Nikon's Slightly Muddled Marketing

two industry-leading camera systems to choose from.”

That’s the line in Nikon’s original press release about the upcoming Z system that implied that Nikon believes that they’ll have both state-of-the-art mirrorless and state-of-the-art DSLR systems for people to choose from. 

In practice, Nikon seems to have mostly delivered on that. Given the specifics of the Z6/Z7 cameras and Z lenses, right now there is a pretty clear distinction in my mind between where the Nikon DSLRs are and who they serve versus the Nikon Z mirrorless system. I don't think Nikon has clearly and fully described and communicated that difference, though. As I feared, Nikon's messaging is not clear and resonating with users well.

Nikon management statements in the past year or so all talk about emphasizing high-end products, and the Z series cameras can certainly be said to be that, it's just not (currently) the highest end (the D5 and D850 DSLRs still live there). 

To understand the Z messaging, you have to understand Nikon. While you might think it's a camera company, it is not. It is an optics company. Indeed, if you look at all the messaging in Nikon's presentation and early marketing materials, you should be able to see that clearly: "Lenses that weren't possible before," "A new dimension in optical performance," "How far can optical performance evolve?"

I talked with one Nikon lens engineer off the record. I can say this: he's happy. Why? Because the new mount has freed him from the constraints of the F-mount. Things he wanted to do but couldn't are now open for examination and implementation.

This is the graphic you want to pay attention to:

bythom nikon noct


The upcoming 58mm f/0.95 NOCT is going to be an opening statement about what Nikon can really do with optics now. 

Nikon really only managed to state three benefits to Z lenses in their announcement:

  • Wider variety
  • High resolving power
  • Improved video features

And that's where the messaging becomes muddled, because initially to the user it doesn't look like much variety at all (three lenses!). Because no one has cameras and samples are few and far between, we can't assess the resolving power. And curiously, the video features were mostly glossed over in detail (e.g. restricted focus and focal length breathing, ability to control exposure with the focus ring, etc.). 

Here's the way I see it: Nikon has positioned themselves quite well for transition. At the highest end, the DSLRs still rule, particularly for moving subjects. Just below that, Nikon now has two capable mirrorless cameras that suggest the future, with new lenses going to drive that as they get introduced. 

What is still unclear is what happens in DX. Stay tuned.

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