My View on the Nikon Announcements

As often happens, Nikon was a bit all over the board with their latest announcement, putting a lot of grist in the mill to contemplate all at once. Realistically, this was mainly just a camera-plus-kit-lens announcement, but the bundle of all the other stuff into their press releases makes it seem like more. Let's deal with that other stuff first. 

  • The MB-N10 battery grip for the Z6/Z7. Yeah, you can see why they buried it with other announcements. It's very late, under-developed, and over-priced (at US$199). As expected, you pull the EN-EL15b out of the Z6/Z7 camera body, pull off the battery compartment door, and mount this thing up through the resulting hole, locking it via the usual tripod mount wheel. It's a tiny bit more than that just two-batteries-in-plastic-case, though. You do get a USB-C socket to charge the batteries from (must be EN-EL15b). You also get visible battery indicators on the grip itself. Hot-swapping of one battery is possible, and the design is said to retain and extend the weather sealing of the Z6/Z7 bodies. 

    Blah, blah, blah. The MB-N10 is not the right solution to any problem. If it's more power you need—the one job the MB-N10 does—Nikon should have just made the Z6/Z7 capable of shooting when powered via the USB-C connector on the camera. If it's a vertical grip you want, well, you got a grip without any controls, which makes it useless.

    Sadly, serious time-lapse shooters will probably have to buy this battery grip.

  • The ML-L7 Bluetooth Remote Control. Nikon finally snuck this thing onto the market recently after it lingered in manufacturing limbo for awhile. And guess what? The preferred remote control for the Z50 is...wait for it...the ML-L7. I've been waiting for a camera to test it with, and finally, here's something other than a Coolpix Lens Monster that uses it. 

  • New Lens Road Map. Nikon added eleven lenses to their Z mount lens road map (the two DX lenses announced with the Z50 should be in that count, but others aren't counting them ;~). Other than the three DX convenience zooms, these new lenses fall into four categories:

    1. Compact primes. Finally. Nikon has decided that small might be beautiful after all. We get 28mm and 40mm lenses, which kind of straddles the DX/FX focal length needs. Still both are going to prove to be immensely popular on all the Z cameras, even though they're not S-Line. So much so that someone at Nikon is going to go "Doh!" and slap themselves in the forehead. Maybe the entire management team. Problem is, Samyang is probably going to beat Nikon to compact primes as they move their FE mount work to the Z mount, and Samyang has more focal length choices. So there's another possible "Doh!" and head-slapping moment for Nikon: they get there too late with too little.

    2. Micro-Nikkors. Oh, Nikon. Once again we get the 60mm and 105mm focal lengths. Apparently there are lot of folk doing copy stand work still under employment at Nikon (e.g. the 60mm is a derivative of the original 55mm Micro-Nikkors, which with their short working distance were really designed to copy large format flat artwork on a big copy stand). The first two Z macros should have been 105mm and 200mm, in my opinion. But at least we'll finally get some native macro lenses that work with the Focus Stacking feature of the Z6/Z7. Note that only the 105mm is an S-Line lens, so that just makes it even more of a head scratcher why Nikon thought a 60mm model was necessary.

    3. FX Convenience zooms. We get an S-Line 24-105mm and a non-S-Line 24-200mm. That sounds about right. The success of both will depend upon their apertures and pricing. What's missing is the convenience telephoto zoom, so the 70-300mm AF-P on an FTZ adapter is going to have to hold that position for awhile longer.

    4. Telephoto zooms. Here come some serious telephotos, finally. We get a 100-400mm S-Line and a 200-600mm that isn't. These seem to be the 80-400mm and 200-500mm equivalent for the mirrorless side. 

    The thing that's missing from the new road map is exotics. The recent 120-300mm f/2.8, 180-400mm f/4, and 500mm f4 PF seem to indicate that Nikon's still targeting F-mount for the big statement lenses I call the exotics. I don't have a problem with that. All those lenses seem to work fine on the FTZ adapter, and I don't see the point of cutting off those who are fully committed in the F-mount at this point for an extra piece of integrated plastic instead of an FTZ adapter. It does suggest that a Z9-type camera isn't coming in 2020, though. The F-mount D6 will have to hold serve in the wildlife/sports/PJ markets for the time being. 

    One thing I'm already hearing from Nikon users is reinforcement of what I've been saying for over a decade now ("publish a roadmap"): the roadmap is full and well-considered enough that many of the Z-mount skeptics are now more seriously planning if and when they'll make the switch. Funny how that works. Let your customers into your basic plans and strategy, and they stop complaining and start making their own plans on how they'll get to your new products. Some industries (autos, mobile phones) do this by having yearly new models, with some hinting and foreshadowing of might be changed. The camera industry? Until mirrorless, they just thought consumers were mindless soles that would just buy whatever they put out. Nikon was last to mirrorless. Nikon was last to roadmaps. See, it wasn't so difficult, was it, Nikon?

  • The NOCT. I've already written my say on the NOCT, and nothing's changed since getting a closer look at it. I will point out that this is likely going to be a lens you find at rental shops. The videographers tend to rent expensive gear rather than buy it, and if the NOCT really produces a look as dreamy as suggested, it will be a popular rental with some video users.

Which brings us to the Z50. 

Simple version: Nikon got it mostly right. This is going to be a broadly appealing camera, and it's at a good price point.

That's not to say that they got everything right. I'm not sure why we need the Scene exposure modes when we already got the extension of the Picture Controls with the Creative Picture Controls on the Z6/Z7 and now Z50. Nikon needs to pick a lane here. 

Nikon's marketing seems to indicate that they're pushing this camera towards consumers, even though they say it's an Enthusiast camera. I think consumers are not who will buy it. It's clearly an enthusiast's camera when you look at it carefully, and it's going to provide a low-cost sampling point for the serious D300/D500/D7xxx/D600/D7xx/D8xx user to try the new Z mount. Indeed, I'd suggest that they do, as the Z50 with the primary kit lens is an excellent choice as a small walk around, travel camera that you keep with you all the time.

Moreover, this is another magnesium chassis with decent weather sealing, much like the Z6/Z7. Nikon avoided the plastic-feel build that a lot of its competitors use. 

Enthusiasts are going to be griping about a few things, though:

  • No thumb stick, and no touchpad control of focus points while looking through the EVF. This means we're back to the Direction pad to move focus (or your eye is away from the viewfinder). And the Direction pad isn't well positioned or built for this, as Nikon knows full well from the early DSLR era. 
  • No Wireless Commander mode for the built-in flash. The camera supports Wireless, but only via infrared and only with a Commander-capable flash in the hot shoe.
  • The lack of a remote port that supports the DM-MC2 type remotes and accessories (including the radio wireless WR-R10). The Bluetooth better work right on this camera.
  • The change in battery. Yep, a new battery and charger. Just when we were getting fully standardized in our travel bags, here comes another wrinkle to deal with.
  • No enthusiast DX lenses. Once again you have to look to the FX lenses for "more" than the consumer convenience zooms, and then the lack of on-sensor VR and the size of those lenses starts to detract from the pleasant, small usefulness of the Z50.

That said, Nikon has just proven that Sony still needs to do some work on making those small Alpha cameras fully ergonomic. The Z50 basically feels like a near perfectly downsized DSLR. Nikon's excellent ergonomics have been scaled quite well, and the body is instantly familiar to any long-time Nikon user. Here's the sentence that caught my eye in Nikon's press materials, which shows that they understand this: "Premium construction in an ergonomically compact camera." 

Almost certainly a Z30 is coming (I know it was prototyped). Personally, I'm not sure it should be Nikon's next priority. Stripping down the Z50 to hit a Z30-type price point is going to start impacting many of the things that the Z50, Z6, and Z7 have done right, I suspect. I'd say leave that market to Canon to pursue with their dead-end M200 type cameras and do something else that appeals to those that have a long history with Nikon.

And that would be a Z70/Z90 type of camera. Something that adds to the solid foundation that the Z50 provides us. Look at that griping list above, and you start to see how such a camera would shape up.

Update: Nikon may be more clever than we gave them credit for. After thinking about it, consider this lineup:

  • DX entry: Z30 (a Z50 without the EVF, a few other simplifications)
  • DX enthusiast low: Z50
  • DX enthusiast high: Z70 (in the Z6/Z7 body and adds the things that come with that: on-sensor VR, top LCD, better rear LCD, better EVF, XQD/CFexpress)
  • FX entry: Z5 (in the Z50 body with a full frame sensor [yes, that works]). Because of the Z50 simplifications, it can be cheaper than the Z6 and compete with the RP.
  • FX enthusiast low: Z6
  • FX enthusiast high: Z7

Add a pro Z9 and you have a full range of bodies with lots of parts/manufacturing overlap. Then as you iterate, you push the Z6 to 36mp, the Z7 to 60mp and you have more differentiation from the entry FX body. Likewise, you can roll a new, higher pixel count sensor in the Z70 to add differentiation, too. 

Nikon's re-thinking the mirrorless re-entry certainly put more than an extra year into the wait before we got to see what they were up to, but they may have used that year wisely and gotten a great deal of lineup rationalization all ready to roll. (Now watch Nikon mess this up! ;~)

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