Management at Nikon is hopefully waking up from a dismal 2016 and realizing that they have to change something. Here are my suggestions of things that should be on their 2017 Resolutions List:
- Make DX Relevant. Yes, this has been a common theme of mine lately, mainly because, with the exception of the D500, Nikon seems to have mostly ignored DX development and turned in lame update after lame update. While Nikon persuaded some DX users to spend more money to get FX bodies, they lost as many users who want to m4/3, Fujifilm X, or Sony E/FE. The strong reception to the D500 ought to have told Nikon something. Unfortunately, a great body by itself just points to how lukewarm the DX line had gotten. No new wide angle zooms since forever. No DX prime lineup. Treating DX more as a price-sensitive only option in marketing. The list goes on and on. Simple advice: either DX becomes more relevant to the future of photography or it slowly goes away. That's Nikon's choice. You'd think they'd pick the former.
- Fill Out the Pro Ranks. The D1h/D1x/D100 trio established a reasonably full lineup of cameras for pros to pick from. The D3/D3x/D700/D300 quartet embellished that. Seems we're back to a trio again, and a bit of an odd one in D5/D810/D500. What we really need is D5/D5x/D810h/D810x/D500. While some of you balk at this notion—as does seemingly Nikon—I'll remind folks that Nikon's reputation was gained at the top end and through being compatible-oriented (legacy support, et.al.). Today, Nikon's got a smaller spread of pro gear that means that I'm usually making a compromise when I choose which body to pick up. The big bodies (D5) and small bodies (D810) have different strengths, for sure. Why I can't get pixel count in one or speed in the other is a head scratcher considering that's where Nikon seemed to have started the DSLR revolution. Meanwhile in lenses, it at least appears that we're getting a slow roll of better optics to replace the older good ones. So maybe the lens guys should be running the body group? (And speed up ;~)
- Deliver With Quality. The DL cancellation, I hope, was an internal wakeup call. We've been getting a long sequence of products that have "defect when shipped" issues. Lenses that needed firmware changes to work properly. Bodies that had clear defects. Software that wasn't ready. In 2015/2016 I sent more products in to Nikon for fixing than all of my previous 30+ years of Nikon use. Only thing is, every one of those products I sent back to Melville to fix were brand new out of box. Every one. So was it worth it to cut QA/QC costs, Nikon? Nope. You've paid for it in repair costs and in reputation.
- Invest in Software. Nikon's software consists of enhancing a relabeled product (Capture NX-D is really SilkyPix under the skin, and View NX-i has a lot of licensed frameworks in it), or things that look like College freshman programming projects that were never finished. Thing is, the digital world revolves around software, not hardware. That's especially true for things like cameras, which are not complete, standalone devices. The purpose of using a camera is to preserve or share images. It's going to be software that does both those things in the end; the camera is just the input device. Unfortunately, cameras are slowly becoming isolated from the world in which their output needs to live. To fix that is going to take some hardware design, sure, but it's going to take much more software than we currently get.
- Realize Cutting Costs Has Costs. As both a businessman and an investor, I've never seen a long term mandate to reduce costs work. Companies that constantly announce that they're cutting costs—as Nikon has been for almost a decade now—eventually cut themselves out of business. The proper mantra is "control costs." There's a big difference between "control" and "cut." When you cut something actually ends up missing. You cut quality, you cut process, you cut parts, you cut features, you cut customer service, you cut service centers (and thus increase cost to users), you cut R&D, you cut silly things like hot shoe caps. Cut, cut, cut and things disappear, including eventually, your customers. Control costs and you actually may spend more to make more. There's no doubt that inefficiencies crop up in any large company that's been around as long as Nikon (100 years). The number of inefficiences that show up is directly related to lack of good management. That said, the ultimate customer couldn't care less how efficient or inefficient you are, they just want complete, well thought out, quality controlled products. As I noted in an earlier bullet, QA/QC cost cutting is impacting customers, and they noticed. They won't accept that for long.
You might note that I'm not writing anything about needing a new mirrorless system. Certainly Nikon needs an answer for mirrorless, but making DX relevant is part of the answer and a more important thing to get right short term. Indeed, Nikon could go the route that Canon has, which is essentially making their mirrorless offerings sit at the bottom of the crop DSLR using essentially crop DSLR designs made mirrorless. That, too, would make DX more relevant.
But those of you who only think in mirrorless versus DSLR terms are missing a point. With the right work—mostly size and control related, plus proper marketing—a D3400 could easily hold its own against many, if not all, of the mirrorless offerings. With a little more work, a D3400 could easily be made mirrorless. To me, this isn't Nikon's biggest issue for 2017, though it certainly becomes one if Nikon manages to first fix the things I've identified above.
The Nikon faithful really want to see that someone is awake at the wheel and that the company has been taken off the "cut costs" autopilot. They want to see a full, well-supported line. They want quality products everyone, not in just a body or lens or two.