It's The Week I Dread (But You Don't)

Yes, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are nearly upon us. Many of you are dusting off your credit cards and checking your credit availability in anticipation of a hot holiday harvest.

But what should you really buy? ;~)

Let's start with cameras. If you have a Z6 II, Z7 II, Z8, or Z9, you should stand pat. Yes, you might be able to convince yourself to trade in your Z6 II for a Z8, but you'd be going far upscale doing that. If the Z6 level camera was right for you before, you probably need to wait for the US$2000-2500 camera that replaces it. Those still with DSLRs or lower/older Z cameras have some options, so let me sort through them, from low to high.

Note: these recommendations differ a bit from my reviews because they're based upon current state-of-market and pricing. Once a year I tend to go back and adjust my review ratings, but that won't come for a while yet.

  • Z30 — At US$700 this holiday, the Z30 with the kit lens is about correctly priced for what it is and what it does. It is a highly compact, versatile camera that has just one clear liability: no viewfinder. If you're okay with squinting at the Rear LCD in bright light, this is as close to a great compact camera as Nikon (and most anyone) still comes. Recommended (conditionally)
  • Z50 — At the discount to US$800 for the body only, this camera might be tempting to some. After all, it has the viewfinder the Z30 is missing, though the Z30 has a few minor things the Z50 doesn't. It's in that last bit where the Z50 is showing its age: it's the worst performing autofocus camera in the Z series now. Not terrible, but you can do better. Not recommended this season
  • Zfc — Also with a US$100 discount and coming in at US$1000 with the kit lens you get the answer to both the previous problems (no viewfinder, worst AF), but with a new problem: a completely different UI. I guess the good news is that you can ignore the dials and just use the Zfc like a Z50, or you can embrace the dials and return to the days of yesteryear, where people were constantly staring at the tops of their cameras. One word of caution: with any reasonably sized lens, you're going to want a handgrip with this camera. Recommended
  • Z5 — The D600 of the Z System lineup. It's a price leader at its US$1000 body price, which is Nikon's way of trying to get DX users to commit to FX. Like the D600, I expect the Z5 to be in the lineup for quite some time as Nikon milks dollars out of the R&D investment to create it and uses it as that DX-to-FX lever. Surprisingly, the Z5 is a pretty full-featured camera and it leverages that same well-proven D6xx/D750 style image sensor, which is well-loved. The downside to a Z5 is that it's the slowest focusing FX camera in the lineup, though many don't notice that as long as they use a reasonably fast lens in decent light. Recommended
  • Z6 II — Ah, the most maligned of the current Z cameras. But at US$1600 body only this season, I don't think you'll find anything else that approaches its quality, performance, and feature set at that price. This is a solid camera that I've long pointed out is capable of work most don't believe it can do (e.g. sports, wildlife). It just takes some learning and practice to achieve everything it's capable of. Recommended
  • Zf — No discount at the moment, it's the new kid on the block. I'll just say this (review coming soon): the Zf is a bit of a love/hate camera. Had Nikon just done the internal stuff in the Zf to create a Z6 III, nobody would be complaining. And you can use a Zf exactly like a Z6, though with a few less buttons to customize and no right hand grip (slightly clumsy body). When you do, you see just how much EXPEED7 was the catalyst for the Z8/Z9 features and performance. The Zf is the best performing and feature packed US$2000 camera Nikon has offered, but whether you'll like it or not will all come down to how it feels in your hands. So don't buy it mail order without first seeing it in person. Go see and play with it at your local dealer. 
  • Z7 II — The only real "bargain" of the holiday season so far, with a body-only discount of US$700 (US$2300 price). It matches the Z6 II in everything I just said, except in very, very low light. But it also gives you the ability to "print big." A really solid landscape and travel camera with the right lens set. Highly Recommended (seasonal)
  • Z8 — Nikon's mostly offering trade-in bonuses with this camera, trying to pry some DSLR users over to the mirrorless world. I think the real kicker here is this: would I choose Nikon's best equivalent DSLR (D850) or the Z8? The Z8, every time. There's nothing I miss from the D850, period. Recommended
  • Z9 — No discounts here at the moment, and people are wondering if this camera is actually worth stretching from the Z8 for. The answer is in the sales: yes, plenty are deciding that's exactly the case. The big wins of the Z9 over the Z8 are the vertical grip that provides a battery that lasts forever, the Auto capture and Birds modes, the matching fast CFe card slots, and some miscellany like built-in GPS that works well (and can log). Recommended

Overall, the discounts on the cameras so far are mostly modest, and that's partly because the cameras a that good in the first place. While Nikon gets maligned by the fanboy crowd as "being behind," I don't feel "behind" at all in the FX world, and only at the top end of the DX moon.

Lenses are difficult to make general recommendations about, because what focal length you want or need may not be the one with the best bargain. As I've noted before, there isn't really a dud lens in the Nikkor Z-mount offerings, and any comparison of a Z-mount version to an F-mount version easily skews to the Z-mount version. (Caveat: in varying degrees, and of course, sample variation can be an issue, particularly with the lowest cost lenses.)

So I'm just going to summarize which lenses have which discounts at the moment:

  • US$20 off — 28mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2
  • US$50 off — 50mm f/2.8 MC
  • US$100 off — 20mm f/1.8 S, 24mm f/1.8 S, 50mm f/1.8 S, 85mm f/1.8 S, 100mm f/2.8 MC VR S
  • US$150 off — 35mm f/1.8 S
  • US$200 off — 14-24mm f/2.8 S, 14-30mm f/4 S, 17-28mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.2 S, 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S
  • US$250 off — 400mm f/4.5 VR S
  • US$300 off — 24-70mm f/2.8 S, 28-75mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

The question many are asking me is whether I believe these discounts are "Nikon's final answer." In other words, will there be additional discounts between now and Christmas? 

The answer is "perhaps." Nikon, and particularly NikonUSA, are known to micromanage price to the volume they want to sell. With the dollar so strong against the yen lately, this gives them more flexibility in pricing than usual. However, take a close look at Nikon's most recent financial statements and you'll see that they're performing well above expectations at the moment, so the incentive to push more product out the door is not really there, as it has been at times in the past. My expectations of additional discounts appearing in the next month, therefore, is somewhat tempered. 

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