Another Look at Z 2022

The two givens for the Z System in 2022 are these:

  • More lenses. Probably eight (+/-2) released during the year.
  • One or more III's. The Z6 and Z7 are both due for their III iteration, and I'm pretty sure Nikon wants to move them to a single EXPEED7 chip as quickly as they can instead of the more costly and problematic two EXPEED6 chips.

The first of those happens all year long, basically as the Nikkor crew manages to get each one finished and into production. We have seven identified lenses still on the Road Map, and as we've seen there will be a surprise or two every year. 

So let's deal with lenses first.

The 800mm f/6.3 will go from development announcement to real next week. The 85mm f/1.2 and the 200-600mm zoom are probably the next two lenses we'll see from the Road Map. The rest are impossible to predict, though the 24mm DX and 26mm pancake seem like they're simple enough that they shouldn't have long gestations. Likewise, the DX wide angle zoom is a missing lens that's hurting Nikon's DX camera sales as long as it remains unavailable.

I expect a new lens Road Map when the Z6 III or Z7 III gets announced, so it will be awhile before we learn where Nikon is steering the Z-mount next. The patent activity and back channel talk suggest that Nikon's ambitions with the Z-mount are actually greater than they were with the F-mount: I'm seeing and hearing about a broader range of lenses than before. With the caveat that it appears that Nikon will leave some F-mount lenses "holding the fort" for the time being while they carve out different pieces. For example, note that the Z-mount PF lenses will be 400mm and 800mm, while the F-mount PF lenses were 300mm and 500mm. Since the F-mount PFs work perfectly well on the FTZ adapters, by not duplicating the PF focal lengths we'll end up with four focal length choices. Bravo. Some day, the F-mount focal lengths will likely transition over to the Z-mount if there is enough demand.

So, in terms of lenses for 2022: similar quantity as the past two years, while filling in the gaps and extending the options. I know we'd all like this to happen faster, but if you look in the rear view mirror, by the time we hit four years in the Z System, we'll be at about three dozen lens choices. At this point I'm not feeling "lens starved" or "lens deprived," and am able to do most of my work solely with Z-mount lenses.

Cameras, however, are far less predictable. 

Some of that has to do with volume. Nikon's goal has been to sell two lenses for every body. But there's really six bodies (Z50, Zfc, Z5, Z6, Z7, Z9) and right now 25 lenses. That means the average lens will sell far fewer units than the average body. Parts shortages in the supply chain are thus easier to manage for lenses as their volume is lower. 

The two EXPEED6 processors in the Z6 II and Z7 II are causing Nikon supply issues. With a hundred such chips in their possession, Nikon can make a hundred Z50, Zfc, Z5, Z6, or Z7 bodies, but only fifty Z6 II or Z7 II bodies. Every time Nikon squeezes out some more II models, that tightens their ability to create the other bodies. Plenty of other shared parts exist between the bodies, as well, so it's a juggling problem Nikon already has that is compounded by any new camera they might want to introduce.

As I noted above, the Z6 III/Z7 III seem fairly certain to be late 2022 entrants, and I'm sure they'll be EXPEED7 when they come. I do have the question of whether Nikon would leave the Z6 or the Z6 II in production when the Z6 III comes out. I don't think they'll leave both available. Given the EXPEED supply issue, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Z6 and Z6 III be the on-going models at the 6 level. That would allow Nikon to spread their pricing a little bit better, too. Of course, the way it's always been done would leave the Z6 II on the market instead. But again, that's a model that consumes more EXPEED chips, so it isn't a given in a year like the one we're in.

Note that the Z6/Z7 models have been traditionally "late year" models. If Nikon again iterates them on the two-year boundary, we won't see the III's until the last quarter of 2022.

The question is what else do we get other than those expected iterations?

My guess at this point is that we'll only get one additional Z camera in 2022, if we even get one at all.

I know that at least two, and I think three, cameras got through prototyping and to the critical decision-to-produce stage. I also am pretty sure that at least one of those was postponed, possibly permanently (what we typically refer to as the Z30). In terms of pending wireless licensing information, we know that at least one new camera has been going through the regulatory process with governments around the world that is necessary prior to becoming an announced product. But whether that's a new camera or one of the coming III iterations is unknown. 

Any new model really needs to add volume (as well as excitement) or else it simply steals production from the existing models, many of which are already teetering in and out of stock here in the US. That last statement alone tells me that Nikon might delay a new camera announcement and more slowly build initial inventory of a new product before releasing it so as not to disrupt their current sales any more than they already have been.

That said, the next "window" that Nikon likes to use for announcements is coming up. They'd love to have the following sequence of events starting in late April: (1) add some information about medium and long range strategic plans and goals; (2) announce they met or exceeded their fiscal year estimates and predict growth for the upcoming fiscal year; and finally (3) announce a new, exciting product. Sometimes the order changes a bit, but this three-legged strategy at the start of their fiscal year has been used many times in the past. 

So I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Nikon will in May launch a new camera. What it is I have no idea, as the things I'm hearing are all over the board. There certainly are a lot of viable options for Nikon: (a) Z30 to have an entry product, (b) Z50 II to get it up to date, (c) Z70 to expand DX against competition, (d) Zf to capitalize on the Zfc excitement, (e) a Z4 to signal that the entry position will really be FX, (f) a Z5 II to improve it's performance prior to the Z6 going away, or (g) a surprise. No, a Z8 is not in that list, and it wouldn't be the surprise. I also don't think either of the III models would be this early in the year, though that's not completely out of the question.  

Thing is, I keep looking at that 26mm pancake that's in the Road Map. What camera am I supposed to want to put that on? It's not a DX camera, because of the 24mm DX in the Road Map, thus it's an FX camera. Why do we need an FX 26mm pancake when we have an FX 28mm muffin? And while the 24-50mm does get bundled with the Z5, is that the right camera for that lens? It seems to me the more natural bundle for the Z5 is the 24-200mm (basically forming a very competent all-in-one camera). 

The Zf, Z4, Z5 II ideas seem the ones most likely to be developed long term. Perhaps one of them is coming sooner?

But again, I don't know exactly what Nikon is up to, and even after some private talks with engineers and executives recently, it's impossible to predict what comes when, as the final decision is now a logistics one here in 2022, and the folk I've talked to aren't the ones making that kind of decision. 

___________________

Yes, there are some wild rumors floating around about the next Z camera. I take most of these to be idle speculation and guesses based upon what people see Canon and Sony doing (or not doing ;~). The one that's most intriguing is what I call The Simple Z. Full frame sensor  but Z50 size, few controls and simpler menus, no card slot (solely reliant upon USB-C and Wi-Fi for transfer, but also a large capacity internal storage), entry price point. The 26mm pancake starts to make sense with something like that, though Nikon would need other lenses that aren't on the Road Map to make it truly work. 

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