Knowing and Watching

As with the previous Nikon Z System camera introductions dating back to the Z9, I've been in a position of having fairly good pre-launch knowledge—and in some cases, actual pre-release camera in hand—of what a new Nikon model was going to be prior to actual launch [Disclosure: Nikon has supported me with information, demonstrations, and sometimes product prior to launch on the last four cameras, all in order to be able to accurately describe them at launch. I actually very much appreciate that, and believe that it helps accurate information proliferate at launch (as opposed to hyperbole and speculation about non-obvious things)]. 

Quite obviously, there are always leaks and rumors that get a lot of attention on the Internet prior to a new product appearing, and it's been amusing to watch them and all the responses and commentary they create. Some observations:

  • Nikon has a China problem. Virtually every piece of pre-announcement information I saw on the Z6 III that was accurate, or even close to accurate, came out of China. China has become as important (if not more so) as North America in terms of sales for Nikon Imaging, so obviously Nikon wants launch excitement in that country, but it's coming at the expense of Nikon's usual secrecy. The most accurate leaks started as early as March, which is about the time that early bodies began circulating to Nikon staff.
  • Nikon's technology strategy requires keeping secrets. Or more to the point: creating surprises. Dropping the shutter on the Z9 (and Z8) was a surprise. The Z8 as a true mini-Z9 was a surprise. The Zf, while not a complete surprise due to the Zfc before it, was a surprise in that it was internally very modern, including things like Nikon's first pixel-shift capability. The surprise in the Z6 III was basically the thing that the Sony fan boys keep denying: Nikon still designs and/or pioneers image sensors. I don't think Nikon's current marketing strategy truly works without a significant surprise. 
  • There's a strong, loyal core of Nikon enthusiasts to consume and comment on rumors. Any good platform—whether cameras, autos, computers, phones, etc.—requires a strong group of passionate users to both promote and amplify the product-producing company's strengths and messages. I view lively and pointed discussion to be the sign of a healthy set of customers for the ecosystem centered around product. And I include coulda, woulda, and shoulda comments as useful in that context. We had a lot of that in the build-up to the Z6 III as leaks and rumors proliferated. We had more as the launch information became available to everyone. Other than some obvious trolling, I regard this as a sign that Nikon's core customer is still there.
  • The "Sony does all the sensor work" myth has returned. Part of that came with the claim of Nikon somehow getting early access to the next Sony A7S sensor (hogwash). The reality is that Sony Semiconductor is an independent organization that also works closely with Nikon Precision at times. This coopetitive arrangement has existed for well back into the 1980's, and persists today. The tools—and often licenses—that Sony Semiconductor uses to create image sensors come from many places other than Sony. New ideas and techniques spawn both inside and outside of Sony Semiconductor. As has been reported by far more media than just me, Nikon has a fairly extensive sensor design group who's still quite active in patenting not-yet-seen technologies. That Nikon sensor group also works with Nikon Precision. Who works with Sony Semiconductor. And don't get me started on what happens behind the scenes with lenses. Each Japanese company has its strengths and weaknesses, but the long ago learned that some form of cooperation raises all boats. I regard this as necessary for the future of the Japanese companies, as China's entry into cameras and lenses is running full speed now.
  • A Z6 III is mostly what you thought it would be. Nikon was pretty clear about their goal of emphasizing high enthusiast to pro cameras and working Z9 technologies down the lineup. Well, guess what? The Z6 III (and the Zf before it) are just more evidence of that. If—and that's a huge if—that is to continue, DX pretty much needs to be the next stop for that. I suspect, however, that more full frame options are coming. We'll know which before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, it appears that Nikon marketing has discovered adjectives: unmatched, powerful, exceptional, first, ultra-fast, blistering, immersive, brightest, and acclaimed. That's just in a first paragraph ;~). I was also surprised to see so many direct-to-competitor comparisons in their Z6 III launch materials. Not exactly a first, but much more pronounced in this iteration. This signals to me that Nikon is back to its old position of being a technology pioneer, and intends to stay there. All of which is good news for Z System users.

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