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.

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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. 

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