One Small Step for Photographers, One Giant Leap for Nikon’s Marketing Department
If you just returned from a trip to the outer edge of the Milky Way, let me inform you that Nikon finally joined the compact mirrorless race with two cameras: The J1 and the more advanced V1, both using the same 10MP 13.2mm x 8.8mm CMOS sensor (that’s a 2.7x crop factor with respect to classic full frame). Many thought the Big Two (Nikon and Canon) were biding their time entering the mirrorless market but would do so with a bang when they did. Nobody knows what Canon has planned, if anything, but I’m here to tell you why I think Nikon’s release was more of a Fly’s Fart than a Big Bang.
Panasonic and Olympus have been slowly but surely improving their μ4/3 concept, offering cameras with and without an EVF (or with a detachable EVF if you want it that way), different sizes and prices, for a combined total of 5 or 6 different models. Their stable of lenses is growing, offering mostly slow consumer zooms to begin with, but now that Olympus has released its high quality, fast 12mm f/2 and 45mm f/1.8 primes, and Panasonic is finally shipping its cobranded with Leica 25mm f/1.4 (all to great reviews and applause, I should say), and seems poised to release two fast zooms, the system is reaching the point where it could replace a DSLR in many photographers’ kits. This makes sense to me, and it might make sense to you, but it makes no sense whatsoever to the folks at Nikon. You see, Panasonic has no DSLR system, and Olympus’s 4/3 DSLR system had reached maturity (according to Olympus’s bosses, anyway), so they were looking to create a camera system that would stand on its own and appeal to advanced photographers (although slimmed down models in cute colours being sold to novices and the ladies always help the bottom line and should not be neglected). Nikon, on the other hand, has a DSLR line to sell and introducing a product that would compete with its entry-level D3100 would be unacceptable, Nikon shooters be damned.
Is this a conspiracy theory? I think not. The smoking gun was found in this Nikon Rumors post where a reader plotted the area of the major sensor sizes at regular steps from the smallest 1/2.5″ to the Pentax 645D’s medium format (see graph to the right). Nikon’s J1/V1 sensor falls smack into the middle of the gap between 1/1.7″ sensor (used in advanced P&S cameras such as the Canon S95 or Olympus XZ-1) and μ4/3 sensor. This showcases a typical marketing thought pattern: If you can’t compete, create your own game. By being the only company with a sensor this size, and giving the format the name of Nikon CX (versus DX for APS-C and FX for full frame), it can position itself in a camera tier all of its own. Only a big company with brand recognition would try to pull this shit off, and by flooding the large electronics stores with these cameras, they will probably succeed.
But it’s not really the sensor size that places this camera in the beginners’ category, no; it’s the slow lenses, the colours, the lack of direct controls for many basic functions, the lack of a PASM mode dial (!!!), and the emphasis on non-technical, “power” words. Read the press release; in the first paragraph alone I caught the following stinkers: revolutionary, empower, driven, imaginative, iconic, lifestyle, unique, amazing. Marketing hype at its finest, substance at its lowest.
“This camera was not designed with the heart, it was designed with the shareholders’ pockets in mind.”
OK, OK, so Nikon’s marketing and sales department saw an opening and decided to increase their profits; what’s wrong with that? As a capitalist businessman, I see nothing wrong with it; as a photographer, I see Nikon just sold its photography soul and I mourn for its loss. This camera was not designed with the heart, it was designed with the shareholders’ pockets in mind.
But maybe Nikon might do like Sony and release an advanced version next year, I hear you say. Sure, Nikon, go ahead, because we all want another sensor format; it’s what the market has been clamouring for. Not. Unlike Sony, who was brave enough to offer an advanced compact such as the NEX-7 alongside its DSLR line, Nikon didn’t want to cannibalise its DX DSLR sales by offering a camera with similar specs, only smaller and lighter because of the lack of mirror and pentamirror, even if such a camera is what many people buying a D3100 would actually prefer. I doubt there will be a Nikon Pro 1, but if there is, they will still have missed their chance to wow the market and will be competing with advanced iterations of current mirrorless models from other brands, not to mention the lenses these other brands will have available by then. And with a 2.7x crop, the Nikon 1 system will not attract the adaptor fanatics flocking to the NEX cameras and their 1.5x crop factor.
The way I see it, Nikon had an opportunity here to create a true “iconic”, “unique” and “revolutionary” camera. Using its size and decades-long knowledge, they could have created the mirrorless camera that enthusiasts and advanced photographers have been waiting years for: An APS-C sensor, an EVF (on the left of the camera body!), plentiful external controls, and small, fastish prime lenses. Fuji proved it could be done with the X100 and that it was what people wanted…except maybe for the fixed lens, though that hasn’t stopped the camera from being perpetually backordered. Sony saw what Fuji did, took note, and released the NEX-7 which, despite its large (and limited number of) lenses, is being stratospherically preordered. Olympus just released two metal, high quality, fast primes. There’s talk of a new Panasonic that would be more rangefinderish than the G3. Samsung delayed the announcement of its NX20 by 6 months, allegedly to make it competitive with the NEX-7; they’ve also revealed they’re developing an NX1, a camera to sit above the NX20 line and aimed at those who want more than the NX20 will offer; and let’s not forget the many primes in their lens lineup. In short, everyone seems to have finally started listening to us, the advanced amateurs, yet Nikon has put its fingers in its ears and is saying la la la la la la la. I, and many others from what I read on the forums, had always thought that if anyone could get this whole mirrorless camera system right, it was Nikon: They built rangefinders in the past, they extract great IQ out of Sony APS-C sensors, they have a large R&D budget, excellent engineers…but it all came to nothing because the engineers and photographers at Nikon got bullied and pushed over by the marketing department.
RIP Nikon’s photography soul.
As for me, I’m awaiting the Samsung NX20, to be announced in a few weeks. Not only are Samsung’s ergonomics the best in the mirrorless segment (that’s my opinion, of course), they offer the most attractive line of fastish, pancake primes in the business, and their lens roadmap promises even more nice, fast glass in the near future. Then again, maybe Fuji will surprise us with an interchangeable version of the X100. At least that would be a pleasant surprise. Take note, Nikon!
Good light and good luck,
In case someone needs clarification: I am not saying the Nikon 1 cameras are rubbish; in fact, from the sample images I’ve seen online and some comparisons to other cameras, it looks like the J1/V1 might provide almost as good IQ as some μ4/3 cameras (though certainly not better than Sony NEX or Fuji X100), and it’s obviously better IQ than a P&S. That’s good! However, the cameras are not aimed at advanced amateurs, they are aimed at the mythical P&S movers-uppers, hipsters, soccer-mums and Ashton Kutcher’s 9 million Twitter followers. That’s what pisses me off. I seriously thought Nikon would understand that there are a gazillion (approximate number) photographers who want DSLR quality in a smaller package, with external controls and with a stable of small, high quality primes. The IQ of the Nikon 1 is irrelevant to me given how it’s packaged, and it will also be irrelevant to those who will flock to μ4/3 after this announcement. I can imagine the guys at Olympus and Panasonic threw a huge party on September 21 as they sighed a sigh of relief knowing they wouldn’t have to compete with Nikon in the mirrorless market. Mike Johnston said it best when he wrote: It was a couple of Nikons that arrived [...] But somehow it seemed like what really arrived was Micro 4/3. Exactly.
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Tags: Mirrorless Cameras, Nikon J1, Nikon V1, Photography, Rants