A lot of photographers don’t like talking about gear. I think many would call it a distraction and while it’s all very lovely to consider oneself entirely as an artist, eventually you have to buy a camera and lenses to carry on. In truth, I think it’s become very cool to dismiss such discussion as if all output comes solely from fresh air carried on the wings of divine inspiration or something. We all know that the camera these days accounts for a lot more than that – in fact some of the functions within the modern DSLR would render some of the more ‘artistic’ output today impossible. Like it or not, gear is important.
Discussions sparked up again recently across the web on the arrival of the incredibly predictably crippled feature set of the Canon 6DMKII and the impending arrival of the Nikon D820 due later in July by many accounts. It’s fair to say that Canon and Nikon have become pass-masters of the price gouge these days but you either pay up or let it all pass you by because no one has your arm up your back. You’d be forgiven for thinking neither of these releases are significant and they really aren’t – incremental adjustments in features, modest to tiny changes in resolution, even in Canon’s case the removal of some functionality which makes it all look very unfriendly and highly commercial. Unfortunately we still need them in the market AND we need them to prosper.
So where is the innovation? Well I’m not seeing it. Despite what the Sony club will tell you mirrorless is not going to change the world though it may well represent the future to a greater extent, I don’t deny that. The problem I have with mirrorless is simply the benefits are marginal. When Fuji launched the X Series everyone fell over themselves to declare it the future; small, neat, pretty to look at, retro design, quality lenses, but critically light weight. I had two periods of Fuji ownership and it didn’t work out; I’m not going over all of that again here but I didn’t like what I considered to be incredibly unnatural colours while the output lacked dynamic range and fell apart under a moderate amount of processing. Nope. But Fuji didn’t pursue that lightweight approach enough for me that would have made them a real choice in the market – the best lenses got bigger and the advantages got lost.
Equally Sony’s churn and burn approach to their mirrorless line reminds me of what China has tried to do to the global steel market – dump endless product with lower margin and eventually your competition curls up and dies. Then you can raise prices. Sony might seem like they are providing a compelling proposition and are onto a winner but once again when Sony set about developing their G master lenses to make the most of the various A7 models, it seems like they didn’t care at all what the end weight was. Advantage gone again for me. Fundamentally lens/glass physics simply has to change before we see something truly compelling in innovation. Why would I switch to mirrorless and Sony if performance is compromised by battery life and they ultimately provide me with an option that actually performs no different at all on almost every level? Where exactly are the benefits? Anyone?
Is Nikon Dying?
Yes but no but yes but no. Possibly. Maybe. Unlikely. Or not. Either way I’m sticking with them because my cameras and lenses are not likely to stop working today, tomorrow or anytime soon. I personally think they will ultimately be OK as a company though and while their finances are not great, they do have some hard choices to make and I definitely have some advice for them…
I saw a headline this morning that said global camera sales in 2010 were 112 million and last year they were 24 million; talk about watching your market fall off a cliff. Who’s buying those cameras still? Well you and I actually but everyone else is using an iPhone now; Apple only sold 200 million of them in 2016. AND YET I still saw a statement from Nikon recently that in this, their 100th anniversary year, and despite those incredibly stark figures that they were working on “a small product to compete with smartphones”. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, ARE THEY NOT GETTING THIS YET? There IS no competing with smartphones, those days departed a decade ago.
So what’s left? Trends come and go, but just take a look at the revival of global vinyl record sales for evidence of what was considered to be a dead proposition. As the globe propels forward with its digital agenda there is still an ‘analogue style’ market for almost anything you can think of. Suddenly everyone is trying to buy up old Atari consoles again, there are car makers trying to produce vehicles that look like they were made in 1965, I could go on a lot more to make this point. For me Nikon need to focus on producing lower volumes, higher quality niche products – real photographic tools people WANT to own, not get sucked into consumer markets that have already moved on. Even consider dropping the entire DX line for me perhaps keeping only the Nikon D500, a spectacular offering that doesn’t need the distraction of the D7200, 7100, 5500, 3300 or whatever they are all called around it. Less product, a smaller company, perhaps even higher prices, but something people really want.
In truth I’d love to see a Nikon product that was as enticing as the Hasselblad X1D. And after everything I’ve said, yes, it’s mirrorless. But make it Nikon, PLEASE.