What I’d Be Doing If I Were Nikon

As previous articles have mentioned, this is a critical time for Nikon, as they’re now losing market share in interchangeable lens cameras. Worse, they’re losing mind share among their most faithful and loyal customers, and Photokina did nothing to help that.

So here’s my 10-point program of what I’d do if I were in charge:

  1. Fully explain the DL delays and tell potential customers that this lost time hasn’t been completely wasted; that the DLs will be better because of a year delay, not the same as originally described, then make it so. Also add a DL with a fast, great, prime lens that’s shirt pocketable. Or a telephoto DL to go with the wide angle DL.
  2. Announce a DX wide angle prime lens and provide a road map that shows that Nikon intends to fill out the DX lens lineup rather than let third parties do all the work and let competitors slowly make the Nikon DX lineup look pathetic. Note that this isn’t about sales, it’s about mind share. Yes, consumer 18-xx lenses sell more than wide angle primes and probably always will. But it’s the impression of completion that Nikon’s missing. Competitors are slowly looking complete (e.g. Fujifilm X), Nikon DX not at all.
  3. Double down on the things that work. For instance, the 300mm f/4E PF was well received, so where’s the 400mm or 500mm f/5.6E PF? Or 200mm f/2E PF? Or any other PF? Meanwhile, where’s the D5 in a small body (e.g. real D700 replacement)? Where’s the D5x? Yes, the former is likely to steal some D5 sales and maybe some D500 sales, while the latter is likely to not be a big seller. But the Nikon message to pro shooters should be very simple: we’ve got you covered no matter your needs. If Nikon doesn’t have us covered, what does that say?
  4. Embrace or de-emphasize video. Where’s N-Log? Where’s ProRes or DnXHD or any other modern edit-ready compression? Where are the video-friendly lenses? Where is internal 8/10-bit 4:2:2? Where is a video autofocus system that works? The list goes on. Either address this list and get back in front of the large-sensor video game or back off and concentrate on making the best still camera ever.
  5. Put the largest possible sensor in the CX mount and reinvent the Nikon 1. Or build a DX-based mirrorless platform. Canon, Fujifilm, and Sony now own the space Nikon invented (crop sensor) in what will be the future of still interchangeable lens cameras (mirrorless). So it is completely unsatisfactory that Nikon drifts silently with a now apparently abandoned mirrorless system.
  6. Fix KeyMission. The number one mounting solution for the KeyMission cameras is likely to be the GoPro tripod adapter. Oops. The Nikon-supplied solution (cheap tripod/head combo mounted to various things) is not the right solution. Get those accessories right, fast. Likewise, the aversion to raw files on low-end cameras has to stop. Nikon's direct competitor (GoPro) supports raw. The KeyMission 170 flies into the tail end of the action cam market, so it needs more. The KeyMission 80 is dropping into the already dead auto-document-my-life market, and needs a better purpose. The KeyMission 360 is the only somewhat novel product in the category, so the software and marketing of that better be ready. 
  7. Fix SnapBridge. I’ve already written a lot about this, and I’ll have more to say on this soon. Bottom line is that Nikon took a baby step when it needed to take a giant step.
  8. Have a real plan for the 100th anniversary 2017 year that re-establishes Nikon as the leader, not a follower. And yet, also have a great tribute to the past (e.g. a far-better-than-Df-Df-replacement, and one that embraces the legacy fully, not partially). A lot of Nikon supporters are starting to wonder how long Nikon will be in the camera business in the future. This is the time to step up and say “look what we did in the past century, and here’s how we’ll top that in the next.” 
  9. Embrace third party vendors. It’s time to open up the ecosystem. Sony (mostly) did it and is reaping the benefits. m4/3 (mostly) did it and is reaping the benefits. Fujifilm (kind of) did it and is reaping the benefits. Nikon needs to get on this ship before Canon does and once again makes Nikon a follower, not a leader. Document the lens mount, the flash interface, the sensor spectral information, the lens correction data, and the full communication interfaces to licensees. Slap a “Nikon Approved” sticker on things (that pass testing) if Nikon really has to keep the NIH attitude intact.
  10. Embrace customers. Have a three-stop Nikon World type show (Asia, North America, Europe) that’s just Nikon and its official third party vendors (see #9). A full day of useful seminars. An inspiring keynote. A mini-trade show with knowledgable personnel providing useful information and suggestions with hands on the gear, and who are willing to listen and bring what they hear back into the company for action. Every Nikon Ambassador should be there and engaging customers. Maybe even some special show pricing (available through local dealers who are attending). Blackmagic Design does this well. Just hire their staff or clone their efforts.

You’ll note that I didn’t go into my communicating, programmable, modular speech here. That’s perhaps a part of #8 and the years beyond, but Nikon’s needs right now are much more short-term and specifically need to address gaps and problems in the current lineup just to shore up their position in the industry as the clear #2 that’s challenging #1. 

I’m also going to give myself the benefit of the doubt and say that most of what I’ve written above I’ve been saying in one form or another for quite some time, so I certainly would have been trying to address these things already, and thus have the fixes ready to roll today. My worry is that Nikon is just now getting around to recognizing the full set of problems it faces, and is going to huddle up by themselves in Tokyo to come up with solutions that will then take some time to happen. So by the time the solutions arrive, new problems will already have overtaken them. Moreover, huddles in Tokyo don’t involve customers.

Finally, I’ll point out once again that this is not an engineering problem Nikon has. The engineering teams keep proving that they have the talent to do things that haven’t been done before. This is a management problem. One that involves clarity of purpose, clear direction, consistency in decision making, transparency, insight to the likely future, insight into customer desires and needs (even unspoken ones), and goals beyond cutting costs and keeping up with the competition.

I have no doubt that for Nikon to fix their problems and get solidly back into a strong #2 competitive position that there’s going to be pain that happens first. But that pain would be a lot less than the pain of discovering that they’ve slipped to #3 in a market that itself is in decline, with no likely chance to recover.

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