What is Urgently Needed?

As a corollary to my other article today (What Cameras Are There Room For?), there's the notion of what cameras does Nikon urgently need to produce. The two things ("room for" versus "needed") are not the same thing, and to understand where Nikon might go next you need to resolve the differences.

First up, let's look at potential updates to the existing lineup:

  • Z50 II — Overdue, but not exactly an urgent need (see below).
  • Zfc II — Not needed at all, let alone urgently.
  • Z5 II — Not needed urgently.
  • Z6 III — Needs to happen within a year, and show a lot of Z9 technology when it appears.
  • Z7 III — Needs to happen within two years, and show some Z9 technology when it appears, along with higher resolution EVF.
  • Z9 II — Not needed; serious firmware updates can hold it up for the time being.

Some of you may disagree with my assessment there, particularly the Z6/Z7 III update timing. I say the Z7 III update isn't as urgently needed because it's already 45mp and Nikon isn't going to position it as an inexpensive Z9 in any update soon. If Nikon were to iterate the Z7 III this year, it would be a little too close to the Z9 for much less money, or Nikon would have to neuter it in some way to keep the Z9 selling. 

On the other hand, the Z6 III has to compete against the Sony A7 Mark IV, which pushed the bar forward in sensor and capability, though Nikon should be able to match that progress in most ways. The Z6 model is more important for building up the Z System user base than the Z7 model, so I assess the need to update it as being more urgent.

If you agree with me, you can see there's not a lot of urgency in iterating the existing models. That brings me to:

  • Z70 — With the Canon R7/R10, Fujifilm X-H2s, and the need for a better Z50, if Nikon is going to play in the DX ballpark, the real need is to introduce a DX camera at a higher level (and price point). That would be a Z70 (or potentially a Z90 and all that implies, but let's just establish the base level of what's urgently needed, and that's going to be a Z70). 7 has always been a good number for Nikon (D70, D7xxx, Z7), as the models in that numbering scheme have always been right at the center of the true enthusiast and low professional realm. Not too pricey, but highly capable. Nikon needs a DX model with a 7 in its name ;~). That's US$1300-1600, double the current fps, as close to the Z9 focusing experience as possible, with anything in the 20-32mp DX sensor size (and with sensor VR).

    Why do I think a Z70 is an urgent need? Well, the emails have already started flooding in from angst-driven customers asking if it's time to abandon Nikon because they have no commitment to DX, which is really all they can really afford. And lest you say "but the Z5 is affordable," you have to think complete system, not camera body. Look at how many D500 owners use the 200-500mm f/5.6 or the 300mm f/4E PF: the demand is for "not too expensive, but capable of the full range of photographic things I want to do in a smaller, lighter package". A Z70 with the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S lens would satisfy quite a few of those folks.

Yeah, that's only one urgently needed model that doesn't currently exist. But wait, you say, what about the other possibilities? Here's my take:

  • Z30 — Prototyped, developed, and held off the market for some reason (over a year). The backroom buzz is that Nikon decided it needed a different image sensor and that postponed the launch. I both see the reason why Nikon might launch an entry mirrorless camera (the Z50 body is a US$900 body, which isn't exactly an entry price point), and the reason they shouldn't: it simply doesn't move the marker for them. No matter how I evaluate it, a Z30 is going to sell fewer copies than any of the D3xxx models did, and the lack of DX lenses coupled with how much crop-sensor competition there is in mirrorless is going to make a Z30 a tough sell to start with. "Consumer" is exactly where Nikon always ends up failing. Happened with film SLRs, happened with compacts, happened with their first mirrorless entry (Nikon 1), eventually happened with DSLRs. But most important: the perception of Nikon that's hurting them is at the Z5 to Z7 level (compared to Sony A7 models). No matter how good an entry camera might be, it doesn't address the part of the lineup that Nikon needs more strength in. Finally: I'm of the belief that any entry consumer camera now will ultimately fail unless it 100% solves the social network image sharing problem simply, elegantly, and completely (more on that in a coming article). A Z30 isn't an urgent need.
  • Zf — Yes, there's probably some room for an FX sensor Zf model in the lineup, especially if we get more compact primes. But it's not an urgent need in the market. There's a subset of the customer base that thinks they want a "dials" camera again, but I think Nikon already has plenty of evidence that this is mostly a one-off opportunity (Df and Zfc) that doesn't generate long-term model lines that expand their user base. I see a Zf as a way to scrape some more money from some of the loyal customers in the short term, not something that establishes an on-going product that gets regular updates. Not an urgent need.
  • Z8 — One problem here is that everyone disagrees on what a Z8 should be. A number of you want a Z8 to be a Z9, but in a smaller body without the vertical grip. Some of you want a Z8 to be a high megapixel count camera in a "pro" body. Others want a Z9-like camera, but with a 24mp image sensor tweaked more towards low light work. If I'm reading the surveys right, whatever Nikon eventually puts in the Z8 naming slot is going to disappoint 60-70% of you ;~). Personally, I'd argue that Nikon needs a Z90 that's a DX version of the Z9 (ala the D3/D300 and D5/D500 pairings) and the Z8 slot should go to a high megapixel count camera. But is this an urgent problem to solve? Not really. Continuing to iterate the current lineup correctly and bringing out a Z70 are both more urgent needs.
  • Video camera — Ironically, Nikon went there once already with their GoPro imitation, the KeyMission 170. That wasn't really the right target. As good as the KeyMission was, it also wasn't differentiated from the competition. Nikon has no urgent need to create a video-oriented camera until (1) they can identify exactly where it should be targeted; and (2) they can differentiate it from the competition. I'm not sensing they're ready to do either. 

Nikon's "hidden" urgent need is more important to think about. The Z9 made that visible to everyone: (1) state-of-the-art image sensors; (2) state-of-the-art Image Processors; and (3) rethought and better engineered focus abilities. 

Nikon's success has always been inside the body: it's the engineering teams that discovered and mastered matrix metering, vibration reduction, autofocus tracking, and much, much more (remember, for instance, that Nikon was the first to put video in a DSLR with the D90). Frankly, Nikon let engineering lower the urgency on the new technologies to drive their products and dialed in quite a few cameras, while taking odd deviations (Nikon 1, DL, KeyMission, even the Coolpix Pzoom000 models). I was happy to see the Z9 bring back the "let's put the future in the camera" design ethic in Nikon's engineering once again. We need more of that. Urgently. 

Great new Nikon Inside engineering will drive the cameras forward fast enough if Nikon can keep the urgency up that created the Z9. 

Looking for other photographic information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general/technique: bythom.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

text and images © 2022 Thom Hogan — All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #zsystemuser