The Lack of a DX Road Map

With the launch of the 18-140mm lens, Nikon has now completed the entire known "road map" to Z DX. That's two cameras (neither of which was on a road map), and three lenses (two of which weren't on a road map). Not much of a road map, but it's now complete, nonetheless. The Zfc instead of a Z50 II seems to also suggest that II might not happen in DX. At least not for some time.

Meanwhile, Z FX still has a road map: the Z9 is coming (to use Nikon's words), and we have six lenses still on the Lens Road Map to look forward to.

A casual reading of the two overall statements above is this: Nikon wants you to know how you'll be able to configure your FX system now and in the future, but not at all with DX. This is a continuation of something that started developing in 2009 with the Nikon DSLR line, beginning in Europe and then spreading to the global marketing: first and foremost Nikon wants to sell you a full frame camera and lenses. It's where their expertise and product margins are both maximized. 

The problem is this: as much as full frame gets all the serious discussion in photographic circles—from online fora to dealers to pro photographers—it's crop sensor cameras that sell in volume. This provides the camera companies with (1) new customers to lock into their system and eventually move upstream; (2) additional parts reuse strategies that saves them money, and (3) keeping manufacturing plants running efficiently. 

My buzz, buzz commentary—the words I use to indicate Nikon's lack of continued DX lens lineup expansion—is my irritating way of reminding folk that Nikon does not have any strong commitment to the more consumer side of cameras. Nikon's history is replete with major thrusts into consumer cameras to increase sales volume, followed by retraction not long after. DSLR DX was basically a ten-year phenomena. In the ensuing decade, we've been mostly given minor updates to existing products, particularly so at the lower end of DX. 

Not that Nikon's current Z DX products are bad. Just the opposite. The Z50 and Zfc are very capable cameras—though basically the same camera in two different UX forms—and the two original DX lenses are both incredibly good for their size and price. I still rate the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 as the best of breed, though Fujifilm's 15-45mm f/3.5-5.6 isn't too far behind. The Nikkor 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 is also quite good when handled correctly, and a real bargain when obtained in the two-lens kits. From the published MTF charts, I expect the new Nikkor 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 to be better than the older F-mount equivalent, which was a good lens. 

Reader response to that 18-140mm though, seems to echo my own thoughts: why 18mm as the starting point (even my main iPhone camera is wider than this)? We're talking about essentially a 28-210mm lens (FX equivalent), which is old-school thinking in terms of focal range, and certainly not vlogging/selfie useful. I would have preferred 16-120mm, and I think many of you would, too. But the telling comment in multiple emails I received yesterday after Nikon's announcement was this: the 18-140mm range only makes sense if there were also a 10-20mm DX lens (or 9-18mm). 

I've written about messaging before. Nikon's Z DX messaging so far seems to be "you'll get what we give you when we give it to you." Is that enough to blunt the DX DSLR users switching to Fujifilm XF or even OM Digital Systems m4/3? I'm not sure it is. Earlier this year it was reported that Nikon's mirrorless market share was fifth, behind Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, and OM Digital Solutions, in that order. Most of that was due to Nikon's low crop-sensor camera sales. In full frame mirrorless, Nikon is a strongly competitive third, and at times during the past two years, second. 

To all the folk asking me where Z DX is headed, the answer is "I have no idea." I don't even have anything I can point to in order to speculate on what the future holds for crop sensor from Nikon. Z DX so far has been more a toe in the water than a system. I'm pretty sure that the supply chain issues aren't helping Nikon make up its mind what to do and how fast to do it when it comes to Z DX: better to use what parts they can get for the full frame lineup, where margins are higher. Thus, releasing a high-volume Z30 doesn't seem to be in the cards for Nikon at the moment.

I predicted earlier that the Zfc would sell well out of the gate, but eventually stall. One of the reasons I predicted a stall is that Nikon is pretty much exhausting the easy potential customer base for US$1000 mirrorless crop sensor by placing two nearly identical cameras in the same space. But the other issue for Nikon is that three lenses are not enough. Okay, let me cross that out and give Nikon a little additional credit: six lenses are not enough (the other three are the compact 28mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2, and 50mm f/2.8 macro, all of which play well on the Z DX bodies). 

The number one complaint I keep getting from Z50 and Zfc users, though, is "no true wide angle." The missing 10-20mm (or 8-16mm, or 9-24mm, or whatever you think is the best wide angle zoom configuration) is keeping Z DX from becoming anything like a "system." For now, my advice to people has been that you either go to one of the third-party manual focus lenses, or you "go big" and get the 14-30mm f/4. 

For me, a Z50 with the 16-50mm has become my carry-all-the-time camera. Small, competent, reliable, and mimics the main Nikon UX. For a Z50 (or Zfc or Z50 II or Z70 or Z90) to go beyond that role, I need more lenses (yeah: buzz, buzz). 

Consumer cameras have long been fighting smartphones for more casual photography, and mostly losing that battle. The ways that crop-sensor cameras can get the smartphone out of a user's hands are: (1) better results, particularly in low light; (2) more control, flexibility, and capability; and (3) more customization of image choices, typically through lenses. At the moment, I'm not 100% seeing how Nikon intends to win that battle with Z DX. 

So I'd like a new road map from Nikon. One that gives us some idea of how DX progresses, and one that extends the FX system beyond March 31, 2022. I know some of you are happy to just wait and see, but we're now in what's going to be the most intensely competitive time for mirrorless. Longer term results are going to be determined by how people make decisions about mirrorless in the coming year.

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I also posted a short Zfc Quick Advice article today to help you round out your Z DX system based on a Zfc body.


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