Good Grief, Charlie Brown

Update: After getting called out for errors, inconsistencies, and unlikeliness, the source of the original roadmap alluded to below has updated their roadmap ;~). That doesn't change anything: it's still someone in China's prediction, not an actual road map. We'll see how many photography Web sites that were quoting that original site now actually catch that there's been an "update." ;~)

Disinformation always lives best where there's a lack of actual information. 

It seems that Nikon Rumors finally got tired of saying that a Z8 is not coming, and now says "people who have seen and tried the Nikon Z8 camera are very excited about it." Then they used a Chinese prediction site's "leaked Nikon roadmap" as some sort of verification. Already I've seen this picked up by several other sites, including, ironically, in Japan.

First, the so-called roadmap is not that, it's just a bunch of very poorly considered predictions. For that roadmap to be correct, Nikon would need to deploy three all-new image sensors in less than a year. As I've written before, I don't think Nikon will be expanding its image sensor lineup that aggressively, let alone that fast. Especially since two of the sensors in that Chinese make-believe chart would be all-new, previously unknown image sensors. 

That "roadmap" source has been wrong before. They were previously predicting multiple DSLR models that haven't (and won't) appear. 

Moreover, the supply chain issues have not mitigated as expected. China's constant Covid Zero shutdowns are causing reliable parts delivery issues for all the Japanese consumer electronics industry. To the point where, in order to make new products, some companies are having to stop making products that they'd normally continue to make, all because a part they were using isn't getting shipped at the moment. Fujifilm may be the latest of those, as it appears that the X-E4, X-T4, and X-T30 II are starting to be taken down from the Web sites in various subsidiaries, starting with Japan itself. It's also likely the reason why the original Z6 and Z7 have been discontinued in Japan, as well. If you can only make X widgets with the parts supply you know you have, you optimize which X nets you the most sales/profit.

I can imagine all kinds of future Nikon Z cameras that seem reasonable. Don't believe me? Try this:

  • Zf — Z5 redesigned into Zfc-type dials
  • Z3 — Vlogging full frame camera ala Z30, using Z5 or Z6 guts
  • Z5 II — Move the Z6 sensor to the Z5 and update the entry level
  • Z6 III — Use the 33mp sensor to create a 6K camera, EXPEED7 and EVF changes to get more Z9-like
  • Z7 III — Use the Z9 image sensor and EXPEED7 and break this out as the poor man's Z9
  • Z8 — Create a new 67mp or 100mp sensor to create the true mirrorless D850 equivalent
  • Z9 II — Weren't expecting that, were you? Fast iteration with new goodies for Paris Olympics
  • Zfc — too new to change
  • Z30 — too new to change
  • Z50 II — Add the Zfc/Z30 changes, but trash the touch buttons
  • Z70 — What the Z50 II should have been
  • Z90 — Match the X-H2s
  • V6 — A totally video-oriented Z6 II-based camera, or is it Z6 III or Z9-based?
  • Coolpix Z900 — The P950 update done up in Z-system cladding 

See? It's easy to come up with a future Z camera lineup. One that has 14 cameras in it, which is twice as many as currently available! Woo-hoo!

Only problem is that this is just me drinking too much caffeinated cola this morning, not a real engineering plan or a previously secret Nikon planning document that I've uncovered. The above list won't happen, just as the products and dates in the Chinese "roadmap" won't, either. 

A far better guess is that Nikon will at some time in the not too distant future announce mild iterations of the Z6 and Z7 (EXPEED7, Subject detection AF, etc.). Then in spring 2023 we'll get another "wow" camera from them, likely a Z8 with a new sensor. I'll let you pick one other camera for them to announce in 2023 from your imagination, probably in early fall. 

Personally, I think Nikon needs to pick up the pace, and it needs more "wow" than iteration at the moment. DX needs to be more than just triplets. The III's really need to be major updates, not minor. The problem is that I don't think rapid major change or expansion in the lineup is possible in the current production environment. 

Nikon's been through strange, tough times like this before. The D400 never happened because the earthquake, tsunami, and flood changed Nikon's plans, and other mild iteration options all got nixed while they flipped development concentrations on just a couple of models (delayed D4, surprise D800) and sunk all their effort into selling Nikon 1's in the meantime. At least two DSLR prototypes got junked in 2011 that I know of, but the shaken engineering team did a quick regroup. You'll note also that the D4 and D800 were both produced at the quickly repaired Sendai plant, where the Tokyo design team could dictate changes and deploy to manufacturing more rapidly. 

I suspect we're in another such period where we'll see delays of expected models, and then maybe a big surprise when things begin to ease (thus my "far better guess", above). Unfortunately, Sendai is now closed to camera manufacturing, so travel between Tokyo and Thailand will need to remain intact, and parts from nearby Chinese suppliers need to open up, too.

Nikon as a company is getting distorted in another way with the current situation. Historically, Nikon has had two semi-equal legs (Precision and Imaging), which toggled back and forth between being the stable provider for the company, and which tended to alternate back and forth between feast (growth) and famine (negative growth). Top management also ping-ponged between folk with mostly Precision or Imaging experience, though overall Nikon used the IBM-style of moving their top performers through multiple areas within the company. 

Under the current management plan and the new banking-heavy top managers, we now have multiple divisions that are business-to-business (i.e. supply parts and equipment to others), and one smaller consumer-facing division (Imaging). While managers internally within the Imaging division are trying to figure out how to grow it again, top company management just wants Imaging to stay stable and produce a reliable profit they can invest elsewhere. 

The business-to-business side of Nikon is expanding exactly at the right time with a number of the right pieces, as everyone is scrambling for reliable suppliers, and Nikon is turning out to be one of those that can help provide that supply. Nikon's recent acquisitions of Morf3D and SLM Solutions Group AG were spot on choices to improve the business-to-business side of Nikon. Imaging really needs to step up its game, though. The market demand for great camera and lens products is there, but it feels to me that Nikon is a bit too slow in delivering to that demand at the moment, and is slowly losing the momentum it gained with the Z9. 

It's going to take another sensational product to regain that momentum. Nikon knows it. I know it. That's why I've gone from originally thinking that a Z8 might not appear until 2024 to saying that it's pretty likely we'll see it far sooner than that. It's a D4/D800-level surprise that Nikon needs to produce, and it needs to happen sooner rather than later. A few months ago I sensed a shift in what I was hearing out of Tokyo, and it seems there's been a shift in urgency towards producing another winner like the Z9. It can only really be a Z8 that got fast tracked that fits that need. Nothing else would have the resonance needed. Nothing else would still the long-term Nikon loyalists.

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