options are in progress towards introduction still, with various 2018 dates for each. As I indicated above, there appear to be heated internal arguments about which of these options should really be pursued. I'll have more to say about that in a bit.

I'm already on record as saying I believe that a new mount DX mirrorless product will be first out the gate. I stand by that, though the date slipped from "late 2017" to "early 2018" recently. I also believe that at the moment it will be launched with only two lenses on day one, with a YAETS kit lens as one of them. Wait, what? YAETS? 

Yes, that's my shorthand for Nikon's DX fetish: Yet Another Eighteen To Something. 

YAETS is actually one of the many self-induced problems at Nikon. 18mm simply isn't very wide. And 18mm to something has been so overdone by Nikon that these lenses plague the used market like the aftermath of a locust swarm. A 16-50mm would be more useful. And more likely to be retained.  

But DX has a bigger problem these days than just YAETS: Fujifilm. Fujifilm thinks that they'll eventually be the number one producer of APS-C (DX) cameras, and they're continuing to beef up their lens lineup (was that a buzz, buzz I heard in the background?). Remember, they've already produced 14 prime lenses and 9 zooms. That's what a Nikon DX mirrorless camera will be competing with, whether it has a new mount or not, and that's where Nikon is going to come up short, whether it has a new mount or not. 

Yes, I know that Canon came out of the chute with only two lenses. But be careful about interpreting that correctly. The initial EOS M thrust wasn't particularly successful. It's been the third try—now with seven lenses—that finally gave Canon momentum in the mirrorless market. And I'd argue that if Canon had at least three and maybe four additional lenses that slotted into holes, the EOS M products would really be flying off shelves. (Okay, you want to know which three or four: 15mm pancake, 32mm pancake, 55mm fast, and a 15-40mm f/2.8-4, all designed for compactness.)

Now, back to the debate within Nikon. Here's Nikon's real success of late: D500, D750, D850, D5 (and the D5 is a very low volume success). At the prosumer to pro level, the DSLRs are doing okay and Nikon has iterated well (other than DX lenses for the D500, buzz, buzz). It's everything else that's a mess now. 

Thus, proceeding with all four mirrorless options isn't necessarily a mistake, as long as each is targeted well to different weaknesses in Nikon's lineup. Indeed, I'd add a fifth: resurrect Nikon 1 (stop intentionally making it incompatible with the rest of Nikon's lineup and accessories, price it appropriately, and finish the lens set). Too many that the mirrorless/DSLR debate is an either/or problem. I don't believe that's true at present. Both can and will coexist for quite some time. Thus, if you're a camera maker, you want to be doing your best with both types of products, and you need to understand the appeal of each to make the right products.

So again, having four (or five) different mirrorless options going isn't really a problem.

The problem is always lenses. Always. It's what makes an ILC an ILC, after all. When you try to starve the lens production for any reason you're always making a mistake. That starves your camera body sales eventually. 

I really don't understand just how seriously off track with that the top management at Nikon has gotten. They survived the film armageddon because of one thing: lenses. And they almost botched that by being last to a full autofocus lineup. But they got there, they didn't invalidate the lenses Nikon users already had, and they managed to even survive a not-well-received F5 launch. How would be it be any different in any other transition?

So what seems to be the problem at Nikon? 

Bean counting. 

Nikon wants to improve their profitability while launching all these new initiatives. Things like IBIS tend to get axed by top management when they see it in the proposed designs because it adds costs. More lenses quicker? Costly. A brilliant and well-coordinated ad campaign? More cost. Everyone I talk to at Nikon has a story about cost reduction ad absurdium (it's CRAA at Nikon ;~). 

So here's my message to Nikon management: it doesn't matter if you make one new mirrorless camera lines or five. In the end the feature sets and performance will work themselves out in any product you do, though it would be nice not to have to sit through some embarrassing iterations to get what we want.

What does matter is lenses. There's simply no urgency in your lens production. None. And yet to win the ILC game you quite obviously need IL ;~). Stop ruminating on the details of the C and pay more attention to the IL:

  • Any new mirrorless lens mount needs: a kit lens, a wide angle and telephoto zoom supplement to the kit lens, a trio or quartet of well thought out primes, and a fast lens option for the kit lens. You can announce with a subset only if you promise the full set and show an urgency to get there. 
  • DX DSLR still needs a full lens set: the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 was a nice addition, but it's about the only addition lately. The rest has been essentially reworking the established (e.g. AF-P iterations of existing lenses). Primes and pancakes are still missing 18 years after introducing DX, and old standards were never updated (12-24mm f/4, 17-55mm f/2.8). Appropriate fast lenses for the D7500 and D500 are completely missing, a gap that most of us are filling by buying Sigma lenses. You don't want that, do you Nikon management? ;~)
  • Even FX DSLR has some odd things that show you have no urgency: where's the 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor update? Or a 180mm f/2.8 update? A new 135mm prime? Any really good 50mm that matches your other prime optics? The "fixed" PC-E's? The 300mm f/2.8E FL? The 200-400mm f/4E FL? Any new PF lens? Three new FX optics a year isn't showing any urgency at all. 


The Camera Business is Getting Weird

What a strange day. 

Maybe it's because yesterday was a holiday and some sort of alcoholic beverage was consumed by some. Or maybe not.

Let's start with head-scratcher number one: Metabones announced the Devil's Q666 Speed Booster for the Pentax Q series cameras. The name comes from the fact that, if you can find a Nikkor f/1.2 lens somewhere, it'll mount on the adapter and produce the equivalent to f/0.666 on the Pentax Q.

The head scratching part? The Pentax Q-S1, the most recent model, is listed as discontinued at almost every vendor I know of. 

Okay, there are other head scratching parts of the announcement. You'd have a 2.3x crop factor on the Q-S1, so that 50mm f/1.2 AIS you managed to find in your closet will be a 130mm (equivalent) f/0.666. Talk about your narrow depth of field...

bythom yashica

Head scratcher number two: the absolutely mind-boggling Yashica Y35 digiFilm camera just announced on Kickstarter. After a tease campaign about an unprecedented camera, yes, Yashica has managed to actually live up to the term unprecedented. What you get is a small sensor (1/3.2") compact camera with 35mm (equivalent) f/2.8 lens and a non-aligned "finder" to figure out your composition with ;~). Oh, and you have to buy cartridges which simply tell the camera what ISO/color/filter settings to use. Want to shoot in black and white? Great, change the cartridge. High ISO? Change the cartridge. 

There's no review system on the camera, and it shoots on SD cards. 

At least it's on US$124, though that is probably US$124 more than most people would be willing to pay. In essence, it's likely about as good as a smartphone camera, only you don't get precision alignment, you have limited shutter speeds (5), you still have to do the card transfer thing to get images where you want them, and you now have to carry cartridges around with you to change any setting.

Novelty items abound aplenty in Japan. Add one more to the crowded shelves.


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