Upon Reflection

dpreview's published interview with Keiji Oishi of Nikon yesterday went viral much the same as my defense of Nikon did last month. Almost every photo Web site today is pointing to the dpreview interview. It seems that the world wants "good" Nikon news. 

The question is whether it really is good news that Nikon is going to make a mirrorless camera to surpass the D6. That's where my further reflection comes in.

No, it's not necessarily good news.

Oh, it's good news in the sense that Nikon knows that the A1/A9 and R5 (and likely R1) have established a strong top for mirrorless Nikon doesn't yet match. Heck, even Olympus has the E-1MX. Nikon will be about last in the market to have a true flagship, so such a camera is overdue. But think about it for a moment. How much space will there be between the Z7 II and a Z-better-than-D6? 

In reality, quite a bit. Too much space as far as I'm concerned.

First, a better-than-D6 body is likely going to cost at least as much as a D6. So the first problem will be that we will have a huge price gap between US$3000 and US$6500 (would Nikon dare go lower or higher?). Thus, while all of us want the things that a D6-like Z might bring—banks, more button customization (particularly for AF), workflow improvements, ftp, faster frame rates, better viewfinder, durability, infinite buffer, etc.—most people would still be looking for something in the Z7 II price category at worst case. 

As my upcoming reviews for the Z6 II and Z7 II will point out, Nikon missed a bunch of critical needs for these cameras to hold serve against the ongoing and relentless Canon/Sony competition. While Nikon did fix a number of things that users perceived to be wrong with the original models, that list of fixes was relatively short (AF improvement, buffer improvement, dual card slot, vertical grip option, USB Power Delivery). Most of the missed elements not in the II models are the things that pros would require, thus Nikon is potentially making the Z line "one camera for pros, but several cameras for everyone else if they don't mind giving up pro features and performance."

Specifically, the Z7 II is the camera that's not quite right. It's not a D850. Oh, sure, it is in the sense of image quality. But in terms of usability, the Z7 II still has issues that the D850-type user wants to see fixed. Being able to immediately switch Autofocus Area mode by button press would be one, and that really should be a firmware-level change; it doesn't require redesign. Unfortunately, that's not the only problem. The User Setting idea (U1/U2/U3) is terribly implemented and confusing to customers. The focus indicators clearly lag where the camera is focusing, don't confirm in AF-C, and are less precise than competitors'. So many of the things that made the D850 such a seminal camera unmatched by any other DSLR just aren't in the Z7 II, yet the Z7 II would be the mirrorless camera chasing those customers. 

If Nikon is going to do what I think they're going to do—launch a D850 DSLR replacement and a Z mirrorless flagship this year—and in doing so are trying to protect that new DSLR by not pushing the Z7 II to where it could easily go, Nikon is making a critical strategic mistake. 

Now perhaps Nikon thinks that because demand for the Z7 II is higher than they can meet that everything's copacetic. I don't think that way, and that's short term thinking that can get you into deep trouble long term. The demand for the Z7 II is high because that's all we have at a time people are making a decision on which mirrorless to move to from DSLR. What I'm hearing from users is that they feel like they're "settling" when moving from Nikon DSLR to mirrorless. Not that the Z System cameras are bad, they're just not pushing the boundaries the way the D500, D5, and D850 did in DSLRs. 

And that brings me back to the point. It appears that Nikon will sometime this year push the boundary on a D5-equivalent (now D6) mirrorless camera. But they're not managing to do that with the rest of their lineup, and, of course, we're talking about a future Z-better-than-D6, not a current one. The reality today is that the D500 is better than the Z50, the D780 is better than the Z6 II (though not by very much), the D850 is better than the Z7 II (by a bigger distance), and we don't have a D6 equivalent yet.

Do I want a Z-better-than-D6? You betcha. But I still want a Z-equal-to-D500 and Z-equal-to-D850, as well. 

Oishi-san's interview was candid and interesting, but it still represents FUD marketing. (That's Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt, a technique to keep someone from buying a competitive product because you hint you might have a better one coming.)

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Bonus: Oishi said that an FTZ-type adapter that supports screw-drive lenses "is not our highest priority." He further indicated that would also require a considerable increase in the size and mass of the adapter. I call BS on both claims. If I can measure a strong wait-and-see contingent that requires screw-drive support before they'll move to mirrorless, certainly Nikon can, too. Moreover, the one corporate asset that Nikon has over all the other camera makers is "true legacy support," and dismissing a group of lenses that are in a lot of their customers' gear closets is flying in the face of that, and risks losing that asset.

Then there's the issue of "size." First, the Japanese are nothing if not great at miniaturization, and so Oishi-san seems to be saying that Nikon isn't very Japanese ;~). But I'm not sure that his statement is accurate in the first place. More likely the reason why Nikon doesn't want to support screw-drive lenses has to do with power consumption, not size. And focus speed/accuracy. 

I'll be honest here: I'm not much interested in screw-drive focus support for F-mount lenses on my Z cameras. About the only lens I might think that's worthwhile for is the 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor, and most of the time I'm manually focusing that anyway. We're past the days of noisy, slow, sometimes inaccurate (because they don't repeat to a position well when driven fast) lenses should be tolerated. This is a bit like people insisting on mechanical linkage manual transmissions with a pedal-driven clutch in automobiles, when a modern paddle-selected double clutch system would be better.

That said, I know there's a ton of you out there that believe that not being able to autofocus screw-drive lenses is a clear Z System liability. Nikon keeps trying to deny that you exist or are important. That is just another example of the thing that I've been writing about for years: Nikon is paternalistic and doesn't have a strong connection and communication with its customers. That needs to stop.

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