Design Priorities for Nikon Mirrorless

Now that the cat is out of the box and Schroedinger has found it to be alive, we can discuss the cat more specifically. 

Nikon’s reentrance into mirrorless at the high end suggests that Nikon’s priorities in designing mirrorless products changed. Not rocket science, that. But what were those new priorities?

Let me take a stab at that. In order of priority, I think these would have been the goals:

  1. Compatibility with existing lens set (F-mount). Nikon’s strength has always been their attention to legacy owners, so anything that detracts from that would be walking away from a key strength. Compatibility could have come in many forms, including just using the existing F-mount, but the key issue here isn’t so much the physical form as the performance. 100m Nikkors live in the wild. Abandoning any significant number of them would be a disaster. A disaster so big that it creates the top goal all by itself.
  2. Outstanding Image quality. It’s a digital camera, and it uses lenses. Those are the two key components that determine ultimate image quality. So if you think you’re good at the job of designing those things, it ought to be a very high priority to tweak out every last bit of image quality so that your product performs as good as or better than competitors. Which is what Nikon does. Has done for decades. Unfortunately Nikon hasn’t ever been good at marketing “image quality” even though it’s the heart of their product designs and has been since day one of the DSLR era. The designers would have had this as a key goal. Will marketing manage to project that to users?
  3. Ergonomic consistency. This one’s tricky, and Nikon has outguessed itself several times on this, almost always leading to products not doing as well as expected. The Giugiaro-designed ergonomics drove the late film SLRs and all the DSLRs. The Nikon Df DSLR deviated from that and didn’t establish that 60’s era ergonomics are what camera users really want. The Nikon 1’s near total lack of ergonomic consistency and insistence on chiclet compact camera type control didn’t work. Moreover, Sony—who Nikon knew they would be competing with—is often maligned for its ergonomics. Thus, I’m sure Nikon wanted to carry over as much of what worked for them in the DSLR era into the new mirrorless cameras. It certainly must have been a key factor in design, but not as important as the first two.
  4. Top Focus and metering performance. To some degree these are relatives to image quality, and Nikon may have considered focus and metering as part of image quality. But I put them here because I’m also pretty sure that these were considered potential small compromise points, if needed. I doubt Nikon in the end make any compromise you’d notice, but I’m pretty sure they were willing to accept some if it happened. And indeed, if we don’t see Nikon’s patented quad-pixel idea in the sensor, which I’m pretty sure Nikon engineering thinks represents their best efforts for focus performance, then there was a small compromise made.
  5. Excellent Viewfinder. Also a component that would normally be considered with a higher one, in this case ergonomics. Unfortunately one that’s a bit out of Nikon’s full control, as it requires some key parts from a supplier, and there aren’t a lot of choices there. Thus, I’m sure that Nikon had a priority bar set to at least match competing products, and if possible exceed them. That brings the overall priority for the viewfinder itself down this list some from the overall ergonomics.
  6. Get Video Right and Competitive. Nikon was first to DSLR video with the D90, then was eventually passed by others who had pro video teams (e.g. Canon, Panasonic, Sony). It’s clear that Nikon sees more video in the future, otherwise why the KeyMission trio? The questions have been when and where? A new system is a good place to restart that effort, so I’m sure a lot of priority was given to motion side.

That’s it. Those would have been the six goals I’d put on the wall of every office where people were working on Nikon’s new mirrorless system. I think they’re likely very close to what Nikon had for their goals, too. I know many of you will write in suggesting various different other things (IBIS, for instance), but most of those will likely be specific features, not broad goals. Specifics derive from overall goals, thus the overall goals are important to establish.

I noted it in passing in priority #2, but it applies to all of these priority: if Nikon hit the goal, it will now be up to Nikon marketing to assert and prove they achieved it. The engineers, I’m sure, will have done their jobs well. Now things turn to marketing and sales efforts.

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