Followup on Upcoming Z Products

It's tough to get specifics about what Nikon might be up to in the Z System these days. That's partly because the company is not flying subsidiary product managers back to Japan for updates and everything is going through a tightly-managed communications channel. Moreover, the pandemic protocols going on in Tokyo have Nikon working a bit differently, and the leaky saki-bar conversations aren't happening late into the night. 

That said, I continue to get small pieces of information, some from new sources (which makes them questionable until proven reliable). Three commonalities among all the sources seem to be:

  • Nikon has gotten very active again in sensor development. I'm not sure that this is wording it quite right, though. Up through the D2h sensor, Nikon was very active at the sensor conferences, publishing research papers, and registering patents. Then the group went mostly into silent mode, though it continued to work with partners on new sensor designs. Late last year external signs of bustling activity seemed to return, and we saw, for example, the very interesting 1" stacked sensor presentation at one of the imaging conferences early this year. I'm still not convinced that all of the recently published work is ready for cameras, but I'm sure some of it will be soon. The Z9 will be the first camera to reveal what Nikon's sensor group has been up to, and probably with whom (which I still believe to be Tower Semiconductor). 
  • The next Nikkor Z's won't be so predictable. I keep hearing about some less expected and different specs for the next round of lenses that are moving from the design to ready-for-production stage. In particular, it appears that Nikon won't repeat the same PF specs in the Z mount (e.g. no 300mm f/4), creating entirely new Z PF lenses (as I had hoped). Could it be that we'll have a full line of PF from 200 to 800mm, only some will be F-mount and some will be Z-mount? Only time will tell, but so far the whispers I've heard are "yes." Personally, 400mm f/4 S PF is what I want, and an 800mm f/8 S PF might prove interesting, too. 
  • Bodies are still being debated. Clues abound that the Zfc was a quick decision to push to manufacturing. What I don't know is what data/debate drove that quick turn (I had heard about a Z50 II being worked on, and the Zfc has exactly the Z50 II specs that I had heard, so did the Z50 II turn into the Zfc, and will there be a Z50 II now?). As I outlined with last week's "Latest" article, the only for-sure cameras to come are the Z30 and Z9, and even the Z30 isn't a near term for sure due to parts shortages. Everything in between is still being heatedly debated in Tokyo as to how it forms the full body lineup. Logic dictated my writing in my earlier article, but Nikon marches to its own drummer (often hearing a rhythm none of the rest of us hear). Moreover, bodies still drive the overall story at Nikon Imaging. Until the body lineup gets fully fleshed out and (mostly) stabilized, we're likely in for more surprises such as the Z50 II to Zfc switcheroo. To me, the Z90, Z6 III, and Z7 III would be the line-defining decisions to lock down at this point. What Nikon decides to do about each of those product positions is key to all the other body choices they'll need to make. As I've noted, Nikon has tinkered with creating a Z90 but is not yet committed (that I know of), and the III update cycle is still enough away that some of the Z9 decisions are likely to spill over. 

Overall, my sources are still reporting to me what they can, but details are really difficult to come by right now, so the information is more generalized than it often is. I doubt we'll get more clarity on the body lineup until 2022, and maybe late in that year, at that. I suspect that we'll get a new lens road map with the Z9 in November. Finally, the Z9 will have the first new sensor in whatever the next sensor lineup Nikon has planned. 

So, for now, most Nikon users are in a wait-and-see position. This isn't the first time this has happened, and each time it's happened in the past, the wait was absolutely worth it, as Nikon surprised us in new and interesting ways. Still, the clock is ticking for Nikon. They need to answer some key questions about the Z System soon. The Z9 will provide some of those answers, but we need more information than just one new camera's specifications. 

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