A Nail in the DX Coffin?

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Photo courtesy Bob Krist, bobkrist.com

While I was wandering around in Africa in August, a much better known local photographer was outing himself. I’m talking about Bob Krist, long-time Nikon DX user, and his new affiliation with Sony. Well, actually, it’s not a total affiliation. As Bob puts it, he’s an “Associate Artisan,” not a Sony Artisan. 

Bob was one of the few pros Nikon could point to that shot almost purely DX (though he experimented with the smaller FX bodies from time to time). As a constantly-traveling travel photographer, size and weight and speed are important to Bob. The Nikon DX bodies were at one time small and light, and they’re fast to the shot, so they were perfect for his still work.

No more. First, Bob’s work with National Geographic tours has him doing a lot of video these days. As he puts it, "video has been a late career resurgence.” His needs aren't video where you have time to get complex set ups together, separate audio gear, manually focusing, etc., but video gear that needs to shoot “on the spur of the moment.” In a pair of blog posts on his site while I was in Africa (Four Great Still-Shooting Feats my Sub-$1K Mirrorless Can Do That My $3K DSLR Can't, and Mirrorless, Mirrorless, On the Wall), Bob outlined his slow switch from DSLR shooter to mirrorless shooter. And essentially from what used to be Nikon DX (e.g. his D90) to now Sony APS (A6000) with a dabble at full frame (A7s). 

As it turns out, it was 60 fps on the APS-sensor NEX-5N that first attracted Bob to the Sony line. At the time, none of the Nikon DSLRs had 60 fps video, and he was doing a fair amount of video of subjects where slow motion was sometimes useful (e.g. native dancers). So he picked up a NEX. He thought to himself “this is nice." Then Bob bought some more E-mount lenses and found that his travel kit was getting smaller. A Sony-filled bag was tiny! 

With video becoming more and more what he was shooting on those National Geographic trips, the Sony gear kept piling into his bag. A fully loaded bag was maybe 10-12 pounds, compared to as much as 18 pounds with the Nikon gear before. “The [Sony-filled] bag doesn’t pull on me,” says Bob. "I'm real sensitive to the weight.”

Eventually Bob realized that the only Nikon he had with him on a trip was a waterproof Coolpix. This became a problem for him, as he couldn’t really submit anything to Nikon. Eventually Nikon passed him over to be an Nikon Ambassador, so there wasn’t really any strong connection to Nikon any more. 

But the connection was really broken by products not quite giving him what he wanted or needed. 

I remember the first time Bob complained to me about Nikon’s products not quite keeping up with his needs. "When was Nikon going to update its more pro-style DX cameras: (the D200 was late, for example). It happened again with the D90. "Why was it better in low light than the D300?" What was going on? At a time when NikonUSA was bad mouthing me in trade booths, behind the scenes I was working hard to try to convince Nikon pros like Bob to stay Nikon pros and try to hook them up with the right folk at Nikon to get them early access to new gear.

Unfortunately, those days are gone. Almost like dominoes the pros have been falling into other camps.

The need to produce more video for National Geographic pushed Bob towards Sony cameras. Which is ironic, since the Nikon D90 (DX) was the pioneer of video-in-sophisticated-still-cameras. More to the point, Nikon never produced a 16-70mm f/4 DX lens, one of Bob’s current Sony staples. Yes, there is a difference between f/4 and f/5.6 when you’re shooting crop sensor cameras at edge of day. Likewise, where’s the headphone jack on a D5300?

So Bob slowly moved from a Nikon DSLR system to a Sony E-mount system, now supplemented by a pair of RX (RX10 and RX100), neither of which have Nikon equivalents, either.

Leaking a few consumer customers is one thing, but leaking pros is another. In just the past year I’ve seen at least four previously committed Nikon pros move from Nikon to something else. While that’s been for a variety of reasons, they all seem to have common threads: “I can’t do that with my Nikon,” or “Nikon hasn’t kept up with Fill-in-the-Blank-Option.”

Yes, sometimes monetary incentives are involved with a pro switching. No pro I know of will ignore money put on the table, especially with image rights sales seeming to trend downwards every year. As Bob puts it “it’s hard to make money when you buy a US$3000 camera and even more expensive lenses and all you get is 50 cents for the use of an image.” Still, in talking to each of those pros it seems that any money/resources provided by their new gear company was a side benefit: they were already exploring other options because of something they found lacking on the Nikon side.

Let’s face it, every serious shooter wants to use the gear the pros use, almost to a fault. Many cameras, lenses, flashes, accessories, bags, tripods, printers, et.al. have been sold because of implied or real endorsements (I constantly get asked what’s in my bag, for instance). Losing pros to competitors shouldn’t be something that’s taken lightly.

Thing is, how would Nikon get someone like Bob Krist back? It’s a long list. Better video with an EVF instead of an LCD, smaller and lighter gear, DX (or mirrorless DX) lenses that are better matched for his needs, better pocket/jacket cameras, Metabones Speed Booster support (;~). Bob says no one at NikonUSA has tried to get him back. “They were very gracious about my moving to Sony,” Bob tells me, “but I haven’t heard from any of them since.” That seems wrong to me, but what do I know? It’s not like I’ve run successful businesses in high tech before, right? ;~)

High tech is a relentless progression. If you can’t stay out on the front of the wave, eventually it splashes over you and pummels you. Moreover, you then have to paddle back out and find another wave, quick. The waves seem to be overwhelming Nikon these days, and it seems like they’re slow to go out and find another one. Sometimes they even pick the wrong wave and it peters out before they can even start the ride (Android Coolpix, anyone?).

Yes, the D750 is a nice camera. So is the D810. But we’re talking about two cameras that’ll sell in the hundreds of thousands of units best case. Nikon at their peak hit nearly 20m cameras annually. It really feels like they’re slowing down these days (I am, too, but that’s because I’m getting old, and that’s what happens with humans; it doesn’t have to happen with companies ;~).

But worse is the disconnection they’re continuing to enable with their customers. I’ve written before that Nikon’s conservative engineering team and management in Japan is disconnected from the reality on the ground. I wonder whether Nikon corporate even realizes that they lost someone as talented as Bob Krist, let alone why.

Update: I have a collection of hundreds of leaker emails, but one such individual’s response to this article seems to be worth sharing here: "I'm a mere amateur photography hobbyist, but I'm with Bob.  In a month I’ll be enjoying a National Geo expedition.  As the most interesting man in the world might say, I don't always travel, but when I do I take my Sony RX100, RX10, and A6000 along with me. I love my D800, no better all-around camera than that, but for travel the weight of my Nikon FX kit (D800 + 16-35mm + 24-120mm + 80-400mm) is too much. And I lift weights for exercise! I’ve waited a long time for a Nikon DX camera to replace the D7000 I once owned, but eventually I lost patience.  I took a hard look at Sony and pulled the trigger, first with the RX100, then the RX10, and finally the A6000.  Over the next year or two I have more than $20K to spend on cameras and lenses. I'd prefer to buy Nikon gear that meets my needs, but if Nikon doesn’t change course in the way you've repeatedly recommended, my money will instead go to complete my collection of Sony/Zeiss lenses for my A6000 and perhaps for one of Sony's FF cameras."


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