Some Nikon "Answers"

In a recent interview session in China, a few fairly direct comments about Nikon's decision making were made:

  • N-Log recorded internally has a lowish priority in development compared to other things, thus hasn't been implemented yet.
  • Besides the impact of dual processors, significant algorithmic changes were made to the focus system.
  • Nikon has had internal discussions about whether to support pixel-shift photography as a firmware upgrade to some models or only in new models.
  • Concentration was made on recognizing more types of eyes (e.g. animals) rather than recognizing eyes at a distance (smaller eyes).  

As usual when talking with Nikon, if you ask the right direct question you often get a reasonably direct answer back. The thing that struck me most about the overall interview, both in context and specific answers, is that Nikon doesn't have a strong sense yet of differentiation, at least at the marketing end. By that I mean that the primary "benefits" of the II series is seen as improved algorithmic things (focus and image processing), better battery life, better buffer and continuous speed, improved video functions, and the addition of some modest features, such as the 900-second long exposure ability. That's not a great "marketing" list, as all those things are mostly subtle changes to edge cases. The heavy hitting improvements aren't really there (pixel count, global shutter, improved low light capability, better viewfinder (no blackout), and so on. 

When you look at the II's that way, it answers a simple question: no, Nikon wouldn't bring those II generation features to the original Z6/Z7 via firmware update, even if it were simple, because it reduces the differentiation of the second generation model. 

All the camera makers are fighting the same problem at the moment: their products have gotten so sophisticated and good that finding "easily marketable" improvements to launch new generations is getting more difficult. I'd argue that there is a lot that can be done to improve both current and future cameras that isn't being done. Terry White today pointed out one of my long-held frustrations with Nikon's menu system: it takes me a long time trying to document why something might be grayed out in the menus, as I have to test just about every option combination and permutation. In my books, I try to put a comment in my step-by-steps along the lines of "if this is grayed out, then check to see if you've also set X, Y, or Z." Even Nikon's own manuals aren't comprehensive in this respect.

Nikon seems to be sincere in trying to understand user requests these days, but I still have problems with how they're interacting with users and whether they can see where a user has a real problem but the user doesn't know that they do or what the answer would be. In other words, if you poll users about things to add, change, or improve, they'll give you a list, but that list probably isn't as important as finding the pain point the user doesn't realize they have, or can't express well, and fixing that. I personally have a long list of those things, yet Nikon doesn't seem to be interested in hearing it.

I still can't pin down what Nikon is likely to do at CP+. When Nikon goes completely quiet it can equally mean they have a big announcement or no announcement. I can't believe that they'd let CP+ go by without something new, though. New Z lenses seem like low-hanging fruit, as does a first firmware update for the II generation models. The parts shortages and pandemic production and distribution issues have got camera makers backing away from committed dates at the moment. NikonUSA has quite a bit that's out of stock or in low supply at the moment, and new announcements will just make that picture look worse.

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