Practice What You Preach

Okay, Nikon, we heard you: you think that hobbyists and pros are going to be not just your primary customers moving forward, but just about your only customers (90%). But have you heard us?

Word to Nikon: you're repeating a mistake you've made in the past. Let me explain.

Somewhere about the time that most of us were expecting a D300 update—we did get a D300s that most wouldn't consider an update—Nikon's focus was intent upon moving DX users to FX. In doing so, Nikon abandoned almost all serious DX lens work, mailed in a terrible D300 update, never came up with a D400 when expected, and started watering down the D7xxx series. 

Apparently, Nikon thought like this: "if we give people better choices in the middle of the lineup (top of the DX lineup), they won't move to FX." I've called Nikon on this consistently since it first started. It's incorrect thinking, and what it led to is what I called Leaking, Sampling, and Switching. Much of Fujifilm's mirrorless APS-C sales has been to dissatisfied high-end Nikon DX users. At one point I measured that as about a 5% loss of sales to Nikon. It could have been more than that, but 5% still would have been a nine-figure difference at the time.

Apparently Nikon was happy with that. I'm sure that someone in Tokyo will tell me that the "FX transfer" netted them more money. I'm not so sure about that, because the problem is that leaking, sampling, and switching led to people who abandoned the Nikon mount. That means that the future base is smaller, and when you go and try to pull the same transition game again—this time F to Z—you'll get a worse result. 

So let's consider the messages Nikon is sending at lower end of the hobbyist/pro range:

  • Going on two years without the D500 CFe update that was promised.
  • DX lenses being discontinued quietly in Japan while still sold in the US.
  • No D580 (hybridization of mirror/mirrorless ala the D780), and no D500 update.
  • The de-featurization of the D7500. 
  • A lower-than D7500 mirrorless entry (Z50) with only two consumer lenses available.

This is all activity squarely in Nikon's (previously) strongest and largest hobbyist/pro base. Exactly the customer they claim they will be selling to exclusively. Moreover, for that DX DSLR customer to switch to FX mirrorless, that customer will probably be buying new lenses. And that pretty much means that the loyal customer now has the choice of switching brands, because if they have to pick up new lenses, the conversion is going to be costly enough to allow that consideration. 

It's too late for Nikon to rectify all their mistakes, but they can still fix some of them. To wit:

  • Release the promised firmware update for the D500. Add in a feature or two they left off from the D5. This is low hanging fruit that will assuage quite a few of those hobbyist/pros Nikon wants to keep selling to.
  • Create the D580 hybridization. It shouldn't be hard to do, as they've already basically done the mirrorless work with the Z50 on the same sensor. This wouldn't be a perfect update, but it's one that would keep the D5xx at the forefront of APS-C cameras. Heck, throw in the D6's Group C1/C2 additions, too. This is slightly higher hanging fruit in that it requires a full team to get the work done in a timely fashion.
  • Push the Z50 up a full notch and add some Z DX lenses. The Z50 is currently targeted at a user below the D7500 (and above the D5600). That's probably below the hobbyist/pro user Nikon wants to sell to. So: add sensor VR, add back a few of the things they took out from the Z6, add in the USB Power Delivery, put on an articulating LCD, and call it the Z50 II. Get the 10-24mm Z DX lens out, add a couple of DX-sized Z primes, and give us at least one fast Z DX zoom lens in the middle. Again, this is not tough fruit to harvest, and what it does is give the D7500 users something to transition to as well as the more serious users a camera to buy that, while not quite pocketable, is greatly compact for travel. 

Nikon's going to eventually get around to a wimpy version of the first bullet (probably only adding CFe support and fixing a bug or two). Nikon has been working on the third bullet, but apparently not quite sure whether/when to pull the trigger.

But the dangerous bullet is that middle one. Nikon's going to discover that not acting on that is just going to dig their hole deeper. Why? Well, two reasons: (1) the Fujifilm X-T4 is getting closer and closer to the D500 level and attracts all but the sports and wildlife photographers (Fujifilm has their own deficiencies in their telephoto lens lineup); and (2) Canon is going to resurrect the 7D Mark II as an RF mirrorless camera ;~). 

The thing about Nikon is this: they create the very best product in a category, and then don't defend the category. Eventually Nikon wonders why sales in the category have suffered, and they then have to figure out how to transition the fewer remaining customers to something else.

This isn't the first time Nikon has had this problem. It's a systemic problem that dates all the way back to the F3. It's engineering-think that leads to this. Nikon needs some better customer-retention-thinking, and always has. 

So, Nikon, if you're reading this, please realize that those hobbyist/pro customers you covet aren't stupid. They've asked you for things you haven't produced. They see a pattern of not embracing them as customers. Those customers will eventually vote with their money. Slowly but surely those hobbyist/pros are going to find a different vendor to buy from. 

Practice what you preach, Nikon. If you want the hobbyist/pro customer, you're going to have to listen to them and produce what they want. 

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