Oh Oh, Nikon 1

(commentary)

With the introduction today of the three DL models, Nikon has effectively taken all that they accomplished in the Nikon 1 space in terms of camera and put that into compact cameras with fixed lenses. 

This has the Nikon 1 community in a bit of a tizzy. Technically, the DL 24-85mm is better than the J5 with the kit lens, for about US$250 more. What’s better? True 4K video, the ability to use real Speedlights, the optional EVF, the new Bluetooth SnapBridge, and of course a lens that is wider at the wide end while being as much as two stops faster at equivalent focal lengths. All things that Nikon 1 owners have been asking for.

So Nikon almost immediately needs a J6 with those other abilities and a fast mid-range CX zoom lens, or the primary Nikon 1 model is complete toast. And even then there’s the issue of size, as a fast CX lens that matches the DL’s is going to be much, much bigger than the collapsible DL version, and the total package much more expensive. Unpainted corner, meet Nikon J5. Nikon J5, welcome to the corner.

The DL 18-50mm also makes the 6.7-13mm lens seem a bit problematic, as here we have a complete camera and lens for only US$350 more than a lesser specified lens by itself. And again, the camera is better than a J5. Heck, these new DLs look a lot like a V3 (that optional EVF thing), missing only the added controls that the V3 has. 

So, here’s the story today: the Nikon 1 line needs a very strong rethinking and more lens support, plus it needs that soon, or else it is likely to continue to wither away. That Nikon didn’t leave much on the table when they designed these new DLs seems to suggest that Nikon has chosen let the Nikon 1 wilt.

What would save the Nikon 1 at this point? (1) built-in EVFs; (2) a full prime lens set that’s wicked small, plus additional lenses that complete the zoom set; (3) more high level controls/buttons/dials; (4) weatherproofing; (5) bigger buffers; and (6) competitive prices. But #6 is in contradiction to #1, #4, and #5, so it’s a tightrope that Nikon would have to walk to make the Nikon 1 lineup work again. 

My guess is that Nikon will shift to DX mirrorless.

The whole market is being squeezed. At the top end we’ve got specs that are now outside of most users’ needs (and at historically high prices for enthusiasts). At the bottom end smartphones are pushing continuously upwards and destroying the smaller sensor compacts. Thus, as compacts grab larger sensors to compete, they get closer to DSLR/mirrorless levels of capability.  There’s just not a lot of design space left: basically 1”, m4/3, APS/DX, and full frame/FX, all of which are about one stop apart.

Do we need four options one stop apart? Probably not. I suspect that long term every camera maker will tend towards two sensor sizes as they get squeezed further. In the meantime, though, Nikon has to protect their high volume DX line, and I think that’s going to come next with a mirrorless replacement for the D3300. Which coupled with the DLs would make Nikon 1 not really necessary. 

So is it 1 and done, Nikon? 

Nikon doesn’t have a lot of time to answer that question. Nikon 1 users will be making longer term decisions based upon what they’re seeing in the market very quickly now, I think. Many, including myself, will probably move away from Nikon 1, as there isn’t a purpose it serves for us that isn’t better served with something else.

So again, Nikon: are you 1 and done? Nikon marketing needs to answer that question, and fast. 

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