Nikon’s Marketing Problem

Mark Comon of Paul’s Photo called me to talk about this, but I had already noticed it myself: Nikon isn’t exactly making a compelling case with its marketing of the Z8. There’s a heavy reliance upon technical jargon and specifications, but very little emphasis on user benefit. Mark’s comments to me came after his first try-and-buy event at the store, where he found he was answering a number of the same questions from “unenlightened” (by marketing messages) users.

Back in my Silicon Valley days we had a marketing shorthand:

  • Feature : Benefit

Sometimes we reversed that:

  • Benefit : Caused by Feature

But it goes deeper than this. 

A few years ago I began talking about the “best all-around camera.” My reason for this was simple: most of you are only going to buy/own one camera, and it has to be ready for anything you might need your camera for. 

In the digital era, Nikon has made a long sequence of what most anyone would consider excellent all-around cameras: D100, D300, D700, D500, D850. And now the Z8 (and arguably, Z9). 

Nikon’s marketing issue boils down to this:

  • D850 owners: are there convincing arguments that a move to the Z8 is compelling?
  • Z7/Z7 II owners: are the reasons to move to bigger/heavier in a Z8 compelling?
  • D500 owners: can you convince DX users to move to a more expensive FX camera that is also a better DX camera?

A common complaint I get from that group of users is “the Z8 doesn’t solve a problem for me.” First, I’m not sure that’s true—users don’t always recognize their “problems” until they’re solved ;~)—but also that would tend to indicate to me that they didn’t need a best all-around camera in the first place, that their camera use is fairly specific (and satisfied by what they have). 

But the most common comment I’ve been getting is "$4,000.00 plus the other costs that would come with converting is just not in this retiree’s budget right now. I will just slug along for a while trying to make good photographs with the best DSLR Nikon (or anybody else) ever made until I can save up enough to buy a Z8.” Basically, the push back I keep getting is simple: "Nikon already sold me a very good camera; the cost of getting the latest one is too high for what I perceive to be the benefits.” 

My response to most of those talking to me about this is simple: are you starting to grow out of your old camera (e.g. D850)? If so, you should consider a Z8. If not, then continue growing into your D850. 

Bonus: I decided to go back and look at my D850 review to see what I complained about:

  1. The double-sampled Medium and Small NEF sizes to save file space. The Z8’s High Efficiency raw formats do a better job of saving space, and have far fewer compromises.
  2. To get to 9 fps you had to spend US$900 extra. That cost has come down since then, but you spend a lot of money to get 2 extra fps. The Z8 gives you 11 more fps without having to buy anything other than the camera.
  3. The lack of dual XQD slots. The Z8 has the same problem, but at least it can make full use of fast CFe cards in the first slot. Even a CFe card in the D850 is buffer limiting and slow compared to in the Z8.
  4. Focus stack feature. The Z8 has the same issues.
  5. The lack of a true 8K Time-lapse. Yes, you could use interval instead, but the Z8 completely fixes this issue.
  6. The poor focus/crop highlighting, lack of grids. The Z8 pretty much gives me all the fixes I was complaining about, including rule of thirds grids (among more choices) for a change.
  7. SnapBridge connectivity. It improved on the D850 since I wrote my review, and it’s also good on the Z8. But the Z8 goes further with a much more flexible connectivity capability.
  8. Not great bit rates for video. The Z8 fixes all that, gives us much better/friendlier compression choices, raw video, and of course, as much as 8K/60P, which is state of the art.
  9. No pop up flash. The Z8 doesn’t have one, either.
  10. Viewfinder blackout time. Yeah, the Z8 doesn’t have any. The D850’s is significant, and that impacts tracking focus. 
  11. Not state-of-the-art buffer. The Z8 can go to infinity at 9 fps ;~). 
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