The Post CP+ Wrap-Up

I'm doing things differently this year. Rather than write about products introduced before or at CP+ individually, I'm going to report mount by mount (Canon EF, Nikon F, Pentax K). That's the way most users think about their systems, and it's the best way to learn about which systems are progressing quickly and which are not.

What products go into this report? Any product launched between the start of the year and the end of CP+. Why? Because this is traditionally one of the most active periods during which the Japanese camera companies update products (the other being late summer/early fall, with another blip in spring).

For mirrorless cameras see the related article on

Canon EF, EF-S Mount
Canon seems to be all-in with the DSLR at the same time as being mostly in with their nascent EOS M mirrorless series. What do I mean by that? Canon's extended its DSLR lineup downwards with more entry-level focus recently, much to the surprise of many. They're happy to sell you an entry mirrorless (M) or an entry DSLR (Rebel/Kiss/D). They don't overly care which one, as long as theres a C at the start of the brand label on front and the box is red/white.

Here in the US and most of the world we got the meh entry-level 2000D/Rebel T7, while in Europe Canon busted out an even lower-priced and more meh 4000D at the price of 380Euro (body only, which is less than US$400). As others have noted, that 4000D is the lowest price DSLR we've ever seen at launch (we've seen entry DSLRs hit that price point with sales, particularly at end of generation). 

Unlike Nikon, Canon seems to think that one way to keep DSLRs relevant is to make them imminently affordable. It's interesting that Canon's ILC unit volume has not really slipped recently, but Nikon's has. Nikon seems to be backing away from entry DSLRs, particularly considering the cold iteration and reception the D3400 and D5600 got. 

Ironically, my sources in Europe tell me that Nikon just isn't selling many low-end DSLRs there, yet here we have Canon just blasting away with an entry lower than Nikon's. Which is likely to increase Nikon's pain.

Thing is, I think this is a mistake by Canon. Why? Because they basically have made a complete stripper model of their basic Rebel line, and it clearly shows. It's not differentiated enough. I don't think it's just price that is the driver for these low-entry cameras. Size is as big a factor. By recycling the basic body and many inner workings to save R&D money, Canon has created a somewhat un-compelling product that's small on price, big on physical size. The 4000D really needed an SL-like physical downsizing to go with its downsized price to be truly interesting.

Meanwhile, Canon has been quiet on the lens front for the moment. Fortunately, the third parties are subbing in with lots of interesting items:

  • Samyang — 14mm f/2.8 EF AF, 50mm f/1.2 XP
  • Sigma — 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, 70mm f/2.8 Macro Art, 105mm f/1.4 Art
  • Tamron — 70-210mm f/4
  • Tokina — Opera 50mm f/1.4

That's seven very interesting optical options for EF mount users and only four of those are also available in Nikon F mount. 

Nikon F-mount
Nikon is so quiet in camera introductions recently that it's almost as if we should go do a building check to make sure that something horrible hasn't happened to the engineering staff. 

The last body offerings were seven (D850) and ten (D7500) months ago, and Nikon had their "quietest camera year" that I can remember in 2017. Nothing matches this silence out of the body factories in the digital era, not even the year with a quake, tsunami, and flood.

That's probably the most disconcerting thing for Nikon users. The at best lukewarm D3400, D5600, and D7500 iterations, coupled with no Df, D610, or D750 updates, coupled with no mirrorless iterations or additions have left most Nikon users thinking Nikon only makes D500, D850, and D5 cameras. And as I've pointed out, Nikon really needed modest D500s and D5s updates to help keep those two models in the front of everyone's minds.

Frankly, Nikon's habits with firmware kind of emphasize that upgrade neglect. Yes, we got a plethora of firmware updates recently, but only to make a number of bodies "compatible" with all the recent AF-P lenses Nikon has been making. Sadly, these updates were mailed in, just like the D3400 and D5600 camera updates. The number of bodies that can turn the VR on and off for the DX AF-P lenses is still the same number as before the set of firmware updates. 

That's dysfunctional. Nikon wonders why their lens sales are down. Well, the perception of the Nikon faithful is that those latest AF-P lenses just won't work on their current camera body. I get many emails a day on this subject.

It's not really true that these lenses are "incompatible", particularly for the most interesting of the bunch, the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 AF-P FX version. Still, perception is everything in marketing, and Nikon's fumbling around with firmware isn't helping perception at all.

Note to Nikon: Every camera that's E-type compatible should be fully AF-P compatible, including being able to set VR on and off on the DX lenses without a switch. That would be basically all the post D3/D300 cameras. Anything less is just suicidal and indicates to us close observers that Nikon doesn't have a strong controlling hand that is trying to rationalize a complete camera/lens lineup.

Meanwhile, Nikon did one better than Canon's zero in this period in terms of releasing new lenses: the Nikkor 180-400mm f/4E with built-in 1.4TC. Of course, that's a lens most of us can't afford, and it really only brings the 200-400mm up to snuff with the Canon version,. Still, that's a very desirable spec and a lens I wish I could try.

As noted above, the third party lens makers did a bit of skipping when it came to the F-mount. Here's what we did get:

  • Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art, 105mm f/1.4 Art
  • Tamron 70-210mm f/4
  • Tokina Opera 50mm f/1.4

Unlike in the Canon mount, we Nikon users already have had exact equivalents to those two Sigma Art lenses, and great ones at that. Ditto the Tamron. Which really makes the Tokina the only interesting new option. Particularly since Nikon has pretty terrible 50mm lenses (all seven of them! Though one is only a change of band color ;~). So terrible that Nikon themselves don't recommend any of them with the D850. 

But this "fewer Nikon F-mount intros than Canon EF mount intros" thing is a seriously concerning bit. Nikon's insistence on going it alone and providing zero third party help is now isolating them in ways that show in the market. Four new options versus seven is not insignificant, particularly when we're not exactly getting a flood of new Nikkors.

Now I happen think that every one of the Nikkors that Nikon has introduced in 2016 through the present is a really good one, and many are absolutely great (the 105mm f/1.4, 70-200mm f/2.8E, 19mm f/4 PC-E, for example). But there are definitely gaps and lapses in the lens system that need addressing, and if Nikon isn't going to do that, we need third party support to do so. And this CP+ season it seems clear that those third parties are putting more energy outside the F mount than before. Canon EF and Sony FE mounts got much more love from the glassblowers. 

Be careful what you wish for, Nikon. Being 100% proprietary has consequences. And you're starting to feel them.

Pentax's big news was a II, as in the K-1 Mark II. As best I can tell, this is the K-1 with three changes that customers might get somewhat excited about: (1) pixel shift shooting without a tripod, (2) better noise reduction; and (3) improved AF algorithms. I can't speak to any of these things, as they are all performance related and a unit hasn't been made available to me to test yet. 

Still, those all seem like they could be "finishing up work on things we wanted to do but weren't able to do before original launch." In particular, the noise reduction pipeline step was acknowledged by Pentax as not being quite ready when the K-1 was first produced, but appeared shortly thereafter with other cameras.

I really want to like Pentax, but they're moving at old glacier speeds and with very few products. The original K-1 was a really solid camera at a decent price, but not near state-of-the-art for autofocus performance. 

The biggest K-mount news, though, was that Pentax will upgrade anyone's original K1 to a K1 Mark II for US$550 (500Euro), but only between May 21st and September 30th. A physical upgrade is apparently necessary because the noise reduction part of the new features requires a new logic board.

I have to applaud Pentax for minding their previous customers here. If I were a K-1 shooter, I'd be very pleased with the upgrade offer. When you're the smallest fish in the big pond, customer retention is important, and Pentax seems to have figured that out. 

Final Words
Canon gets a passing grade, barely. Nikon gets an incomplete, as they apparently forgot to come back in from recess. Pentax gets a gold star for effort. 

The first month CIPA numbers don't look good for DSLRs (red circle, right chart). Worst start to a year in recent past. 

bythom cipa jan2018

Moreover, the trailing year numbers show that DSLRs are still very much on the decline: 16.2m, 13,6m, 10.5m, 9.6m, 8.4m, currently 7.5m. It seems clear that DSLRs are still in free fall with customers, and nothing any of the three DSLR camera makers did in the first months of this year is going to change anything about that. 

I'm surprised that Nikon didn't at some point produce a "DSLRs are better" campaign. It's probably too late now, given that their next new camera will likely be a mirrorless one (actually two). And the lack of protecting the D5 and D500 with modest but important updates to retrigger the marketing with a two-year cycle is telling.

Nikon doesn't seem to know what they're doing. That's on a corporate level. On a product level, things like the D850 and a few of their recent lenses show that the Nikon engineering players know how to knock the ball out of the park. 

But this is the age old problem: you can have good players with great stats and a terrible team record. Management can make bad decisions that cost games, too. 

So far, I see no reversal of fortune at Nikon: 2018 is starting off like a replay of 2017, which really only had a D850 to get excited about. 

Bottom line on March 4, 2018: you want a state of the art DSLR, buy a Nikon D500 (crop sensor) or D850 (full frame sensor) at the enthusiast level. Nothing's changed there. At the top end, buy a Canon 1DxII or a D5. Nothing's changed there, either. If you don't mind de-contented cameras, both Canon and Nikon make a whole lineup of those that aren't as good as the four I just mentioned. 

text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
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