Catching Up For The Month I Was Away

Here are the Z System news bits that happened while I was off the Internet:

  • 4/9 — Z30 and Z50 firmware updates. The Z30 firmware is now at version 1.11, the Z50 version at 2.51. The only published change has to do with encryption keys and passwords associated with the wireless connection.
  • 4/11 — 7Artisans 50mm f/1.8 announced. 7Artisans announced their first autofocus lens for the Z System (the lens had been previously available on the Sony FE mount). 
  • NAB — Viltrox 16mm f/1.8 shown. This autofocus lens first appeared for the Sony FE mount, and now will have a Z-mount option available.
  • NAB — Z9 Firmware 5.0 had a secret. The Z9 5.0 firmware update had a function in it that wasn’t revealed until the NAB convention. Basically, this function allows ATOMOS external recorders to create a proxy video via HDMI whose name matches what is recorded internally on the camera in ProRes, ProRes RAW, or N-RAW. Your ATOMOS device may need a firmware update to support this. 
  • NAB — Nikon officiallly finalized the acquisition of RED. This includes appointing Keiji Oishi, formerly of Nikon Imaging, as the new co-CEO of RED. While I still expect Nikon and RED products to be separate for the foreseeable future, the appointment of an imaging-savvy Japanese executive at RED indicates to me that Nikon is very serious about making an impact in the video industry, and consolidating RED under the Nikon Imaging umbrella.
  • NAB — Atomos announced the Ninja Phone. This small, new, US$399 accessory essentially turns your iPhone 15 Pro into an external HDMI video recorder that records in 10-bit Apple ProRes and H.265. The caveat is that it is only records up to 1080/60P. Most of Atomos’s usual Ninja capabilities are present, and Atomos points out that the iPhone’s screen shows essentially zero latency.
  • NAB — New cards appear. A number of new storage cards have appeared, including Lexar’s new Armor series of SD cards (basically their version of Sony Tough). SanDisk, meanwhile, introduced a 4TB Extreme Pro UHS-I card, which pushes the SD capacity bar up one. OWC expanded their CFexpress 4.00 card series to Type A (not important to Nikon Z-mount users, but does show OWC’s full support for the latest CFe standards). ProGrade is also showing off both Type A and Type B CFexpress 4.0 cards with maximum and sustained speeds well above what the Z8 and Z9 require (and are rated VPG 400 for video). These new Type B cards are named Iridium and come in 400GB, 800GB, and 1.6TB sizes. Meanwhile, a new Gold 256GB card also is available with CFe 4.0 support.
  • 4/12 — More High Efficiency raw support arrives. RawDigger and FastRawViewer are now in public beta with support of Nikon High Efficiency raw files (both types). Note that you need to be on a current modern OS. For example, 32-bit Windows is not supported. Also, Nitro (from the makers of Raw Power) now supports HE formats.
  • 4/17 — Z5 firmware updated to 1.43. The only changes apply to Nikon’s updated security keys for wireless communication.
  • 4/23 — Z8 firmware updated to 2.01. The new version applies Nikon’s new security changes for wireless communication, as well as five fixes.
  • 4/25 — Viltrox introduced the 40mm f/2.5 autofocus lens, TTartisans introduced the 50mm f/1.8 autofocus lens for the Z-mount, and Kate introduced the 200mm f/5.6 manual focus mirror lens
  • 4/29 — Zf firmware was updated to versions 1.20. This update forces automatic white balance to remain the same for each image in a pixel-shift sequence, makes the security key changes of the other updates, and fixes three bugs.
  • 5/6 — Nik Collection version 7 was released. Because the U-point technology and Viveza corrections were first part of Nikon Capture, this product still has appeal to Nikon users, even after it first passing to Google and now to DxO. Indeed, it's those two attributes—the full product has many more modules—that have gotten the most attention in the new version.
  • 5/7 — Viltrox announced the 16mm f/1.8 lens for the Z-mount. This lens is now one of two wide angle full frame autofocus lens prime lens available for the Z-mount that go beyond where Nikon has gone.
  • 5/9 — Nikon announced fiscal year results. As expected, Nikon beat the last forecast it made for the complete year ended March 31, 2024, and that was true of the Imaging unit, as well. Sales were up 52.6% and profits up 4.3% year to year. ILC market share finished at 12.9%. The forecast for the coming year is an increase in sales of 7.2% in revenue and an increase in market share by about 1%, but a decline of 5.5% in profit. That decline in profit is partially attributed to the acquisition of RED, for which Nikon paid about US$85m. Be careful of the sites citing the RED purchase as "the deal of the century," as the actual sales, profit, assets, and liabilities of RED are still unknown, and you'd need to know those numbers to make a proper assessment. It's more likely that there was some distress within RED, which resulted in the lowish acquisition price. One likely problem, particularly given the interviews that have been given since the deal was announced, is that the investment cost of future silicon options at RED was starting to exceed their resources. Nikon provides deep pockets and shared tech that would help with that. For what it's worth, Nikon's Imaging forecast seems a bit unusual to me, with a strong year to year increase in sales for the first half of the fiscal year, but a modest increase in sales with a significant hit to profit in the second half. This would indicate a new camera (or more) before October, but some sort of big R&D cost after that. But also note that Nikon, like a number of other camera companies, shows a significant increase in inventory that's built up, too. To Nikon corporate's chagrin, Imaging is still the biggest pipeline of sales and profit at the company (39% of sales, and greater profit than the company overall). I say that because corporate just keeps saying "just sustain the Imaging business" while growing other businesses, with the Precision unit is still "expected" to be far bigger by 2026 (it won't be). R&D is forecast to go up for Imaging and down for Precision next year. Oops. Finally, it's been hypothesized by other sites that Nikon didn't need to release a new camera in Q1 of 2024 because sales were great, so they could delay any new camera. That's not evident in the data: while Q1/2024 sales were above last year, they were weakest quarter of the year, and below those of years where Nikon was said to be "in trouble." The reason Nikon didn't introduce a camera so far this year is that no new ones are ready to release yet. Nikon isn't alone in this; I've now gotten confirmation from three different companies that there is are still parts shortages that are forcing them to choose between producing existing models or new models. Given in Nikon's case that almost any new model they'd introduce this year is going to cost less than a Z8 or Z9, those parts are better used in the higher priced camera, even if you discount them some.

Update: Added some lenses to the database that were shown in Asian countries but haven't yet been officially announced in the US, yet (e.g. Laowa). 

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