Nikon's established (back into the film SLR days) camera development cycle was: 8 years between pro bodies with completely new technologies. What happened in the ensuing eight years after a pro body varied in the film era.

In the DSLR era, things tightened and became more predictable:

  • 4 years between pro bodies with new technologies, plus sometimes a 2 year minor update
  • 2 years between prosumer/enthusiast body updates
  • 1 year between consumer body updates

The question the Z System users are asking themselves today is "what's the mirrorless cycle?" 

That's difficult to figure out. The Z9 was five years after the D5 (many consider the D6 an intermediary two year update of the D5). The Z6/Z7 prosumer/enthusiast bodies had an initial two year refresh, but are now more than three years without another. The consumer bodies—basically DX—pinged recently with a one year interval (Z30 after Zfc), but that was after a two-year wait from the Z50. Meanwhile, the Z5, which you could consider in either of the two lower categories, hasn't had an update (now three years old). 

Nikon's fairly predictable cycles are no longer predictable. If we were using the past as an indicator, we'd say:

  • Z9 II (minor) in 2023 (oops) and Z9 III in 2025
  • Z6 III and Z7 III in 2022 (oops), Z6 IV and Z7 IV in 2024
  • Z50 II in 2020 (oops), with minor updates every year after
  • The Z5 could be considered the D610 type camera: just leave it as the low cost leader for a long period

Obviously, Nikon is off cycle. Something changed in the development decisions, and we're in new uncharted territory. The Zfc and Zf also show an eagerness to make a different type of camera within the basic lineup, as well. 

Here's what I think about where we're at and what really needs to be addressed at the moment:

  • The Z9 and its MiniMe are essentially state of the art. Continue to roll the firmware updates for things that didn't get into the shipping products and Nikon is fine. I doubt that they need "more camera" at the pro level before the Paris Olympics. There are pending features that didn't roll out yet that would suffice to stay competitive during this Olympics cycle, I believe. Moreover, Auto capture hasn't been equalled yet. Thom's prescription: more firmware updates with significant new performance/features.
  • The Zf took pressure off the Z6 III cycle, the Z8 took it off the Z7 III cycle. Nikon's been very careful lately to milk sales out of each progressive Z model before updating. Can these two newer models let Nikon wait until fall of 2024 for Z6 III and Z7 III updates? That would certainly give them time to make them unique and compelling. Thom's prescription: sell the Zf and Z8 until demand slacks, then lower their prices to keep them moving. Get new sensors into updated Z6/Z7 models to push them forward in the EXPEED7 world. But that has to happen some time in 2024, preferably earlier rather than later.
  • The DX lineup is losing competitiveness. Nikon's most urgent problem. Ironic, since they sort of invented the crop sensor digital camera in the first place. This line—both camera and lenses—is looking weaker with each passing competitor announcement. The Z50 is at the heart of the problem now. Thom's prescription: stick EXPEED7 into the current Z50, add the Zfc/Z30 things, get rid of the Z50's unique LCD buttons, and push it out fast as the Z50 II. This is a band aid over the wound; the lens lineup needs attention, too.

Nikon may be thinking differently, though. It's clear that retirements and shakeups in Tokyo have changed the way they're tackling the Z System from what they did with the DSLRs. The old "trickle down" of technology still applies, but model prioritizations have changed, and the cycles have gotten wobbly (that's being generous). 

Which gets me to this: do I expect another Z System camera in 2023? No. The next logical release point would be CES just after the new year, or near CP+ in February. 

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