Nikon Expectations

Okay, let's start with what Nikon should be doing: they should be releasing a D5s and D500s in January. 

First, the top pro camera has been consistent with mid-term tuneups for quite some time, and skipping one would say something is wrong at Nikon. Second, the D500 really needs some tweaking (fixing the battery issues, adding D9 focus mode, etc., and it could benefit from the focus stacking option added to the D850, too), and the D300 got a two-year tuneup, so why shouldn't the D500?

Yes, amazingly it's been two years since the D5/D500 announcement. Well, okay, it will be two years in a couple of weeks.  

The D5, D500, and D850 are Nikon's "hot" cameras. These are the three models that prove that Nikon's engineering team is still at the top of their game and tough for any competitor to equal, let alone beat. You don't want to let any of these models get "stale."

But that seems to be what might happen. I can't find any reference to any upcoming D5 or D500 update, and by now we should have heard something if such an update were going to be on schedule for the two-year anniversary. Maybe it's all the other "noise" within Nikon that's hiding such an effort, so I'm going to keep my fingers crossed and hope we soon see a D5s and D500s with some modest changes, additions, and fixes. I know as the head of development/product management those two things would have been at the top of my Must Do list. Keep winners winning.

If you haven't read between the lines of my previous posts on Sensor Wars, Nikon's big problem at the moment is sensors. Sony Semiconductor apparently wanted Nikon to use their 42mp sensor for the D850. But Nikon has gone rogue on Sony Semi, with the D5, D500, D850, and D7500 all using a Nikon-specified design, even when fabbed at Sony-owned plants. The problem? Sony Semi has no extra fab time left for new  sensors not already in production. The fabs are running at 100% according to my sources. 

Which is why Nikon is working with TowerJazz on future sensors. Only problem there is that the TowerJazz plant that has all the features Nikon really wants to use in sensors isn't running at production levels yet. Nikon's next truly new cameras are thus a bit sensor-delivery dependent. I believe those truly new models to be mirrorless, and that implies on-sensor focus systems that aren't in current Nikon sensors. So new sensors. Probably BSI, and maybe Stacked BSI. And Nikon has had yield issues with the D850 BSI sensor they designed.

Talk about digging yourself into a hole. 

Still, we're close. At least at the camera level. I expect Nikon to announce their new mirrorless system at CP+, which for 2018 begins with the month of March. I expect Nikon to have both DX and FX mirrorless options by the time Photokina rolls around next fall. 

But that still leaves all kinds of holes in Nikon's lineup. Wither the Df? The D610? The D750? Any serious compact? The Nikon 1? Heck, even the Coolpix updates?

We'll get the P900 update soon. I'm not sure we'll get much more in the Coolpix line in 2018. 

Aside. So in 2017 Nikon introduced three cameras: D7500, D850, and Coolpix W300. Three cameras. This is down from 11 in 2016, 16 in 2015, 18 in 2014, 21 in 2013, and 22 in 2012. Oh wait, I'm forgetting KeyMission in 2016, and the phantom DLs from the same year. Or were those figments of my imagination?

Needless to say, Nikon's been scaling back. In 2017, they basically stopped. Hard to grow when you're shrinking ;~). 

2018 is going to be the year we discover what camera business Nikon really thinks they're in. The cynic in me says FX DSLR and some still metamorphosing mirrorless. But even that leaves Nikon in quandary, as they have no Df, D610, or D750 replacements in sight (and there might not be a D5s, let alone a D5x). And the mirrorless cameras will have virtually no native lenses when they appear. Plus there's nothing really happening in compacts while Canon cleans up.

Gadzooks, how did management manage that? Or right, they didn't manage. 

The optimist says that Nikon will realize their failures and add DX lenses, fix the consumer DX DSLRs, add DX mirrorless, add FX mirrorless (as a Df replacement, with a nod to retro), announce lens roadmaps, update the D5/D500, replace the D750, and Holy Sensor Batman add a higher pixel count D5x and at least one pro-level compact!  Yeah, that's some optimist. 

The problem is that the cynical me is likely more correct than the optimist. And the reason is management. 

In retrospect, management has been making wrong calls for some time. Really bad calls. This all started with the Nikon 1 and it didn't get addressed until virtually all the KeyMissions came back from dealers unsold. I think I called it right: Nikon was near the end of the straightaway and didn't see the turn, so they kept their foot on the accelerator. You can see that in the number of cameras they were producing past the peak sales in 2012. With DL and KeyMission, Nikon actually would have hit 17 cameras in 2016, if not for the wreck into the wall. 

Note that the crash into that wall at the end of the straightaway in 2017 netted us just three cameras. Three. And three cancelled cameras many of us wanted (DLs). 

Okay, the foot is clearly off the accelerator.

Unfortunately, this is exactly the time the vehicle should be pointed in the opposite direction—it was a hairpin turn at the end of that straightaway—and the foot put back on the accelerator. That's not happening yet.  Management appears to be still recovering from the concussion.

Nikon needed a DX mirrorless entry a year ago. They could have launched with only a couple of lenses and a lens road map and done just fine. Now they're racing from behind. Far behind. 

Nikon needed an FX mirrorless entry this buying season. One that deals with the D6xx/Df crowd and could hold serve against any upcoming Sony A7 Mark III. That, too, could have launched with a couple of lenses and a lens road map and done just fine. 

So we're about to see if Nikon has a miracle accelerator in their arsenal. Don't laugh. Put a Tesla in Ludicrous mode and it will smoke any Detroit entrant so bad you might have time to walk out on the course to see if the gas eater is still coming. Technology can change the game.

In other words, we're back to sensors. A great new sensor with Ludicrous autofocus mode on a mirrorless body and Nikon is back in the race. And then we wait for lenses. Hopefully lenses that Nikon will tell us about in a road map. If not, management still isn't steering straight. 

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