News/Views

News & Opinions about the mirrorless camera market appear below, latest article first. Over in right column—bottom if you're reading on a small screen—you'll find the News/Views Archive, which lets you go back in time to look at articles that have trickled off this page. If you're looking for older articles, click here for the deeper news archive.

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Sony Announces the ZV-E10

Okay, what’s Sony up to now?

bythom sony zv10 kit

Another new camera, but probably not the one you were expecting. 

While Sony loyalists have long been expecting something new in the A6### form, Sony instead produced an APS-C body much like the ZV-1: a small camera designed primarily for vlogging and video streaming. 

Other specs that you might want to know are that the new ZV-E10 camera has a fully articulating display, no EVF, the usual 24mp APS-C sensor, and a ZV-1/A7C type design overall. Video maxes out at 4K 30P or 1080 120P, and uses the XAVC-S compression. We get S-Log2, S-Log3, and HLG. To make it more blogger-friendly, there’s a product focus mode, a bokeh button (maximum aperture), a button to swap between Photo/Video (and S&Q) modes, and headphone output. The camera can stream directly via USB-C to a computer. The kit lens is the not-so-great-but-small 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6.

I have no problem with targeting the vlogging market with multiple models (Sony now has the ZV-1, ZV-E10, and A7C). The problem I have is whether or not the differences are meaningful in enough ways to justify more new models. So let me state my issue with the ZV-E10 right up front.

The ZV-1 has a 1” sensor with a solid f/1.8 lens. The ZV-E10 has an APS-C sensor, so 1.7 stops better in theory, but the kit lens with the ZV-E10 gives that all back. In essence, the biggest thing we’ve really gained is interchangeable lenses at the price of some body size gain. Moreover, the Sony 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 is about my least favorite APS-C kit lens at the moment (only the Canon M kit lens is worse; the Fujifilm 15-45mm and the Nikon 16-50mm are far better in my testing). Disclaimer: I own a ZV-1. I’m not seeing any reason to own a ZV-E10, particularly given the high rolling shutter on the ZV-E10. And if I were making a decision right now as to which one to buy, I’d probably buy the ZV-1. The only thing about the ZV-E10 that really tempts me is the headphone jack.

It feels to me like Sony is now searching for unit volume via micro-diversity of product. We’ve been down that path before (with both Canon and Nikon), and it ultimately fails and creates a product line mess. Particularly when the approach wasn’t fully rationalized in the first place. Moreover, can Sony really micromanage the chip and parts shortage with more bodies? I’m not sure about that, though at least for many of the key parts, they’re totally in Sony’s control. 

So let’s start again: should there be a lineup of vlogging cameras? Sure, I’ll agree to that. At the low end you have things like the DJI Osmo, at the high end you’ve got people using full frame mirrorless bodies on a gimbal. The ZV-1, ZV-E10, and A7C seem to all be aimed at trying to fit in between those end points. So what’s the model progression that makes sense? Technically, the ZV-E10 should be reasonably equidistant from the other two models. It doesn’t feel to me like it is, particularly given the kit lens.  

Which brings me to another point: if I’m vlogging with a camera, I’m in front of it. Why are all the controls on the back of the camera? Thus, if Sony is making a full line of vlogging cameras now, are they learning from their earlier cameras? Doesn’t really seem like it to me.

The Price is Right

It's time to play a little game. 

Hello audience. Can you guess the price of each mirrorless camera currently available new without going over what the sticker at the dealer says? 

Then come on down!

It's time to play The Mirrorless Price is Right!

Okay, you don't have to really guess. I'm going to fill you in (using current B&H prices as I write this; there are very few active Instant Rebates at the moment, so it's a good time to play the game). I'll be rounding the numbers as best I can. I also can't guarantee that some prices won't have changed by the time you read this, as all the camera companies are micromanaging their inventories right now. 

Still, we're in a pretty calm pricing period right now, and there are no holiday promotions in sight.

First up, let's look at the full frame mirrorless scene:

bythom ffprices

I've made the body-only prices in bold as they're more direct apples-to-apples in comparison. For kit prices, I've used the least expensive body+lens kit each maker lists at the moment; you can find more expensive kits for many of these cameras.

Things that strike me in the above table are:

  • Canon has a widely-spaced spread in body pricing. 
  • Nikon somehow fits five bodies into a tighter US$1700 spread centered around the Z6 II.
  • Panasonic seems to be reducing their lineup (the S1 is technically available, but at a strangely high price; rumors are it is out of production).
  • Sony's using older-generation bodies to look like they have entry units to compete against Canon and Nikon. Because of this multi-generation thing, Sony also appears to have the most bodies available (11; and surprisingly, Nikon is second with 5, for the same reason).

What full frame models would I really consider buying today (i.e. recommend)? 

  • Canon R5, R6; really nice cameras (ignore the nay sayers)
  • Nikon Z5, Z6 (barely), Z6 II, Z7, Z7 iI; a totally solid lineup in the middle of the market
  • Panasonic S1H, S5; both really good cameras that get overlooked a lot
  • Sony A7 III, A7C, A7R IIIa (barely), A7R IVa, A7S III, A9, A9 II, and A1; current generation bodies are all varying degrees of good, plus the older A9 is still a very viable camera for certain tasks (action)

I'd pass on the Canon R and RP, the Panasonic S1 and S1R, and the Sony A7 II and A7R II. These cameras are showing some age or seem to be going out of production.

Now let's turn to crop sensor cameras. The table looks a more cluttered, and with more competitors:

bythom csprices

Things that strike me here are:

  • Canon is cramped into the low end with few (4) choices.
  • Fujifilm is trending higher price now with the X-TA# and X-T### models out of the picture. 
  • Nikon is targeting higher than Canon, but also currently has few (2) choices.
  • Olympus (now OMDS) has a pretty nice and broad range of choices (7) if you count the previous generation bodies left on sale.
  • Panasonic has a broader line (9) than most give them credit for, but realistically, in terms of sales volume, it's the G9 or GH that get the most attention.
  • Sony's lineup has narrowed (4) from the NEX days. The newest of those cameras are now two years old, the oldest is seven!

What crop sensor cameras would I consider buying these days (i.e. recommend)?

  • I like the Canon M6 II. Solid camera with a top sensor, bit pricey with the EVF, while the native lens selection is poor.
  • Fujifilm's lineup confuses me a bit. I like the X-S10 and X-T4, not so much the others. Lenses are solid in the 10-200mm lens range, a bit weak beyond that.
  • Nikon's lineup is fledgling, but people underestimate that Z50: it's a really good camera and competitive at its price point. Somewhat like Canon, the appropriate lens lineup is not great.
  • With Olympus, I really like the E-M10 IV, plus the E-M1 II/III. The former coupled with the smaller lenses and primes, the latter with the f/2.8 and f/4 PRO zooms. Nothing terribly wrong with the rest, but the three cameras I mention are Olympus' most competitive bodies. And lenses? m4/3 has you covered.
  • If you're into video, you already know how good the GH5's are. The rest of you? The G9 is probably your camera. Again, m4/3 has the lens side covered.
  • Nothing wrong with any of the Sony bodies, but the A6100 is the value proposition here, with the A6400 being my second choice. Lens choice is probably third in the crop sensor world (m4/3 is first, Fujifilm second). Crop sensor doesn't get the love at Sony that full frame does.

I'd pass on the low-end Canon's, the other Fujifilm bodies, the Olympus E-PL10 and older E-M10 models. and I think the Sony A6600 is too much money for too little beyond the A6400.

Finally, you probably want to see the whole enchilada put together (including Fujifilm's MF entries):

bythom allpricing


Android Cameras are Back

Both Nikon and Samsung experimented with an Android-based camera. Both failed spectacularly. Now we have Yongnuo showing an m4/3-based Android camera in China. Will it fail, too?

Probably. The issue is the same one that makes SnapBridge and the other camera-to-mobile platforms problematic: too much manual customer labor to get the desired result. 

bythom yongnuo yn455

Although the Yongnuo YN455 has cellphone capability built in and thus can send images out directly (if you're willing to pay for an extra line), the problem is that Android cameras have up to this point been very modal: you can be in the camera mode or in the phone/tablet mode. In the camera mode you take images that go to the Camera Roll, but you typically still have to change modes and then pull those images off the Camera Roll via your preferred mobile social networking program. This really doesn't go beyond the SnapBridge modality, unfortunately, though it does it on one device.

At the other side, are you going to still carry a phone if you have a phone/camera? If not, the phone in the camera body becomes somewhat cumbersome, and it's not going to slide into a shirt pocket, so you're likely to not have it as accessible. 

Do I believe that a camera/phone combo can be made correctly? Absolutely. You'd tend to still have that second problem I refer to if you designed it as an ILC (accessibility), but you can certainly get rid of the modal issue if you understand the problem well enough and want to devote enough resources to get it right and keep it up to date with most recent social network APIs (ah, there's the rub). 

Convergent devices have long been sought after in the high tech world. Convergent means that you take two or more dedicated devices and combine them into one integrated device. To date, the primary ones that have managed to successfully do that in the consumer space are some form of the receiver/amplifier/player/speaker, the printer/copier/fax, and the phone/computer thing we call a smartphone. 

The problem with convergent devices is that they have to fully integrate all the devices to truly break down the barrier in using two or more different devices. If all you've done is move two different devices into the same box and have to control them separately, that's not enough. And the modality that Android has tended to enforce—you can get around this, but then you have the added issue of syncing to Android releases and security patches—makes it tough to totally combine that camera and phone. Even within the best smartphones you still find a small layer where you have to do something manually to share out of the Camera Roll. In iOS, that's the share icon (arrow up out of a box). In essence, the camera apps are trying to bridge the modality by giving you that shortcut icon. 

I’m Confused

So Nikon is marketing the Zfc towards a more style-conscious younger crowd, it appears. So if you’re not in that crowd, you get a Z50 instead?

bythom nikon zfc colors

Great, so the dedicated camera user that’s button-and-dialed into Nikon’s well established UX doesn’t get a flipping LCD, better autofocus, USB-C, USB charging, and 900 second shutter speeds (which I’ll note CAN’T be set on at the Zfc’s shutter speed dial, so much for dials ;~). But the dedicated camera user (Z50) does get a built-in flash, scene exposure modes, and a few other tricks. 

The Zfc is being perceived by some as sort of an FU towards the button-and-dial Z50 crowd: sorry, you can’t have any of those things that would make a good camera better. Let’s hope for at least a firmware update that gives us the better AF and 900-second shutter speeds on the Z50, but I’m not holding my breath (if it was in progress, it should have came with the Zfc announcement; I suspect we’ll get a real Z50 II instead).

While Nikon added video to the Zfc—learning a lesson from the Df—the dials mean you won’t be making exposure adjustments with those dials while taking video: they make noise and disturb your camera handling. So you assign the lens command ring to it (if it has one, otherwise you lose the manual focus ring for a more silent exposure adjustment capability).

There’s a reason why DSLRs (and the serious mirrorless cameras) ended up where they are. The hand grip came about because it’s difficult to hold a gripless camera once you start mounting something other than a small, compact prime on the camera. The button+dial interface came about because you could change settings without taking your eye from the viewfinder or your right hand away from the shutter release. That list goes on. 

I’ve now heard from three trusted friends that have used a Zfc prototype. Their reaction can be characterized as “nice, but it’s not for me.” 

The important question that I’m confused about (the headline, Thom, write about the headline ;~) is “where is Z DX headed?” We have just two cameras and they point two different directions. We have a couple of lenses pointing one direction, a couple others the opposite direction.  

Look, I get the fashion statement thing. I have the same research Nikon does about buying tendencies with the young—particularly in Asia—and right now big black DSLR-like cameras are not interesting to that crowd, while nostalgia and form over function is. Neckstrap cameras are “not cool.” Pastels are hot. 

But that leads me back to my original statement: if Nikon is willing to cater to the fashion group when it still needs to fill gaps with its long-term loyal crowd, what’s that say to their best customers? 

Nikon wants to be hip. The Nikon 1 was also all about hip (e.g. Ashton Kutcher). KeyMission was about being GoPro hip. DLs were going to be RX hip, but RX hip died fast enough that Nikon backed away. 

Let me be clear: I believe that satisfying the hip audience is not going to restore Nikon to a strong, long-term ILC market share. What worries me most is how many emails I’ve been getting that contain statements like this one: "I've been a dedicated Nikon user for over 30 years and am increasingly fed up with [Nikon’s] approach.” 

Realistically, Nikon has to convert many more Nikon DSLR users into Nikon Z System users in order to maintain (let alone build on) their current third place market share in ILC. Ever since Goto-san promoted the Df idea there’s been a part of Nikon that thinks that “just build a legacy camera of some sort and it caters to our established audience.” There’s only one problem with that: Nikon’s biggest audience never used an F, they started with and/or use a D. The legacy issue that Nikon users do resonate with has to do with lenses, not bodies. That’s why a Zfc body isn’t making them particularly happy, but an FTZ-S/AI adapter might. 

Finally, the Zfc name suggests a Zf is coming (and one source with good connections is hearing the same). Such a camera would have done better than the Zfc probably ultimately will. But again the messaging and signaling in splitting the Z System is what I judge to be beyond Nikon marketing’s ability level. Just imagine the outcry if instead of a Z8 in 2022 we get a Zf instead. What the heck is a Zfc, Zf, Z50, Z5, Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9 lineup? 

I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before. But I’ve been studying the ILC market closely for 30 years now and believe I have a good sense of its pulse. It really feels to me that Nikon has gone for a short term win here at the expense of the long-term one. Historically, Nikon isn’t a low-consumer product maker. Pretty much every time they’ve pushed hard into that realm, they have initial success followed by near total collapse. That’s not how Nikon engineering was designed to work and how it functions best. 

Nikon’s marketing department says that the f stands for film, and the c for casual in the Zfc name. They also say that they want the camera to be used by anyone, anywhere, casually. Hmm. I would think a totally LCD touch UX would be better suited for that than dials that might lie to you. 

Unfortunately, the Zfc messaging puts stronger pressure on the Z9 to be an A1 equal or better. Nikon has let Sony steal the technology leadership (A7S III, A7R IV, A9/A9 II, A1). Canon is working hard to catch up to Sony (R5, R3). Nikon only has the Z9 left to get above those Sony models (at least this year; but Nikon doesn’t have infinite years to get back on or close to the top). Right now, Nikon’s models are mostly all perceived as just below the equivalent Sony models.

_______

Okay, one last thought: I can’t help but think that Nikon is waiting on image sensors. The Z9 image sensor is new, for sure, and it’s establishing the real critical path on the development schedule, one reason why that camera isn’t coming until the end of the year. But all the other interesting camera models that Nikon might contemplate for the near future (e.g. Z90, Z8, Z6 III and Z7 III) likely need new image sensors, too. 

So what can Nikon do with current image sensors? Make a Z30, Z50 II, Zfc, Zf.  It's possible that we'd get all four before anything on the above list. So perhaps Nikon is just trying to get through a rough supply period, much like they had in 2011, which disrupted a generation of cameras. 

Still, consider me confused. 

Nikon Launches a New DX Z Camera

Nikon today officially launched the Z50 Mark II Legacy Edition. Uh, no, I mean Zfc. 

Take a Z50, make a couple of Mark II level of changes to it, and then give it a “cool” retro design, and you have the Zfc

bythom zfc frontback

Let’s start with the fixes. We get a fully articulating LCD as opposed to the tilting one. Personally, I believe that the smaller the camera, the more an articulating LCD should be the preference, and the Z50 was a small camera. So I’m all for the new LCD swivel. We also get the Z6 II/Z7 II Wide Area AF (L) capability to use eye or animal detection, and USB Power Delivery. The Zfc also gets the 900 second exposure capability when in Manual exposure mode.

The retro design is the big differential point on the Zfc, and it’s going to provoke a lot of discussion. First off, we lose the handgrip and go back to the more classic large soap bar shape (you can get an optional “grip”, which is really more of a modest hump your fingers can grab). No grip means two hands, folks. On a really small camera. So you end up buying an accessory (GR1) to fix a design problem. Yeah, I don’t tend to like that, though some are fine with that. 

We lose one Fn button, the ISO button, the U1-U3 options (replaced with i button options, apparently), but gain an exposure mode switch (PASM + Auto), and a selfie mode, . The touch buttons on the LCD become real buttons again.  Many of the design decisions Nikon made are ones I probably would have made, as well. There’s some clear logic to simplification versus carrying over traditional features/placements. Moreover, the CADCAM engineers have managed to carry over plenty of classic Nikon design cues and make the Zfc look very deliberately designed to invoke legacy nostalgia. The Df tried to do that but felt far more like a series of design kludges. 

bythom zfc top

My big problem, though, comes with the return of dials. Not that I’m against dials, but I am against dials not done right. Since we have an Exposure Mode lever (Auto, Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual), that means that the shutter speed dial will lie to you at times. Ditto the ISO dial, as it, too, doesn’t have the A position that has become customary on most of the retro dial-focused cameras. Moreover, we still have the Front and Rear Command dials, so there’s not only potential conflict, there’s a weird redundancy, just like on the much maligned Df. The Zfc seems less Frankencamera than the Df was—the Df was a D600 body with added dials using a D4 image sensor—but I see plenty of things in the Zfc that tells me that Nikon didn’t fully learn the lessons the Df provided them.

bythom zfc 28mmse

The Zfc is US$1099 with the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 SE lens. That kit lens has silver trim to match the panda styling of the camera. A kit with a special edition 28mm f/2.8 (a decorative silver ring is the “special” part) is US$1199. I will say that the 28mm special edition kit sure looks a lot like the old E Series products from back in the film SLR days. The basic Zfc is “black panda,” but Nikon will let you order it with the zoom kit lens in six pastels (yellow, pink, white, brown, green, and gray).

At US$959 body only and with the minimal consequential improvements, it seems to me that Nikon is just splitting the potential Z50 customer into two similar products, which doesn’t seem efficient (though see my other article). Nikon still has a need for an entry camera and for a sophisticated DX camera (Z90). The Zfc seems to be more a personal project than a product line necessity, though. I was a bit surprised to see the words “first legacy Z design” in the Japanese press release, the implication that there would be others. The USA press release didn’t repeat that, so maybe it was hasty marketing prep.

The thing about product management—and management in general—is that you need to know when to say “no” and when to say “yes” (or force some new “yes” on the organization). Great management is all about giving the right yes and no decisions. Me, I’d probably have said “no” to the Zfc. No matter how good it might turn out to be, no matter how much sales and profit it might generate short-term. It simply sends a wrong signal to potential customers in my opinion. Okay, maybe not to Japanese home market customers, who like small, retro cameras (probably because it reminds them how their country stole the camera market from the Europeans).

Nikon’s biggest issue right now is messaging. Nikon is losing customers because the messaging isn’t clear, the urgency seems low, and there are gaps and missing elements in their product line. The ZFc doesn’t fill any of those gaps, doesn’t change the urgency factor, and wasn’t a missing element. The Nikon messaging is confusing (buy a Z50 or a ZFc, they’re essentially the same camera). 

My prediction for the Zfc is the same as it was for the Df: it will seem to sell decently at first, because Nikon never ramps production enough to meet initial demand on virtually any product. There will be plenty who are curious enough to try it, thinking it solves some problem for them (or just that it looks “adorable,” just like the camera they had 40 years ago). 

Nikon doesn’t need niche success products right now, anyway. It needs to prove that the Z System is one of the three viable mirrorless systems for long term. From bottom of the line to top. With plenty of lens and accessory options. The Zfc seems like a distraction to that. 

_________

So, here’s a question that should terrify everyone, including Nikon management: if the Zfc sells better than the Z50, what’s that suggest, and what should Nikon do about it? If the Zfc sells worse than the Z50, then we have an obvious answer, but it would tell management that something was wrong with their decision making, so still not good.

The problem is going to be even more nuanced than that, though: I suspect that in some regions and for some audiences the Zfc will sell better (at the expense of the Z50), while in others it won’t. Moreover, I think that Zfc sales will be front-loaded; it will sell well initially as some size of audience responds to the legacy design, but I don’t see this camera having long legs.

That Nikon management was willing to try something that’s different either shows confidence or desperation, but I can’t figure out which. Nikon may have research in the home market that elicited the Zfc idea. But is that research something along the lines of “a film SLR-like Z would sell well,” or “Fujifilm is killing us”? I don’t know. 

I do think the Zfc will do well in the Japan. It’s outside Japan that I have doubts about. 

__________

And a prediction: Nikon will be quickly out of stock on the Zfc/28mm lens combo. Which will prove a point I’ve been making for over a decade: where the heck are the DX primes? (Buzz, buzz is back ;~)

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Rebuzz, Rebuzz

Reminder: “buzz, buzz” was a shorthand I developed over a decade ago to remind people of Nikon’s lack of DX lenses. As I wrote at the time, I was going to be like a gnat flying around Nikon marketing’s head and unavoidable until they did something about it. Well, they didn’t do anything about it. So here we are in another decade and the gnat is still there. Buzz, buzz.

Nikon could have made the Zfc a full frame camera. I suspect they might eventually figure it out that they still should (calling it a Zf). The reason has to do with lenses (buzz, buzz). 

Here’s the current lens lineup that makes much sense with the Zfc (all effective focal lengths to push the point):

  • 42mm f/2.8
  • 60mm f/2
  • 75mm f/2.8 macro
  • 24-75mm f/3.5-6.3 VR
  • 28-210mm f/3.5-6.3 VR
  • 36-105mm f/4
  • 75-375mm f/4.5-6.3 VR

I suppose to be absolutely honest about what we’re getting, we should up those apertures by a stop, as the DX sensor is about a stop less capable than the FX sensor. 

But, yuck (buzz, buzz). No reasonable wide angle other than from the kit zoom. No wide angle zoom. Only some of the zooms have VR.

If Nikon really wants to sell Zfc bodies, it needs a 14mm (21mm effective), 16mm (24mm), 18mm (27mm), and 23mm (34.5mm) set of compact primes. 

The problem with “retro” is that to do it really right you need to get all of the advantages of nostalgia coupled with all the advantages of modern tech. The lack of sensor-based stabilization in the Zfc is a problem in that respect. The lack of lenses is another problem. 

This brings up my issue with where Nikon is: being last to mirrorless was always going to expose gaps that needed filling. The Zfc doesn’t effectively fill any of those gaps, it creates new ones, thus compounding Nikon’s problem. This is the reason why I wrote that I would have said “no” to the Zfc idea if I were in Nikon’s top management: it doesn’t really help them out of the problem they’re in, thus it becomes a distraction. 

Do me a favor: peruse all of Nikon’s marketing and promotion about the Zfc. Do you see anything that tells you why you should buy a Z50 versus why you should buy a Zfc and vice versa? Nope. Nikon’s own marketing department can’t tell you why this camera was necessary given that they already had a camera in that space. So now Nikon is stuck with marketing against itself, but failing to do that. 

The Pastel Panda

I've always found it interesting how intensely self- and inwardly-focused the Japanese camera companies are. The Zfc is another example of how the home market has a tendency to distort product offerings.

Overall, the new camera is supposed to evoke the FM2, with design elements inspired by that camera, right down to the way the logo appears (70-80’s style). 

There's little doubt that "retro panda" has a high degree of acceptance within the Japanese photographic community. Retro as in "has marked, dedicated dials" and panda as in “top/bottom plate silver metal, remainder black/color faux leather." (Ironically, sales of black on black still do decently in Japan, but the marketing materials tend to emphasize the panda option where it exists. Meanwhile, the Zfc is available in six non-standard panda options: pastel yellow, green, gray, pink, white, and brown options.)

Smaller is also a top desired attribute in Japan, as well. The Olympus E-M's and Pens and the smaller Fujifilm X's have all tended to have dedicated followings in Japan, probably because those designs (up until the X-S10) closely followed most of the home market preferences. 

Indeed, I suspect that it's Fujifilm's clear rise in the Japan mirrorless market at the expense of Nikon that has actually brought us the Zfc. Nikon simply hasn't had much traction in the home market at all lately, and that has to be weighing heavily on them. Thus, a Zfc re-design of the Z50 makes a lot of sense. In Japan, at least. Maybe much of Asia. 

On a broader, global scale, I'm not so sure. While Nikon loves to obsess over its film heritage, it was actually DSLRs that catapulted Nikon forward again from a very distant second place in the 90's to a real horse race with Canon in the 00's. More importantly, that competition produced a larger installed base of Nikon DSLR owners than there ever was Nikon film SLR owners. One reason why I like the Z50 is simple: it's a very nicely scaled down version of the Nikon DSLR: smaller, lighter, great handling, and with mostly the right feature simplifications rather than crippling ones. While the Zfc is evocative of cameras I grew up using, I'm not sure I'll be as interested in actually using it. 

Interestingly, I kept receiving rumors of a Z50 II happening sooner rather than later. I suspect that some of those folk leaking were actually referring to the Zfc, as it really is at base a reworked Z50. 

Ultimately, the Zfc doesn't address Nikon's long-term needs particularly well (see companion article). Yes, if the Zfc turns out to be a good camera it may help goose sales in the Japanese (and Asian) market. Now that every rumors site in the world is constantly quoting Japanese market sales numbers via BCN and Map Camera, any upward trend in Japanese sales would staunch some of the noxious nellies from nonstop negativism (unfortunately, they'll find something else to grab onto as their new totem). 

Like the Df before it, the Zfc is going to be a polarizing camera. You either love the long-established button+dial interface or you long for something you think is simpler (but isn't). Problem is, dedicated dials is almost absolutely not the future. So just exactly what is Nikon's future? (Hint: it must be driven by internal software sculpted to improve user workflow and reduce pain points. Something Nikon and the other camera companies keep resisting. Better communications with the mobile world would help, too.)

So, welcome Zfc. I hope your life isn’t as much of a struggle as I think it might be.

The Fujifilm/Nikon Duel is On

With the Zfc Nikon effectively takes a shot directly at Fujifilm (at about the X-T30 point in the Fujifilm lineup). I hope Nikon is ready for a lot of comparisons that won’t always go Nikon’s way. 

Let’s start with the pro-Zfc side (I’m making assumptions that it’ll perform at least as well as the Z50):

  • Nikon nailed the styling just a little better, in my opinion. The Fujifilm looks just a little too much like a modern interpretation of retro, while Nikon looks all-in retro to me. 
  • The Nikon can flip its LCD and look (and perhaps operate) more like a film SLR than anything else on the market.
  • Nikon has better AF (sorry Fujifilm). Not by a big margin, but enough to declare it a category winner.

But the pros for the X-T30 add up more substantially, in my view:

  • Fujifilm has a full and appropriate lens set. Nikon does not. Not today, not tomorrow, not in the foreseeable future (here we go with buzz, buzz again).
  • Fujifilm has user-preferred image styles (film simulations) that are very well chosen. Nikon’s are a little more random (“what if we juiced the saturation and contrast and called it Vivid?). 
  • Fujifilm has a 26mp image sensor, which is more state of the APS-C art than 20mp. 
  • The Fujifilm dials make a bit more sense (as do lenses with aperture rings). Of course, the Fujifilm is missing an ISO dial.
  • Fujifilm has a small ridge for finger hold on the front of the camera. Though this is “not retro”, it is welcome.
  • Fujifilm has a focus mode switch. 
  • Fujifilm includes F-Log. Nikon hasn’t brought N-Log to the DX cameras.

As I’ve noted before, much of the switching that happened from disgruntled Nikon users went to Fujifilm. So there’s the question of whether the Zfc is enough to win them back. Nope. No lenses (buzz, buzz). The Nikon users that went to Sony may be a little more likely to come home. I was surprised at a Sony Alpha Rumors poll that seemed to show strong support for Sony doing a retro camera. Sony’s designs are almost universally modern, and have been throughout the mirrorless era.

What Are We Still Waiting For?

Okay, Nikon’s popped another set of Z products. As I’ve written, I don’t think the Zfc was something that people were clamoring for and it doesn’t fill in a gap in the Z System.

So where are we? What is the specific demands within the Nikon community that still need to be met? In order of importance, I judge these (from reader feedback and observation) to be:

  1. Telephoto lenses. Both the 100-400mm and 200-600mm will literally sell out in minutes, once announced. Pretty much any telephoto will, because the only ways to get to 200mm right now are the expensive 70-200mm f/2.8 S and the consumer 24-200mm f/4-6.3. 
  2. Third party lenses from the major producers. Yep, this is more important than bodies filling product line gaps. Why? Because those still hesitating about the Z System are more concerned about viability than a particular body, and third-party lens offerings would be a clear sign that others in the industry see viability in the Z-mount. It would also mean lens gaps and choices fill in faster.
  3. Z8 and Z9. I’m not sure we’ll see everyone jumping on board with the Z9 when it arrives (due to price) though I think it will sell out due to pent up demand and pros trying to keep up with the A1/R3 competition. Even among those that won’t buy it, a “perfect” Z9 would send signals about Nikon getting back on top of their game and the line being long-term viable. More people would be waiting for a Z8, but a great Z9 will give them confidence that such a camera is coming. 
  4. Z90. Okay Nikon, you've made two DX cameras now, so it’s clear that DX will continue on (but will I be still buzzing?). The trick is to get a Z DX body to the D500 level camera before Canon, Fujifilm, or Sony figure out how to really grab that D300/D500 user. That’s going to require a new image sensor and as much of the Z9 goodness as Nikon’s management can tolerate stuffing into a top DX body. A great new DX image sensor was a long-lead item, so Nikon had better have started on that some time ago.

Sure, some of you are waiting for other things: Z30, Z50 II, Z5 II, Z6 III, Z7 III, DX lenses, PF lenses, FTZ-S adapter, SB-9Z, and more. But these aren’t as necessary as the above four in the near term. 

Now for what some of you will think a shocker: I believe we’ll get all of those things (even the “not as necessary” list). Which means the operative question is this: how long will you have to wait before the item you’re waiting for is available? I can answer that for three items: (1) the 100-400mm will be available before March 2022, and probably in fall 2021; (2) the 200-600mm will be available before March 2022 and probably in fall 2021; and (3) the Z9 will be generally available in November 2021 (if nothing changes). Heck, I’ll even give you a bonus prediction: the 400mm f/2.8 and 600mm f/4 will be announced in November 2021.

We might see a third party lens producer or two dip their toes in the Z-mount waters this year, but the supply chain issues probably are postponing those release dates. Everyone’s trying to optimize what they’re currently making for what sells best. With no Z-mount sales experience, it would be risky for Sigma/Tamron/Tokina to devote production to Z-mount lenses with no real knowledge of how they’d sell or be accepted. Still, I expect at least one toe dip this year, probably two. 

Three products on the “not as necessary” list above have a chance to show up in 2021: (1) the Z30, which is done but would probably chew too much into constrained parts supply to release yet; (2) the FTZ-S adapter, which I know has been prototyped, and (3) the SB-9Z, which would be best launched with the Z9 (I haven’t heard a peep about future Speedlights, though). 

Z50 II, Z8? Likely in 2022.

Z5 II, Z6 III, Z7 III? Most likely 2023/2024.

Z90? Complete unknown, though I know Nikon has had a lot of internal discussion about it. I’ve got no sense that the decisions necessary for a Z90 have been made, though.

Other lenses? We’ll get six to eight added to the Road Map before the end of the year, which would imply mid 2022 to early 2023. But what those are I don’t know. Nikon’s keeping new lens ideas a really tight ship (other than what’s known in the Road Map). 

The Silent Spring

Here we are about to start summer and...mostly what we hear is crickets.

No doubt the pandemic-induced supply chain issues—coupled with a fire at a critical electronics plant in Japan—is causing problems. Add a container shortage and price increases with shipping (Nikon is currently airlifting all items from Thailand to the US), and it's easy to see that the camera companies are under a bit of pressure. It doesn't help that demand for cameras is increasing again above the pandemic year levels. 

We've already seen the results: fewer product intros, delayed product intros, lack of supply on key cameras in certain markets, limiting the area a product is sold to fewer regions, fewer items on sale, and the sales that do happen are often less aggressive than they've been in the past or only on previous generation gear. 

Something you might not have seen is that the Japanese camera news and information sites have taken to writing more about rumors than in the past. In a few cases I've even seen a full circle occur: Japanese site rumor picked up by US site rumor, re-picked up by Japanese sites. 

The camera industry economic engine is sputtering and needs a tune up. 

At the same time, we've got some really compelling mirrorless products on the market—when they're in stock—and that's only increasing even at the slower release pace we're currently in. The Canon R5/R6, Nikon Z6II/Z7II, and Sony A7C/A1 all are garnering plenty of attention and buyers at the moment. The Fujifilm GFX100S also can be said to be in that elite high-end group, though not at the same unit volume. 

Of course, how many of us buy US$2000+ cameras? Not as many as you think. The bulk of the unit volume in the market is still more in the US$1000 and under range, which means more entry-level cameras and cameras with compromises. This is causing the camera makers a further dilemma: if they only have X parts, they really want to use those first in the upper-end cameras that are selling out each month, and then the remainder in their lower-end models. But there's not enough of those parts to spread them around well, it seems.  

This summer is a good time to make sure that you're using your current cameras at their full ability, and that you know what it is that you'd want in your next camera. A camera a few years old still makes compelling images if you're paying attention to details. It's also probably a good time to examine your workflow and make sure that you've got a solid and state-of-the-art post processing ability that will survive more pixels and more computing needs (though parts shortages are impacting computers and accessories, too). 

I'm expecting the late part of this year to be the point where things start to get back more on a normal pace: more new products, more lens introductions, products in stock, and come the holiday season: aggressive sales. Take a breather and spend the time between now and then to assess where you are, what you need, and what you'll do next.


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