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News & Insight

What To Consider & Remember For The New Nikon Mirrorless | Features, QC, Competition, & Market Position

By Kishore Sawh on July 26th 2018

It’s interesting and exciting when things we thought were far down the road suddenly turn up at our doorstep. And that’s what we’re now facing with the full frame Nikon mirrorless – it’s on the UPS truck a few blocks down.

But we’ve been teased with a few key pieces of information and murky images which have been jet-fuel for the vehicle of speculation. What exactly are we looking at? What can it be compared to? Where will it sit in the market? Will it be a product of finesse, or more of an unmade-bed of a camera, if you will?

It’s a lot, and there’s more to be discussed, like how will this compare to the D850 and D5? But We’ll get to that further on.

At this juncture before speculation, it’s worth addressing what we know, and what we know is that Nikon is calling this an ‘industry-leading’ full frame mirrorless system; that they’ll continue developing DSLRs; that there’s a new mount; new lenses coming, and “an F-Mount adapter is being developed that will enable the use of a wide variety of F-Mount NIKKOR lenses“.

These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed… But if past practice is any indication of future performance there are important things to consider from all of this; some of concern.

[REWIND: Nikon Announces New Long Focal Length Prime Lens Development]

To lead this industry it needs to surpass the Sony a9 and A7RIII in a multitude of ways, so to call this new camera ‘industry-leading’ is bold. Will it be better than the D5 and D850 (looking more and more like a swan song)? It would seem unlikely, but the problem is this: If not, they won’t be as good as the Sonys.

But Nikon has not shied away from bold commentary in the past. One only needs to recall the Liang Shuang interview in 2017 with Mr. Tetsuro Goto of Nikon, who appeared at the time to be the senior advisor or R&D General Manager at Nikon Group Imaging Division, to see that.

You can read the full interview here, but particularly it’s the following section that’s of most interest (combined translation of Google Translate, Nikon Rumors, and native speaker):

The Nikon customer base is very broad, from novice to enthusiasts to prosumer to professional, that’s Nikon’s advantage. Olympus, Sony and Fujifilm can only cover a small part of that. So far there is no professional using their products. So when they develop products, even like retro style, they only try to meet these people and that’s only what they can do. Their customer base is limited anyway, so they have limited view in developing products.

Nikon would never take everyone’s features to integrate to Nikon products. Of course we would consider good stuff, mostly things behind the back. Nikon would absolutely not consider overall view, design style, and function from others. Because Nikon has almost 60 year history of making cameras and we have been communicating with all kinds of customers and listen to them. With such experience we are at a level that cannot be compared to those other companies. If we were to introduce a mirrorless camera, we would not be like them, such as pushing out a lot of models. We will lock in customer’s main requirement to introduce a new product. If fact, before A9 was introduced, Sony went through a lot failure internally.

That’s a loaded length of commentary, and there’s a lot that could be derived from it.

Stating that Nikon’s customer base is very broad can go unchallenged – Nikon is Nikon and Nikon is a pillar of the industry. But Mr. Goto goes on to say in reference to the other brands, “Their customer base is limited anyway, so they have limited view in developing products.”

There’s a level of irony here sitting half-way through 2018, as Sony and Fujifilm are both pushing the development of the industry Nikon is only now stepping into, whereas Nikon can be seen as having been holding back the tide of progress. Sure, as I’ve stated before, the D850 may be, and probably is, the best DSLR on the market, but in 2018 that’s like being the best horse and cart in the era of the combustion engine.

Furthermore, to suggest that Sony and Fujifilm only cover the needs of a small audience seems bizarre given the high growth rate of both of those brands, and the loyalty they have managed to earn in a short time, and the particular groups they cover. But even more bewildering is what comes next, that there are no professionals using their products. That’s either denial or being entirely dismissive of facts.

Pro photographer conversion rates for Sony and Fuji are high, and with Sony’s new 400mm even sports and wildlife will come. I mean, Fuji has a medium format system, and that’s generally the foray for a specific type of pro or discerning consumer – people can’t look to Nikon to satisfy that need because Nikon doesn’t even have a medium format platform, making it an even more baffling angle to take. Which neatly leads us to the mount…

This is purely speculation, but that mount appears to be big. Nikon has been criticized for eons about their small mount and the limitations inherent to it, but this mount looks big – possibly medium format (cropped) big. It would come as no surprise if Nikon decided to go with a mount that was large enough to take the (Sony) sensor used in cameras like the Hasselblad X1D, Fujifilm GFX, and others, as well as full frame. That would be forward thinking on Nikon’s part and open the doors to the 100MP variant of that sensor, allowing them to compete in two areas they haven’t been able to, and with the casting of one stone.

But of course a new mount requires new lenses, yet seeing as though Nikon has been in poor financial straits, keeping existing users will be critical, and to do that and validate their years of purchasing loyalty the F-mount adapter must arrive in time, and work well. In fact, as Sony should’ve done with the A-mount adapter when A7‘s first shipped, Nikon should ship the F-mount adapter with the camera. As according to the press release it’s still in development, there’s no guarantee of that, and Nikon also has a habit of charging for everything. One only needs to look at the $1000 cost of the kit required to get 9FPS out of the D850 to see that an assume the adapter won’t come cheap.

And speaking of cost, what can be expected of the cost of the unit itself, and Nikon’s lens business model? It’s hard to imagine Nikon could produce an ‘industry leading’ system without an industry leading price, which means around the $4K range.

As per lenses? Nikon has never included in-body-image-stabilization (IBIS) even in their high-resolution units like the D850. One reason for this could be that much money is made from the lens sales, and Nikon has often had multiple versions of their lenses, largely ones with IS and ones without, and then updated IS versions as new bodies arrived.

But again, mirrorless cameras remove barriers from IBIS implementation as the sensor is so much closer to the lens, and omitting IBIS would immediately put the new Nikon mirrorless at a significant disadvantage to Sony offerings, which is something Nikon can’t really afford, so one would think the new camera will have it.

Lastly, it’s only fair to revisit one last part of the interview above, where Goto-San says,

If we were to introduce a mirrorless camera, we would not be like them, such as pushing out a lot of models. We will lock in customer’s main requirement to introduce a new product.

This would seem very much in line with Nikon’s approach, and from what we can see so far and hypothesize, that main requirement in Nikon’s eyes will likely be ergonomics – the thing they can really set themselves apart with and that we all are eager for.

And that’s where we are right now, on the eve of Nikon taking its biggest stride in ages, and it’s exciting. After a tumultuous number of years with product recalls due to QC problems, and iterative models released really as fixes, Nikon could be on the precipice of a major turning point. But to have it there has to be so much right. We just have our fingers crossed that Nikon can take all that we’ve loved about it for so long and make something that moves the needle in the right direction.

 

 

 

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Stephen Jennings

    Nikon doesn’t seem to have that high of an opinion of their competitors, which probably says more than enough about how they’ve been running their company; and why it’s in the trouble that it is. Sony is every bit as good as Nikon for professional use, and even fuji being a crop sensor is more than capable of being used “professionally.” I can’t think of anything I photograph that I can’t shoot on my Fuji x-t2? Especially if the job requires video… I’ll wait to judge the new Nikon mirrorless for when their f mount adapter is reviewed. If Nikon shooters can’t use our old glass seamlessly with this new mirrorless system, then ya might as well jump into Sony with their already great lens lineup for mirrorless. 

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  2. Jonathan Brady

    I’ve posted some of this elsewhere but I think it bears repeating…

    I would like to see both Canon and Nikon introduce technology that Sony hasn’t already utilized. Why are we trying to hold (and subsequently reward) these market-dominating companies only to replication and differentiation versus the 3rd place player in the market? We should be demanding innovation for our time (Sony brought FF E mount to market 5 years ago) & money.

    Canon has commented that it can be best to let others blaze the trail as it’s very expensive and then once the technology matures, show up fashionably late (I feel that they past that deadline 2-3 years ago) when it’s much cheaper to participate. This, obviously, relies on Canon’s consumers being brand loyal (to a fault?) and Canon’s marketing prowess and honestly, it’s kind of s****y. But, drip feeding technology and lagging behind while relying on blind loyalty, brand recognition, and marketing are what Canon does. It appears as though Nikon has taken a page from the same book.

    So, seriously… I think Canon and Nikon should not be held to the standard that Sony has set with the A9, A7RIII, and A7III, rather, I think they should be EXPECTED to surpass that standard by a noticeable margin. If they don’t, I think they should be ripped to shreds by the consumer/reviewer side of the industry. After all, if you’re going to be late to the party, you’d better wow the hell out of us with your entrance and your name alone doesn’t impress us, Nikon and Canon, but technology does. Show us THAT!

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  3. Matthew Saville

    Indeed, I suspect Nikon may do something very similar to when they first announced FX DSLRs. The D3 is, in my opinion, the most similar event in recent decades for Nikon. (Canon was way ahead with multiple FF DSLR bodies on the market, everybody was clamoring that FF was the future and DX/APS-C would die a quick and horrible death, etc. etc.)

    When FX finally came, the D3 was first and it cost ~$5000, even though what most people really wanted was the D700, which followed almost a whole year later for $3000. However, there are a couple other notable moments in recent Nikon history that indicate they might have tempered their “flagships first!” fervor, or at least learned some sort of lesson about what consumers really want.

    True, the D3X came out more than three years before the D800/D800e did, but the D800 also signaled the “death” of the “X” series, too. Nikon knew they had missed the party with respect to $8,000 camera bodies, (Canon’s 1Ds series bodies all debuted at $8K, even though they all dropped to $6-7K very quickly) …and Nikon wanted to make sure they stayed on top of the flagship landscape camera game, permanently.

    So they made the D8xx line as perfect as possible, for still photography at least, and while the A7R3 is a much more modern choice, at least Nikon has succeeded in making the Canon 5DsR seem severely limited in its abilities. (IE, studio-only use, or if you take it outside you’d better pray that it’s bright yet flat lighting so that you can stay at ISO 100 and never dig more than a stop or so into your shadows.)

    But I digress. The point is, Nikon can’t afford to make their first MILC any more than $3-4K, because that is definitely where the REAL money is. Flagship cash cows are a thing of the past.

    Having said that, even Sony debuted the A9 first, despite the fact that 50-75% of A9 buyers were impatient, compulsive shoppers who should have just waited for the A7iii because that’s all the camera they really need. And it seemed to work for Sony, they probably sold plenty of $4500 A9’s, and now they’re going to sell plenty of A7iii and A7Riii cameras, probably.

    So, forget everything I said. I guess Nikon will do whatever the heck they want. But I’m desperately hoping that their first FX MILC costs just as much as the D850, because I know my common sense will absolutely prohibit me from buying the camera, since I’d know full well that a $1-2K cheaper option would be less than 365 days away.

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  4. Xz VR

    Nikon just need to make a A7III clone and add a FLIPOUT screen! 

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    • Matthew Saville

      I strongly agree that it is a shame the Canon 6D2 is the only full-frame camera with a fully articulated LCD screen. I don’t know why Sony hasn’t put more effort into perfecting the side-swiveling, fully-articulated LCD display.

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  5. Kyle Stauffer

    IMO, I think Nikon needs an A7III competitor and an adapter with zero caveats right off the bat. A well rounded camera with all of the necessary capabilities of a D750 or 5d4. 

    If Nikon created a solid mirrorless camera for around $2k with fast/reliable AF to -3EV with adapter, great eye focus, great EVF, dual slots, and great battery life, but only had the 10 year old d700 sensor…. I’d probably still buy 2 ASAP.

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    • Jeff P

      I hope they release an A7iii competitor at around 2k.

      Is it realistic to think they can match the A7iii AF performance or is it doubtful? Canon has dual-pixel (is it as good as Sony?) but I don’t know what Nikon has in terms of on-sensor AF.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Kyle Stauffer , I agree they need an A7III competitor with adapter right out of the gate – competition in terms of price and performance. It’s just very hard to imagine that will actually happen this time around. For $2k, to have great AF with and without adapter, great eye-af, dual slots, great battery life?? When has Nikon done that even with their lower end FF DSLRs much less an ‘industry leading’ NEW mirrorless?

      Also remember, not all things called the same are actually equal. For example, the Canon M50 says it has ‘eye AF’. Well, having used a pre production and production unit I can tell you it’s a bit laughable to say that. Using it compared to Sony’s is like night and day. So Nikon can come out with a feature list that reads like the Sony (maybe) but performance may be entirely different. 

      Jeff P – you’re right, Canon is much better positioned to really take Sony on as they have some really great tech of their own. I still think it’s highly unlikely to get all the performance of the A73 for $2k. Honestly, that was crazy for Sony to do. 

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    • Matthew Saville

      Simply put, if Nikon did create a “Nikon version of the A7iii, it could unfortunately be worth a lot more than the A7iii, simply because “it’s a Nikon”…

      However, let’s look at this from the perspective of Nikon’s own lineup. What would a MILC D750 cost, with 4K video and IBIS? One could argue that, in an effort to help existing Nikon shooters to make the switch from DSLR to MILC as smooth and painless as possible, the MILC version of a D750 (or a D750’s more current successor, to be fair since the D750 is ~5 years old and the A7iii is brand-new) …would land somewhere around $2K or $2500 at most.

      Personally, though, I just don’t think that’s the first camera they’ll make. I think the MILC version of the D850 is gonna come first, and it’ll be $3-3.5K.

      Honestly, the only hope is that they announce two bodies at once, one flagship that is a D850 but also a D5-ish camera, with both high-res A7Riii competing traits, and mid-res A9 competing traits, for around $4-5K, …and an A7iii competing camera, a la D750 MILC, for $2.5K.

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      I agree with everything everyone said. I think we can all agree that the elephant in the room will be on-sensor AF (especially with an adapter). Their Live View operation and AF has been absolute garbage!

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    • Matthew Saville

      On-sensor AF may be argued as “garbage” on the DSLRs in live view, however everyone I talk to who has experience with Nikon’s 1″ MILC system has said that the AF is quite good, even at tracking. Maybe they just have nothing to compare it against, though.

      Either way, I think the ace up Nikon’s sleeve is this thing they patented called “Quad-Pixel Autofocus”. If it’s anything like Canon’s “Dual-Pixel AF”, let alone actually “quad” instead of “dual”, (meaning, twice as good?) …then it’ll be a very decent competitor to Sony’s hybrid AF.

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    • Jonathan Brady

      Jeff P – In my opinion, Canon’s DPAF is industry leading when it comes to video (but not by an enormous margin), but when it comes to stills, it lags noticeably behind what Sony has done.
      Matthew Saville – regarding the Nikon 1, that was a 1″ sensor meaning at the same aperture (not equivalent, the same, like f/1.8, for instance), the depth of field is dramatically “deeper”. Therefore, AF sluggishness and inaccuracies can be hidden more readily than with a FF sensor. That said, the Nikon 1 was praised for it’s AF system. But again… it’s a 1″ sensor. I’m eager to see what Nikon brings to market in terms of AF and everything, really.

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