Ask Again Later...

"We cannot discuss future products, but we develop our plans while listening to customer opinions.”

The above answer has now become a near boilerplate one in interviews with Nikon's executives and developers whenever someone asks a question about any possible future feature, performance improvement, or camera model. To Nikon’s credit, the company does now sometimes talk about planned firmware upgrade improvements where it might make them look good (e.g. the 8K60P upgrade that will come in a Z9 firmware update in 2022). 

Still, this answer is not only starting to get stale, but the more people see it, the more they start wondering about “how exactly does Nikon listen to customers?” 

The standard answer to that question has (for decades) been this: product managers and NPS staff at the subsidiaries informally collect comments, complaints, suggestions, as well as do competitor evaluations. This then tends to go to the Japanese CEO at the subsidiary, who translates (or has translated, and sometimes filters) and forwards this to corporate. Nikon is a top-down-management-by-consensus organization, so there’s a lot of discussion that goes on before priorities and strategies get formed and work their way back down into the development teams. (Yes, that’s a simplification; much more happens than that, but the primary stream has been basically as I describe.)

One thing we’ve all noted about the Z System is that Nikon seems to be more willing to hear about and “fix” the things that we, as customers, tend to be complaining about. This hasn’t been perfect, but we now have dual card slots and a real vertical grip for the two main bodies, and I’m not sure we would have had that if the “complaints” hadn’t been frequent and almost viral about those two Z6/Z7 deficiencies. 

It does seem that Nikon’s communication system is working better than before, and we’re getting better response to customer-raised issues. I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s likely partly because of some of some key players at the subsidiaries (Corrado, Cruz, Ricci, etc.). These are Nikon personnel that are using the cameras themselves, understand the technology, and are also in positions to hear users’ reactions directly. 

Still, I’ve been saying for almost two decades that Nikon needs to better embrace its customers, and be listening to them more directly. This is culturally difficult for Nikon, as they’re very traditional Japanese in nature, and hearing that there’s a problem/issue/error/omission is not something they’re comfortable with culturally. They’re certainly not comfortable with talking about such things in public. And that’s where we really need a better system of communication between us and Nikon. 

Let me first say this, though: I’m perfectly happy with Nikon’s big decisions. When it comes to big technology pushes (DSLR, mirrorless, shutterless, AF system changes, more finite controls for image quality, etc.), Nikon’s engineering teams are deep thinkers, take time to understand what future technologies might enable, and usually make sound, excellent decisions. 

It’s in the details, particularly usage details, that Nikon engineering doesn’t always get it completely right. Focus stacking, for instance, is one area where the technical underpinnings are there, but making it work the way the user needs it to work hasn’t happened. Moreover, Nikon’s reluctance to “talk tech” makes things more difficult in such cases. To this day, we still don’t know how the steps are actually calculated in Focus shift shooting. Thus, it’s impossible for a user to do anything other than brute force take too many images, and to do so guessing at what the proper setting should be.

Other examples abound in the details, as well. Multiple exposure used to produce a final NEF if that’s what you wanted. Now you can get individual NEFs for the sequence, but the final image is always JPEG. Why? What "listening to customer opinions” produced that change? I haven’t met that customer, myself, but I’ve heard from quite a few who want the feature back. Which makes those customers not believe the “listening to customers” boilerplate Nikon’s public-facing employees keep repeating. 

Since the beginning of the Z System, I’ve maintained a feature wish list page that I update periodically. Nikon has nibbled at some of the things on the list, ignored much of it.

When I talk to Z camera owners, I get the sense that they’re very happy that Nikon has been improving the models through firmware, but they also all have something—typically something on my wish list—that they want to see done and wonder why it hasn’t been. The Big Hairy One of those is pixel-shift shooting: Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony all support this on at least some of their products now. Canon and Nikon are the odd-men out. Pixel shift, in particular, is now one of those marketing check box items that make a competitive product look better, and is expected of every sensor-IS-capable camera. It’s a bit like Canon and Nikon were making cars and forgetting to put anti-lock brakes on them. 

I understand that an engineering team can’t do everything at once, and has to prioritize. Trust me, I spent 20+ years in High Tech being the one at the top having to face the public when my team got that wrong. But that’s one reason why the current Nikon boilerplate answer to future feature and product questions is so galling to customers. The better answer is something like this: “we’ve heard that some customers might want that, so we’re evaluating whether or not we should fit that into the development cycle.” No promises, but rather an acknowledgement that the company heard the customer and is taking them into consideration as it juggles all the competing priorities facing it.

Good, better, best. Nikon is currently somewhere on the good/better spectrum at the moment for meeting user expectations. It has a ways to go to get to the best level. Let’s hope they do. It would make us love our Z’s even more. 

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