The US$399 DSLR

Back in the days of the Nikon D40x, I reported that one Nikon executive made the following comment: "camera makers need to be ready to make and sell US$399 DSLRs." I commented about that quote several times in 2011 ("no one broke through the duopoly and caused the price drops Nikon had anticipated."), and a couple of times since.

Well, here we are in 2017 [advertiser link if clicked on]: 

bythom nikon 399


Yep, a brand spanking new Nikon DSLR with lens for US$397. 

We have arrived. 

More than anything else, this is a sign that the DSLR duopoly is now under stress. 

First off, I have to tell you that's a remarkably good price for an excellent DSLR (see my review). While the D3400 didn't really change a lot from the D3300, it is a better camera, in my judgment (the D3300 was already a very good camera). Especially with the AF-P lenses, which perform quite well on the latest low-end Nikon DSLRs, including fast focusing in Live View. 

The images you can make with a US$399 camera are remarkable. The sensor the D3400 uses has state-of-the-art dynamic range, produces clean, very usable images even in low light, and at 24mp has plenty of pixels for large prints or cropping, your choice. While we all bemoan the ubiquitous 18-55mm kit lens, it too, is quite capable of excellent imaging. Very surprisingly so for what is effectively an implied US$50-100 lens.

But now we see more where Nikon made mistakes. Nikon has always targeted the low-end DSLRs at casual, convenience-oriented consumers buying their first ILC, and for the most part, price-sensitive ones. As long as those folk showed up at the camera dealer, everything was fine. But these days, not so much. D3400's have been sitting neglected on dealer shelves pretty much since they first appeared. Thus the US$150 off sale.

The big Nikon mistake is the one I've mentioned far too many times in the past: lack of a full and appropriate DX lens set (buzz, buzz). 

You know, even I might be interested in the D3400 if we had things like the Canon 24mm f/2.8 EF-S pancake lens available. A D3400 with three small primes would make a quite compact kit—and even more-so if Nikon had taken the Canon SL1 approach and really squeezed down the camera body size, which would have further helped differentiate it from the D5600. What Nikon shooting enthusiast or pro wouldn't want all that Nikon sensor and shooting goodness in a small package for a backup and travel-light solution in their gear closet? 

The funny thing is that Nikon could have accomplished this without changing the things that made the D3xxx lineup work for them for consumers. The add-on sales from enthusiasts would have been icing on the cake. 

But the bean counters always come into play at Nikon. I'm pretty sure that they would have said that such a tactic—smaller D3xxx body, three or four compact DX primes—would have taken away some sales from the FX thrust that Nikon promoted for the past few years, and might even have harmed things like D7xxx sales. 

I'm not so sure of that. We want FX and higher level DX bodies for real reasons. We also want something for more casual shooting where we don't want to carry the big gear. I don't see those two things as competing for dollars near as much as I'm guessing that Nikon does. 

Recently I've taken to asking virtually every Nikon shooter I meet what they own for shooting when they want to go small and light. LX-100, LX-10, RX-100, EOS M5, G7X, GOM-D E-M10, GM5, A6000...the list goes on, but the name "Nikon" is not in front of almost any of the choices these people are making. The ones that do say D3xxx or D5xxx or even Nikon 1 also start immediately speaking about what's missing in their choice. And number one on that list is small DX and CX primes. 

I question whether Nikon really wants to be the camera maker for all shooters and for all purposes. Oh, some of their initiatives—KeyMission comes to mind, as do many Coolpix initiatives, and even cameras such as the AW1—seem to indicate that they do. But the arbitrariness of their categorization and product line definitions more often than not are too narrow in their thinking. Rarely are these things followed up rationally, either. We have two available AW lenses, as if 28-75mm is the only focal lengths we're really want to shoot with a waterproof camera. When you target narrow, you live and die by the results of how well you actually targeted. 

Meanwhile, we have a pretty amazing deal we would have all jumped on ten years ago (when it would have been US$339 in inflation calculated dollars). And then we would have all asked for more DX lenses, right? ;~)

So if you jump on this deal, be sure to send Nikon a comment about wanting more DX lenses that are appropriate for your needs. Now if there were only someplace to send those comments. Oh, that's the other mistake Nikon has made: they are selling to customers but not necessarily listening to them. 


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