The Mythical Z30

Among the rumor sites out there that write about Nikon products, over half of them are actively mentioning a Z30 camera this month, with some pointing to the CP+ show at the end of February as a likely launch target. 

Let's get a few things out of the way: yes, such a camera has been prototyped (more than once), and I believe the final form has even went through license certification (for the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth aspects, among other things). Likewise, I'm pretty sure that a 10-20mm wide angle zoom is making the transition from F-mount to Z-mount and was originally targeted as a surprise co-release with the Z30. 

The collapse of the D3500 and D5600 DSLR sales—and it has been a large and substantive collapse—gives credence to the idea that a Z30 and Z50 pairing "replaces" those DSLR models with mirrorless cameras. 

From Nikon's standpoint, there are pluses and minuses to launching a Z30. The big plus would be spreading parts costs across more volume. The Z30 would obviously use the 20mp sensor already in the Z50, and probably other parts, as well. Nikon engineering loves parts reutilization, and always has. Another plus might be in giving the Z System a wider appeal by lowering the entry point as well as making a stronger statement that the whole camera lineup is moving to mirrorless. 

The big minus is that it's unclear that a Z30 adds enough volume to justify the tighter gross profit margin in the low-end products, particularly if any of its sales end up undercutting potential Z50 sales. Another minus is that the pandemic is making it tougher for Nikon to get new products into production in Thailand as quickly and efficiently as they'd like. Moreover, some parts in short supply have to be rationed across models, as well. Is the Z30 the model they want to commit those parts to?

As one Nikon employee (who shall remain anonymous for obvious reasons) put it to me: "[low end mirrorless is] sort of a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation." I've reported before that there's a strong sense within part of Nikon management that perhaps low-end full frame should be the actual Nikon ILC entry point. A lot of that seems to rely upon a bit of misplaced understanding about what the enthusiast/prosumer user that Nikon really needs long-term actually wants. Remember, Nikon has sold tens of millions of DX products already and many customers have been tempted with FX ones but haven't bitten. Those customers have particular expectations if you want them to transition to mirrorless.

Thing is, Z DX is out of the bag. Once Nikon made the decision to launch the Z50 and two lenses—plus put another Z DX lens (18-140mm) on the Road Map—Nikon pretty much committed themselves to Z DX. The only question really should be "what does Z DX accomplish, and for whom?" 

A Z30, pretty much no matter how you define it, is really a competitor for Canon EOS M, the lower-end of Fujifilm XF, and perhaps some of m4/3. Sony seems to have moved on from the A5###, which would be the equivalent for them. As I've tried to explain for a number of years now, it's really the Fujifilm X-T# and Sony A6### cameras that have been drawing away former Nikon DX DSLR users. To stop that slow-but-persistent leak of customers Nikon really needs a Z70 type of offering, something much more akin to the D7200 to D500 range. Not a Z30.

Time for the lens rant ;~).

Yes, if you're using something like a Z70 or D500 for sports or wildlife, which is the big attraction for many, you use the full frame telephoto lenses a lot of the time; DX isn't going to make long telephoto lenses any smaller or lighter, so FX versions are fine. But long telephoto is not what you photograph with all of the time. In order to make a crop sensor camera more well rounded, at a minimum you need a solid wide angle zoom, a fast normal zoom, and a small sprinkling of fastish primes (buzz, buzz). And those lenses really need to be right-sized (which rules out the idea of just using the FTZ adapter with existing lenses).

I don't know whether we get the Z30 next or not. I've heard it now both ways from sources that have credibility: (a) the Z30 will launch soon; and (b) the Z30 will get tabled and a Z70 is being fast tracked. There's also the possible (c) position: Z30 now, Z70 as soon as possible.

If I have a vote—and I don't—I'll go with (c). My reasoning might not correspond to yours or Nikon's, though. 

What Nikon needs right now is understandable messaging. Not launching a new Z DX camera is a lack of messaging. Even if it's only a temporary message, launching a Z30 sends the message that Z DX is really a thing, particularly if you also launch the 10-20mm Z DX lens and put another Z DX lens or two on the Road Map. Since I believe the Z30 shares a lot with the Z50 (e.g. battery, shutter, sensor, EXPEED), it's not as if Nikon would be investing in a ton of new parts. Thus, I'd say that the only things you'd want to be sure of is that Z30+Z50 volume > Z50 volume, and that Z30+Z50 GPM is not < Z50 GPM (or at least not substantively). Assuming, of course, you have enough parts to meet demands.

Meanwhile, the Z70 user is the more typical and long-standing Nikon customer, so Nikon should push at getting such a camera out the door, too, along with a couple of more appropriate Z DX lenses. With three cameras and a few more lenses, suddenly the messaging is "Z DX is really a thing that's here to stay." Of course you still have the problem of "how is Z DX different than Z FX?" But Nikon already has that problem ;~). 

So, here's what I think: yes, you launch and make the Z30 for the time being. Let it come and go a natural cycle or two. Put your real effort in the Z70+ type of camera, which should be a staple of Z DX, carefully targeting those D300, D500, D7200, and D7500 users who just aren't going to move to full frame.

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