Will the Triplets Get a Sibling?

We'll likely know by the end of the year, but more and more I'm getting the vibe that Nikon is going to get out of the DX business.

The downplaying of DX started in 2009 in Europe, with the test of an ad campaign trying to persuade early DSLR buyers to upgrade to FX. That escalated to a global (and successful) effort in 2012 with the introduction of the D600. By 2014 Nikon had a full(ish) FX lineup with the D610, D750, D810, and D4s and the efforts intensified. We've had only seven DX DSLRs since then, and five were extremely modest changes (D3xxx and D5xxx "iterations"), one was a downgrade in a number of ways (D7500), and only one (D500) was something catering to a long-term DX crowd.

As those of you reading this know, I've long been contemplating the meaning of the Z DZ triplets (Z50, Zfc, and Z30). That's essentially the same camera in three different guises. What was behind the idea of putting the same guts in three very different body styles? 

I'm beginning to think it was a test to see what style resonated in the entry market. 

Consider for a moment that the "entry" FX model has the number 5. And that there are only 9 numbers available with the current naming scheme. I'm probably giving Nikon too much credit here for forethought, though. After all, the DSLR full frame lineup started with a 6 ;~). But it could be that they wanted a dual pointer towards where something fit in the lineup. For example, a Z30 is less than a Z5 because it has the zero, but also because 3 is less than 5. But it could be that Nikon always planned a truly entry Z3. 

Which leads me to writing about "Nikon planning." One reason why it's so difficult to predict from existing patterns with Nikon is that they plan over a huge time period, and then adjust. At least 8 years of plan-ahead, but I believe their product tactics really extend to at least 12 years, as I once saw a chart at Nikon HQ that suggested that. As many of you know by now, one of my chores in Silicon Valley was trying to keep track of technology that was five to ten years out and what it could do for our products. Nikon engineering does pretty much the same thing. So it's not unreasonable to assume that Nikon Imaging has a rough sketch of what they think changes in their model line over a 10 year period. 

Other than some tinkering work in the labs, actual product development is generally a two-year (consumer/prosumer) or four-year (pro) process at Nikon, sometimes with external events or "tech misses" upsetting that schedule. Also, remember that the camera side has to coordinate with the lens side if there are going to be any ground-breaking changes. 

Don't worry, I'm getting to my point now ;~).

So if we were to walk into Nikon R&D today we'd find a small number of products that are in their two-year process, at least one that's in its four year process, and a general road map for how everything fits together through the next decade. The question I have is "where is DX in any of that?" 

I don't know. I've received no hint of anything DX for awhile now other than a possible lens rebranding. I do continue to get hints and bits and pieces about things progressing in FX, so this is puzzling me. There is precedent at Nikon for a group working on a specific line of product to be in Silent Running mode. But why would the DX group be doing that?

What I do know is this: with Nikon's financial year coming to an end in a little over a month and the near final data being looked at closely as to how it worked out (or not) to plan—short, medium, and long term plans, that is—Nikon is right now headed into their yearly review period where top management is evaluating everything, and about to decree what needs to be done next and what doesn't. Everything in progress gets a close examination and a yay or nay from the Big Buddhas sitting at the top of the management chain. As a result, short term plans will get redone, medium term plans will get some revisions, and long term plans are at least re-evaluated and perhaps redrawn. 

On occasion, this "year-end" analysis has upset the product plans within the Imaging group, particularly when something that was expected to work didn't, or some tech that was expected to be available wasn't. I suspect that the reason we didn't get a Z6 III in fall of 2022 as expected is that something wasn't working out as originally planned and during one of those year-end evaluation meetings upper management dictated "push it to the next cycle and make it better." 

If you think about what Nikon's top management might be saying right now about recent products in their year-end meetings, I think you'd get something like this:

  • Lenses. Really nice job with the telephoto team hitting it out of the park.
  • Z9. Great job.
  • Z8. Another great job.
  • Zf. Really, another great job?
  • Z30. Uh, what's happening there?

Yes, the Zfc would also have likely still have gotten a thumbs up, but then the Zf came along and eclipsed it on the bottom line. Moreover, the Zfc was just a very mild change to the now five-year old Z50 on the inside. It may look different, but it's essentially the same camera.

Thus, I worry about DX. The Z50 won't survive past the end of the year due to Europe's new charger regulations. The Zfc still needs appropriate lenses, which haven't appeared (at least from Nikon). The Z30 has only one lens suitable for vlogging and really didn't add anything else that hadn't already been said in Z DX.

So I think you can see why I'm worried about the DX vibe I think I'm picking up.

It isn't that you couldn't just stick the EXPEED7 and the Zfc's USB-charging in the Z50, call it a II, and not have a remarkably good camera to sell. You can. That's really low-hanging fruit, and both things would be big improvements for the aging Z50. The real question is "why wouldn't you do that?" The longer it doesn't happen, the less likely that DX has a future in the Z System.  

Of course, I see problems with DX going away, if that's where we're headed. First, Nikon needs more than the Z5 for the entry level, and whatever that is has to be smaller and lighter. The precedent would suggest to create a Z3 from the Z5, akin to the Z30/Z50 relationship. But then we need a wide angle zoom that's small and compatible. Why create a Z30 and 12-28mm f/3.5-5.6 PZ DX lens when you're going to do that all over again in FX a couple of years later?

DX has been rudderless at Nikon since the D300 (2007), basically. Sure, the underling cameras were nicely proportioned into D3xxx, D5xxx, and D7xxx models and continuously "iterated" starting in 2009, but that's about it. Everything since, other than the D500 and the Z50 have been tinkering, not elaborating. 

So, do we get another elaboration, or is the tinkering now done? I don't know. But again, I think we'll have a good idea of which by the end of 2024.

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