What Nikon Users Are Saying

Since Nikon's cancellation of the DL line and their basic no-show with anything new at CP+, my In Box has been swelling with comments from the Nikon faithful. I thought I'd take a few of those comments and open them up for a broader discussion of what's happening in the Nikon user world. 

"I’ve owned Nikons for close to 40 years and for the first time I am thinking of selling an switching to either Canon or Sony…and not because I think either of them are better than Nikon.  It is just that I have an enormous investment in Nikon glass and accessories.  If Nikon is going to implode, I’d rather get out before the rush to the exits makes it virtually worthless."

This seems to be a fairly common theme in my In Box: that somehow a guess that there will be a really bad Nikon future makes the things you have less valuable. Not photographically. Your cameras and lenses still work as they did. Short of Nikon going completely out of business (highly unlikely) you could still get them repaired. I don't see Nikon stopping making useful products, so the whole thought that the future is only bad is probably wrong, too.

But this is all about esteem. Somehow the self esteem of the Nikon user is going down because Nikon is having troubles keeping sales up and has made a number of bad choices in trying to diversify their camera lineup. I'd just caution everyone to remember that you are not the brand. The brand is not you. Nothing's changed from the D7200 upward in Nikon's lineup, and I doubt it will: Nikon will continue to make some great DSLR products. 

"Oh well Nikon, with no 'high quality' compact available, looks like a Sony RX is in my future."

Another very common comment I've been getting. There's been a lot of wait-and-see going on in the compact arena since the DL announcement in early 2016. With Nikon users, it's a double wait-and-see: first wait for Nikon to ship it, then wait for others to proclaim that there wasn't a first shipment problem that needed fixing. 

Again, I have to wonder how Nikon came to the conclusion that DL sales wouldn't have been good enough to justify producing them. That just seems like a really strange decision. After all, the R&D money is already spent for these models. Done deal. So the only thing that matters is how many products would have been sold at the expected price. Nikon seems to be implying that the number they expected to sell would have been so low that it wouldn't return any meaningful profit, yet I don't see how that would have been possible. 

It's possible, I suppose, that the cost of goods came in higher than Nikon expected. But they had some wiggle room on price, I think, particularly for the two smaller models. Nobody was going to begrudge Nikon another US$100 in retail cost if the products delivered on their promises.

Bottom line is that I would love to see the numbers Nikon relied upon to make their cancellation decision. Something doesn't seem right there. But Sony won't be complaining, as they'll get most of the Nikon crowd that had been waiting.

"Nikon should use this 'setback' as a chance to make themselves more effective.  Two areas come to mind, Marketing and Customer Support.  The mission of both of these organizations should be to be the industry leaders."

Sure, I'll vote for that. Indeed, the fact that Nikon just made one of the most negative marketing declarations I can remember—cancelling the DLs—almost calls out for some positive message out of the company. "We're working on higher end products" is not exactly a convincing message. 

The problem, of course, is that Nikon has already told us that what you want won't happen. Why? Because the number of cameras being sold is going down and Nikon is trying to keep their profit margins up. Effectively they just told the world that they don't have any real money to devote to customer support and marketing. They seem to hope to sell fewer products at the same level of margin to users they've already acquired. Unfortunately, as I've already documented, those users aren't happy at the moment, and Nikon needs to get closer to them and appease them if they want to retain them.

"No other DSLR allows me to use professional quality lenses from 1980s."

I had asked you recently to come up with the answer to "why Nikon?" The answers that came back were all over the board, but the vast majority of them had at their core something like the above thought. In other words, the reason why they were Nikon users had to do with legacy support. Lenses and accessories you bought didn't stop working with a new camera.

Which makes the Nikon 1 a total fiasco, because it repudiated many of those things (and still does: the latest J5 can't be used with the adapter and many Nikon lenses because Nikon locked that out; more on that in a bit). 

Which brings us to the other reason that most of you gave for "why Nikon?":

"Nikon has the best bang for the buck out there, from the mid-grade on up."

Variations on this had to do with getting more out of the same sensor technology, having better sensor technology than Canon, and a number of variations on whether color and image rendering was better out of camera (most of you assert yes). 

Funny thing is, we seem to have to discover this ourselves. There was a recent well-publicized test out of Canada on this, and Nikon did exceedingly well on the out-of-camera shots. Did Nikon pick up on this and use it in any way in their marketing? Nope. 

Now I will give Nikon credit for marketing image quality. From the D810 marketing: "One look at the jaw-dropping image quality possible with the D810 and you'll never look at image quality the same way. The level of detail and sharpness, the wide dynamic range and rich tonality in nearly any light is simply staggering—almost unimaginable until now." Okay, good. Now how does that compare to what your competitors are doing, Nikon? It's implied, but never said.  

"OK, so I love my D7200. My last lens purchase was a Nikon, however the price caused me to pause and re-consider.  The decision went Nikon's way, but I guarantee that my next purchase will be a Sigma."

I'm seeing more and more of this type of statement, too. But first, let's congratulate Sigma: they've upped their game, considerably. I would say that they used to be mostly known for cheap and questionable lenses—with a few very good ones thrown in, but with questionable quality control—and much of their sales tended to be to those trying to save money. The whole Art/Sport/Contemporary reset came as Sigma began rethinking everything, reinvesting in factory and development, plus rebuilding their factory procedures. What we've been getting from Sigma lately is a string of very fine lenses. And because they're targeting things that Canon/Nikon aren't providing, they're getting quite a lot of "hits" as they proceed. 

Likewise, Zeiss seems to gotten a bit of urgency under their butts to move from a series of manual focus only lenses using traditional garb, to trying new things. All while keeping the image quality that they're known for top notch. 

Tamron, too, seems like they're reinventing themselves, though a bit slower perhaps than Sigma. Still, the last couple of Tamrons I've tried have been very nice lenses, and ones that Canon/Nikon don't make. 

So hearing someone say they might not buy a Nikkor next time around isn't something that surprises me. I've written for quite some time that I felt that Nikon was sitting on their hands in terms of lenses. Doing some updates, sure. Not in a hurry, though. Missing lots of opportunities (DX lenses that aren't consumer zooms, buzz, buzz). 

The good news is that the last few Nikkors out of Tokyo have been extraordinary: it's hard to imagine a better 105mm f/1.4 or 70-200mm f2.8E, for example. The bad news is that prices are still creeping up to achieve this, and we still have lots of lenses we want that aren't available from Nikon. 

We know that Nikon can compete in lenses. After all, that's what the company was built on. But somehow they got to 60 or so lenses and then put it into cruise control. With a shrinking market and better competition, I hope someone is fanning the flames under the glass blowers really hard at Nikon. It's time to show the world what they can do again. That Nikkors can be better than anything else you might put on your camera. The tricky part is that Nikon can't simply push prices up while achieving that, and they really needed to start moving quite some time ago. 

"The Fuji APS-C lens offering seems better than what Nikon offers [in DX]. How come ?"

That's the question of the century. I can only imagine a few reasons why Nikon did what they did post-2007 with DX lenses: (1) they truly believed that only consumers bought DX and they all wanted only an all-in-one lens solution; (2) they believed that a full DX lens lineup would make people less likely to upgrade to FX and pay Nikon the big bucks; or (3) they got lazy. 

I think it's a combination of all three of those things, and that tells me that management took their eyes off the road for DX, and badly so. The long delay before we got a D300 followup is another example of basically the same thing. Meanwhile, in that interim we got the Nikon 1 with a truly odd lens line up that probably siphoned away what might have been more DX lens support. 

As for Fujifilm, once they decided to do their own mount they had no choice but put out a full lens lineup. Unlike Nikon with DX, Fujifilm with APS concentrated on the serious enthusiast and pro market needs, and that was fairly natural for them given the lenses they'd been producing in video, medium format, and elsewhere. If anything, the Fujifilm lineup is missing true consumer zooms, which makes the X-A and X-E camera models not do so well.

It all gets back to "who are you targeting, and why?" Nikon post D3/D300 did a bifurcation: push serious users to FX, try lobbing in new camera types/models to diversify (Nikon 1, KeyMission, Coolpix Superzooms, etc.). The first half worked (moving some serious users upward), the rest backfired badly. Meantime, the eyes were off the road with the DX line and it just kind of wobbled forward as is: mild and predictable body upgrades coupled with even more convenience zooms. 

But here's the thing: even having an answer as to why doesn't solve the problem ;~). Nikon users are now conditioned to not expect DX lenses. Until Nikon puts out some serious DX lenses that turn that attitude around, Nikon will have troubles with their DX camera lineup, too.

"Thanks for the review of the EOS M5. [That] camera from Nikon and by end of 2015, and I would have stayed with Nikon, being a Nikon photographer since 1974. I pondered buying into Nikon 1 a few times, especially when one of the V-models was on fire sale, but the incompatibility with my Nikon flash guns and the reduced capabilities of the F-mount adapter on the J5 held me back."

Bingo. What I've been writing for some time: Nikon—which was well known for its legacy support— seems to have gotten the "don't compete with myself" jitters starting with the D3 and the foray into FX. Note that some of the D3 designers were involved with the Nikon 1, but for some reason that product line is very incompatible. Indeed, if you look at the post D3/D300 lineup, Nikon pushed endless confusing Coolpix variations for the photography novice, Nikon 1 for some mythical, rich, (mostly Asian) women, the D3xxx/D5xxx/D7xxx for the "serious" photographer starting out but looking mostly for quality with convenience at a lower price, and only FX for their traditional long-term customer. As a result we got throwaway Coolpix, overly expensive Nikon 1's that had minimal compatibility with Nikon DSLRs, no D400 or new DX lenses of note other than updates of superzooms, and even an FX line that was an odd collection of different products (D610, D750, Df, D810, D5). 

The simple questions that Nikon didn't answer well were: (1) how do you take new-to-camera folk at the bottom and move them up the price ladder over time? (2) how do you retain the users at the price point you attained them at (e.g. D300 users)? and (3) how do you retain users that aren't really willing to pay the FX penalty to keep legacy support? 

I've written it before and I'll write it again: Nikon shouldn't care at what level a new serious shooter comes into the Nikon ecosystem. Those customers shouldn't be penalized for coming in at a lower level. Nikon needed to have an appropriate compact camera system, an appropriate mirrorless system, an appropriate crop sensor DSLR system, and an appropriate full frame DSLR system. These should all have used the same accessories whenever possible, the same control and command structures, they should have all been complete in and of themselves, and yes, they could have been staged in terms of price and overall quality. For instance, a full DX lens set could have been been priced and specified to match the lower-priced DX cameras. Maybe we don't get metal alloy frames and weather sealing in those lenses, maybe the image circle is aggressively small and leads to somewhat higher vignetting (corrected in camera ;~), maybe you don't supply lens hoods and cases with the lower-priced lenses. There are plenty of ways to to make DX look different than FX, and at an appropriately lower price point. 

But Nikon did none of that, as this reader noted. And they lost him. Probably forever, since he also indicates he's selling all his Nikon gear. Nikon wonders why sales and market share are down? It's their own damn fault. As I've noted, Canon isn't really having that same problem with their ILC offerings. But then again, I can mount a Canon 600mm f/4 on the EOS M5 and get pretty darned good results with it. Mini-DSLR like results. I can no longer mount a Nikkor 600mm f/4 (or most of the exotics) on a Nikon J5 camera because Nikon arbitrarily shuts the camera down, apparently afraid you'll break the lens mount. First, you shouldn't be able to break the lens mount. Second, I'd be using the tripod mount on the lens to support the combo. Third, I don't like being nannied. Especially when I wasn't nannied on the J1, J2, or J3 (or V1 and V2). 

In short, the Nikon faithful are feeling restless. If there were ever a time for Nikon corporate to step up to the plate and deliver a state-of-the-union address coupled with a road map for the future, it is now. Short version:

The state-of-the-union is that mistakes were made. Many. In virtually every area of the company. Despite that, some great products still managed to get out the door, though not always without issues.

The road map is that Nikon will embrace serious cameras from compact to mirrorless to DSLR, all with the same command-and-control philosophy, all with a high regard for image quality, all using the same accessory sets, and with complete and useful lens sets for all the ILC cameras, plus well chosen serious photographic lenses for the cameras with fixed lenses. 

Now, add to that: we're going to address our rush to market QC issues, we're going to re-embrace our customers with direct and complete support. I think that about sums up what we want, right? 

The thing that worries me is this: Nikon Tokyo may not see their difficulty correctly. They seem to think it's an internal, logistical, tactical set of problems they need to fix. No, it isn't. Like General Motors in the late twentieth century, what the public thinks of the products and services are not anywhere near close to what corporate thinks. Even if you fix the products, you still have to turn around the mind share, what people think of what you're doing. That's not happening. Cancelling a product line that many of the faithful were looking forward to doesn't help with that one iota. Generalities don't work any more. 

Nikon needs to be specific, clear, and transparent in its messaging. It needs to address the actual concerns of the user base, not just iterate products well. 

To use my abused metaphor again: Nikon kept the accelerator all the way to the floor to the end of the digital camera straightaway. They've now crashed into the wall at the hairpin turn at the end of the straightaway and have lost all momentum whatsoever. The vehicle is bent and wobbly, and the driver doesn't seem to be clear-headed. The real time betting is now saying that Nikon won't recover to get to the podium. 

There's work to be done in virtually every aspect of the digital camera business for Nikon at the moment. But there's also work that needs to be done to turn the customer attitude towards Nikon completely around. Who wouldn't support the underdog if they could quickly rebuild the vehicle, have the driver get completely focused, and start passing competitors again on the track? But people are starting to not pay any attention to the Nikon race car at all and are beginning to adopt other teams as their favorites. Nikon needs to staunch that outflow, ASAP. 

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