Nikon DSLR Future?

I've spent some time recently communicating with several contacts in and around Nikon. 

My sense of things is that Nikon themselves haven't fully agreed upon a strategy moving forward for what to do about DSLRs. Some of the company, mostly rooted in development, want to continue with a few DSLR developments, while others, mostly rooted in marketing or sales management, don't. 

Unfortunately, the parts supply, shipping costs, and travel restrictions may be making the decision inevitable.

One thing I note is that the D3500 availability is rapidly going down while the pricing is basically back to list. This is a sure sign that Nikon is dealing with final quantities of that camera. Nikon discounts to reduce the inventory stocks, then raises the price back up for the last remaining ones. That's been their modus operandi basically forever. The D5600 seems to be in better supply than the D3500, but it, too, is staying at list price, the indication that Nikon isn't in any hurry to sell off remaining bodies (therefore inventory must be low). The only discounts you see these days are on the two-lens sets, and I believe that's really just Nikon unloading the 70-300mm lenses as fast as they can.

Aside: image sensors and lens elements are pesky parts. You commit to some volume of them, and you really want to use the last of those parts before moving on, otherwise you end up having to take readjustments on your financials. Both image sensors and lens elements are things that take some time to create (three to twelve months), so market decline can put you in a position where you have oversupply you need to use up. Thus Nikon's approach: sales to draw inventories down, list price for the few remaining.

Given that these two consumer DSLRs were the driver of Nikon's "volume strategy" and we know that Nikon has abandoned that strategy, I expect 2022 is the end of the line for those two models, and probably far sooner than you expect. Indeed, the discontinuation of so many DX lenses (primarily in Japan, but slowly spreading through the subsidiaries), seems to seal that deal.

Unfortunately, I believe that also seals the fate on the D7500 and D500, too. Nikon appears to have moved on from F-mount DX. I'm hearing no development rumors and plenty of DX shutdown rumors.

Which brings me to F-mount FX. Amazingly, we still have D610, D780, D850, and D6 readily available, with D750 and even D810 models still floating around in inventories. The Df seems to have quietly died off (NikonUSA still lists it, but "out of stock"). So between four and seven F-mount FX DSLRs still hanging around, depending upon how you define "hanging." 

My guess is that we'll see that list winnow in 2022, as well, with the D610, D750, D810, and Df likely gone at some point in the year. Which leaves the D780, D850, and D6. 

You may have noted the poll I posted yesterday (thanks to all of you who filled it out and responded via email with additional details). That came about because of a message I received from an intermediary who claimed something about Nikon's thinking. That didn't agree with my sense of the tens of thousands of DSLR users I correspond with that have bought my DSLR books. 

Here's the results (I closed the poll less than 12 hours after starting it; generally I do that when the ongoing results just continue to run at the same values):

  1. Will likely upgrade a DSLR: 14%
  2. Will likely move to mirrorless: 46%
  3. Will supplement DSLR with mirrorless: 25%
  4. Current DSLR is last Nikon they'll buy: 16%

Nikon's whole strategy seems to be predicated on #2. But that only picks up half their huge DSLR base. Another 25% will supplement (or already are), but the fact that they're keeping their DSLR doesn't bode well for discontinuing DSLRs.

My contention has been, and continues to be, that within the enthusiast group that is most essential to Nikon's long-term success, there's still massive resistance to mirrorless, and thus Nikon risks downsizing simply because they don't cater to their current customers. It's as if Nikon is intentionally saying "goodbye" to as much as a third of their customer base. 

One of the sticking points one emailer says is part of Nikon's thinking is the so-called Screw-Mount FTZ. The claim is that this part has been designed, but is the carrot that will be dangled when the DSLR lineup is discontinued (or decimated). But note group #3 in my poll isn't exactly small. They'd be much more likely to supplement sooner if such an adapter existed. Such an adapter's existence isn't likely to change group #1's or #4's response. So why hold it off the market?

The emails I received in conjunction with someone filling out the survey were even more illustrative. I'll save commentary on those for another day. However, some of you pointed out things that Nikon needs to hear. 

I keep looking at group #1, though: what DSLR are they going to buy if Nikon stops making most of them in 2022? 14% is a very large segment of your customer base to ignore. That's particularly true given that the folk that visit my sites aren't generally consumers, but high-practicing enthusiasts and pros. That's exactly the group that Nikon keeps saying they're going to target everything they do a financial presentation these days. Okay, so Nikon's targeting 70% or 80% of that group, not 100% of it? Doesn't sound efficient to me. 

Again, Canon doesn't have the same customer dynamics that Nikon does. It's really only Nikon at this point that can continue any DSLR development and profit/benefit from it. (Okay, Pentax is a statistical footnote that is doing the opposite: only pursuing DSLR and avoiding mirrorless.)

I'll stick by my guns on this one (for now ;~): Nikon should develop one last seminal DSLR. It will sell if it is done right. It won't be Nikon's biggest seller, but it should be profitable.

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I should point out that Nikon's strategy with DSLRs isn't just something I report on, it's specifically of interest to my business, as well. Even without a steady stream of new cameras and lenses, it takes time and energy to keep dslrbodies current and useful to the DSLR faithful. I'm seriously late in updating a few critical books, but it's tough to spend any time doing that for no new revenue. 

I suppose if I were rich I could start a hobby business of taking old D500 and D850 bodies and putting new tech in them to keep them up-to-date and enabled. Call them the Resurrection 500 and 850 ;~). But I'm not, and it's an idea fraught with peril (where do you get parts long-term? Mechanical shutter makers are going to become dinosaurs soon). 

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