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.
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.