An Un-bashing

I find it amusing that I'm not the one being accused of being negative lately. If anything, I seem to find myself defending Nikon's decisions recently. Yet I've time and time again seen posts about "Thom's Nikon Bashing."

So before I get to today's real comment, let me address something: anyone who knows me knows that I don't hold back opinion. I see no point in that. You either have an opinion or you don't; you shouldn't "hold your punches." 

What many refer to as my "negative period" tends to be from 2010 to 2015 or so, when Nikon was—in my strong opinion—making a lot of product mistakes that were going to turn costly. You can see the results of those mistakes today: Nikon 1? Gone. Coolpix Android? Gone. D4x? Never appeared. This was also the period when the DL and KeyMission were both being formulated. Gone. We also started to get the proliferation of D3### and D5### iteration during this period, a period I had correctly predicted was past peak DSLR and didn't need constant low-end iteration. The D600 and D750 and other recalls didn't help matters. The Df didn't seem finished, rather more just some dials bolted onto a D600 and the video features removed.

Why was any of this of concern to me? Well, let me state this: Nikon is one of the top engineering companies in the world. I've never met a Nikon engineer who isn't at the top of their game, and I've not seen an engineering problem they can't solve. So it's frustrating to see such talent not being directed well. We still have remnants of that problem today, in particular in three areas: prioritization of product (particularly accessories, but the issue is also more broadly systemic), marketing messaging, and customer interaction.

So let's bring this around to the Z system. Lately I'm getting two constant, loud, repeated complaints from stressed out readers. And these complaints aren't usually timidly stated: (1) The FTZ is an insult and FUBAR because it won't autofocus screw-drive lenses; and (2) We didn't need a new mount and Nikon should have never "abandoned" the F mount.

Okay, #1 first. What's bringing up this complaint again—it first appeared with the original FTZ announcement, then died down—is that Sony, after almost seven years of producing full frame mirrorless cameras (and more if we count APS-C), finally got around to producing an adapter for their older A-mount screw-drive lenses. Why does Sony get praise for making something that was needed seven years ago while Nikon gets damned for not producing one after two years? 

Personally, I find the FTZ just fine, and more than what I would have expected from Nikon. The FTZ adapter makes my manual focus Nikkors usable again, and it works just fine with all my AF-S and AF-P lenses. Nikon long ago telegraphed that screw-drive was going to become history. For over a dozen years they haven't been making any lower-end cameras that can autofocus those lenses. The last not AF-S lens I can recall Nikon introducing was the 10.5mm f/2.8 DX fisheye back in 2003. Moreover, Nikon was roundly criticized by its loyalists for being far later to an all in-lens-motor lineup than Canon. Indeed, there are still a small handful of lenses that aren't AF-S (I'm looking at you 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor). You can't have it both ways. 

The #2 complaint started again when Nikon launched the D780 early this year, and keeps popping up in discussions of what Nikon ought to do next. The basic premise is this: Nikon should just take the mirror mechanism out of the DSLR bodies and produce a mirrorless F-mount set of cameras. If they would just do that, then the Z-mount wasn't necessary. 

I went through the logic for and against that idea at least a decade ago, and several times since. One only has to look at yesterday's Panasonic S5 announcement to see one problem. The S1 was too big. It was DSLR big. Sony has been executing far smaller bodies, and that's what most of the public actually wants (and has wanted for some time). Just removing the mirror mechanism from a DSLR and leaving the old mount—which you might recall was the most limiting in terms of optical design of all the SLR/DSLR mounts—would leave you with a large snout of a camera. Sure, you could do some interesting things in that snout, like build in a filter holder, but bulky is still bulky, and that's not what the market is voting it wants. 

I've seen enough Z lenses now to know that the famed Nikkor engineers are knocking things out of the park suddenly. Not just making "better" lenses, but in a number of cases, arguably making the best such lens ever seen. I've talked to just enough of those engineers to know that they don't believe they could be achieving in that old F-mount some of the things we're seeing now, though they've definitely upped their game with F-mount telephoto lenses, too. (Because of the retrofocus nature of most telephoto lens designs, the F-mount design restrictions aren't as limiting for lenses like the recent 120-300mm f/2.8 and 180-400mm f/4.)

I'm on record as saying that Nikon should continue the DSLRs—though in a reduced lineup—while pushing faster and harder on the Z system. Almost certainly there are customers for both. I thought the D780 was a pretty good start at a modernized DSLR line, though I'm also aware of a patent that Nikon was pursuing that would have made it even more "hybrid." Likewise, the Z6 and Z7 were a pretty good start on the mirrorless side, though with nearly two years under their belt we need to see the next step from Nikon soon.

Look, we're all grumpy right now. Science tells us that when we don't interact in person as much as we need to that stress and paranoia goes up, and people start acting out. The pandemic—and more—has people stressed and blowing off steam, and Nikon seems a convenient whipping post to on which to take out frustrations. 

Me? I'm going to keep calling a spade a spade and state my opinions as fully and clearly as I can. I also reserve the right to change my opinion when I find out I'm wrong (yes, I do that). 

So:

  1. Yes, I'd like it if Nikon followed up the FTZ with an FTZS (for screw-drive) adapter some day. But I would say to Nikon engineering that they have a number of other things to do that should have higher priority right now. 
  2. I'm perfectly fine with a DSLR/mirrorless gear mix right now. But DSLR is becoming more my niche-use system (sports, wildlife) and mirrorless is now pretty much my system for everything else (event, travel, landscape, nature, architectural, etc.). I can live with the bimodal aspect of this for awhile, maybe a long while. 

I think we all want Nikon to succeed long term, and they've got a lot on their plate they'll need to do in order to insure that. Making a screw-drive adapter or an F-mount mirrorless camera aren't on that list. 

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