News/Views

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 ;~)

Support this site by purchasing from the following advertiser:


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.

Yearly Site Cleanup

I've just finished my yearly site maintenance for sansmirror.com, including a fair bit of site cleanup. Here are a few of the main tasks I did this year:

  • Removed the sidebar from all pages. This will clean up some responsive Web site issues for mobile users.
  • Since search was in the sidebar, a search form was added to the home page (near top).
  • Updated a few articles and tables where needed (still a couple that will get a future update).
  • Added "buy the book" buttons on reviews, data pages for cameras on which I have a book.
  • Made a pass at updating camera and lens information, though this is still incomplete and always ongoing.

Because I removed the sidebar, that removed the B&H presence on each page. To compensate for that, I've added a B&H banner ad at the bottom of each page. I really do appreciate you using that (or the other B&H links on data pages) to start any shopping you do at B&H, as it helps support this Web site. I'm trying to keep site clutter to a minimum, but if this B&H ad move changes this site's buying traffic to B&H I might have to re-consider. 

OMDS Announces Olympus E-P7

The first thing that immediately struck me about the E-P7 was this: it’s so Japanese. 

bythom olympus ep7

Dials, Panda Style (even an albino panda, above), small soap bar design and size, the old compact camera overloaded direction pad button cluster, Pen name up front, selfie screen…all very Japanese. Or should I say “things proven to appeal to the Japanese camera market”?

Turns out that OM Digital Solutions thinks (mostly) so, too: the E-P7 will only be available in Japan and Europe. 

One problem I have is that the E-P7 also reminds me too much of my very first mirrorless camera, the E-PL1. As in “we haven’t come very far in 12 years.” Heck, the E-P7 is really very much like the current E-PL10, only with the 20mp sensor, 5-axis (instead of 3) IS, and a couple of new dials and control changes. Here in the US—coupled with the fact that soap-bar compacts no longer sell well here—OM Digital Solutions probably wouldn't sell many E-P7s, so the restrictive market approach is probably a good idea.

Except for this: the prediction was that when JIP took over the Olympus camera group that they'd go to a region-only distribution system and this would lower volume. This has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. OM Digital Solutions—the company formed by JIT from the Olympus spin out—no longer has a full product line in the US. The question then becomes "just how many models will survive in the US?" 

The market probably needs a few low-end cameras like this now that the consumer DSLR craze is officially over. There needs to be a transition point from smartphone-as-camera to something more sophisticated that takes interchangeable lenses. I'll tackle that subject next week. 

What's Known About the Canon R3

Since Canon keeps leaking bits and pieces about the upcoming R3 camera, it's probably a good time to put some of the known bits together in one place.

  • Full frame, new BSI-stacked image sensor of unknown pixel count, IS stabilized
  • Up to 30 fps raw continuous frame rate with AF/AE
  • Down to -7EV autofocus (though spec likely with f/1.2 lens)
  • Addition of car and motorbike AF detection
  • Eye control of AF system
  • Smart controller on AF-On button
  • "Next generation" dual pixel AF
  • Combined lens+sensor stabilization up to 8 stops CIPA
  • 4K oversampled
  • Raw internal video recording
  • Canon Log 3 video recording
  • 5Ghz Wi-Fi, Ethernet port
  • Magesium-alloy body with integrated vertical grip
  • Dual card slots (CFe and SD)
  • New powered accessory shoe built into front of hot shoe
  • Flash sync with electronic shutter
  • Fully articulating LCD
  • Uses LP-E19 battery

Likewise, some of the things we don't know:

  • Pixel count
  • 8K video or not?
  • Maximum HD/4K frame rates, bit depths, compression, time limitations
  • Maximum mechanical shutter fps
  • Whether or not there's pixel shift, focus stacking, etc.
  • Viewfinder resolution and speed
  • Availability and price info

Is Sony Now Better Than Nikon?

Okay, this is blasphemy from a Nikon user, I know. But I want to kick off a series of “X better than Y” articles, and given the current hype on the Internet, why not feed fuel to a fire?

Over time, the camera makers—just like competitors in any industry—learn from one another. Or not. When they learn from each other, they do better. When they don’t, they do worse. 

So how is the best Sony camera right now better than the best Nikon camera? You might be surprised at my answer:

  • Named settings files. The Sony A1 can save 10 named settings files to a card, the most any Nikon can do is save one unnamed settings file to a card. I set up my camera different for landscape work than I do for sports work, for instance, and only having one settings file means I end up having to spend time pre-configuring a Nikon before each session. Not so with the Sony. I’ve been hammering on this need for over decade. Only Sony seems to have heard me. Time for Nikon to follow. 
  • Pixel shift photography. Olympus pioneered the use of the IS platform behind the sensor being able to shift slightly to record more information. Pentax uses it to antialias. Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, Pentax, and Sony all have pixel shift modes. Notable exception from the list: Nikon. Once again Nikon missed a memo from their user base.
  • Sophisticated electronic shutter. The Sony A1 has a bunch of tricks up its sleeve. First off, it has a much faster rolling shutter, which approximates a mechanical shutter. Second, flash can be used with the silent electronic shutter. Third, anti-flicker is much more sophisticated, including being able to set highly incremental shutter speeds (1/247.6 for instance). 
  • Picture Profiles. Everyone has the ability to change the “look” of the in-camera color/tonal/contrast settings. With Sony, that’s usually done via the Creative Look, with Nikon it's with the Picture Controls. Sony adds a second function, Picture Profiles, where there is much more adjustment capability, including Black Level, video Gamuts and Color Spaces (e.g. Rec.2020), the Knee value, and more. This really benefits video users who need to match against other cameras, but it’s of value to sophisticated still photographers, too.
  • Controllable Zebras. Not only does the Sony A1 show Zebras in still photography, but you also can set their values in single digit percentages. Nikon limits Zebra display to video modes for the most part, and isn’t as flexible in the settings.
  • Focus Area mode switch with control. It’s slightly buried in Sony’s menus, but it is possible to customize a button so that it switches your Focus Area mode instantly. Nikon does this with a couple of DSLRs, but only in conjunction with AF-ON. 
  • Grouping of playback images. This one is going to be a little controversial, but you can turn it off on the Sony if you don't like it. When you take a burst of images, you can have them appear together as a group on playback (shows the last image taken with a stack indicator). This requires you to click into the stack to see individual images, but sports photographers find this quite useful, as individual plays are isolated, and they can later chimp a particular play to find the best shot of it and send to their agency.
  • FTP any way you want it. Ethernet, USB tethered, and Wi-Fi all are supported for FTP on the Sony A1. I’m not a huge fan of FTP as it requires a lot of setup to get right, and can be temperamental in use. Sony also has much more ability to configure FTP and save up to 9 different configurations than does Nikon. That’s just enough for all the facilities I use. Getting FTP on most of the Nikon cameras requires an accessory, and the abilities are far more limiting. I’ve been harping on Nikon with “communication” issues for over a decade. They started out ahead, they’re now behind. That means they haven’t kept their eye on the ball for pro users.
  • Customizing buttons is more extensive. The Sony A1 often allows you to set a button customization to virtually anything in the menu system (there are a few limitations). Nikon is paternal and severely limits button customization, in one case only allowing three choices that they somehow determined, none of which interest me. 
  • Viewfinder AF information. The Sony A1 pretty much keeps up with any situation, showing which focus sensors are in use and their status. To some, this is almost overkill, as it means constantly bouncing focus indicators in some modes (you can turn them off). Even on the best Nikon DSLR, the D6, the camera doesn’t keep the user fully abreast of where focus is being done in some cases, and on the Z System cameras, there’s frustrating lag in the focus sensor information. 
  • View by attribute. Here’s how it works on the sidelines with my A1: take photos; when I get time I chimp and mark images; when I get a bit more time, I search by marks (jump) and send each of those to my agency via FTP or my mobile connection. Here’s how it works on the sidelines with a D6: take photos; when I get time I chimp and mark images; when I get to the press room, I download to my computer and search/send the marked images. Which is better? You can jump between protected images or specific rated images on the Sony. I use protected because it’s a convenient pre-programmed button press to protect an image. 

You’ll note that I didn’t write about dynamic range, frame rate, high ISO capability, or a whole host of things that keep getting debated on the Internet. Virtually everything I note above are things that deal with real user pain points and would best be described as items that make something easier or provide additional benefit in the workflow.

I also didn’t say “Sony AF is better than Nikon AF.” Frankly, it’s about a draw right now between my Sony A1 and my Nikon D6 (and I hope Z9). To get the best out of any autofocus system requires study and practice. With study and practice I get really nice sequences with focus where I want it from both cameras. Yes, the A1 would be somewhat better than the Z6 II, but they’re different classes of cameras. I get similar focus results from a Z6 II that I do from an A7 Mark III these days. 

One takeaway from this article should be: the camera makers need to pay much more attention to how photographers are using their cameras than they do to small technical advances. Not that we want them to stop tinkering with the electronic capabilities, but we want them to improve the user experience and options more. 

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

sansmirror: all text and original images © 2021 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2020 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #sansmirror