What Does Thom Want From Nikon?

We've had the last announcements for Z's in 2020, I believe—there may be some pricing adjustments and accessory items making noise—so it's probably a very good time to set down my hopes for what happens next. Note that these are not rumor-based things, these are the things that I want Nikon to do in the next round of important announcements.

Bodies

We're still missing a lot of the DSLR lineup choices in the mirrorless lineup. The question is this: which of those things should Nikon concentrate on right now? If I were in charge, two bodies need to happen: Z70 and Z8. These would be equivalent to the D500 and D880 respectively. Wait, what's a D880? 

I've written for some time that the D850 is the best all-around camera you can buy. That's still basically true, but if Nikon wants to keep that position intact, they'd need to iterate the D850 and/or duplicate what that iteration would be in the mirrorless world. We need more attention given to the "pro" level details, a little less attention to the "prosumer" type compromises. And we probably need more pixels.

Why more pixels? Because a true all-around camera has to serve both the pixel-craving crowd as well as the speed-craving crowd. 45mp is okay for the pixel-cravers, though no longer the top dog, but when you do something like pixel bin in order to get speed, 45mp is also not quite enough (closer to a 12mp result, which is where we were years ago with speed cameras, not where we want to be today). Even Sony's 61mp sensor would only get us to 15mp binned (96mp is probably where we'd really want to be today with binned output). 

There is a compromise position: pixel-shift shooting with the 45mp sensor coupled with clear speed and quality improvements with the mRaw capability. But my point is this: we need a pro-level camera that's capable of "doing it all." The Z7 II isn't quite that. The Z8 would have to be that in order to separate itself out. 

Meanwhile, DX really needs to survive. It's the lower cost way into serious cameras. Personally, I think that pursuing the bottom end, e.g. a Z30, doesn't really do anything long-term for Nikon. But a D500 replacement in the Z mount, call it a Z70, would. Clearly, such a direct replacement is possible today, as the shutter/sensor already exist, and the dual EXPEED system now punches up the AF. Nikon doesn't sell many D500's these days. Partly because it's a much older camera and partly because they never really bolstered that camera with appropriate lenses other than the PF telephotos, which made it a niche market camera (wildlife and sports). 

Still, the D500 user is not the type of customer Nikon would want to lose. Ever. That's partly because that customer also buys those big expensive lenses, but also because they're right in the target of what the remaining market will be for dedicated cameras: serious enthusiasts with particular specialities. 

Summary:

  • Z30 — No. Pursuing absolute volume isn't the right approach for the Z System right now.
  • Z50 — Give us a Z50 II sooner rather than later, adding in some of the things we got with the Z6/Z7 IIs.
  • Z70 — Yes. Add to the Z50 II performance, features, and build to pull the D300/D500 users into mirrorless.
  • Z5 — Fine the way it is for now, but gradually lower the price.
  • Z6 II — Fine the way it is for now, but firmware updates of substance would be nice.
  • Z7 II — Fine the way it is for now, but firmware updates of substance would be nice.
  • Z8 — Yes. The first truly pro body, with everything that suggests. Should target being the best all-around mirrorless camera.

Lenses

Between the 16 available lenses and the 11 additional lenses on the Road Map, by the end of 2021 we should be in a reasonably nice place. Not yet F-mount equivalent in choices, not yet FE-mount equivalent in choices, but still, most of the top needs would have be filled.

Yes, I'm going to drone on about DX (buzz buzz ;~).

If Nikon adds even a single DX body to the Z lineup, particularly a higher-end one, the DX lens choices are going to look abysmal. Worse than the limited F-mount DX lineup was. Which is to say "bad, and seriously constraining the potential customer base." 

I've been pretty consistent in my comments about DX lenses, I think. We need a few DX-sized primes that are spec'd right, we need a kit wide angle zoom, and we need faster wide angle zoom and mid-range zoom options. Above 70mm, DX doesn't get any clear benefit in size/weight with traditional optical designs, but throw in a Z PF or two and a Z DX user would be happy. 

  • 12mm f/2.8
  • 16mm f/2
  • 24mm f/2
  • 10-24mm f/4-6.3
  • 8-16mm f/2.8-4
  • 16-70mm f/2.8-4
  • 200mm f/2.8 PF
  • 400mm f/4 PF

I'm sure some will quibble with my choices here, but they're mostly to illustrate the needs, not to particularly call out a specific specification. Three of those lenses a year with the rest on a clear road map, and Z DX users would be mostly happy, particularly since they can still dip into the full frame Z lenses (the 14-30mm f/4 wouldn't be a terrible choice for a Z70 user, for instance). 

In full frame, Nikon hasn't made any bad choices so far. It's really just that the line is only filling at the rate of 8 lenses a year, so there's a lot of catch up to do. I think I've been clear with my personal choices there, too (these are additions to what's already in the road map):

  • f/1.2 prime set completed: 24mm, 35mm
  • f/1.8 prime set extended: 18mm, 105mm, 135mm
  • macro set extended: 70-180mm, 200mm+
  • Additional zoom choices brought over from F-mount: 8-15mm, 70-300mm, 120-300mm, 180-400mm
  • Additional telephoto primes: 500mm
  • Additional telephoto PF: 300mm, 400mm, 500mm, 800mm
  • Tilt-shift: 19mm, 45mm, 85mm

The two groups together (DX and FX) make 27 more lenses, or over three additional years worth of releases at the current introduction rate.

Here's what I don't want to see: Nikon making less than 8 new lenses a year until the lineup is equivalent to where they were in the F-mount (or better). Indeed, I'd love to see Nikon stretch that to 10-12 new lenses a year in the short term. Between the 11 lenses already in the road map and another 30 or so I would add, 10 lenses a year would get them most of the way in three years. Here's another thing I don't want to see: too much concentration on consumer zooms. We don't need the 18-xx type proliferation we saw with DX DSLRs. We also don't need a half dozen 24-xx lenses, either. 

Accessories

Here's where I'd say that Nikon is completely off track. Accessories really speak to how a customer uses their camera. They are customizing their camera to a need, and/or simplifying certain work flows/needs when they start accessorizing. 

Most conspicuous in the "where's Waldo" accessory drama Nikon has created for themselves are flash units that are truly compatible with the Z System and move the flash tech forward in useful ways. Personally, I want WR-enabled SB-500 and SB-5000 units that also support AF Assist, at a minimum. When I say WR-enabled, I mean that there's a WR-R10/11 inside the Speedlight that can trigger remote Speedlights. That way, we don't actually need the WR-R10/11 nub in our remote release slot (I still want that, too, by the way, as it has other useful purposes). 

Frankly, flash is an area where technology still hasn't been maximized. We all want accurate TTL and level setting with remote flashes, right? Unfortunately, light falls off with the inverse square of distance. Does a flash know what its distance is? No, not really. I can think of all kinds of ways to fix that problem (lidar sensor in the flash, for example, but also this: camera communicates lenses focus distance to the flashes and the flashes communicate their location vis-a-vis the camera and the camera calculates the distances). We've all watched McNally in his flash mastery. Yes, he relies on some automation, but he's constantly dialing in values and moving flash positions in almost a trial and error methodology at times. Dialing in a "formula" isn't possible with our current flash tech. 

What do I mean by formula? "Ambient at 60% of exposure, key light flash at 40% of exposure, fill light flash at 25% of exposure." That's sort of simplistic (and probably not accurate to what I'd actually use), but we need to start somewhere. In my perfect world, I could move the flash units or subject distance and my formula would still stay true and the camera could handle that automatically. What we do in the studio today is set up our light and then force our subject to stay within a small area defined by that light. 

And yes, a grip with a shutter release on it is nice, but oh my, are we missing the point. I want an NVME SSD in my grip, and want the camera backing up to that (away dual card slots!). And that's just a start with what we could add to the camera via a correctly designed bolt-on accessory system. Most camera accessories are afterthoughts and have to deal with the already existing camera design; one reason why we got the dreadful MB-N10 grip with the original Z6 and Z7. Let's design the system from the get go, Tokyo. But to do that, you need to talk to more of us photographers to understand where our pain points really are. 

Final Thoughts

We never quite got everything we'd have wanted out of a DSLR system. That's because the DSLR grew out of the SLR and was a replacement for it, and it took generations of iterations to flesh out all the major issues with that. Unfortunately, the Japanese camera companies are approaching mirrorless the same way. Sony's a good example: A series SLRs to SLTs to A7 mirrorless, iterate, iterate, iterate, and now you have an A7 Mark III that isn't up to the specs of the Nikon Z6 II ;~).

As I've pointed out since 2008, we also need to communicate our images now. Twelve years later we find camera makers mostly still trying to iron out how the basic cameras work in the DSLR to mirrorless transition, and we get lip service to the thing that would make us incredibly more effective. Plus when we do get something that's useful, like the current SnapBridge, we find that we can "tag" our images for social media, but only with the tags #NIKON and #SNAPBRIDGE. Hmm. What about my tagging needs, Nikon? Be happy to use the #NIKON tag, but I need my own tags in there, too. In the last Silicon Valley company I managed, if I had told any of my software engineers I needed user-supplied tagging, including from a list I can edit on the fly, the new build would have been on my desk the next morning for me to try.

Looking for other photographic information? Check out our other Web sites:
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