Flagship Bodies? 30 Lenses by End of Year?

Nikon's statements just prior to and during their year-end fiscal reporting have been fueling speculation about future Z products. 

Let's start with lenses. Depending upon how you count, there are 27 (lenses only) or 30 (lenses + converters) on Nikon's current Road Map. Nikon's specific statements would indicate that they expect all of those to be available by March 2022 (end of current fiscal year, which is the metric they've been using). That means they'd have to launch at least 11 lenses in the next 10 months. That would be impressive, as it's been rare in Nikon's history that it was able to produce so much new glass in such a short time. 

Unfortunately for Nikon, they haven't announced any lenses in the last eight months. Thus, potentially launching 11 in 10 has to be compared to actually launching 0 in 8. The only conclusion you can draw from that is that Nikon is seriously backed up with getting lenses out the door. That implies issues with transitioning manufacturing due to the restructuring, while meanwhile the ongoing pandemic and parts shortages show no signs of getting better in the near term and continue to create disruption. 

Moreover, Nikon may have as many of three other lenses in mind when they repeat the 30 number by fiscal year end. Specifically, I know of one: the missing wide angle DX zoom. It's absolutely in progress but has not shown up on the Road Map. Could there be two others? Absolutely. A wide angle f/1.2 S prime seems likely, and there are plenty of other holes (no 28mm or 105mm f/1.8, for example). A Z PF lens is also missing (I vote 400mm f/4, but I'd settle for anything, and it seems a 300mm f/4 PF would be more likely, as it fills a focal length hole in the lineup).

So far, pretty much everything Nikon's done in the Z-mount lens lineup has been remarkably good. While the differences aren't always large, all the Z-mount lenses to date pretty much trump the equivalent F-mount lens. Thus, I'm willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Nikon on when more lenses start showing up. I'd want them done right rather than sooner.

It's the new flagship bodies (plural) comment that has raised eyebrows. There are three ways to interpret this:

  1. Lost in translation. The English translation is a little more specific than the Japanese version, so maybe we're over-reading this? Perhaps they are already counting the Z7 II?
  2. The Z8 will appear sooner. We know about the Z9, so that only leaves FX room for a Z8 for this fiscal year (a Z7 III would be too soon, and would require a redesign to be considered a flagship).
  3. DX is different than expected. Everyone's expecting a Z30 next. I know there was internal debate about a Z90 (or Z70 or whatever it might get called) and whether it could be done in the Z9 time frame so as to create the D3/D300 and D5/D500 impact.

It would be interesting to conduct a vote among Nikon enthusiasts between #2 and #3 as to which should be the priority. Nikon is not trying to goose unit volume, but rather increase revenue/profit taken in per unit, so both #2 and #3 could do that. The question is whether a US$2000 Z90 would sell enough more units than a US$5000 Z8 to justify doing it first (I'd say no because of buzz, buzz, the annoying sound I make when I consider the lack of DX lenses). (About those prices: I'm placing them high, but the ratio is probably about right no matter what the pricing might actually be.) 

Thus, I have to conclude that a Z8 and Z9 combo is what flagship bodies (plural) would mean. Given that I expect the Z9 to appear in shops at the end of the year and I haven't heard anything that would indicate a Z8 could happen sooner, I'd guess Z9 in November, Z8 in February 2022. That allows each to ship in the final month of a fiscal quarter and help the current fiscal year results look better than last year's. 

But we're all guessing here. The problem is that Nikon's messaging is vague and non-specific, they are in the midst of a announcement/production drought, and because new image sensors and processors are involved, nothing is going to happen until those lock down and get successfully manufactured. 

So, like you, I wait for details. 

In summary, here is my current best guess for the Z System:

  • May/June — Z30, wide angle DX announcement, compact lenses announced
  • July — Z9 and exotic lens prototypes show up at Tokyo Olympics and more details are known
  • July through November — five more lenses get announced
  • November — Z9 official announcement, two exotic lenses officially appear, new lens Road Map
  • February — Z8 announcement
  • 2022 would also be a timeframe when a Z50 II and Z5 II would be likely and more new lenses get released

Update: Xitek in China today published an interview with a Nikon executive (Toru Matsuhara, head of imaging at Nikon China), which had several bits and pieces that tie in with what I wrote above:

  • Z9 by end of the 2021. It will have "greatly improved AF performance" and "goes beyond all previous Nikon DSLR or mirrorless cameras to date." Also, this was the first mention of "a new image processor" I've seen, though we've all expected the Z9 to feature one, e.g. EXPEED 7. 
  • Once again "flagship models" (plural) was used. And apparently they'll all have stacked BSI sensors and 8K video.
  • The exotics will be released with the Z9 apparently.
  • "A new lens that maximizes the charm of the Z series" is coming. The Z-mount lineup should have 30 available lenses by end of the current fiscal year (March 31, 2022).
  • First macro lens is coming soon.
  • Nikon "wants to expand its [mirrorless] user base...including entry [models]." Nikon will "prioritize" new mirrorless bodies and lenses (duh). 
  • New software and applications was once again mentioned.
  • Matsuhara-san waffled on DSLRs ("important segment," but mirrorless is the priority).
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