How Many Nikon Z's Have Been Sold?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about how many Z cameras Nikon has sold, but I didn't publish it. Why? Because I thought that the numbers I was going to present might get severely misinterpreted.

Wednesday, Nikkei Shimbun published an article (behind paywall) that essentially did what I was going to do, and yes, it's quickly being misinterpreted.

First off, Nikkei's numbers once again don't match up exactly to CIPA shipment numbers, so it's unclear where the numbers actually come from or how accurate they are (they quote a different source than CIPA, but it's unclear where that source's numbers came from or how accurate they are, and the clearly rounded numbers are another problem). It's also not clear what the balance of low-end to high-end cameras was (and this is important to the Z discussion), or whether the cameras that were shipped actually sold.

The statistic that everyone now seems to be promulgating is "Nikon sold 280k mirrorless cameras in 2019." Again, not sold, shipped. Moreover, most of those units would have been full frame cameras, as the Z50 didn't ship until November of 2019. Meanwhile, Sony shipped 1.65m mirrorless units in 2019. But how many of those were A7/A9 versus A6xxx? And how many were previous generation cameras on steep discount? Unknown.

My personal conclusion from looking at the numbers I have available to me is that Nikon did pretty well with mirrorless in 2019, and has done really well with the Z6/Z7 twins. It had to have been near a quarter of a million full frame cameras that sold in a year at no lower than US$1600. And compared to the current equivalent Sony A7 models during that time, the Nikon Z's also did pretty well. Second, sure, but not a distant second.

My concern when I wrote my unpublished article wasn't 2019 at all, it was 2020. 

The pandemic is making every accountant in Tokyo look at their numbers and wonder what can they do about them. You might have noticed that most of the usual instant rebate chatter has died down and a lot of current generation products just remain at or near their MSRP. Volume has dropped dramatically, though, yes, the year-on-year mirrorless drop is less than the DSLR drop, which is adversely affecting the two companies still trying to transition (Canon and Nikon).  

The way I see things is that Nikon has three clear issues that intersect:

  1. What to replace the DX DSLRs that sold in great volume with.
  2. How fast can they get to a full line of mirrorless cameras.
  3. How much can they sustain their top-end DSLR models (D500, D780, D850, D6). 

Nikon dithered on #1. As many of you may remember, I predicted that Nikon would re-enter the mirrorless market with two DX models, and almost a year earlier than they actually entered the market with two FX models. (One reason why the Z50 and the two DX lenses were "easy" surprises is that the Z50 was actually one of those cameras I was tracking in development and basing my prediction on. And guess what? There were two DX lenses to go with those two cameras. ;~) Upper management didn't like that original plan, apparently. While Nikon even went to focus groups and other market testing of those original two DX Z's, something stopped them from pulling the trigger, and I've never learned what that was. 

The pandemic has impinged on #2. Nikon's well aware that they need to move faster with the Z system. Actually managing that when your staff can't easily travel to your suppliers and plants while your HQ staff is forced to work from home for awhile with no experience at doing that, has turned out to be a real problem for them. Couple that with the uncertainty of how much you'd actually sell of something new with a global recession essentially in place, and I can imagine the chaos at the tactical level Nikon (and others) is going through. As far as I can tell, though, Nikon hasn't changed their plans, the pandemic has only slowed their ability to deliver on them. Long lead products, such as lenses, are doing better than the shorter ones. That's because final glasswork for lenses being introduced today would have started long before the pandemic started. So perhaps actual production slows with lenses due to procedural issues in the plants, but the design was locked a long time ago and there's been time to adjust the small parts supplies. 

As for sustaining the top-end DSLRs, the D780 was a good start, though poorly launched and marketed (a common Nikon issue). Those that have discovered it found a great camera, though. Ditto with the D6. Which really just leaves the D500 and D850 to be addressed. Do-able. 

More than worrying about market share or actual unit shipments, what we as Z users should be more focused on are these things:

  • When will the Z6/Z7 iterate?
  • When will a top pro model arrive?
  • What will Nikon do about building volume at the low end?
  • Will we get a 2021/2022 lens roadmap?
  • Can Nikon fix their broken accessory lineup?

Yeah, I know you want my answers to those questions. So I'll give them to you:

  • The Z6/Z7 should iterate soon. I believe the original target was October, but I've not been able to verify that. "Soon" to me would be any time from October to February.
  • A top model is in testing. I know two people who claim to have tested one, and another who passed on hearsay of same. I don't have any sense of timing, though. I've seen cameras like the D5 tested in mules almost two years prior to introduction, while I've seen others get to that stage within 12 months of being launched. 
  • There has to be another DX camera. First of all, I know another was prototyped and tested. Second, Nikon can't simply continue to protect the D3500 and D5600, as the volume of those cameras is dropping rapidly, and the choices people make instead of those cameras tend to be a competitor's mirrorless APS-C camera. But you know what I'm about to write: Nikon still doesn't fully understand why their DX sales are so temperamental: lack of appropriate lenses, buzz buzz. The Z50 needs a 10-20mm DX zoom. It needs a compact wide and normal fast prime. Putting another camera in this space, whether it be a Z30 or Z70, just won't sell as well as it needs to without more appropriate lenses.
  • I'm not sure Nikon understands that the previous lens road map was their savior. Moreover, given that they actually delivered to that road map, extending it into the future again would give people great confidence on what they can expect as they grow deeper into the system. Given that the Z6/Z7 is where we started with all this, the Z6/Z7 iteration should be where Nikon renews their road map.
  • I'm tired of hearing accessories are being fixed. It no longer matters what the reason is why the GP-1 went away, the MB-N10 was junk, the WR-R10 can't be found in stock, we haven't gotten a new Z-enhancing Speedlight, new batteries and other accessories don't deliver until long after the product that needs them, and so on. What matters is that we see a camera system (Z) that is complete and constantly extended. The strange thing is this: accessories should have a huge profit margin. You should be up-selling them alongside your new and updated cameras constantly. Frankly, at this point, I want to see the people responsible for Nikon accessories given a permanent office-with-a-view and someone who knows what they're doing and can deliver product replace them. Moreover, Nikon needs to snuggle up with more companies than Atomos. Nikon could use a gimbal maker that they work closely with, among several other genres of accessories.

Nikon will be fine if they manage to answer those five questions well.  

As a side note: I'm curious as to why Sigma and Tamron don't see Nikon Z mount as a clear opportunity. A quarter of a million serious shooters in just a year should have attracted their attention. With the Z5 just added, it's easy to see that Nikon's full frame Z volume should be enough to at least test with a lens or two. True, Nikon doesn't make it easy by forcing a reverse engineering task, but close examination of the FTZ adapter ought to have made that a no-brainer to do at some more simplistic level. Tamron, for instance, would sell a bucket load of those f/2.8 wide angle primes in the Z mount. 

text and images © 2020 Thom Hogan — All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #zsystemuser
other related sites: bythom.com, dslrbodies.com, sansmirror.com, filmbodies.com