My Response to Nikon's Mirrorless Announcement: Goodbye, Nikon / by Michael Jin

Like many, I'd been waiting with bated breath for Nikon to announce their entry into the MILC arena. The teaser campaign was fantastic, the form factor promising, the new Z-Mount was full of potential. It seemed as though Nikon was going to really make a statement in the world of mirrorless cameras. Then came the official announcement of their Z6, Z7, and their first native lenses.

We're now about two weeks removed from the announcement and it's taken a while to really collect my thoughts and let it all sink in. The conclusion that I've come to is not just that Nikon missed a huge opportunity, but they are just incredibly out of touch with the modern camera consumer. What they actually announced at the end of a weeks-long teaser campaign can be described as nothing other than the result of hubris. I can come up with no other explanation for the asinine decisions that went into this entrance into the MILC market.

Let's be fair in saying that it would have been impossible to satisfy everyone. No matter what they did, they were bound to upset somebody, but as long as there is a clear target market, this can be fine. However, in this case I do not understand who exactly the target market is. Nikon made clear their intention to target the higher end of the market rather than the consumer end. The Z7 will be the fist camera released—seemingly designed to compete with Sony's A7R III—while the Z6 will go head to head with eh A7 III. Given the fact that the A7R III prior to this was considered direct competition to Nikon's own D850, one could say that the Z7 is also competing with the D850 to some degree.

Given the fact that the Z7 and Z6 are the same exact body and I believe that they share the same inherent weaknesses, I will limit my argument to talking about the Z7. Read the spec sheet and it quickly becomes apparent that the Z7 is essentially a mirrorless D850 with a slightly better processor. Read the news release and it's apparent that the Z7 is more expensive than the D850 (and several hundred dollars more expensive than the Sony A7R III at the time of this writing). Despite the camera coming in north of $3000, it boasts only a single card slot, which is a problem since both the A7R III and Nikon's own D850 boast dual slots. All early reports also indicate that the Z7 suffers from focusing issues, which is not something that can be said about either of the other two cameras in this comparison. Granted, these previews are done with pre-production models by the hands of industry influencers, but we're talking about a camera that's less than a month out from shipping. How much time is there to change these things?

The battery is the same EN-EL15 as the D810 and D850, which is good for owners of those cameras who are looking for a mirrorless camera that shares batteries. However, MILC's due to their use of an EVF use far more battery than a DSLR so what you gain in convenience of sharing batteries between devices, you lose in the fact that you're getting far less shots on each of your batteries than a comparable DSLR or MILC counterpart. This is a decision that I frankly do not understand because Nikon had plenty of time to develop this camera and they had enough time to test the battery usage to see that it could be problematic.

Let's get over the deficiencies of the body for a moment, however. Nikon went out of their way to announce this revolutionary Z-Mount, which is absolutely huge and opens up tremendous potential for light gathering. Despite this, their first lenses are slated to be f/4 zooms and f/1.8 primes. WHAT. THE. FUCK? So on the one hand, the first body Nikon decides to release is a high end $3400 body, but they are thinking that people who shell out that much on a body are going to be wanting to shoot with f/4 zooms and f/1.8 primes? Who the hell is making these decisions?

I get that you can adapt Nikon's current F-mount lenses with an adapter that will be $100 off initially, but for fuck's sake, a quick look at the lens roadmap that Nikon released shows that there's absolutely NOTHING exciting coming down the pipeline in terms of native glass for at least the next 3 years. They initially made a splash about a 58mmm f/0.95 NOCT as a successor to the famous AI-S model, but then it came out that this will be a MANUAL FOCUS lens, be absolutely HUGE, and on top of that, people are estimating that it's probably going to cost well over $5,000! Aside from the Leica crowd, who the hell is going to buy a lens like this and who is going to want to manually focus at f/0.95 even with focus peaking? Better to have released a 58mm f/1.2 with auto-focus because it would have actually been useful. Seriously, though. Look at the Nikon lens roadmap for Z-Mount and ask yourself what they're actually doing with the new mount? f/2.8 zooms? We already have those. f/1.4 primes? We already have those. Why not leverage the potential of the mount to really differentiate yourself in the marketplace?

As the title says, this is my goodbye to Nikon—at least for now. I've given it some long hard thought and I don't see DSLR technology continuing to advance at any significant rate as R&D money gets pushed to MILC's by all of the major manufacturers. Because of this, I find it difficult to rationalize continued investment in F-mount auto-focus lenses. At the same time, the situation in the USA with the D850 continuing to be sold out means that it's probably not going to be any more valuable in a trade-in than it is now and with Sony offering extra money off their bodies with a trade-in, it's time to take the hit and make the switch for the next 5 years or so.

I've held out on purchasing a Sony because I had hope that Nikon would release a competitive entry. The fact is that they simply have not and their lens roadmap shows that the Z-mount system will not be looking interesting to me for the foreseeable future. Perhaps in a decade, Nikon will have gotten their act together because I do believe that the Z-Mount has the most potential of all of the existing mirrorless mounts for being a platform for amazing lenses. However, if Nikon doesn't right the ship pretty quickly, I really do wonder if Nikon will even still be around as an independent camera manufacturer in another decade—Z-Mount or not.

Why am I going to place my bets on Sony at this point? The heart and soul of the digital camera is the sensor. Sony is currently the #1 company by a large margin not only in the manufacturing of imaging sensors, but also R&D. Numerous other camera companies go so far as to rely on Sony to fabricate their sensors or they straight out buy Sony-designed sensors for their bodies. So long as this holds true, Sony will always have the advantage in in-body sensor technology. Sony's major weakness is the fact that they are not an optical company at heart, but by opening the full specs of their E-mount to everyone (something hat neither Nikon nor Canon have done), they've essentially turned every third party lens manufacturer into an OEM producer of lenses for the Sony system in that they should all be able to produce lenses that perform natively on the platform without any quirks or performance issues caused by having to reverse engineer protocols. Simply put, Sony's ability to make optics matters little when a company like Zeiss can produce auto-focusing lenses on Sony's platform.

I'll admit that this all breaks my heart some and I do hope that Nikon becomes an interesting option later down the road. I've shot exclusively Nikon the entire time I've been using digital and my film camera is still a Nikon (I am keeping those lenses for that camera). In the end, however, these are all tools and I will not sacrifice my money supporting a company if I do not feel that they are releasing products that cater to my interests. As of right now, Nikon is off playing in Narnia with their ridiculous MILC offerings and in business, your wallet is unfortunately the only way to really get any message across.

Goodbye for now, Nikon. It's been real. I guess we'll only see each other in analog land for a few years...