Mythbusting

Myth: the Z System autofocus system is not up to par for action/sports photography.

Truth: as I've repeated shown, I shoot action and sports with the Z's—and have with the original firmware, too—and others have, as well. The problem with the Z autofocus system isn't how well it performs with fast and erratic action. The problems (note the plural) are not the focus system itself, per se. So let me explore them one more time just in case anyone in Tokyo is reading:

  1. Control. We can't alter the AF Area mode as easily on the fly as we can with the DSLRs. The removal of a dedicated Focus Mode button means that we either have to dedicate one of the few programmable buttons to that function or perform an extra step (as in the i button access). But the big issue is being able to switch AF Area mode instantly with a button press, as we can on the D500, D850, and D6.
  2. Predictability. The loss of guaranteed closest subject priority in Group mode complicates the use of this mode. The implementation of "mostly" closest subject priority in Wide Area modes is not enough. We need clear predictability about what a mode will do.
  3. Display. The EVF lags what the focus system is doing, and this is still somewhat true with the II models, even with the latest firmware updates. We don't get confirmation in AF-C, and the focus actually changes before the display does. When in Continuous High Extended shooting method, the "slide show" lag means that you won't be following your subject well, and thus many of the AF Area modes start to fail for usability. But even if Subject Tracking was being used, the camera might follow the focus of the subject, but your framing of the subject won't keep up. 

Fix those three things and there's absolutely nothing wrong with the Z System focus abilities. For those arguing that others do it better, that tends to be wrong, too, though specifics do come into play. Canon and the Sony A1/A9 do #3 correctly. Sony does #2 poorly except for the A1, as they tend to let "depth of field" be a crutch. #1 would be a problem for each of the brands if it deviates from what they've done in the past ;~).

I'm still where I've been from Day One with the Z System: learn how the autofocus system actually works, then use that knowledge to get excellent focus results. You may be shifting modes more than you're used to (but see #1), you may need to trust at times (#2).

Myth: the Z System doesn’t have good lens support.

Truth: Nikon’s initial lens introductions are about what Sony was able to do when Sony first moved to mirrorless. Time is your friend with “number of lenses in a lens mount.” 

This is a trickier story that circulates, mostly from those trying to assure themselves that they bought the right (other) brand. 

Technically, most users don’t own a dozen lenses, and most of their lens need is in a fairly small range. Over time—and this applies even to a lot of pros—most tend to gravitate towards convenience lenses. Convenience starts with zoom, and extends with more focal range in a zoom. 

As far as I’m concerned, Nikon is currently only missing one lens for the 80% use case on the convenience side: an f/4 telephoto zoom. You want “fast” convenience, the 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm f/2.8 have that solved. If you can tolerate "slower convenience, the 14-30mm and 24-70mm f/4 have that solved, and you might argue that the 24-200mm f/4-6.3 solves the missing slow telephoto zoom.

Meanwhile, the primes fill out at 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, which is an excellent choice of priorities by Nikon. Yes, we’re missing a 28mm and 105mm. We’ll get them soon enough, I’m sure. 

Also, the FTZ adapter, while not a perfect solution, opens up lenses that most of us who are Nikon users already have. 

Thing is, Nikkor F-mount lenses were already quite good, but the Z lenses Nikon has produced to date are literally all better than their equivalents. That’s a remarkable statement for an initial lens set. 

Thus, I just don’t feel “short-changed” with lenses at the moment. Sure, the telephoto options and compact lens options are limited. I deal with the first with the FTZ, and I’m not particularly concerned with the latter, as I could always just use the ridiculously small TechArt adapter on some of the small FE primes if that were a real need. 

What’s really happening is that Nikon hasn’t produced every lens that everyone wants, and those complaints are getting amplified by the Internet. But guess what? Nikon never produced every lens every user wanted in the F mount. Neither did Canon with the EF mount. Nor has Sony with the FE mount. No matter how good a manufacturer does in filling out its lens line, people are going to complain about their missing pet favorite. 

The difference is that you’re hearing people complain about Nikon’s Z lens set and saying “Nikon’s behind” or “you can’t buy Nikon because no X lens.” For the most part, those promoting that thought aren’t Nikon users. They’re not people actively using the Z System cameras. 

Yes, I want a macro lens yesterday (though I have two third-party ones I bought for the Z mount; plenty of choice there). Yes, I want a long telephoto zoom (either the 100-400mm or 200-600mm), but I know those are coming this year. But you know what? Neither want has made me stop using my Z System cameras. Indeed, I use them far more than I use my DSLRs now. 

To some degree the “no lenses” myth is a form of “I want what I want and I want it now” syndrome that seems to permeate the world these days. Oh, and it shouldn’t be expensive. Gee, and I thought the 80’s were the “me” decade. 

I will say this: a seven-month gap with no new lenses announced when Nikon is trying to put out at least eight lenses a year is a serious error on Nikon’s part. The optics of “no news” just plays right into the myth, so the myth gets amplified and extended. I’m absolutely sure that Nikon is losing sales due to their lack of communication and customer connection. I consider that mismanagement, as it should be one of the easiest problems to fix. Even just putting a more specific time frame on the Lens Road map would have solved some of the problem (e.g. “200-600mm: by the end of third quarter 2021”). Customers want to plan. They can’t with Nikon’s non-communication.

Myth: Nikon’s Z System sales are abysmal and Nikon will fail.

Truth: Nikon is succeeding with full frame mirrorless sales. Nikon is not going to fail.

Okay, maybe not all the Internet Chatter uses the word abysmal, but Mr. Internet is harshing on Nikon’s success without paying attention to what Nikon themselves is saying. 

Let me just say this: if the Nikon Z cameras weren’t selling in good quantities, I’d probably be writing Canon or Sony books right now.  

Unfortunately, most of those making market share boasts don’t exactly understand how the market all breaks out. Selling 100 US$500 cameras that are a generation old is different than selling 10 US$2000 cameras that are new. If that were the entire camera market, the Internet posters would all be telling you that the US$2000 cameras are failing because they have less than 10% of the overall market ;~).

Nikon has been concentrating primarily on the full frame mirrorless cameras while milking what’s left of the DSLR crowd. And they’ve been successful at that to the point where they’re operationally cash flow and profit positive with on-going operations. So, no failure coming. 

Is the US$1000-3500 full frame market going to produce Nikon’s traditional 20%+ market share? No. Will continuing DSLR sales keep Nikon at or above that mark? No. Will Nikon fail with just a 10-15% market share? No.

Obviously, Nikon still has work to do. They have to make sure that the Z System can attract and absorb as much of the old Nikon DSLR crowd as possible. The Z5 plus kit lens at US$999 is something they’re going to have to get to if they want to push everyone to full frame. But more likely is that Nikon will have to embrace Z DX more. I still think that a Z30, Z50 II, and Z70 type of lineup is going to be necessary. And the D850 crowd is going to insist on a Z8. 

So while Nikon is transitioning successfully so far, they have far more work to do to continue or improve on that success. Technology products are exhausting to do, as you can never rest, not even for a single generation of product. Canon and Nikon both started their transitions a little late, so they have even less wiggle room for on-going iteration. 

Myth: Nikon only has access to Sony’s old image sensors.

Truth: Nikon uses the image sensor they deem best for the target use. For the more mass market cameras, that very well may be an off-the-shelf Sony sensor. But Nikon has used sensors from a number of sources in the past and will in the future.

This myth actually pre-dates mirrorless. It’s been a mantra of the Sony-favoring crowd since forever. And it’s simply not true. 

Nikon has used Sony sensors, modified Sony sensors, Nikon sensors, Aptina sensors, Toshiba sensors, Renasas sensors, and there are probably some I’m missing. Nikon seriously investigated using Foveon sensors, and I’m pretty sure that there have been other ones, as well. 

Thing is, base sensor technology has improved to the point where the photon capture into charge, the charge run into the ADC (gain), and the ADC output (DNs) are all in a very narrow range for current image sensors. Things like BSI and stacked processes, which used to be proprietary, have been licensed by pretty much everyone (and Sony got some of them via a license, too). 

Certainly someone will come up with some new image sensor technology at some point and have a short term advantage of some sort. But historically, this has never held proprietary for long. Too many of the companies buying image sensors are acting as pollinators of technologies, and that includes Nikon (Sony’s dual gain and dual pixel focus technologies come from Aptina, who pioneered those with Nikon in the Nikon 1). 

To me, it’s controlling what the sensor is doing and how the image data is created/written that is now becoming more important. For instance, Sony Imaging applies some lens corrections to the raw data before recording it. I don’t like that, so I have to remember to turn lens corrections off a lot of the time. Canon is doing some form of noise reduction at low ISO values on the R5 and R6. I’m not sure I like that, either, though I haven’t seen it visually impact an image in post processing as I do with the Sony data. Nikon does pre-balancing of the data for white balance before writing a raw file. In some light conditions, that can be an issue. 

But you know what? We’re mostly down in the weeds with image sensor complaints and criticisms these days. Most cameras give you plenty enough useful data to create excellent images from, under a broader range of conditions than ever before. What I would have done for even ISO 3200 back when I photographed the Golden State Warriors back in the 80’s; now I think little of pushing out to ISO 6400 and even 12800 on some cameras.

Next time you see someone complaining about Nikon’s “lack of image sensor ability”—which again, isn’t actually true—ask yourself whether that person actually is capable of getting everything out of the camera they have. I’m pretty sure they can’t, so “better sensors” aren’t really likely to help them as much as better in-camera image processing. Which, by the way, Nikon is rarely ever criticized about. Indeed, the common thread on that seems to be that “Nikon gets more out of the same image sensor than Sony” (which I also believe is a myth, by the way). 

Basically, we have the equivalent of people arguing about Hemis, LS’s, and Coyotes without being able to actually describe any real and tangible difference between them. Heck, they might not even be able to competently describe how an internal combustion engine actually works. 

Historically, Nikon’s done exceptional well with image sensors. Exactly why is it people are thinking that will change? And no, Sony Semiconductor is not going to stop selling Nikon image sensors if those are the ones that Nikon wants. 

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