What's Needed to Stay Competitive?

Some of you are misinterpreting my articles from last week (urgently needed, room for). So let me state things a different way. Here is the ranked order in which I would be tackling new mirrorless bodies if I were in charge of the Nikon line. In order of importance, from most to least:

  1. Z6 III — This needs to happen later this year (2022), and the result needs to move the platform to a higher resolution sensor (probably the same 33mp one as the Sony A7 IV, perhaps with some Nikon tweaking again). This nets you a 6K+ video capability and an extra 1000 pixels horizontally in stills, without really losing anything else (frame rate is likely to be the same as the current model, but...) The big changes need to come at the EVF (no more slide slow at 10 fps), and the focus system, both of which would be hand-me-down things from the Z9. That's important because many of the agency-type photographers are opting for the Z6 level of camera, if not as their primary camera, than as their supplemental camera. The Z6 is a product Nikon can't afford to let slip behind the competition. Goal: as close to a Z9 Junior as possible.
  2. Z70/Z90 — Assuming the Z6 III happens as I just suggested, then this model should probably be a Z70. If the Z6 III doesn't happen or comes up lame, then this model really needs to be a Z90 and all that implies. Nikon needs to prove they can get beyond 20mp in DX, as well as deliver something at or above the D7500 level (the Z50 is in between D5600 and D7500, in my opinion, and closer to the D5600). The risk to Nikon is that the Canon (R7) and Fujifilm (X-H2S) simply divert the serious crop-sensor buyer to another mount. Fujifilm already got a big nibble from the Nikon D### crowd with their previous X-T# models, and that's still impacting Nikon sales. Nikon can't afford another full round of this type of customer erosion. Nikon has (most of) the lenses to compete in the high-tier APS-C world, they just don't have the crop sensor mirrorless camera to mount them on. "Too late" or "not enough" with this product is Nikon playing with fire. If late or not enough comes to fruition, Nikon would be better off just dropping DX and concentrating on making sure that they don't make any mistakes with the FX line. The Z70/Z90, by the way, is the camera I'm most worried that Nikon development doesn't see correctly. And it's my #2 need for them to do! Goal: as close to a mirrorless D500 as possible. Price isn't as important as getting close to or better than the D500.
  3. High Pixel CountI'm not giving this camera a name, because it could be done either at the Z7 or Z8 level. Nikon likes making the same mistakes (if they didn't, then they're just oblivious to the fact that they're making mistakes, or failing to correct them). Nikon had the DSLR world locked up early on, but then Canon came along and out-pixeled Nikon with key customers (1D, 1Ds). Nikon's response actually went the wrong way (D2h and the delayed and one-note D2x). Doh! When you "stall" like that, you rarely get a chance to win those customers back. Here we are again with a similar situation in mirrorless with the 61mp Sony A7R Mark IV and a rumored Canon 100mp whopper supposedly coming in early 2023. Nikon needs to show they can play this game and win (though the fact that they're already late means best case is probably second place in terms of unit volume, not an outright win; that's another repeat of a past mistake). One thing that has hurt Sony is that they are totally stuck on the hybrid use case. A high megapixel camera doesn't make for a great video camera, but instead of making it a far better stills camera, Sony (and everyone else) thinks they have to layer in video, too. Heck, even Fujifilm spent too much time with video on the medium format GFX models (I know of no one actually using that ability in conjunction with their 50mp/100mp need). Fortunately, Sony didn't make their 61mp camera clearly better than the 45-50mp cameras, so there's currently room to leap-frog. Goal: re-establish a position and get above the 61mp of the primary competitor with a well-focused model.
  4. Unique Camera — Right now, Nikon really doesn't have a product category that they can call their own other than perhaps the Zfc, and even that some might say is just a Fujifilm clone of some sort. Z9? A1 and R3 (and eventual R1). Z6? (A7 and R6). Pretty much every current Nikon mirrorless camera is "what you'd expect" and similar to competitor's offerings. Yet Sony has the vlogging focused ZV and AC cameras, Canon has the Eos Cinema line, while Fujifilm has the GFX line, all of which are (mostly) lacking direct competition. Each of Nikon's three biggest competitors thus has more than one product they can point to that's pretty uniquely theirs. Again, Nikon just has that lonely Zfc. Heck the kit lens for the Zfc was really just a 28mm with a metal band on it to hint at retro, or a silverized kit zoom. Mailed in, Nikkor group. Faux unique. Meanwhile, plenty of categories are still wide open in mirrorless. Don't believe me? Tough. Pocketable. Social. All AI simple UX. True, not faux, retro. There's basically nothing where Nikon's engineering has stuck a stake in the ground and said "try to match that, Canfujony." Seriously, in tech, you need to "own" something, otherwise you're just perceived as a follower. What is it that Nikon owns? Goal: Find a Nikon-owns-it niche and lock it down.

No, I don't see a Z30, Z50 II, Z5 II, Z7 III, or Zf as being critical to Nikon's competitiveness. All should probably exist at some point, but none are an urgent need that's going to shore up Nikon's market position and bring them new glory. 

Meanwhile, some of you want #2 or #3, but I'm actually seeing more of you wanting something not on my numbered list. Unfortunately, it appears that Nikon is about to announce something else that isn't on my list and you aren't asking for. 

Messaging is important, particularly in stagnant markets such as interchangeable lens cameras. The Z9 sent almost too good a message—people are trying to buy it that probably shouldn't—but the Z9 needs to be quickly backed up with other products that send similar, strong competitive messages. A Z30 or Zf wouldn't do that. A Z50 II, Z5 II, Z6 III, or Z7 III that's your basic iteration doesn't do it, either. It takes something truly new, truly pushing the envelope forward, truly answering the gaps being revealed by competitor's products. Which is why my new model importance list is short and to the point. 

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