Well, the time is now. If you hadn’t noticed lately, the quiet thoughts about the failures of the primary pillars of the camera world, Canon and Nikon, have crescendoed from backroom forum chatter to full operatic bellow. To many, they’re a stone’s throw away from the cemetery’s creeky gate and a headstone. In fact, for a few months now we were led to think that, for Nikon, the guillotine had all but already fallen.
I mean, just imagine if that was the case. What if it were true?
There would’ve been miles of column inches written about the power and brilliance of Nikon engineering, and people like me would’ve penned volumes about what Nikon was, and perhaps what it should’ve been. There would’ve been altars erected to it to which we’d make pilgrimages to and genuflect upon passing, and eulogies dedicated to the brand so soulful, so Hemingway, that tears would turn the page’s purple prose into illegible violet watercolor.
Then, for months and ever after, everyone who had a film Nikon tucked away in an attic would dig them out, attach a pretty strap and carry them everywhere. Carrying a Nikon would become a statement.
Film sales would rise, and they’d end up in the hands of the movie stars and bloggers of the moment; gracing the ‘pages’ of PopSugar and Vogue. Nikon, then, would be something it hasn’t been for ages; it would be cool; posthumously deified, and we all would’ve understood because Nikon is Nikon, and a fallen King was still a King.
Death, then, is easy and faults are filtered out through the rose coloured lenses of ‘reminiscing’. We don’t criticize the dead as much as exalt them. It’s living that has the drawbacks. When you’re alive you’re fair game, and right now Nikon is in the crosshairs. Coincidentally, they’re also at a crossroads…
On the one hand Nikon has had QC issues, and resided in complacency over the past 3 years. Sure the D500 may be (arguably) the best DSLR on the market, but what does the ‘I AM’ campaign stand for now? “I AM Enough”? “I AM Unwilling To Evolve”? “I AM Lost”? “I AM”… what?
For all the smart moves Nikon has made, the move from celluloid to sensor has proven problematic. Their recent foibles are of a recurring nature and seem to indicate that they would rather invest in the past than in the future and out of trouble.
The hiccups have also been costly, and the problem with money troubles for these companies (even if it’s a matter of prioritization versus actually being broke) is that when they slip on their bifocals to address it and begin moving columns of numbers around P&L statements like some sort of accounting Tetris, what they’re not doing is thinking up the next big thing in their lab. Which is why the next big thing was coming out of someone else’s.
Sure, Nikon may have been brilliant with lenses and build and the F2 belongs in a museum, however, it’s ‘good’ with digital in the way your dad’s good in the kitchen; a bit hit or miss. Whereas Sony is the full on Gordon Ramsay. Sony has moved the finish line, widened the goal posts, and raised the bar. And given that, you might be left to ponder, “Is there hope for Nikon?”
Well, in a word, yes, actually. But the next two moves would seem critical.
Among the murmurs of Nikon’s financial struggles there’s also been talk of affiliation with Fuji. Simultaneously, we know Nikon has officially stated they’re working toward a competitive mirrorless future, and this, coupled with the D850 announcement is where things start to get interesting.
Nikon has no real video revenue stream like Canon; their once profitable compact line is dead, and entry level offerings are slowing as they compete with a mirrorless generation that has them beat. It would appear that their focus then, should be mirrorless and strive to integrate that tech into their DSLRs to buy them years of DSLR development and sales.
This is something they could do, and what I would propose from my laptop here, tea beside me and dog at my feet, is to go the Sony route. Do what Sony has done with the A and E mounts.
When E-mount debuted people were hesitant and hateful, and the complaints native to all young systems were there. ‘Not enough lenses to be useful”, and so on. But now? E-mount has become wildly successful. It has allowed the transition from A-mount, and actually eaten and replaced Sony’s entry-level A-mount offerings, all whilst simultaneously broadening the brand’s appeal to NEW customers. 20 years from now I’d wager that it will be written as one of the most significant moments in the history of cameras.
If Nikon were to develop or adopt a new smaller mount, there would certainly be deafening wailing from camera-gear banshees and self-proclaimed purists, but who cares? Consider: what if this affiliation with Fuji were to develop and they joined Fuji’s mount? That’s what my friend Marlon calls, a ‘power play’, because it would mean Nikon’s mirrorless would be taken seriously from day one. It would have a bevy of lenses available, and in place of the Fuji X-trans sensors there’d be something more Nikon, and thus more broadly appealing. Fuji would move more lenses and X-series users adore Fuji’s ‘special X-Trans sauce’ anyway so it wouldn’t necessarily cannibalize those sales.
I mean, imagine that. A small modern incarnation of a Nikon SP with beautiful and diminutive Fuji glass? Well, that’s a love spell backed by science.
But furthermore, it wouldn’t necessarily kill Nikon’s DSLR sales either. Fuji’s mount is designed to be APS-C, which means should they do this Nikon’s mirrorless would be APS-C, allowing full frame to live on in their DSLRs. And speaking of DSLRs, with one small change Nikon could actually extend their lifespan. Simply put, they could go SLT.
Going SLT would mean that in one fell swoop Nikon could increase the FPS of DSLRs, lower vibration, implement great phase-detect AF, and add better video. With this one tech adoption they’d be attacking major sticking points for the company, and open the gates to rapid evolution and relevance. They’d come out ahead of Canon for sure.
Anyone who has picked up a Sony SLT camera will understand the benefit of that system. It’s the best of both worlds. And while you may take a hit in brightness in the viewfinder, the benefits it would provide and allow for far outweigh the cons.
The exciting thing is (the part that makes your good bits tingle), is that the D850 could already have it, and we’ll find out soon.
But there’s another thing they could do with their DSLRs to truly update utility, and that is to add in-body image stabilization. Certain Nikon glass currently get about 3 stops at most of useable IS, but imagine a system like in the a7RII was in the D850? Not only would it bring IS to the range of Nikon glass you have and the ones you passed over, but it would address the movement sensitivity problem inherent in high resolution cameras – like the D850 is sure to be. Now, if that doesn’t get you half-chubbed I don’t know what will. Truly, the thought is all too wonderful for words.
But I have a few more…
This is the kind of thing one would hope to see from Nikon. The kind of shift and innovation that will warrant your attention and your dollars; stuff that will drive a competitive market that Sony is dominating.
Above all else, one thing is utterly clear: Nikon must change. Perfection is a moving target and they can’t go on with the frame of mind and excuse of “but this is what we’ve always done and are good at”, because it no longer works, and Nikon could go the way of the horse – Once the backbone of transport and travel, now they’re just for affluent leisure. We want Nikons we enjoy, and we want weaponized Nikons of utility. Both of which the company should be capable of delivering.
One hopes that, maybe, out of their chrysalis of suffering will emerge a company with renewed sense of self; something befitting of the name, and the century it has earned. If not, they’ll die, only to be resurrected as an ornament around the neck of some insufferable Jenner.
And the thing is, really, our complaints are out of support. We aren’t apathetic to the brand. In fact, it’s just the opposite – we’re rooting for them.
So, Nikon, you’re at a fork in the road, of which we hope you choose the right path; the path we’re at the end of, waiting to greet you as you trail streamers of success in your wake.