Conspiracy Theories and the Nikon Z

Can't say I'm getting a lot of sleep lately, as it seems that Nikon managed to hit Viral with their new camera launch, and the Internet is now flinging wild assertions and claims right and left. 

Among all the it does/it doesn't, it is/it isn't posts are plenty of conspiracy theory entries. Let me just say this up front: if there were any real conspiracy going on, you wouldn't know about it until it is far too late, and you wouldn't learn about it on the Internet. True conspirators work in stealth and try not to direct attention to themselves until they've achieved their success. Even then, they tend to remain quiet and just enjoy their riches or the havoc they caused.

So let's take a quick run through some of the conspiracies surrounding Nikon this week:

  • Sony withheld important AF functionality from the sensors they gave Nikon, particularly Eye AF. To believe this, you'd have to believe that focus functions are performed in the image sensor. Nope. The image sensor collects data that is used by focus functions (which are generally inside the system chip; BIONZ in the case of Sony, EXPEED in the case of Nikon, and those are very different parts designed by different engineering organizations using entirely different algorithms). Eye detect, for instance, requires analysis of the data provided by the image sensor. I see nothing different in the data Nikon receives from the image sensor versus Sony. I see differences in what they do with that data. Zero credibility.
  • Nikon intentionally crippled the Z cameras to keep DSLR sales up. No doubt that Nikon carefully manages features and performance in all their products so that they have "choice" in their lineup. Personally, I'm a little surprised at how close the Z7 and D850 are, and think that Nikon made pretty good choices overall in differentiating them. Moreover, I can now see how Nikon could take the Z6 sensor and the things that it and EXPEED6 do and add that into the D750 body to come up with a very reasonable and desirable D760, for those that still want DSLRs. This was very tricky territory to navigate, and given that I believe Nikon was a bit on the rushed side in doing it, I give full marks for what they came up with. Over exaggerated.
  • Nikon just copied Sony. So, the corollary: are these same conspiracy theorists going to claim that Sony copied Nikon when Sony finally implements a full touch-screen interface? Or focus stacking? Or built-in time-lapse, multi exposure? Look, companies in competition with one another absolutely do product teardowns and analysis. They look at what features and what performance characteristics the customers respond to both for their own and competitive products. There's going to be commonality across product over time because of that. Yet, one could also say that Nikon just copied the D750 (for the Z6) and the D850 (for the Z7). There's as much commonality to support that as there is to say they copied the A7 and A7R. Or wait, did the Sony A7 and A7R copy the Nikon D600 and D800? Nonsense.
  • Nikon will die due to low Z sales. Hate to break the news to you, but that's not going to happen (either part of the statement). Pre-orders are already reasonably strong according to my sources, and these are not cameras that were expected to sell in the millions. I'd bet that Nikon really only needs to sell a quarter of a million in the first year to get a huge benefit from the move, and that's not counting what lens sales might provide. Initial information from Nikon is that the Z7 build-out is 20k units a month, which is higher than the D850 (double, I believe). And by my count, the D850 has the third highest dollar volume in the US for ILC in the last 12 months, and it hasn't been out 12 months. So let me make a prediction: Nikon's last calendar quarter this year is going to look really good financially. Lower volume and market share sure, but higher sales and profit. Again, Z sales don't look low. Nikon isn't dead. Zero credibility.
  • Sony will be hurting. Ah, the corollary. Seems really doubtful to me. Sony has a strong product line, plenty of lenses, solid marketing and dealer support, and has already shown a willingness to discount to grab some market share. Sony had full frame mirrorless pretty much to itself. That ends next month with the Z7 shipments, gets another hit in November with the Z6 shipments, and will take another hit when Canon finally launches their product. But I judge Sony to be in a "good place." They have a rationalized still/video lineup that shares lenses, are proving out pro features and lenses, have ramped up their pro support, and were already doing what Nikon is now doing (heading up-market with less emphasis on market share and more emphasis on gross profit margin). There's plenty of room for both Nikon and Sony to succeed, and that's what I expect to happen. Zero credibility.
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