2013 News and Comments

Items are copied here when I move them off the front page.

Front-page articles from 2012 are here
Front-page articles from 2011 are here
Front-page articles from 2010 are here
Front-page articles from 2009 are here
Front-page articles from 2008 are here
Front-page articles from 2007 are here
Older articles (2006 and earlier) are here

Reminder: since October 2011, all news about mirrorless cameras, including the Nikon 1, is now posted on my other site, sansmirror.com: Mirrorless camera news.

Nikon D4 Review Posted
Apr 5, 2013 (news)--
My review of the Nikon D4 is now posted.

D600 Lens Sets
Apr 4, 2013 (commentary)--
I've written before about good lens sets for the D800 (now buried in the 2012 Nikon News archive). It's time I wrote something similar for the D600.

It's not a coincidence that Nikon has five recent variable aperture zooms for FX (18-35mm, 24-85mm, 28-300mm, 70-300mm, and 80-400mm). The first three of those almost certainly wouldn't have been developed if there wasn't going to be a D600. Thus, D600 users have three zoom lens set choices to consider:

  • Variable aperture zooms -- 18-35mm, 24-85mm VR, 28-300mm VR, 70-300mm VR, and 80-400mm VR.
  • f/4 zooms -- 16-35mm VR, 24-120mm VR, 70-200mm VR.
  • f/2.8 zooms -- 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm VR.

There's little question that quality in some very technical and low level areas goes up as you go down those bullets. So does cost and size (80-400mm notwithstanding). It's those two bits, cost and size, that argue for seeing if you can get by with one of the lower-specified zooms. The good news is that you can, without giving up a lot (and in some cases gaining something: the f/4 lenses all have VR).

Knowing something about how you shoot most of the time is important, too. If you're doing mostly scenics and stopping down to small apertures, you're not going to see a lot of differential between the 18-35mm and the 14-24mm at 20mm and f/11. Frankly, I don't see any such differences worth commenting on in that scenario. On the other hand, if you like throwing backgrounds out of focus, the variable aperture zooms are probably not going to please you.

The good news is that there's not a dud lens in the current Nikkor FX bunch. I'll happily use any of the zooms on the D600 body, whereas on my D800E I'd be skipping the variable aperture zooms other than the 70-300mm and 80-400mm. It's not just diffraction differences. I've been researching an article about sensor/lens interaction for awhile now, but am not ready to show my findings. However, I will share a preliminary conclusion: that the camera you mount the lens on does make a small difference to apparent lens performance. A really good case here is the old 20mm f/2.8D. I've long recommended that you avoid it on the DX cameras. Yet it seems to work better on recent FX bodies. That's actually one of the things that sent me into testing mode trying to figure out why as it's counter intuitive to supposedly established logic (e.g. DX cameras only use the best central area of an FX lens). Well, one "why" is probably this: from the front of the AA filter to the photo-to-electron conversion area in the sensor, you need to think of that as a second optical system. Light from the first optical system (lens) that hits the second optical system (filter/sensor) even remotely off axis will be "handled differently" by different cameras. Leica M 240 owners who previously used Leica M9's are going to find that corners work differently on their same lenses, for example, and it's due to sensor/filter changes.

Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that with any of the recent FX lenses and the D600: the 18-35mm and 24-85mm, and even the 28-300mm, seem very well behaved on the D600. I'm finding the 18-35mm to be a remarkably good fit with the D600, as a matter of fact.

How about primes? We have six categories we need to discuss:

  • Older D lenses: 20mm f/2.8, 24mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2.8, 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.4D, 50mm f/1.8D, 85mm f/1.4D, 85mm f/1.8D, 105mm f/2D DC, 135mm f/2D DC, 180mm f/2.8D. Generally, if you had experience with these lenses with film, they perform very similarly on the D600. The first three wide angles are overall decent to good in most respects, the 35mm f/2 has some edge issues and low contrast wide open. The 50mm lenses are low contrast wide open. The telephotos are all superb. I wouldn't hesitate to put any of these lenses on a D600, but in many cases there are better, newer choices.
  • Fast G revisions: 24mm f/1.4, 35mm f/1.4, 50mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.4. All really good lenses (though the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 outclasses the Nikkor for less money; plus you need to understand field curvature and focus shift with some of these fast lenses). Most are a bit big for the D600 body, but if you need f/1.4, you need f/1.4.
  • Slower G revisions: 28mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8, 85mm f/1.8. Also very good lenses (though again watch out for field curvature and focus shift), and very nice complements to the D600. The smaller size more naturally fits the smaller body, and you're not really giving up a lot.
  • Macro lenses: 60mm f/2.8, 105mm f/2.8. Sharp as nails on a D600.
  • Exotic lenses: 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, 600mm f/4. Again, sharp as nails on a D600. But I'm not sure the D600 is the camera best suited to these lenses (you probably would prefer the larger focus area of the D800 or D4, plus you need to be a little more careful about putting stress on the D600 mount than you do on a D800 or D4).

I probably should also dip in to some legacy lenses, as well. I don't have a large collection of legacy Nikkors any more, as I've been pruning my collection to just the few lenses I need. But I can say that brief use of the following before I sold them off convinced me that they're all very usable on the D600: the old 18-35mm, the old 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5, the 17-35mm f/2.8, and the 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5. Legacy lenses I found less satisfactory in performance are the old 24-120mm f/4-5.6, and the 20-35mm f/2.8.

So what's an appropriate D600 kit using modern lenses? For a more casual shooter who wants a well rounded capability at the lowest cost, simple: 18-35mm, 24-85mm, 70-300mm zooms, and the 28mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.8 lenses. Versatility in the zooms that matches well with the D600's capabilities, plus fast lenses for low light that also work well with the camera.

If you're the perfectionist trying to extract every last bit of goodness at the pixel level, my recommendations are basically the same as with the D800 (and why didn't you get that camera if you're pixel peeping that hard? ;~): the 16-35mm and 24-120mm zooms, and/or the f/2.8 zooms, and the top f/1.4 primes.

A lot of folk jumped on the D800 because it was "the best Nikon makes," regardless of whether their skill set or lens kit matched up. Many of those should have gotten a D600 instead. It's a more logical choice that gives excellent results with almost anything you stick in front of it.

There's a "balance" issue at work here. The D600 plus any recent FX lens produces better-than-film type results, in my opinion. Few people need more than that. And if they do, they'd better be prepared to pay in cost, size, and weight to do so.

Of course, a D600 isn't exactly "cheap." The simple kit I suggest would run you US$5260 for camera and lenses. Good thing this set delivers well, then. But this also brings us back to talking about DX. The closest equivalent DX kit right now would be a D7100, with 10-24mm, 16-85mm, 70-300mm, 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 lenses. That would run you US$3810. But note how nonequivalent the two are:

  • DX range = 15 to 450mm via the zooms, not the 18-300mm of the FX kit.
  • DX is missing a wide, fast prime.
  • You can't build an f/4, let alone f/2.8 DX kit.

Ironically, you can make a Nikon 1 kit that comes closer to the simple FX kit than the DX kit! Try 6.7-13mm (18-35mm equivalent), 10-30mm (27-81mm equivalent), 30-110mm (81-297mm equivalent), 10mm f/2.8 (27mm equivalent), and 18.5mm f/1.8 (50mm equivalent), with a 32mm f/1.2 (85mm equivalent) in development due out shortly. Once again one has to wonder if all the DX engineers are on an extended vacation or not.

Which brings us back to the D600. One of the appeals here is that there is a simple kit available that provides a wide range of very usable options with good performance. You don't have to buy it all at once, but knowing that the option is there for future extension without having to buy the most expensive Nikkors is quite reassuring.

The only conclusion I can make is this: Nikon got it right for FX and CX lens development. Yet despite 14 years of DX, they've yet to figure out what DX lenses really are required. Here's my list, one more time, should Nikon ever find where the DX lens designers snuck off to:

  • Variable zooms: 12-24mm+, 16-60mm+, 50-200mm*
  • f/4 zooms: 16-60mm, 50-150mm
  • f/2.8 zooms: 16-50mm, 50-150mm
  • Fast primes: 16mm, 18mm, 24mm, 35mm*, 60mm+

* = exists, + = passable option exists

So, D600 owners should be thankful. They've got a wide variety of lenses, both legacy and current, that work very well on the camera. Indeed, D600 users are sitting nearly perfectly in the FX sweet spot, as there are very few poor options, and all of those are legacy lenses. The D600 is so nicely in the sweet spot, it's going to lure a few folk who would have otherwise opted for a D7100, and it's that lens choice that is the bait. Perhaps that's been Nikon's strategy all along, but if it is, it's not a great strategy long term. Why? Because the D600 plus the simple lens set might very well be your Last Camera, plus smart consumers are not going to be all that inclined to be lured higher for more money again after being stretched so far once.

Lightroom and ACR Update
Apr 3, 2013 (news)--
Adobe Camera Raw has been updated to version 7.4 and Lightroom to version 4.4. This brings a number of changes of interest to Nikon users. First, default white balance handling has been changed for many pre D3 cameras (D40, D50, D80, D200, D2hs, D2x, D2xs). Second, support for the Nikon S1, J3, Coolpix A, and D7100 has been added, and preliminary support for the Coolpix P330 is available. Finally, there are some new lens profiles of significance, including one for the 70-200mm f/4 and for several recent third-party lenses. There were lots of bug fixes in both releases, so you should definitely update if you use these products.

Ticket Info for Nikon: the Musical
Apr 3, 2013 (humor)--
One of my site readers caught something on the tickets to Nikon: the Musical (see below). In fine print you'll see the words "In the rare event that you're sitting on the left side of auditorium and can't hear our 51-speaker sound system clearly, please send us an audio recording that demonstrates the problem, then send your ticket and recording to us via registered mail at your expense so that we can review it before deciding whether or not to make any adjustments." Simple solution: only sit in the middle of the theatre.

More Camera Firmware Updates (Plus Flash)
Apr 2, 2013 updated (news & commentary)--
Add the D3, D3s, D3x, D7000, and D3200 to the firmware update list today, though the first four seem to only have the change necessary to support the new 800mm f/5.6 lens in EXIF. (It'll be curious to see how far back Nikon rolls the 800mm updates. I'll bet there are some D300 and D700 users who will use that lens, for instance.)

Meanwhile, the D3200 gets a bug fix update (C1.0.1) of its own, with several minor fixes. And somehow an SB-900 firmware update (5.02) snuck in there a couple of days ago without most of us noticing (this apparently is a repackaging of the earlier updates, which was an EXE file only; no new functions, just a new way of applying it). I note also that I didn't mention the WR-R10 update (2.00) earlier last month, either.

D4, D600, and D800 Firmware Updates
Apr 2, 2013 updated (news & commentary)--
Nikon has posted firmware updates for the D4 (A1.05, B1.03), the D600 (C1.01), D800 models (A1.01, B1.02). Note that the D800 and D800E require different update files, so pay attention to the link if you own one of those cameras.

All cameras get EXIF support for the new 800mm f/5.6 lens. The D600 and D800 also get an improvement in subject tracking performance for continuous focus mode (previously made on the D4). In casual testing, it appears that there is an apparent increase in focus performance for moving subjects while tracking them, just as there was with the D4's earlier update.

The D600 also gets a fix that provides 100% output size for video on the HDMI port and several bug fixes. The D800 meanwhile, gets better display of gamut on the color LCD when using AdobeRGB as the Color Space, while the D4 and D800 get a change to Live View exposure when in Manual exposure mode, plus several bug fixes. The strangest modification is this one for the D4: "Images are sharper and appear more three dimensional." I have no idea what that's referring to, though I suspect it must be a JPEG/TIFF change.

Unfortunately, one wished for change: a return of trap focus capability, is still missing in action.

(An earlier post noted that the new Live View function replaced the old. It does, but you can get the earlier method by pressing the OK button while in Live View.)

The Complete Guide to Nikon (The Musical)
Apr 1, 2013 (news)--
Yes, I know I should have been working harder on the Web site and doing more reviews this past year. Thing is, I've been keeping a secret from you. I've long been working on a special project I haven't yet written about, one that has been one of those life-long dreams that not all of us actually get around to doing. Not even my best friends know about this project, though I think one of them is a bit suspicious. Are you sitting down?

I asked, are you sitting down?

With your posterior correctly placed, yes, the poster above is real: I can now reveal that I've been writing a musical. This dream started back in college. Many of you know that I put myself partly though college by playing in the Spokane Symphony. My ex-wife played in the pit for Gilbert & Sullivan operettas and musicals. Music was in the air of our small apartment most of the time, and when it wasn't playing, we were ourselves playing (our instruments, that is).

One of the Symphony's gigs was to act as the orchestra for the Seattle Opera when it toured Eastern Washington and even into Idaho, Oregon, and Montana. It was during one of those long bus rides between towns that don't have opera companies that I started thinking to myself "you know, I should write an opera or musical." Always thinking of the monetary aspect, I decided upon musical. Hey, if Max Bialystock can make money on Broadway, maybe so can I.

Over the years I tinkered with possible melodies and harmonies, but I never could figure out what the musical should be about. Now here's the really wierd part: my mom, bless her soul, knows what film she would write. She can recite the whole plot, from beginning to end, and it's actually quite good; she'd probably have a studio executive hooked in minutes with her pitch. I wish she'd just put it down on paper.

Why is it wierd that my mom knows what film she would do? Well, I'm the trained filmmaker and a trained writer, and I don't know what film I'd do (though mom's idea is certainly compelling). It just seems strange to me that here she has a nicely laid out plot--one that's going to choke the audience up at the midpoint, by the way--and I'm supposedly the more creative one but have struggled with the long form plot type for pretty much forever. If I can't write a plot for a film, how the heck am I going to do it for a musical?

I know what you're thinking. Yes, I know what day today is. But everything I've written so far is absolutely true. Which is why the next part is going to blow your mind.

I was at a conference of writers almost a decade ago and somehow a group of us got around to a discussion of projects we couldn't quite finish. Yes, a block of writers with writers block. We all took turns tackling each other's problems, fears, and black holes, hoping that we could get each other motivated to get back to putting words on paper. When it came round to me and I had to face the group--you'd recognize some of the names, by the way, but we all promised we'd never disclose each others' names in conjunction with having writer's block--I pointed out that my problem was a little more fundamental than the ones that most of the others were having. While many of these pros were stuck on a character or a plot twist or something procedural or having a kick ass ending, I was stuck back at the starting gate: I had no idea what my musical should even be about.

One of the more famous of those present asked me: "Well, what are you known for?"

"My instruction manuals, mostly."

"Well, that's what you should write about: your musical should be an instruction manual."

And that's how The Complete Guide to Nikon, The Musical got started.

Yeah, you read that right.

It really sounds silly, doesn't it? Almost like it were an April Fool's joke. Unfortunately, I'm a pretty twisted fellow, and once that little germ of an idea lodged in my brain, it wouldn't come out. Funny thing is, once I really pondered it, it became clear to me that the idea was simply brilliant. Boy meets camera, boy loves camera, boy loses camera, boy gets a new camera. Funny how that fits so nicely into a very regular musical plot line, isn't it?

So my hero, Nick Hawn, is going to fall in love with a camera. You're probably saying to yourself "well if he had problems getting started before he's really going to have problems with such a wild premise." Well maybe not. Almost immediately one of the love ballads came to me: "I'm Falling for Your Pixels."

The reviews were all good
The forums were quite abuzz
Every place that I looked
Says you're the best that ever was

But I dis-be-lieved them
and couldn't think that was right
That anyone could shoot
in the darkness of the night

Then I received a file
That made the goosebumps rise
And it turned out that
this camera really takes the prize

At one hundred percent
I'm falling for your pixels

At twice life size
You still deliver

Your RGB goodness makes me shiver
Oh at one hundred percent
I'm falling for your pixels, your pixels, your pixels

Which led me immediately to a second love ballad, believe it or not. Who knew I was such a romantic? Yes, as Nick begins falling in love, he goes in head over heals. He can't contain his love. So he starts pressing all his camera's buttons and sings "When I Touch You Something Changes."

When I push this button and twirl that dial
All my pictures of you will pop and make me smile.

When I touch you
Some-thing changes
You let me control
Every one of your ranges
Oh when I touch you something always changes

I had long thought writing a musical was going to be hard, but once the basic premise was in grasp the only hard part turned out to be gettiing the music right. The plot, dialogue, and lyrics all came very quickly (though I keep tweaking them pretty much every day). Not having done much composing, it was actually melody, chords, and orchestration that has been the bane of my getting this thing done. The end result is something that's a bit out there, much like Rocky Horror Picture Show or Little Shop of Horrors, where the suspension of disbelief is a huge gap to get the audience to cross, but once crossed, everything becomes total camp and fun.

Really, is it that difficult to believe that you can write a musical about cameras? I mean we've got tornados that take people from Kansas and land them in a world with yellow brick roads, nanny's that can fly using an umbrella, rival New York City gangs that dance, lottery winners touring a chocalate factory, a con man that sells musical instruments, women on death row, producers trying to make a flop but instead succeeding, and of course those alien plants that eat people and a couple whose car breaks down near a strange castle owned by a transvestite. My premise seems a bit tame compared to those, don't you think?

But back to the plot. My favorite part of the musical has to be the start of the second act. The first act was all about falling in love with a DSLR and then losing it. The second act starts with Nick in a camera shop hoping to find a new love. All the other people in the camera store begin to sing the complex group number "He's a Switcher, Beware" as the sales folk circle around him offering him potential new loves. This is one of those classic one-voice-versus-many songs, where we have a soloist singing:

The grass is greener in the pixels of another body
There's no banding in the shadows, no distracting color noise
The skies are so much cleaner, the QA not near as shoddy
It's clearly so much better than my older camera toys

while the chorus of circling and slowly closing in salesfolk and other customers sing a classic staccato counterpoint against the melody:

He's a switch-er, be-ware
A-bout the brand he shoots he does-n't care
Chang-ing loy-al-ty we're sure he'll dare
But nobody knows just how in the end that he will fare

Nick manages to get out of the store, do his research ("Do I Trust Lloyd Scott Rockgood?") and eventually order his new love. Of course, we're still not out of the woods yet, as the waiting turns to fret with the lament "When Will My Pre-Order Ship?"

I clicked when you asked
and I gave you my credit card
you said you'd get back to me
but now I just wait on guard

Where is my camera?
When will it come?
When will you ship it?
Where will it be shipped from?

Please oh please oh please just ship it
Please oh please oh please just send it to me
Please oh please oh please I need to have it
I'm just tired of it being absentee
So hurry up
and just
ship it to me

I won't give away any more of the plot or lyrics today, let alone the ending, as I need to save a few surprises. Amazingly, it all seems to have come together into a cohesive ode to photography as only Broadway could overdo it. Many of you know I work with a local theatre company every spring (see poster), and spring is almost here...so…okay, one more:

My card is full
I can't save any more
the model's still cool
but I'm headed out the door

I need more cards
I can't take it any more
these megapixels are killing me
SanDisk is making me poor

Oh, what I'd give for proper WiFi
For my bits to my computer fly
Oh, what I'd give for proper WiFi
There's no workflow that's right I can buy

(That last bit is from the song "You Interrupt my Workflow")

Again, I know what day today is. I know you don't believe me. There are only two false statements in this entire article, though. Indeed, really only six false words in the sentences making those statements. So the real April Fool's joke is forcing you to find those words.

It's showtime!

Some of you might want to link to this. The linkable page for Nikon the Musical is here.

And Now for Some April 1st Fun
Apr 1, 2013 (fun, news & commentary)--
Don't forget my March Madness survey and the "disqualification" that drove a bunch of D800 owners crazy. I've now removed the individual articles from this page, so that's the only place you'll see the full sequence of what happened.

Lens Rebates Ending
Mar 27, 2013 (news & commentary)--
I'm hearing that the lens-only rebates end on Sunday. Any remaining lens rebates will be only with purchase of a body, I believe. So if you've been procrastinating, it might be time to break the credit card out of your freezer.

I suspect Nikon is in analysis mode at the moment. Their fiscal year ends this week so they're not going to upset anything in their critical financials by removing the rebates. Of course, short term pressure will build moving forward if they don't keep putting new product into the pipeline. It's just at the start of a fiscal year, Nikon will likely move more cautiously in terms of taking profit cuts. They have some time to analyze what happened with the year-end rebates and figure out what to do next.

Given the yen depreciation and the need to continue showing growth, I suspect more rebates will return in some form later this spring. But for now, the lens only rebates are apparently on hiatus. That said, it isn't unlike Nikon to change their mind at the last minute. It's happened before. But at the moment the word I receive from multiple sources is that the lens-only rebates are stopping.

The rebate on the Nikon V2 appears to be increasing slightly. Still not enough of a discount, but don't buy a V2 this week.

It's a Small World, Isn't It?
Mar 20, 2013 (commentary)--
Canon's announcement of the Rebel SL1 (100D) is something I've already written about over on sansmirror (the gist: Canon has mirrorless tightly bracketed now). But what's it mean to Nikon DSLRs?

At first glance, the new Canon doesn't look much smaller than a D3200, but it's 7% narrower, 6% shorter, and 9% less deep. It also weights 19% less, which is probably a more telling statistic. If you go by first glance looks, you're probably inclined to dismiss it, but in the hand and around the neck, we're moving into territory not really seen much since film SLRs, and an area only the Nikon 1 cameras are going to match.

Should Nikon respond with a D1000? Technically, there's nothing keeping them from doing so (other than the fact that it would be a new camera platform they'd have to build up from scratch: they have no chassis that would match Canon at the moment). As I noted on sansmirror, the Olympus OM-D E-M5 now has a significant DSLR competitor that's essentially the same weight, very close in width and height, and really only differs in depth. That's probably one reason why Nikon should try their hand at the small DSLR, too, not so much that they have to match Canon. Of course, that just brings us back to the same old refrain: where are the DX primes? Small cameras need small lenses to stay small. Olympus still has that going for them.

Of course, the Nikon faithful who frequent this site want a different small DSLR: the FM3D. The FM3 film SLR, believe it or not, is bigger than the Canon D100: 142.5 x 90 x 58mm for the FM3 versus 117 x 91 x 69 for the Canon. Of course, we don't need the two areas to roll film up in, so we can probably narrow it right down to the new Canon's size, and then they'd be very close in dimension.

The crowd that wants an FM3D would want two things specifically that the D3200 doesn't have (the rest of the D3200 is perfectly fine for this crowd): Non-CPU Lens Data settings, and a non-plastic body. Well, technically they'd also want an FX sensor, but let's try to keep this something that will have broad appeal at the entry level and have carryover appeal for the serious crowd, too. So can the FX sensor, forget the metal body, but keep the AI lens indexing. Then make some darned DX lenses (16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 60mm would be a nice start, even at f/2.8 as long as they're small). Voila, a small Nikon DSLR that not only gets lots of entry users, but will be picked up as an extra camera by the serious Nikon shooter, too. Of course, it needs lenses, so launch it with at least one and show us in some way that you have plans for more.

Nikon Cameras and Green Tint
Mar 17, 2013 (humor)--
Multiple reports of "overly green" photographs have been posted today, and it's reignited the buzz on some of the Internet fora. Many of these images seem to have been taken at parades and in bars, so it can't be lighting and white balance dependent.

According to my sources, most of this "green tint" problem should automatically subside tomorrow and that this is just a one-day bug in the system.

Some Final Thoughts on D700 Replacement
Mar 17, 2013 (commentary)--
In creating the following two articles and responding to many emails, I also did a bit of research into what I've written in the past and did some rethinking about where Nikon is today and their likely path forward.

Back when we were two years into the D700 and the first thoughts of possible replacement started forming (partly because of the D3s/D3x launches), my initial thoughts were that Nikon should do a D700s and D700x update. The logic in this is simple: the echo of sensor use makes a lot of sense. Let the pro mix and match as they need. The problem for Nikon with that logic was simple: money. The D700 was US$3000, the D3s was US$5100 and the D3x was US$8000. If you exactly matched sensors at the lower price point, you would tend to drive people to the lower price point. Put a different way: Nikon simply didn't put enough differentiation in the small and big bodies, especially when they offered a grip for the small body (more on when that happened in a bit).

As it turned out, the D3x at US$8000 has been replaced by a camera at US$3000 anyway. But not until Nikon extracted as many of the higher prices from us as they could. Now Nikon has multiple problems in the high end lineup: the best body is only made in the lowest megapixel count, the highest performance in terms of focus/frame rate is only available in the lowest megapixel count body at the highest price, the highest megapixel count is available in the least expensive pro body, plus there's a consumer body at a lower price that somehow manages to wedge in between everything.

A relatively simple solution exists to Nikon's dilemma, and it would make those remaining "where's my D700 update" folk happy: completely rationalize the pro lineup the way Nikon started out to.

Wayback Machine, please. Cranking it back to 2001. Press the button, watch the puff of smoke, and...we're at a Nikon press conference outlining how they believed that there were two primary types of pros: performance-oriented, and studio-oriented. The performance group included sports and photo journalists (conspicuously absent was mention of wildlife photographers, a constant blind spot in Nikon's marketscope). They wanted high frame rates and high ISO quality. The studio group also spilled over into landscape photographers who shared the same high-resolution, slower work style. Nikon's answer was two cameras, one for each group: introducing the D1h and D1x.

As we fast forward back to today we see the D2h and D2x, the D2hs and D2xs, the D3 and the D3x (and look at the smaller splinter, the D300!). Today we have... Wait, what? The D4 and D800? That's not right, is it? Something's really strange about this new pairing.

That the D800 is essentially the D700 replacement is also strange. A smaller performance body has suddenly become mostly a smaller studio body, which is what has provoked a lot of the protests about the D800's specs. Nikon established the performance/studio coupling, then broke it.

Of course, the D800 has one aspect of the performance: high ISO work is perfectly fine, as I've pointed out. The only "broken" thing in the D700 to D800 progression as a performance camera is frame rate, which Nikon only partly addressed with the DX crop.

So what's the relatively simple solution? Well, exactly what I asked for in the first place back in 2009: a D800h and a D800x. Wait just a second, we already have the D800x. It's called a D800E. Hmm. So if Nikon would take a lower megapixel sensor and drop it into the same body with a higher frame rate, we'd have a D800h. The more I think about this, the more I'm back to my original position: Nikon would be silly not to do this. It solves so many of their problems and keeps their marketing message the same as it has been for twelve years for professionals: pick performance or pixels.

The problem is actually the D4 and the very likely upcoming D4x. What Nikon hasn't done with the D300/D700/D800 bodies is put quite enough distance between the features of the small pro bodies at a lower price and the big pro bodies at a higher price. The camera that they actually screwed this up with wasn't the D300 (it had a DX sensor, and that alone is enough differentiation, I believe; the D3/D300 coupling was very, very logical and well thought out). It was the D700 that messed Nikon up.

Please note that I didn't write that the D700 was a bad camera. It was great. Still is. No, it's when Nikon put an FX sensor into that smaller pro body, they didn't really have enough differentiation between the small body pro performance camera and the high. Nikon partially solved that by squeezing another stop out of the D3 and not putting that sensor into a D700s. You see the trap they're falling into here? Yep, they differentiated the D700 and D3s by sensor. Yet for a pro, it's the sensor that is the center of their upgrade needs. With the D4 and D800 they're doing it again: diffrentiating by sensor, but in a wierd way. They've trapped themselves in a tough place.

So I'm back to where I was in 2009. Nikon needs a D800h and D800x, plus a D4h and D4x. This then leads to one of two further conclusions: (1) if the D800h and D4h are the same sensor and frame rate while the D800x and D4x also share a sensor and frame rate, then the D800 and D4 bodies need more differentiation to justify the US$2000+ price difference. You can see Nikon experimenting a bit with that with the Ethernet, WT-5, and a few other aspects of the D4, but it's not enough to justify the extra cost. (2) the D800h could be 16mp while the D4h is 24mp, and the D800x could be 36mp while the D4x might be 48mp+. But this forces the pro to make sensor choices that determine body choice. At the moment, Nikon is caught in a trap of their own making, and #1 is where they goofed up: not enough body differentiation.

As a working pro, frankly I'd buy all four bodies I just described under either scenario. Well, okay, I'd want to buy all four. Economics might force me to pick a subset of two, but in either of those scenarios, any subset of two is justifiable to someone.

So while I've argued against many of the "where's my D700 upgrade" folk strongly in my articles (and stick by what I wrote), I can also see a rationalized pro lineup that would solve their problem without hurting anyone. Indeed, a D800h/D800x plus D4h/D4x lineup would be intensely strong, and pretty much protect Nikon from any incursion into "pro" the Sonys and others of the camera world want to attempt. Heck, it would be more rationalized than Canon's lineup, too.

I know what a lot of you are thinking: when can we get this? Yeah, me too.

More Challenging the D700 Replacement Logic
Mar 13, 2013 (commentary)--
One additional point has been raised by the many emails I've received:

  • Big files kill workflow efficiency

This is the typical wedding photographer comment. They want FX and low light capability but they don't want big files. The underlying problem is defined in two parts: (1) they don't need to print big; but (2) 36mp files take them longer to process the thousands of shots they take at a single wedding.

Okay, I buy that. But why do these folk need a D700 replacement? They may already be on their Last Camera Syndrome equipment if the D700 suffices for the time being. By the time they really need to replace that camera, we may well be on the next generation of cameras.

Basically, these shooters wanted a 16mp D800 (D800 body with the D4 sensor). That doesn't seem like a very substantive upgrade, frankly. Let me state it this way: using the D4 makes me think the D3s was a damned good camera and used ones in excellent condition are real bargains. Sure, I get a few more pixels at about the same noise levels, which allows me to print (or crop) slightly larger (more). But at the common wedding print sizes, I'm not sure that's really going to show up visibly. I then have to look at the features that the D4 added and my reaction is still not strong. Simply put: the D4 isn't a huge step up from a D3s in terms of still imaging. A D800 with the D4 sensor would have a similar relationship with the D700: small step.

I'm also a little suspicious of the "slows my workflow" claims (please note I wrote "a little"). If these shooters are taking JPEGs, just use JPEG Medium 1.2x crop (14mp). The D800 produces pretty remarkable downsized JPEGs, after all. The 1.2x crop gives them the "sports viewfinder" view of what's happening just outside the frame lines, which I've always found useful in candid situations.

Oh, it's those 75MB NEF files that scare them. Yes, if you shoot that way you're getting file sizes 3x what you get with the D700, which right away means 3x the ingest time to the computer. The more likely scenario is that you'd shoot the D700 at 14-bit lossless compressed (16.4MB) and the D800 at 12-bit lossless compressed (32.4MB), which is only a 2x difference, though. Saved you 33% in time right there, and you still have better image quality. Even more likely: shoot 5:4 12-bit lossless (27MB), trimming a bit more off the ingest time. But what makes me think that these folk are still using a single USB 2.0 card reader? ;~) Oh, and one more thing: a 16mp D800 would have bigger files than the D700 does, so we need to account for that, too. Bottom line: <2x difference in ingest time and storage space between the "optimal D700 replacement" for these folks and the actual D800 as you'd likely use it.

Batch processing the raws certainly will take longer, and I can't discount that. However, implicit within many of the wedding photographer comments I received is that the additional pixels didn't gain them anything because "we don't print that large." Frankly, wedding photography is a competitive business. I personally would want any advantage I could get. What most of the arguments I received said was "I can process images faster" is the advantage. But that's not a customer advantage, the same problem I rag on Nikon about from time to time. All else equal, a 14" print from a D800 should show more edge acuity and be perceived sharper than one from a D700. That's not a useful advantage? The bride couldn't care less about how much work I have to do; she cares only about the final results. Am I willing to upgrade my computer equipment and optimize my workflow and absorb some processing time to get an advantage in final results? Yes, I am. If I wasn't, I'd be perfectly happy with a D700 ;~).

So let me rag on Nikon instead of the wedding photographers for a bit ;~). There's a simple answer that would have stopped the "big file" complaint: sRAW. That's right, create an in-camera NEF file smaller in pixel size than captured, as do many of the Canon cameras. Now technically, Canon's sRAW isn't raw as it contains an interpolation. But you could bin the D800 sensor to create a true raw variation (3680 x 2456). Sure it would be 9mp, which for some may be too small. But boy would that be a darned good file to work with. (Opportunity alert: why we don't have any software that can convert a D800 raw into a correctly binned raw, I don't know. This alone might solve some of the wedding photographer's complaints about the D800 if done properly [i.e. on ingest]. You know, now that I think about it, I'll bet that photojournalists wouldn't mind binning the 16mp and 24mp sensors, either. After all, most time-sensitive publications don't need 300 dpi capable of printing at 18" or bigger. Note that a really well done solution would preserve the original raw file as well as creating the bRAW one.)

Challenging the D700 Replacement Logic
Mar 12, 2013 (commentary)--
My comments about the D700 in my D600 review seem to have provoked the "Where's my D700 replacement" crowd into a rage. Why they're in a rage, I don't know, but they shouldn't be.

Every time I challenge one of the folks that say the D800 wasn't the D700 replacement they wanted, one of two things ensues:

  • They misunderstand sensors.
  • They want 8 fps.

That's about it. So let's deal with those things.

If I'm making a 13" print (the largest a D700 can produce and still deliver 300 dpi to the printer), both the 24mp sensor in the D600 and the 36mp sensor in the D800 will produce better results, even at high ISO values. Why? Because sensor technology has moved on (twice since the D700) and the sensors are actually collecting more light in the same area now (D700 = 38% quantum efficiency with a maximum of 58,000 electrons per pixel, D600 = 53% QE with 76k e-, D800 = 56% QE with 45k e-). No matter how you crunch the numbers, you should get better looking 13" prints from the D600 and D800. And guess what, you do.

So those of you thinking that Nikon didn't make a high ISO FX followup are wrong. They did. Two of them (three if you count the D4, but that's a different body size and price point).

Which brings us to 8 fps. First, let's be clear here. The D700 is a 5 fps body (the D600 is 5.5 fps, the D800 is 4 fps). To get 8 fps on the D700 you need the vertical grip and the right batteries. But let's look just a little closer at the full set of numbers. The D600 remains 5.5 fps with or without the grip. The D800 can hit 6 fps in DX mode with the grip. Both the D600 and D800 have less shutter lag and lower viewfinder blackout times than the D700, by the way, which I think have to factor into this discussion.

So what the "Where's my D700 update" folk are really complaining about is this:

  • 12mp, 8 fps
  • 24mp, 5.5 fps (+12, -2.5), plus lower body build
  • 15mp, 6 fps (+3, -2), plus better focus system

I'm arguing that Nikon made a pretty rational choice, actually. The D800 is the D700 update, and you can get a few more megapixels at a couple less fps, but the darned camera focuses better in that configuration than the D700 does in bursts. A reasonable trade off in my mind, and the reason why I'm not one of the "Where's my D700 update" folk.

A lot of people are being influenced by something different than the reality of the facts. Many people who bought the D700 believed that they were getting "a cheap D3." Indeed, that's relatively true. Same sensor, same fps (with the grip), same menus/options, all with slightly different autofocus performance, though not enough to get excited over. The real complaint most of the "Where's my D700 update" folk seem to have is this: "Where's the low cost D4?"

Okay, let's look at that for a minute. Is a D800 worse than a D4? Well, yes on frame rate, no on pixels. We're back to the same position we were in comparing the D700 and D800. Indeed, except for those times when I absolutely need high frame rates (which are rare), I prefer the more pixels of the D800, thus it's in my hands far more than my D4.

I'd actually argue that the real problem here is the missing D400 (DX sensor, 8 fps+). A D400, too, should be better than a D700 in that 13" print. Plus the D300, after all, was the original low cost pro body paired with the D3. If Nikon would actually produce the expected D400, I think a lot of the "nowhere to upgrade" discussion would just go away. You'd have three choices, each of which presents a slightly different balance, but one of which would surely have the one thing that you value most.

Basically, all this "Where's my D700 update" talk revolves around 8 fps (now actually 9 fps given the D4). For 8 fps to work well, so does the autofocus system. Viewfinder blackout is one of the reasons why I don't tend to use 8 fps (the blackout affects focus performance, even on the D4), but the other is simply this: when I shoot at 8 fps I'm almost always shooting fast moving objects, and thus am shooting at 1/500 or 1/1000. The question then becomes whether the "spray and pray" technique of just shooting a burst of frames is more or less likely to give you the image you want. As I've noted before, you're missing 492/500th's of the second at 8 fps. So the question is whether your personal response time can give you a finer discrimination of a moment than 1/30th of a second, which would be the worst case "miss" of 8 fps. My answer is yes. Almost always. Especially if I practice.

As if by magic, an email hit my In Box as I was writing this article. The basic premise? That only 8 fps was going to give this person the chance to get that perfect moment when someone is shooting a 3-pointer jump shot (hands extended, ball just off them). Really? That's the only way? I don't think so. Moreover, this is something that you can actually easily practice: shoot the warm-ups! Work on your timing. There, you only need a 1 fps camera (technically, only a one-shot camera). Now, would you rather have 12mp, 24mp, or 36mp?

That's been my point. Moreover, I think that Nikon got the balance right on the D800 as an upgrade to the D700 (how often do you find me agreeing with Nikon decisions, lately? ;~). They gave up one parameter but boosted the camera in so many other ways I think that it's a perfectly fine D700 upgrade. But then again, remember my Last Camera Syndrome article last month? Maybe the D700 was your last camera if you really required an inexpensive 8 fps that can shoot indoor sports.

What I don't understand is what all the rage is about. A bit of disappointment, perhaps? Sure. Rage over +3mp, -2 fps? No.

D600 Goodies
Mar 9, 2013 (news)--
My D600 review and Complete Guide to the Nikon D600 are finished and now available. Enjoy.

The A Pros and Cons
Mar 9, 2013 (commentary)--
Yep, another table. To my way of thinking, two things can make a tool great: (1) it excels at one task; and/or (2) it has great balance for multiple tasks. Add to this the cost/benefit ratio, and you have another way of assessing whether a new camera like the Coolpix A is for you.

With that in mind, let me present a different table:

Pros Cons
Small, almost shirt pocket size Price for a shirt pocket camera
Proven sensor Generation old sensor
No AA filter Potential for moire
28mm equivalent lens Not particularly fast, not wide enough for some, too wide for others, no stabilization
Uses DSLR accessories (MC-DC2, ML-L3, WU-1a, EH-4b, GP-1, WR-T10, WR-R10), Speedlights Doesn't have commander mode for built-in flash, silly adapter ring needed for lens hood or filters
DSLR-like Focus Control Switch Contrast focus system only
3" 921k dot TFT LCD, optional optical viewfinder No EVF, expensive optional optical viewfinder that won't be frame accurate
DSLR-like controls (U1, U2, menus, etc.) Few external controls, some positioned strangely
Standard 14-bit NEF files, JPEG options 26 shot JPEG Normal buffer
Uses existing EN-EL20 battery 230 shots/charge (CIPA standard)

Now personally, many of the things in the Cons column actually don't bother me at all for the likely tasks I'd be using this camera for, but also many of the Pros don't excite me much, either. So let's go back to my two things:

  1. Excels at a task. The "excel" part of the Coolpix A is pretty much confined to the sensor and lens, isn't it? Okay, the DSLR accessories potentially help it to excel at a task, but that task will be mostly centered on the sensor/lens combo. What task would that be? Well, let's try a few:
    1. Landscape. I'm not sure the lens is right. I really prefer a 24mm equivalent for straight landscape shooting, or a 35mm or 50mm equivalent to use vertically with stitching. 28mm is a compromise here. Some will like it, I'm not sure I will, but I'll give it the old college try.
    2. Portrait. The lens isn't right for portraits. If you're filling the frame, you're going to distort your significant other's features enough that they'll hate the camera ;~). For environmental portraits, maybe, especially given the Speedlight capabilities. Warrants examination.
    3. Street shooting. The lens is a little slow and the sensor a generation old, but for cameras this small, it should excel. It's a tricky calculation though. While the A should be about a full stop better than the RX-100 at the equivalent framing and aperture, the RX-100 has VR up its sleeve, which for non-moving subjects in low light should push it back into contention. Again, a possible task.
    4. Action. Depends upon the focus system, I suppose, but I can't remember when I was last shooting action at 28mm.
    5. Indoor. Would have preferred 24mm, but 28mm is certainly better than the 35mm on some of the A's competitors. The Speedlight capabilities look good for some types of indoor shooting, too. Definite possibilities here.
    6. Architectural. Too early to tell. We need to see how the linear distortion, light falloff, and edge sharpness are before rendering any decision here.
  2. Great balance for many tasks. The lens is the limiter here, with the lack of a viewfinder and the focus system probably also contributing. This is actually my biggest complaint about the A design as it sits: I'm not sure it's well balanced. We're actually getting a fair number of these "not well balanced" cameras. The Sigma DP Merrill cameras for sure, but the Leica X2, Pentax MX-1, Ricoh GR IV, and the Sony RX-1 all could be considered similarly. My problem with all these fixed lens cameras is that they're throwbacks. We did this dance in the film world, and none of them particularly lit the world on fire (though the Olympus XA came close, partly because of its flash capabilities, which is good news for the Coolpix A).

As I wrote on another site: we want tools, not trophies (at least I think the readers of this site would agree with that). I'm having trouble getting a grip on what tool the Coolpix A is for me. It's definitely not the "well-rounded tool," so for me to find a place for it, it's going to have to excel at a task.

I should point out that I sold my Fujifilm X100 because, in the end, it didn't quite make it as the well-rounded tool, either. So I put my money where my keyboard is. The newer X100s improves upon the X100, but not necessarily in ways that mean it would fare differently for me. Why? m4/3 basically (though for some the NEX fits in here, too). Heck, even the Nikon 1 to some degree. If a camera can't fit in my shirt pocket but can fit in my jacket pocket, it has to dislodge some darned flexible cameras to hold that place (and lenses for that matter).

People think I'm being negative the Coolpix A's capabilities. Not exactly. It should be a remarkably good camera at what it can do. As good as a D7000 with the 18.5mm f/2.8 DX lens Nikon never made ;~). Almost as good as a D700 with the 28mm f/2.8G pancake lens Nikon never made. Better than the Nikon V2 with the 10mm f/2.8 that Nikon did make. Now whether the Coolpix A is right for you and worth the money, that's up to you to decide. For me, based upon my experience with the Sigma DPs and the Fujifilm X100, I'm not sure it is, that's all I'm saying.

The A Problem II
Mar 5, 2013 (commentary)--
Table says it all:

Coolpix A Fujifilm X100S Canon EOS M
16mp DX sensor 16mp APS sensor 18mp APS sensor
no viewfinder full hybrid viewfinder no viewfinder
28mm f/2.8 35mm f/2 35mm f/2 (interchangeable)
230 shots 330 shots 230 shots
US$1100 US$1300 US$800 (+US$100 discount)

And there's Nikon's problem in a nutshell: if you really want a fixed-lens compact, for US$200 you can get a faster lens, more shots per charge, and be able to look through either an optical viewfinder or EVF while shooting. For US$400 less (currently), you can get more megapixels, a faster lens, and be able to interchange to other lenses. The primary thing that column A gives you over column B and C is a smaller size, but not small enough to match the Sony RX-100.

So the question is simple: what does the Nikon A provide that no other camera doesn't? If it isn't unique in some sense, then you have to do comparison tables like the above, which are going to be hard to win. Who knows, perhaps it has superb image quality and usability going for it. Or maybe Ashton Kutcher can make it cool. We'll see soon enough.

The A Problem
Mar 5, 2013 (commentary)--
Much of the reaction I'm seeing so far to the Coolpix A boils down to this: not enough, for too much, too late. Yeah, I see that, too. Had the Coolpix A come out six years ago when I wrote the Coolpix Challenge article, it would have been a groundbreaker and exciting, even at the launch price.

Time is a tough mistress, though. Had the A been launched even two years ago, it still would have been well received. Today, though, it has to deal with RX, X100's, Merrill's, even a Leica competitor, so the question is whether or not it delivers above and beyond any of those. A lot of people are already concluding "no, it doesn't." In other words, the A gets an F with people that would have given it at least a B not too long ago.

I'm a little more nuanced in my assessment, and I'm quite willing to wait to see how the camera performs before making an out-and-out call. On paper, it looks like a camera I might carry in my pocket on safari, for instance. Whether another camera might be a better choice I don't know yet.

What I can't quite figure, though, is what Nikon is thinking with its lineup. Consider this: take the exact same specfications with two exceptions. Change the sensor to the 14mp 1", the price to US$800, and the name to Nikon 1 F1. Bingo, you've got the fastest focusing compact on the market, good image quality, and something that broadens a line that needs some clearly defined broadening (J1 to J2 to J3 to S1 is not broadening, it's masterbation of the entry model). Now the other decisions on the model start to make a bit of sense.

As a DX camera, though, it's a head scratcher. It's not nearly as accomplished as the current DX DSLR line (which is why it's called a Coolpix, I'll bet). It's a sensor behind, it doesn't focus like a DSLR, it's lacking many of things that even the low-end DSLR user might find interesting, yet it costs more than most DSLRs.

Why Nikon is so conflicted over DX, I just don't get. If the Coolpix A is the reason we don't have an 18mm f/2.8 prime for DX, then Nikon is more confused than I think they are, and I already think they're pretty confused. They seem to want to broaden their product line from bottom to top, but they are super afraid that customer A might buy product B instead of C while customer D might buy product C instead of B. So they try not to have duplicative products. Who cares? Sell them a darned camera, the right accessories, and point out the stuff you do that's a step up as a suggestion for what to do next. Apple gets this. They hooked a lot of people on iPods and moved them right up their lineup. Becuase the lineup had plenty of entry points and plenty of steps (consider the iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad Mini, iPad, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mini, iMac, MacPro progression; does Apple care where you buy and which direction you move? No.)

Launch of the Month Club Continues
Mar 5, 2013 (news & commentary)--
Nikon continues its announcement-of-the-month tactic, this month with a few things that'll perk up some of the Nikon faithful. Maybe.

First up, we've got the long overdue 80-400mm refresh. The last lens that Nikon announced that wasn't AF-S was over 10 years ago, about two years after the 80-400mm originally shipped. Despite selling about 200,000 of these lenses--most in the AF-S era--Nikon seemed to drag its feet on ever creating the AF-S update. I count 25 lenses that got AF-S updates plus quite a few new lenses (14-24mm, 16-35mm, 24-120mm, 70-200mm f/4, and so on) that appeared before the 80-400mm finally got a built-in lens motor.

Rip Van Optical Winkle has finally awoke, though, and today Nikon announced the 80-400mm replacement. What's new in terms of specifications? The new VR system, AF-S, Nano coating, weather sealing basically. It's still 80-400mm and it's still f/4.5-5.6, though the optical formula is different and the published MTFs look much better. It's still a 77mm filter ring lens, with minimum focus of 5'9" (1.75m). With the D4, D600, D800, and upcoming D7100 cameras, you can use a TC-14E converter and still get focus. Weighing in at 3.3 pounds (1480g) and 8" in overall length collapsed, it's bigger and heavier than the original by a bit. Price is US$2700 and availability will happen later this month.

Along with the Awakening Zoom, we get two new Coolpix models, both interesting in some way. The P330 is easy to deal with: basically the update of the P310, now with raw file handling (yeh!) and a 12mp BSI 1/1.7" sensor with a 24-120mm (equivalent) f/1.8-5.6 lens out front. Weirdly, the P330 now has built-in GPS, but Nikon is playing up the optional WiFi more than the GPS in their marketing. Price is US$380 and it, too will be available soon.

More interesting to many will be the Coolpix A, a DX sensor-based Coolpix, somewhat similar to the Coolpix Pro I suggested many years ago and went so far as specifying in 2007. DX sensor, check. Fixed 28mm focal length (equivalent) lens, check (though not trifocal as I suggested). f/2.8, check. Optical finder, sorta check as it's a US$450 option. Heck, I note that I even used the term Model A in that article ;~) (though not about the Nikon Coolpix). As I wrote six years ago, making a very compact camera with a DX-sized sensor is very doable. Unlike a lot of folk that responded to that article saying that it was impossible, Nikon managed to get pretty much to the size I suggested. Score one for the engineers.

Things that are probably going to bother some about the A model: no VR, no retro styling ala the Fujifilm X100, no phase detect AF, no commander mode on the flash, the small capacity of the EN-EL20 battery (230 shots CIPA), the lack of an optical viewfinder (though it's an expensive option as I noted earlier), and the hybrid DSLR/Coolpix control system. On that last point, we have overloaded buttons, an Info button, a Mode dial, and a Rear Command dial ala the consumer DSLRs. But…the button most likely to be hit by your right thumb? That would be the Playback button, not the ISO/Fn2 button. Likewise, the exposure compensation button is to the left of the 3" LCD. It seems that Nikon is suggesting that you two-hand this small (4.4 x 2.6 x 1.6"), light (10.6 ounce, 299g) camera.

Both the P330 and the A (Canadians must love that name, eh?) can use the WU-1a WiFi adapter. The A can use modern CLS Speedlights.

Ah, but Nikon marketing, does it exist?

Nikon has now used the letters A, D, J, L, N, S, V, and X, and all the numbering except 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 400, 900, 1000, and 2000. Actually, I think they have used some of those numbers, too, but not for a long time, so maybe we've forgotten what they mean and they can be reused.

For the most part, Nikon's naming conventions work only if you have the full decoding guide to the couple hundred models in the last 10 years and have a penchant for being anal. Even then there are confusions. Is an S9xxx better than a D7xxx? Are the 1 and the 4 related? What happened to the high-end double digits, oh wait, some of the low-end Coolpix now use double digits. From a marketing standpoint it makes absolutely no sense unless you're trying to confuse the customer (and the store sales people, and virtually everyone).

Simply put, the Coolpix A should probably have been the Coolpix DX-1 or maybe DX-A. Oh, wait, that's too logical, as DX actually means something. Right, my point exactly. The lineup is a mess. They need a name for cameras with built-in lenses (Coolpix) and a name for cameras with interchangeable lenses (let's call them Versapix just for the purposes of this discussion). Then you have:

Coolpix AX-model numbers = smallest sensor
Coolpix BX-model numbers = 1/2.3" sensor
Coolpix CX-model numbers = 1" sensor
Coolpix DX-model numbers = APS sensor
Coolpix FX-model numbers = 35mm film sized sensor
Versapix CX-model numbers = 1" sensor
Versapix DX-model numbers = APS sensor
Versapix FX-model numbers = 35mm film sized sensor

If you also make your model numbers mean something (single digit = pro, double digit = prosumer, triple digit = high consumer, quadruple digit = consumer), suddenly the product name tells you everything you need to know about where it fits in the lineup. Heck, we even have room for my communicating, programmable, modular cameras (Smartpix CX, DX, FX), and for a line of video cameras (Videopix BX, CX, DX, FX).

Of course, to have done that type of identification, you'd have had to have known where you were steering the products in the first place. But really, Nikon, how hard was it to figure out that you'd have different sensor sizes and different body types at different levels? This isn't brain surgery, it's marketing, after all. The naming wing of the Nikon marketing department is like the floor painter who paints themselves into a corner, waits for the paint to dry, then paints themselves across the room into a different corner. Let's hope someone's getting them food and water.

I need to get back to my Versapix FX600 and DX7100 books, so for now that's all I'm going to write.

More Pixels Are Your Friend
Feb 27, 2013 (commentary)--
One thing I've found myself writing over and over again in response to emails about recent Nikon bodies has to do with the megapixel count. The persistent notion amongst many of you is that fewer megapixels would give you better noise tendencies. Thus, everyone keeps asking for a 6mp DX or 12mp FX body.

In practice, things are a bit different than you'd expect. Unlike Canon, Nikon is using smaller process sizes in their latest sensors. One thing this has done is make the light gathering capability of a sensor of any given size pretty much the same regardless of how many pixels are arrayed on it. A 24mp DX sensor isn't "noisier" than a 12mp DX sensor, and wouldn't be noisier than a 6mp DX sensor. We no longer lose lots of surface area due to data and power lines, for one thing. We lose some, but not enough to matter, really. The improvements elsewhere in the sensor signal processing are more than making up for any loss of surface light sensing area.

That's why if you print an image off a 16mp FX sensor and 36mp FX sensor at 11", you shouldn't see any difference in noise. Yes, the per-input-pixel noise level of the 36mp sensor may be higher in standard deviation measurements, but the per-output-pixel noise works out about the same. Moreover, you have a benefit in that apples-versus-apples comparison: the 36mp has more sampling of the data for the same output. That shows up usually as higher acuity.

The exception to the rule comes if you use those extra pixels solely to print larger. You can't print larger with a 6mp DX camera than you can with a 24mp DX camera, though, so it's a moot point. If you run a 6mp camera to 30" prints, you're at 100 dpi and that's easily in the realm where the viewer can see the lack of resolution. If you run the 24mp camera to 30" prints, you're at 200 dpi, which is above where I'd usually put the threshold of "not enough pixels", but sure, you might see some noise increase. For most people, though, you're not outputting large enough to worry about noise. If you are outputting at large sizes, just stick to the lower ISO values. None of the current Nikon cameras are wimps when it comes to dynamic range (and lack of noise) at base ISO: D3200, D5200, D7000, D7100, D600, D800/D800E, or D4. In other words, at base ISO I'd take every one of those mega-megapixeled cameras over their pixel underpriviledged predecessors (and any new one you might create). At high ISO and normal print sizes, I'm still better off.

So don't expect Nikon to step backwards with pixels. Not with Bayer sensor cameras.

What YOU'RE Doing Wrong
Feb 26, 2013 (article)--
Enough with Nikon's foibles. Earlier this year I promised you more on the technique side, things to consider in your shooting regardless of what equipment you're using. To that end I've just posted Photographic Sins, Part I. Enjoy.

Within Minutes Hours
Feb 24, 2013 updated (commentary)--
I made a comment about Nikon shooting their sales in the foot by the way they're treating the D600 dust/lubricant issue (next story). Within minutes I received:

  • "I have waited to buy a D600 because of the dust and oil issue to see how Nikon would respond."
  • "I am one of those film holdouts...couldn't pull the trigger because of the poor dust/oil reputation of the D600."
  • "Will reserve buying a D600 till it all sorts out.

And some more from this morning:

  • "I'm definitely still waiting for Nikon to make a[n FX] camera without major problems."
  • "Because of the recent quality issues I am very reluctant to upgrade to the D800."
  • "I've waited while Nikon fixes/denies the focus & dirt problems. I can't be the only guy with the income to buy who is making the same calculation."
  • "I was this close to pulling the trigger [on a D800]...but the AF issues put me off. I guess I'll wait for a D900."
  • "I am not rich but I can free up funds for a D600 or D800 if I wanted to. But I have been holding off since I don't want to test drive for Nikon."
  • Used the "Was this answer helpful" link on the service advisory page to tell Nikon: "[I'm] not buying the D600 until they let me know that they have actually resolved [the problem]."
  • "I'm guessing that while a future D7100 buyer may not have considered the D600 or D800 they are likely aware of the QA issues." which was immediately following in my In box by:
  • "I would have ordered a D7100 last week to replace my D90. However I have no interest in buying a product with flaky AF [and] that contains the sweepings off the factory floor."
  • "Count me in with the others who have written you about holding back from buying a D600 or D800 owing to QC issues. I would have purchased FX months ago if not for these issues."

Since I posted that article, I've received at least a couple of dozen like responses within hours. Let's see, 24 x US$2500 = US$60,000 in lost sales. Add those to the hundreds of similar ones I've already received and my little Web site is observing a mid-six figure impact on Nikon's sales. Is anyone aware of any survey from Nikon that asks the question "are you more reluctant to buy a high-end Nikon than before" and why? Surely I can't be the only person that sees the lost sales problem. (And yes, I have a vested interest here: more D600 and D800 camera sales implies more book sales for me eventually.)

Gee, Nikon, you had to lower your sales estimates for the year. You blamed that on "making too much inventory just in case there was another flood." You think it might be a different reason, though? Like "we're not fessing up to your QA struggles?"

Here's the thing: the person likely to buy a US$2000-3000 Nikon FX DSLR is not new to the SLR/DSLR camera market. You generally don't graduate high school and pop for your first serious camera, a D600. Most folk that are buying these high-end cameras are (or at least used to be) loyal, long-time Nikon users. Even Nikon themselves suggested that D7000 users should step up to the D600 (rather than wait for the D7100, as it now turns out ;~).

If the US$2000-3000 FX buyers are not loyal, long-term Nikon users then they're Canon or Minolta/Sony SLR/DSLR users who have decided the grass is now greener on the other side and are convinced that Nikon's offering this time is tempting enough to switch. But that grass doesn't look so green if the left side doesn't focus right and you get hundreds of dust particles for thousands of shots that the dust-removal system doesn't actually remove.

Let's put a number on things. Yes, it'll be a somewhat arbitrary number, but let's do it anyway. Let's say that just 5% of the potential buyers are put off by Nikon's refusals to acknowledge a clear issue on both the D600 and D800. We're up to what, 70,000 US D800 purchasers in one year? 5% works out to be about 3700 lost sales. That's US$9.35 million dollars in lost sales to NikonUSA (US$11 million at retail prices). Now we have to start adding D600 lost sales to that.

You can clean a lot of sensors right for the amount of money that Nikon is likely losing in sales.

Oh, and I just noticed this in Nikon's manual for the D600 (page 300): "Dust or other foreign matter inside the camera may cause damage not covered under warranty." Gee, even when it was put there in the factory? ;~)

No Cigar
Feb 23, 2013 (news & commentary)--
Nikon Europe posted a short article dealing with the D600 dust issue. Not exactly as clear as Canon's, and Nikon doesn't exactly admit to the excess lubricant issue many have also experienced. Here's the shorthand of what you should do, if Nikon need to do this again:

  • Clearly state what went wrong.
  • Say you're sorry, directly.
  • Make amends.
  • State how you'll make sure not to repeat the mistake.
  • Request forgiveness.

Nikon's service note mostly messes this up. First, apparently the dust is at fault. Next, you're at fault if you haven't tried all the remedies listed in the manual. Only then will Nikon "examine" your problem and deal with it "as needed." But, of course, it may only "reduce this issue."

So let me try to write what Nikon should have:

"Dear D600 user:

It has come to our attention that some cameras were shipped from the factory with dust and excess lubricant that shows up as spots in your final image. The in-camera cleaning system does not remove these foreign objects from the filter over the sensor, thus additional cleaning action is needed to make your camera function the way you expect it to.

We sincerely apologize for any inconvenience this problem has caused you. To make things right, we will clean your sensor and make your camera function as you expect, at no cost and with as little hassle as possible. Just contact us via <fillintheblank> to get that process started. However, sometmes using a blower as outlined on pages 304-305 of the User's Manual may be all that's necessary to fix the problem, so we humbly suggest that you try that first.

Again, we apologize for this problem. We take issues like this seriously, so we are examining our quality control at the factory and trying not only to identify how this happened for some cameras, but also identify ways to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Please forgive us and give us a chance to make amends by getting your camera clean and functioning as expected. We realize you have a choice of brands to provide your photographic needs. We want you to know that we are aware that we didn't live up to your expectations for our products here. We didn't live up to our own high expectations. Rest assured that when we do mess up as we did here, we'll make it right.

Thank you for your previous support, and please give us the chance to earn your future support, as well.

A Better Nikon"

Shortly after I wrote this, I got the following email from a D600 user:

I initially noticed the problem at around 2700 clicks, and it was exactly as others have described on the various forums: a series of black spots on the top left of images, which weren't affected by the camera's self-clean function. I took the camera to the Nikon Salon in Tokyo (thankfully a relatively quick trip for me), and they offered to clean it for free.

The dust spots had visibly returned by 4000 images, and I took it back to Nikon but this time they charged me 1000 yen ($13). I was annoyed, but based on what I read on the internet it seemed like this was going to be a short-lived problem.

I am now at 6000 clicks, and the dust has returned with a vengeance. Again, centered on the top left of images. I took my camera back to Nikon and after a bit of arguing with 5 different people (complicated by the fact that I don't speak Japanese), my camera has been sent to the Nikon factory for servicing, which they say will take a week. They tried to charge me full price for this service, because I have a USA warranty which doesn't cover worldwide service (who knew?), but I was able to convince them that they should do it for free.

And there we have the reason why Nikon's posted answer--only in Europe so far that I know of--is all wrong. "Service it as needed" seems to be "we'll try cleaning it once." Top that off with: "Sorry, no amends because you're not where you're supposed to be."

Is this really the way to treat customers who encounter a problem caused by the factory on a US$2000 item? Initially, I gave Nikon some slack on this issue. But their non-response has now put them back in my penalty box. Just say you goofed up and clean the dirty cameras, guys. So far all Nikon has managed to do is prolong five months of user complaints about the D600's propensity to wreck images with dust and lubricant in quantities beyond any reasonable expectations. Does Nikon really think that this isn't slowing D600 sales? If they can't see the connection, then maybe I should start publishing some of the other emails I'm getting.

D7100 Redux
Feb 22, 2013 (commentary)--
I've updated my current Nikon DSLR page with the D7100 information (and left the D7000, as it will be sold for the time being until stocks go away; leaving it in the table makes it easier to see the differences).

Now that we Westerners have all gotten a chance to get some real sleep while contemplating the D7100, here's what I have to say:

  • It's almost exactly what I expected a D7100 to be: upgraded sensor and a push up the AF system chain, with a few new twists sprinkled in. As the name indicates, this is definitely an iterative step, and one that fits almost perfectly within the Nikon DSLR-upgrade modus operandi. No surprises here. Moreover, Nikon continues to not break things that aren't broken. That's far better than the alternative.
  • The corollary to the above is that I believe Nikon left themselves room for a D300s update, and I don't see any reason why they shouldn't do one. Indeed, the In Box messages from D300 shooters this week indicates to me that there may be even more dedicated pro DX users out there than I had originally thought, and I had already thought there were quite a few. I'll have my latest thoughts about a D300s followup, especially considering the D7100 details, sometime next week.
  • The 1.3x crop option is probably the most interesting aspect of the new camera. First, it nets you 7 fps. Second, it pushes the focus system across most of the frame you're going to record. Third, you still have a 15.3mp camera. This feature is going to please some wildlife and sports folks, even with the restrictive buffer.
  • It's hard to imagine where the consumer DX DSLR lineup goes next. More pixels means we're pushing the kit lenses into diffraction, so the immediate visible gain from more pixels is far less than we're used to so far with DSLRs. Not a big payoff there. We've also hit the pro parts' final migration down into the consumer lineup: there isn't a better AF system than the 51-point one being used in the D7100 in Nikon's parts bin, for example. Put another way, Nikon has pushed most of the pro technology from the D3/D4 into the D7100. To go further in performance parameters requires Nikon to break new ground. Will they do that on a consumer camera before pro? My guess is no. The D5 would have originally been scheduled for 2015, and if Nikon can stick to that and has some real technologies that move the pro body forward, then it only takes a year delay on a D7100 update to let some of that trickle down. But again, what that might be is unknown at this point.
  • I'm amused that all of Nikon's sample and marketing images were taken with FX lenses. Even Nikon might now get the fact that they need some real pro DX glass ;~). As usual, the samples are underwhelming and don't really show off what 24mp DX should be able to do. Not even close, actually. It's impressive that Nakano-san can handle a 500mm f/4 lens in air-to-air shooting like that, but it was too much lens for the assignment, IMHO. Should have been the 200-400mm, as the example used in the brochure looks like he accidentally set 1.3x crop but composed for full frame.
  • At US$1200, the D7100 is a lot of camera. If you consider the D70 -> D80 -> D90 -> D7000 -> D7100 progression, at that basic price point we've seen an amazing push forward in capability and performance in nine years. Yet at each individual step (every two to three years) the difference hasn't been quite so dramatic. Which brings me to this: at US$300 less than the D7100 we still have the very good D7000. Do you buy the older camera and better glass, or do you buy the newer camera and wish you had money left over for newer glass? This is the same conundrum we've had at every model upgrade step. I'd argue that some people are better served by buying behind the curve and using the savings to upgrade other aspects of their photography. But that, of course, isn't the American way. We didn't get to be the world's leading economy by ignoring the latest and greatest gizmos, after all. Still, don't pass over the D7000 just because it isn't the latest model. As always, consider your needs (both current and future) carefully, and decide wisely.

Future Waterfront Land
Feb 21, 2013 (commentary)--
With global warming being what it is, coast lines are going to start moving. I know you really like where you live now, but I've got some property that's going to be the best waterfront land in the not-too-distant future. I can hook you up with it now for the low, low cost of just...

Okay, where's Thom going with this? ;~)

One the new trending emails/posts I'm seeing is this: the D7100 is lame compared to the rumored Canon 7D Mark II. Well, sure. It's pretty lame compared to the byThom SLR1, too. Heck, it's lame compared to the photographic capabilities of the Starship Enterprise and even the Death Star. It's really easy to make brazen statements when you're comparing reality against imagined futures.

Not that I think the Mark II rumors aren't real or don't have at least some truth to them. But they're rumors. By the time the 7D Mark II appears it might not be what the rumors suggested, or more interestingly, there might be other competitors that have appeared to it.

My suggestion? Don't buy future coastal property. Live in the present, prepare for the future.

And Now for the Snippy Thom ;~)
Feb 21, 2013 updated (commentary)--
I love press releases. Okay, I don't love them, I despise them. I've had stacks of press releases on my desks for 37 years now, so I've seen really good marketing jargon, and really bad marketing jargon. I've authored/approved quite a few press releases in my work history, too, but I've always tried to make them straightforward and mostly just the facts. Especially these days, you're going to get flowery headlines and lots of press opinion in any writeup about your new products when you send out press releases and marketing materials, so it's best to leave out the hyperbole and just get to what it is you're trying to sell.

With that in mind, let's look at some of Nikon's language in the D7100 launch materials:

  • "Ultimate image quality." We're done. We've hit ultimate. This really is your last camera, and Nikon themselves have announced that. No need for them to iterate any more DSLRs, as the D7100 has "ultimate image quality." Is that with DX or FX lenses, by the way?
  • "Create without limitation." Really? No limitations? You mean all the lenses I really want to use with the camera are available? I won't hit any buffer full messages?
  • "DX-format Flagship." Uh-oh. A lot of D300/D300s owners are reading this as meaning "no D400 is coming." If true, that's a bone-headed move on Nikon's part, and now frees some of their most loyal users to look elsewhere for their next camera. It might be FX, but it might also be Canon or something else. If not true, that's a bone-headed move on Nikon's part, because some are believing it to be true (see previous). Talk about sending messages. This is a message people are receiving. If Nikon didn't intend it the way folk are interpreting it, oops. Even if they did, oops.
  • "As a middle-class DX-format D-SLR." Well, apparently the Japanese disagree with the American Nikon marketers. The previous quote is from the US site, this quote is from the Japanese site. So who are we to believe? This contradiction in statements makes my comments about "oops" need some emphasis: OOPS!
  • "Intuitive Engineering." The word intuitive has as part of its definition "based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning." Personally, I want my DSLR to be designed with conscious reasoning, thank you.
  • "Explode with more clarity." I really hope my images don't explode. I certainly hope my camera doesn't explode. Explode is not an adjective we photographers are accustomed to hearing. I want to be at peace with my gear, personally.
  • "Whether in an...isolated forest, they can now share their images wirelessly." Uh, maybe in Japan those isolated forests have cell connections. Here in the US, the isolated forests don't tend to have very good cell reception, if at all. But I guess if I ever get that illusive photo of Big Foot, I'd better carry along my WU-1a and cell phone.
  • "fire a blazing fast 6 frames per second continuously for up to 100 shots." Or maybe a miserable 5 frames or so at 14-bit RAW lossless with some of the advanced features turned on. Even JPEG Fine maxes out at 33 images. Plus be careful to not use Optimal Compression, HI ISO values, Long Exposure Reduction, or Auto Distortion Control.
  • And my favorite: "Solidifying Nikon's ongoing commitment to the DX-format D-SLR customer." Gee, someone's been reading my site, particularly DX month, where I accused Nikon of not doing that. Iterating a predicted camera predictably apparently is "solid" in Nikon parlance. It's the level of commitment Nikon has to DX that's in question, not whether they continue to iterate it. "Extending" would have been a better word than "Solidifying." And commitment is a big word. Are we really in a committed relationship, Nikon? Or are you just saying that to keep us seeing you?

I should point out that the US press release did have a fair amount of just plain facts in it. That's good. More of that, please. Plus some of the facts that people want to know but you aren't telling us (exact buffer sizes, for example, which for some reason are only on the Japan site, and somewhat hidden).

Lazy Iteration
Feb 21, 2013 (commentary)--
I've written about Nikon's "lazy DX iteration" before. Indeed again last night when I posted my article about the D7100 announcement I implied it once again.

Some people think that's just an insult to Nikon, that I think Nikon doesn't know what it's doing. Well, yes and no. I believe Nikon knows exactly what it's doing. The real question is whether they should be doing more or not.

The DX DSLR line is the heart of Nikon's sales and profits. While they sell more Coolpix than DX DSLRs, they also do that across many more models and it takes a lot more promotion to push all those Coolpi boxes into users' hands. As the compact camera market continues collapsing, the problem of keeping the Coolpix lineup selling just gets tougher. But let's just use CIPA's numbers: 14m Coolpix at an ASP of US$99 is US$1.4 billion in sales. Probably not a huge profit margin there giving the dropping ASP. Let's assume for a moment that Nikon sold 1m Nikon 1's. That's US$343 million in sales. DSLRs? That then becomes US$2.5 billion in sales for Nikon at CIPA ASPs. And of that, most are still DX, despite last year's FX push.

To some degree, having a line that you iterate gently forward (lazy iteration) and which is a strong seller that doesn't take a lot of excess promotion to move is a good thing. Coupled with Nikon's strong DX DSLR user base, the scenario goes like this: you pick up some folk new to sophisticated cameras (newlyweds, first child, etc.), you get people replacing older DSLRs because the iteration eventually makes them feel left behind (or they dropped their old one off the side of their boat ;~); if you stay at the forefront of what's happening with DSLRs in general you pretty much keep your market position. A few you manage to upgrade to FX (last year, FX amounted to not quite 10% of Nikon's DSLR sales by my calculations).

But my challenges to Nikon are these: (1) How does this strategy ever get you to take over the number one position from rival Canon as long as Canon does the same? Isn't that written in stone as a goal somewhere in the Tokyo offices, or did someone remove that rock? (2) Where are the big breakthroughs that will propel Nikon ahead of the pack and make it clear that they're the only camera company looking out for the future of photography? After all, Nikon is the only Japanese camera company that's absolutely dependent upon cameras (75% of sales; the only one to have a majority of their sales in photography). (3) Lazy iteration doesn't take a lot of engineering or even the top designers to do, so what is it that Nikon is doing with its best designers and engineering?

I'm perfectly happy with the D7100. It's almost exactly as I predicted it would be many, many months ago. It's a near perfect execution of the lazy iteration cycles Nikon has been using: more pixels, parts from upper models drifting downwards, a taste of something new (spot WB, more elaborate remote triggering). If Nikon carries this over and iterates the D300s, too, then the DX camera lineup does pretty much what it's been doing for the past decade. My usual recommendation still stands: upgrade every other cycle. So D90 users, your new chariot has arrived. D7000 users, hold pat for the time being. Either wait for the D7200 or the D400 if you really want to get bang for your buck in an upgrade cycle.

As I pointed out in DX Month last year, though, Nikon seems reluctant to put any investment in lenses for DX, which completely dilutes the iteration progression as far as I'm concerned. The 18-105mm was a great kit lens on the D90, a decent kit lens on the D7000, and I suspect will be slightly under the bar of where we want it for the D7100 (that's based upon an initial examination with the D5200). While we have the continued iteration happening in DX cameras, we basically have very little happening with DX lenses. We've had 26 DX cameras introduced in 14 years, and 17 DX lenses. How that doesn't get every DX user's immediate attention I don't know. Why Nikon thinks that's the right balance I don't know, either. Sure, you can put FX lenses on DX cameras, but then you're not getting the full benefit of buying DX.

Thus, the laziest part of Nikon's DX iteration process is easy to see: lenses. Given the three-year development cycle for new lenses, it appears that something changed in Nikon's thinking regarding DX lenses back in 2007 (warning bells sound: the year FX was launched, and the year in which the mirrorless rumors started). Since then, it looks to me that we've had only one DX lens enter development a year. Yet the DX body group is still iterating cameras in straight marching orders.

More Wireless from Nikon
Feb 21, 2013 (news & commentary)--
Along with the D7100 Nikon introduced another wireless remote control, the WR-1 transceiver. Now we know why the one launched with the D5200 was called the WR-R10 ;~).

Let's back up: the WR-R10/WR-T10 remote controls were a step up from the infrared wireless remotes Nikon has been using and continues to support in the consumer lineup. It used radio communication and added essentially a function button to the remote controller process. The new WR-1 is like an WR-10 combo on steroids: you can enable and verify multiple settings remotely, and you can have one WR-1 communicate to many WR-1's acting as receivers, supporting things like simultaneous and synchronous releases. Communication can be as far as almost 400 feet, and up to 15 different channels are supported (gee, that's just enough for my workshops to function ;~). No price yet, but it too will ship in March.

As with the D7100, I'm still collecting information and getting questions answered about the WR-1, so I'm sure I'll have more to say when I have additional details.

The New Camera with the Old Name
Feb 21, 2013 (news & commentary)--
Nikon introduced the overdue replacement to the D7000 today: the D7100. The new camera continues the use of the D7000/D600 platform, but makes a few internal changes: 24.1mp sensor with no AA filter, the CAM3500 51-point AF sensor, the full set of video formats to match the D5200 and D600, and not a lot else. Externally, we get a 1.3m dot 3.2" LCD (does not appear to have an ambient light sensor) and one small button shuffle. Most everything else, including the 6 fps, pretty much stays the same as on the D7000. Oh, there is a 1.3x crop at 7 fps and a new spot WB feature, but the other new stuff is pretty low level.

The specs make one wonder: what took so long?

I'll have more to say late in the day after I've had time to talk to a few Nikon folk about the camera and get additional details, but this looks like nothing more than a simple and relatively modest D7000 update to me. Other sites have predicted the demise of the D300s as the top of the DX lineup with the D7000 replacement being some sort of melding of the D300s/D7000, but that's not what we got. And if this is the new top, something's wrong with Nikon's thinking. Nikon has clearly left room for a true performance camera at the top of the DX line. Whether or not they'll make it is another matter. I still say they should and probably will. The buffer on the D7100, like that of the D7000 before it, is still pretty thin for continuous NEF shooting, amongst other problems.

Aside: Some suggest that Nikon thinks that all the D300 users will (or already have) just move up to the FX line. To some degree, Nikon has been marketing that way. But let's think this through just a bit. The D300 was introduced with the D3, and it was introduced as a pro body at a lower cost. Basically a smaller twin of the D3 but with a smaller sensor. That was a remarkably successful strategy, and resulted in quite a few people moving to a high performance DX body over the lesser ones. Moreover, the DX crop turns out to be a good compromise for wildlife shooting: at equal overall pixel counts you get more pixel density on distant animals with DX than you do with FX. Simply put, Nikon created a group of photographers who found high-end DX to be the right product for them. To suggest to those same folk that they move to the low-end of FX is ridiculous. And to suggest that Nikon would create such a group and then abandon them is even more ridiculous. To expect them to shell out three times the money they spent for their body to get a high performance FX body is a reach, especially when it likely involves them having to go to longer lenses.

Nikon seems to be doing a really slow modest iteration of their DSLRs. Other than bumping pixel counts with new state-of-the-art sensors everywhere, there's not a lot else happening in these new models. They're just old school modest iteration projects other than the core. Thus, doing a D300 followup should be just as easy as doing the D7000 followup. As I've written before and will write again: Nikon should create a D400 followup to the D300s. To not do so is to leave money (and users) on the table.

Back to the D7100.

The 51-point AF sensor was expected, as was it's f/8 maximum lens capability. Note what Nikon has been doing with all the DX DSLRs: upgrading certain specs, including AF, to the next level when they update a camera. The logical move for the D7000-to-D7100 upgrade was 39-to-51 point, therefore. That certainly will be welcome to many who like this level of body, as it starts to reach the focus system into the one-third points on DX bodies. It also adds more dual axis detection out of the central core of the AF system (15 cross sensors instead of 9).

24mp was also expected. From the actual sensor size, this appears to be the Toshiba sensor, and that makes for a slightly higher than 1.5x crop. There would need to be something ridiculously special--e.g. frame rates or buffer size--to get by with a lower count on the top consumer DX body. The removal of the AA filter, however, is a little unexpected. Certainly with fast lenses that will improve acuity over what the D5200 achieves, but once we're at the long end of the kit zooms diffraction is going to start chewing into that, so the tangible benefit is probably gone by f/8. An interesting decision on Nikon's part, but it feels a bit like putting dual exhausts on an engine that doesn't need them.

The serious DX crowd--the folk that are shooting with D300's and want a replacement--probably aren't exactly seeing the D7100 as their salvation. Great, 6 fps, 24mp, no AA, and the 51-point sensor. But no 8 fps in what they want to be a 10 fps world, no tougher body build with a full metal frame through the lens mount for those big lenses, no 91k pixel metering/focus sensor, no large buffer, no better weather sealing, no dedicated WB/QUAL/ISO buttons, no AF-ON button (updated: note that the D7100 is like the D600 the only way you can move the focus from the shutter release is to reassign the AE-L/AF-L button to AF On), and dare I say it: no integrated grip with a bigger battery. There's room for a D400 should Nikon decide to follow through with one. I'm on record saying they should, and on record saying they eventually will.

Something about the D7100 feels decidedly blah to me. New sensor, more AF points, not much else to excite. Oh sure, we get the WU-1a WiFi accessory and a new remote wireless controller. Still feeling weak. If you already have a D7000, do you really lust after the D7100? Not really. Those extra pixels won't deliver a lot of bang (18% linear resolution increase, just barely into the visible range; or since every time I write something like this I get the croppers sending me email: 18% more linear cropping capability).

Then we have the name. Why D7100? The DX 100's are already end-of-life. Why the heck would you want to be marketing a D3200, D5200, and D7100 when you could have just called the last one D7200 and make it clear this is the same generation? Since the low end camera iterates about every 12 months and the top end iterates every two or three years, we could have a D3400 and a D7100 being sold side-by-side if Nikon isn't careful. Heck, we could end up with a D3400, D5300, and D7100 side-by-side. It's not like Nikon is likely to run out of D7xxx numbers. Even skipping every other one they have enough numbers left for sixteen years or so.

In the end, the D7100 is to the D7000 what the D5200 was to the D5100 and what the D3200 was to the D3100. An iterative step forward with a few parts trickling down from above. In some ways that's comforting: Nikon is acting like Nikon acts. But we really have to wonder if it's enough to keep the base excited.

Am I going to resurrect my DX bag? Well, truth be told, I have to in order to get enough experience with the D7100 to write the book on it. Do I think my DX bag will still be active a year from now? Difficult to say for sure until I've used the camera at length, but I feel really on the fence about it emotionally at the moment. It really depends upon how that sensor delivers without the AA and in tough light, I think. Time will tell.

But yippee: new camera. Double yippee: doesn't look like Nikon strayed from the update course and gave us the expected D7000 update. The last yippee will only come after I've tested it and it passes the "moves the bar forward" test.

Oh yeah, you want to know price and availability: US$1200 for the body, US$1600 with the 18-105mm kit lens (really, Nikon, no new kit lens for a sensor without an AA?). The camera ships in March. And one more thing: there's yet another new extended grip: the MB-D15 is what fits onto the D7100. Why the D7100 and D600 couldn't share a grip, I don't know. Those wacky Japanese, iterating things like the bottom plates of cameras slightly.

Another Trend to Consider
Feb 18, 2013 (commentary)--
By now you've probably noticed that virtually every photography site and blog has a link farm to Nikon's new lens rebates (18 lenses with instant discounts of US$20 to US$350). That's usually all they have. Indeed, many of those sites are in violation of FTC regulations in not clearly disclosing financial relationships for links in what appears to be a blog posting or news story. In essence, those posts are just ads.

What you really need is a guide to what lenses make sense at these new prices (my apologies to you outside the US; these are NikonUSA instant rebates). So, without any commercial intent, here's something a bit more useful than just a bunch of affiliate links (regular price is from NikonUSA, B&H price is current as of 2/18/2013):

Lens Regular Price Instant Savings

B&H Price

Thom's Commentary
24mm f/1.4G US$2199 US$200 US$1799 Still a bit pricey, but definitely now in a territory that's going to get some new buyers. I like this lens, but I don't love it. Y
28mm f/1.8G US$699 US$100 ? Well worth it at the old price, definitely a strong choice for most people at the new price. As I've noted before, a set of f/1.8G primes makes a lot of sense for new-to-FX users, and at these prices much easier to get. X
35mm f/1.4G US$1799 US$200 US$1449 Nah. Needs a bigger discount to get me. First, there's the 35mm focal length, which is a bit too weakly wide. But then there's the superb new Sigma f/1.4DG, which is still US$600 cheaper and better optically. Y
50mm f/1.4G US$484 US$100 US$384 A very good price, but you really have to consider whether you need the extra 2/3 stop for double the price. Most people don't, and my sample of the f/1.8G is better than my f/1.4G. See next.
50mm f/1.8G US$219 US$20 US$196 A 50mm for <US$200 that's sharp and reliable? A pretty good bargain. But this lens has always been one of the better prime bargains; it's just gotten a bit better. X
60mm f/2.8G US$599 US$100 US$459 The price is right, but is the lens? At 1:1 the working distance on this lens is ridiculously short. A lot of consumers buy this lens because they never really get to 1:1, they just want a normal lens that focuses closer. Most folk are better off with a 90-105mm macro, IMHO. Pass.
85mm f/1.4G US$1699 US$200 US$1399 Look at the price difference between this and the next lens. Is it worth it for 2/3 of a stop? No. Y
85mm f/1.8G US$499 US$100 US$396 A huge bargain at the new price. Especially compared to the f/1.4G. Most of the optically for very little of the price. This really should be the 85mm prime choice for most shooters. X
85mm f/3.5G DX US$529 US$100 US$426 A better choice than the 60mm for DX users, probably.
16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G DX US$699 US$100 US$549 Get one now. At the moment, this is optically the best of the mid-range zooms for the 16mp and 24mp DX cameras, bar none. If you're buying that kind of body, you want an optically good lens. Z
18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX US$849 US$250 US$596 The price looks tempting, but pass. This lens had its day with the 6mp and 10mp cameras, but shows its weaknesses clearly on the 16mp and 24mp cameras Nikon's been putting out recently. See next.
18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G DX US$999 US$300 US$696 Still not a huge fan, but if you're going the convenience route this lens makes a tiny bit more sense.
24-70mm f/2.8G US$1889 US$200 US$1686 A workhorse in the FX bags. It's a very good lens, but it lacks VR and it's weaker than the f/1.8 primes, which is one reason why I tend to suggest new FX buyers pick up something like the 24-120mm for convenience, and the f/1.8G primes for optical quality. Z
24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G US$599 US$100 US$496 On a D3, D3s, D4, D700, or D600, this is a good lens to consider. Optically, it's about right for those cameras, and on a D600 it's nearly the perfect kit lens.
24-120mm f/4G US$1299 US$300 US$996 D800/D800E users would want this over the 24-85mm, I think. It's a step up optically, which that 36mp sensor will greatly appreciate. The more I use this lens, the more impressed I am with it's well rounded performance. X
28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G US$1049 US$250 US$896 I'm not a fan of the superzooms, as most of you know. This is about as good as superzooms get, but on the high pixel count FX bodies these days, you push right into diffraction territory very quickly, amongst other problems. Ironically, I've found this lens works great on a Nikon V1.
70-200mm f/2.8G US$2399 US$300 US$2096 The discount puts this lens back closer to the pricing level of the lens it replaced. The 70-200mm is a stable in most lens kits, so any discount is welcome, and those opting for third party versions now have to take a closer look at Nikon's offering. X
80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D US$1649 US$350 US$1396 Are you a gambler? This is one of the lenses most likely to be replaced (the 16-85mm DX and 24-70mm are others) on Nikon's current discount list. You have to wonder if they're on the list to clear out old stock, or if Nikon is just trying to sell more lenses. Z

The discounts are effective through March 2nd. Whether they'll be extended is unclear at the moment. I suspect it depends upon how many of you start snapping these lenses up and if that runs NikonUSA up to the unit quantities that Japan is hoping for to get their last quarter fiscal numbers in line with projections. If Nikon runs low on stock or the unit volume meets expectations, expect the discounts to disappear. If they don't, expect them to extend. Which opens up the possibility that some lenses fall off the discount platform on March 2nd while others stay.

You may have noticed the X, Y, Z markers in the table. Given what I just wrote, here's what they mean:

  • X -- Lens I would consider highest likelihood to see go off discount on March 2nd, or go to a smaller discount.
  • Y -- Low volume lenses. Production of these lenses are low and come in waves, so if they start to go out of stock, it's not likely that the discounts on them will continue. On the other hand, if they stay in stock, it's likely the discounts would continue as Nikon doesn't want these to slowly pile up.
  • Z -- Lens with a reasonably high likelihood of being replaced in 2013.

So while those other sites were fast to post lots of affiliate links, the above is what you really wanted to know. Good and useful content sometimes takes a bit longer to produce.

One final comment: with only 4 of the 18 lenses on the list being DX, once again we have Nikon pushing their FX line. They've been doing that pretty heavily for a year now. One reason for this is that even a modest bump in FX sales gets average selling price up (makes up for all those US$99 Coolpix piling up on shelves). I happen to like Nikon's FX offerings at the moment (okay, I'm lukewarm on the D4, but it's still a fine camera).

But DX owners surely must not be feeling the love at the moment. Given that they're largest DSLR installed base Nikon has, that neglect needs to end soon or it will have disastrous consequences long term. "Here, have a superzoom" doesn't cut it. As I outlined late last year there is so much DX gear missing in action that this has to be intentional. Nikon needs to stop shooting themselves in the foot over and over. At some point, the damage will be permanent.

Last Camera Syndrome II
Feb 12, 2013 (commentary)--
Many of you indicate that you think you may already own your last camera. Heck, it might even be your cell phone ;~).

So why are you still reading about cameras on a camera Web site?

Actually, I know the answer to that: because just having the camera doesn't mean you know how to use it as well as you could. I've written a lot of articles over the years that address bits of this (like "Blame the Equipment"). But here's the concise list of what you need to do:

  1. Understand how your last camera is controlled. Read the manual again. And again. Or read my book on it and refer to it again when you have questions. Have you memorized the sequence of things you need to set a manual white balance? To set bracketing? To change the ambient/flash balance? If you answer no to virtually any of those questions (and many more that I can come up with), then you don't know your last camera well enough.
  2. Know what the best results your last camera can achieve really is. I have to admit I'm not sure that I've done enough on this site to help you with that, and I'm still puzzling how best to do that. But I'll work on it. Still, have you really looked around at what others are achieving (have achieved) with your last camera? It's worth knowing what various pros are using so you can pay attention to the results they're achieving with it. Many pros have "what's in my bag" laying somewhere around on their site. Making a perfect connection between gear and an image is a little difficult if they aren't labeled that way (which is why photo magazines tend to tell you), but most pros don't change gear all that often. Attend a slide show or presentation by someone good who's using what you use. See if those are the results you're getting.
  3. Figure out the boundaries. How big can you print with your last camera? Really, figure it out. How low can the light be that you can shoot in? Yes, figure that out, too. Your last camera has some limitations, but you need to know out what they are. If you have no idea what those boundaries are, you actually don't know if you have your last camera.
  4. Make sure you have the photographic stuff down cold. I write about shot discipline a lot (do the following Google search: "shot discipline" site:bythom.com). Make sure you've got that part nailed down. Need to practice? Take out your iPhone and try to get your shot discipline up with that! Yep. If you can get it right with a simple camera like that, you're on your way to doing it with the Big Boy Last Camera you picked. Go ahead, try it. Use your casual drive by shooting technique with your iPhone on a static subject. Now actually try using the iPhone like it was the world's best camera and needed you to pay attention to every bit of shot discipline to extract all it offers. Funny thing, shot discipline works with cheap cameras as well as expensive. It'll work with your last camera, too.
  5. Relax and enjoy what you've got. You can't make your last camera do something it's not capable of. You're not going to get 10 foot prints from a D2h in a single image that compete with Peter Lik's stuff, so don't try. In step 3 you learned something about the boundaries (I hope ;~), so just respect them. There's a slim possibility--okay, make that a huge possibility for some of you--that you can't just relax and enjoy, that those boundaries really frustrate you. Congratulations, you're still in the market to buy your last camera.

Last Camera Syndrome
Feb 11, 2013 (commentary)--
It happened with film, it's happening with digital: last camera syndrome.

The email usually goes like this: "I'm looking at updating my aging camera, but I really want to make sure the new one I pick will last me 10 years. It'll be my last camera." Somewhere further down the text you get to the DX versus FX angst, amongst other things, but the salient point is that people are grappling with what they think will be their last camera purchase.

Last camera syndrome isn't anything new. Back in the 90's we had a similar thing happen with film SLRs. Quite a few Nikon pros just balked with the F5: their F4 was perfectly fine, thank you, and this new beast was more expensive, bigger, more electronic, more complicated, required new accessories, but didn't really push many performance bars very far. Basically if you made the switch you got better autofocus (after you spent days studying what the heck the new AF system did and how it was directionally and distance sensitive). Ditto the F100 versus the N90s. What did you really gain given that your current camera was certainly still taking perfectly fine pictures? Nikon discovered post mortem that they had sold their last camera to some of these folks.

Well, the syndrome is back. Nikon has sold perhaps 20 million very competent DSLRs in recent years, cameras that, as long as they're well maintained, are perfectly capable of taking great photos in most situations. Do you really need more than 12mp? More than 8 fps? More than ISO 3200? More than nine or ten stops of dynamic range? Certainly I never turn down more when offered it, but to justify paying for more gets tougher and tougher. And to pay for these gains in small increments is even tougher to justify.

What's happening now is we're seeing a lot of DSLR users who think they're on their last update cycle. For some, it's because they're now in retirement and they don't have a lot of funds to stay on the update track and just want to learn one thing and be done with it. For others, they've noticed that the same US$1000 doesn't buy them nearly as much visible gain as it used to, so they'd just like to get to a nice comfortable spot where they won't outgrow something on the camera they buy. Still others have realized that they pursued marketing promises and it didn't really make their photography better, so they just want something that gives them the basics and will last. Yet another group was waiting for FX to become affordable: they had always planned their lens acquisitions with "I'll be done when I get an FX body." Now that "affordable" FX is here, they are ready to make that one last leap.

So what's your last camera going to be? Nikon spent 2012 trying to convince you that it should be FX. The cynic in me says that Nikon realized what was happening in terms of likely future DSLR sales and just wanted to extract the most they could from you on your last purchase (the cheapest FX body was at least US$500 more than the most expensive aging DX body, and a good US$1000 more than the DX body many people should have bought).

Realistically, any of the current DSLRs should last for five to ten years if properly maintained. It's difficult to suggest that they will last beyond ten years because of the way companies handle parts: in the US you're legally required to have parts for only a short time after the product is no longer manufactured. California law is the base here: an electronics item costing more than US$100 has to have service and parts available for seven years after the date of manufacturing. Thus, by extension, the D50 and D70s probably fall beyond that period, with the D200 and many of the D2 models also close to that line. So, for the higher end cameras (Sendai manufactured) call the likely repairability time is eleven years, for the lower end cameras (Thailand manufactured) call it nine years. Of course, now that Nikon doesn't sell parts to anyone but authorized repair stations, the places at which you can get a camera repaired have dwindled, no independent stations are stocking up on parts, and the price for some repairs now exceeds the cost of just buying a used copy, but that's another story.

So, yes, the next Nikon DSLR you buy may end being your last for the next ten years, as it's hard to imagine that DSLRs will still be what they are today ten years from now, You very well may be on your last camera as you know it. Choose wisely, grasshopper.

Aside: In doing research for this article, I happened across the Magnuson-Moss Act, which I hadn't read for a long time. I'd forgotten one of the provisions of that federal law: warrantors cannot require that only branded parts be used with the product. You know, like Nikkor lenses instead of third-party lenses. NikonUSA won't repair your Sigma lens if it's the problem, obviously, but someone complaining that their lenses, including third party ones, don't focus right with their camera body can't be denied repair because they're using third party lenses. Indeed, even if they're only using third party lenses. If the body is at fault, it must be fixed.

Frankly, the whole point-the-finger-at-the-other maker problem would pretty much go away if Nikon were actually licensing the mount. Either company would pretty much know where the fault lay if there were actual mount specifications in play.

How Do I Think of This Stuff?
Feb 8, 2013 (commentary)--
When I first joined the Silicon Valley crowd in 1980, not too long after that I started an annual ritual (trust me, this has implications on your photography, but let me roll the story my way). That ritual was to disappear into the woods for as much time as possible once a year. Away from news, the TV, the telephone, the fax (you remember, them, right?). Basically get as far from civilization as I could and just enjoy myself.

I didn't think about the products I was working on or the micro-decisions that I needed to make about them when I was on these excursions. Instead, I just allowed my brain to tackle "the big picture." In point of fact, I tended to let my subconscious mind tackle that, not tie up my aware mind. My aware mind was drinking in the landscape and taking photographs.

I always came back from these trips refreshed and learned to accept the processed results from my subconscious. It's amazing what our brains can do if we let them, but we seem to like to tie them up with lots of trivial jobs so that they can never get to the big problems.

It was on one of those trips (to the Galapagos) that I had one of those super epiphany moments. After 10 days of sailing around a stunning place and early in the morning after the most incredible New Year's party I've ever encountered (another story for another day), I was standing on the deck of the boat watching a full moon come up over one of the most beautiful landscapes in the islands when my brain went: incoming messages from the Big Giant Head. Sure enough, my subconscious brain had been chewing on a lot of problems, and it solved five of them in seconds, all big. Bye bye girlfriend, bye bye book manuscript, bye bye columns in MacUser, bye bye presidency of the company I had started, hello new opportunity.

That happens if you let it, and every one of those decisions was the right one.

These days, I still try to find a couple weeks a year where I'm off mostly by myself and also offline (Sorry, Internet Service Can't be Found). It's on trips like that my subconscious mind is thinking about things like the camera industry and where it stands. Imagine what happens when I come back from such a trip and new information comes in that seems to substantiate what my brain told me. That's how some of these industry articles happen.

Now, I said that this has implications on your photography. It does. It's technique time, and I've got a tough one for you: take a vacation, including from photography.

That's not as easy as it sounds. Taking a vacation, we all do that, though not everyone does it optimally (you really need at least three days to unwind from your everyday life and two days to get prepared for re-entry, so one-week vacations give you almost no relief space; I've seen people come back from one-week vacations more tense than when they left). So, let's plan a nice two week vacation.

Here's the problem: you're going to take your camera and take pictures, aren't you? You've not actually taking a respite from something, you've just replaced one activity (work) with another (photography). Add in a spouse and family that wants lots of your attention, and you're right back in the same position that you were at home: lots to do, lots of demands on your time, no real brain rest.

Of course, most of you reading this are trying to juggle your work with your hobby (photography) with your life in general. Good luck with that. Not many people can keep that many balls up in the air.

So you need a break. If you can't take a real vacation without photography, take a vacation from photography. Give yourself two weeks. No looking at photo magazines or Web sites. No picking up a camera. No looking at pictures. No talking to others about photography. No browsing your Lightroom catalog. I mean a full break. No photos, nothing photographic.

At the end of that two weeks I want you to ask yourself one thing before you re-immerse yourself into the imaging world: what did you really miss? What do you really want to do most photographically right now? What camera and lens are you going to pick up and where are you going to rush to take a picture? (Okay, that was three questions, but they're all basically the same question.) Trust your brain's answer--it's been churning on that question without you knowing it, and I'll bet it's the right answer, too.

The watched pot never boils. So stop watching the pot for a couple of weeks. (Bonus points for knowing who wrote the play, The Watched Pot; extra bonus points for knowing the real name of one of the authors; super extra bonus points for knowing my connection to the play.)

Why it Matters Photographically
Feb 7, 2013 (commentary)--
As usual when I post information that is more industry analysis than photographic technique (see next article), I get the complaints about "why does it matter?"

It matters, for sure.

Let's rewind back to the 90's, when the same exact thing was happening to the camera industry. Film SLRs and compact cameras were in decline (and some companies introduced "bridge" cameras thinking that was the solution). Why? Because instant photography and disposable cameras were where all the picture-taking volume was. Customers began buying convenience at lowest cost. The same thing is true today of digital: smartphones are the same disruptor that disposable cameras were, and we're seeing the same buying pattern happen, just as I predicted almost eight years ago.

So let's say it's 1998 and you're not completely satisfied with your current gear. There's something missing that's holding back some aspect of your photography. Maybe it's a lens, maybe it's a wireless remote, maybe it's a camera feature you really want that you'll think will help your work. So, do you buy a new Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, or Pentax? Canon had most of the market and was filling gaps in their lineup. Nikon had the second biggest chunk, and was mostly filling the gaps in their lineup, though they had a digital ace up their sleeve. Minolta and Pentax were slowing development and had significant holes in their lineups. Olympus started abandoning one thing (SLRs) and pursuing another (bridge cameras).

Don't think that those decisions by the camera makers were being made lightly. They all wanted to survive, and they picked different strategies for how they thought they'd do so. Not all of them picked well. The same will be true this round.

We're at a stage in digital where supremely competent gear is already available. If we were to freeze all camera and lens development today and introduce no new products ever again, what would you do? A lot of you reading this--in fact, I'd guess that most of you reading this--are serial acquisition junkies. The next camera, the next lens, the next feature, the next technique you acquire will take you to the next level. Perhaps. I thought I was a pretty good photographer ten years ago, but better gear has forced me to work hard to be even better, so I'd have to consider myself a serial acquisition junkie, too.

So what would I pick if all future cameras and lenses were canceled? Pretty much what you see at the bottom of the column on the right. But I wouldn't be 100% happy, because cameras and lenses still aren't quite what I really want. To get better, I'd really have to work harder on my focusing, for instance. There are issues with all those cameras in the focus area (though the recent firmware update on the D4 certainly made a tangible change for tracking focus).

So I challenge you to this little game: you can't buy anything photographic ever that doesn't exist today. Do you just stay with what you have, or do you shuffle your gear to a different set? Why? If you can answer that question you start to see where you think you need more help from the tool, rather than just more practice with the tool. That's actually a technique pointer, folks, though I got there through the back door, not the front. Knowing when the tool is doing the heavy lifting and when you have to is a first step towards getting better photographs.

Seriously, try the experiment. No new photography gear will ever be made; you're limited only to what exists today. Do you have the right tools already or not? If you do have the right stuff, great, just go out and photograph, and don't worry about new gear unless something comes along that will substantially alter what you can do. Put all your time and energy into "being there" and using better discipline and technique. In other words, travel and workshops and practice.

But this is where things get interesting: there are groups of shooters who are waiting for something. Their tools aren't completely optimal. I tend to put the DX wildlife shooters in that category, but there are plenty of other subsets where people will say they've still got gear gaps. It's amazing how many of those turn up in the crop sensor DSLR realm, which is one reason why I've been harping on that subject so much lately: are the crop DSLR makers really going to let the DSLR era go away without filling in all the gaps and possible sales they could have made? Apparently.

This, too, impacts trying to teach or write about technique. Basically, for me to help those folk struggling with the gaps, I can either: (a) try to come up with ways to learn to live with the gap; or (b) suggest where they go next where there's less of a gap to impede them. If you've been paying close attention, I've been spending time on both my sites doing just that. I must do much more, certainly, but I haven't missed that need. But I also needed to explain how we got to that spot and why I'm doing what I am.

For now, you have homework: try my little experiment and see what you come up with. Working from home, the office, the studio, or a vehicle, I'd be using the D800/D4 combo and the set of lenses I already have. Wandering out into the backcountry, I'd be using the D800 or the OM-D E-M5 with my current lens set, and which I'd use would depend upon how far I was getting from the trailhead and how tough the trail was. And my RX-100 would be in my pocket most of the time. In other words, given what's available out there today, I have what I need, and can simply spend my time shooting and working on improving my technique with what I've got. Are you in that same place? And if not, why not?

Coming next: what would frustrate me if I had to shoot with my current gear forever. That'll help us figure out where I need to spend my technique time.

The Turn Approaches
Feb 6, 2013 (news and commentary)--
Nikon today released their financial information for the last quarter of 2012 (their fiscal third quarter). Analysts seem divided over it. We Westeners see the mud stuck in the cracks of the dam. The Japanese business press seems to like the results and are pleased there's a lot of water.

Short version: Nikon missed on a few things, but is still profitable and mostly hit on their camera and lens shipment volumes.

I've previously characterized Nikon as hitting the accelerator at the end of the straightaway even though there's a tight turn coming up. I'll repeat that assertion today, but note that not only are they still on the accelerator pedal, but they're on the wrong accelerator pedal.

Compact camera sales (Coolpix) continue to astound in a seriously down market. Nikon is predicting they'll sell 17 million in their full fiscal year, which represents 23% of the entire compact camera market (which is in dramatic decline, as I pointed out over on sansmirror last week). Yet one of the small points Nikon made about why their profit numbers didn't match expectations is that average selling price went down. See any correlation?

Nikon blamed most of those selling price problems on what seems to be a faux issue: they built too much inventory just in case there were more floods. Funny thing is, where I can see the inventory buildup is in cameras made in China, not Thailand. Like the Nikon 1, which they ended up having to have fire sales on. Gee, would that lower your average selling price?

Meanwhile, Nikon has lowered their estimate of interchangeable lens camera sales despite the fact that CIPA has increased the forecast sales for the same. If that doesn't set off warning bells somewhere, I don't know what would. The changes aren't dramatic (200k fewer units forecast by Nikon, 1.5m more units forecast by CIPA), but if average selling price is a problem, you don't want to have declining market share in the category where the average selling price is highest (Nikon's market share was forecast to be 37%, now forecast as 34% for the year) and increasing market share in the segment that is lowest (was forecast to be 21%, now forecast to be 23%).

Meanwhile, camera and lens sales as a proportion of the overall company continue to grow. Nikon is estimating that a whopping 73.5% of their total sales will come from the Imaging group in the full year results. In other words, if they screw up in cameras, all hell will break lose with the company, as there's not much else left that provides any meaningful revenue. Everything else is shrinking faster than parts of me would if I jumped into a glacial fed lake, including Nikon's cash on hand (which is probably why they lowered their dividend).

Nikon pushed a lot of boxes last year, no doubt. But with declining return. The question you have to ask is how are they going to push more boxes this year with an increasing return? A D4x isn't the answer. Coolpix that end up selling for US$150 or less at retail are not the answer. I'd argue that the answer has always been staring Nikon in the face, but they've just ignored it: DX. The D7000 and D300s are overdue for updates, the DX lens lineup is stale and out of balance, and Nikon simply isn't driving performance (other than perhaps sensor) in ways they should if they want to hold off high-end mirrorless.

Let me put it another way. Nikon can't survive on FX alone. Best possible case is that they sell 1.2 to 1.5 million FX bodies, and that implies a max of 3 million FX lenses, too (they actually sell more than that because DX users have to dip into FX lenses). Those numbers alone won't save Nikon. The Nikon 1 obviously isn't saving Nikon, given that they're having to sell for so little to drain built-up inventory.

As far as I'm concerned, Nikon has been coasting with DX pretty much ever since the D300 appeared in 2007. Just a lot of lazy iteration, and no further attempt to blow their competitors out of the water. Yet that's the heart of Nikon's camera business, the part that has both volume and profitability.

I'm going to make a prediction: Nikon will likely have estimates for their next fiscal year that are either lower than the current year estimates, or they'll miss them when the actual results get reported. Of course, maybe I don't see that great middle of the lineup (CX and DX) onslaught that Nikon's got prepared for 2013 and 2014. If anyone else sees it, please let me know so I can adjust my eyeglass prescription.

I'm going to give you four numbers. Look at them carefully, then answer this question: what business is Nikon in?

  • 7 million mirrorless and DSLR cameras.
  • 9.8 million lenses.
  • 17 million Coolpix.
  • 42 steppers.

That's it. Those four numbers provide 92% of Nikon's money received. So what business is Nikon in? Where does the profit come from? Where does the growth come from? Which two numbers did Nikon just revise downwards?

I just might have a reward for the person who can provide me the best answer to what business is Nikon in. Even if they are a Nikon employee. We're looking at a future Harvard Business School case study, is my guess. So all you with MBAs, take a whack at it: what business is Nikon in? Bonus points: what business will Nikon be in five years from now?

Does This Make Sense?
Feb 5, 2013 (commentary)--
So what happens if we just do a little historical plotting and a bit of extension of that plot?

The D5 will be 48mp and the D9000 will be 36mp based upon regression analysis.

A lot of us have asked this question for some time now: at what point does the megapixel race stop? From a technical standpoint, not for a long time. There's actually nothing stopping us from creating 100mp+ FX bodies today (well, internal bandwidth might be a bit of a limiter and slow the camera down, but 100mp+ shooters are likely to be working slowly to start with ;~).

Back in 2003 I wrote about diminishing returns in increased pixel counts. I calculated that 24mp was about it for DX, and guess what, ten years later we're there. Go ahead, closely compare that 16mp and 24mp DX camera: did you get as much return as you expected from the pixel count increase? Curiously, we're beyond the equivalent to 24mp DX in other cameras from smartphones to Nikon 1's. The question is whether those increases are netting us truly useful gains any more.

The old 80/20 rule comes into play here. For 80% of you, no, 36mp DX probably won't provide any tangible gain over 24mp. The other 20% will always take a pixel count gain, because increased sampling always has some benefit, even if it doesn't show up in a major way. Plus there's always the croppers, who'll take any pixel increase in order to avoid buying and carrying the right lenses.

The camera makers thus have all kinds of hurdles in front of them, and more and more it's becoming clear that none of them has a clear vision about how to get past those hurdles: smartphones cannibalizing compact sales, diminishing returns on sensor progress, aging market for high-end cameras, need for instant workflow, and so on.

We've seen this game before in many different high tech areas, but one that the Japanese should be familiar with is High Fidelity audio equipment. HiFi went through some of the same lingoistic, numbers-driven marketing approach, too. And that all came to an end when most people realized that they couldn't hear the difference in the numbers. Digital audio put a big punctuation mark on that when it went commercial with the CD in 1982. Some of the bigger HiFi makers made that transition and got a few more years run, but eventually that pettered out (and was again disrupted by the iPod in 2001).

It's not that we don't have makers of audio equipment today, but the "build it and they will buy" mentality is completely gone now, as it will be for cameras. For an audio component maker to survive today, they have to have a vision, be low cost (to hold profit margins), high quality, quick to react to market changes, have a gimmick or trait they can market on, and be ready for more disruption (the recent wave of Bluetooth mobile speakers was another recent change that caught some small speaker makers unawares).

The camera market is ready for disruption. Where it will come from, I don't know. As I posted on sansmirror the other day, many of the camera makers seem a bit confused about what to do next. I'm thinking 36mp DX probably isn't the answer.

Knocking off Canon
Feb 4, 2013 (commentary)--
Nikon's stated goal is to become the market leader in cameras, essentially knocking Canon off the top step of the podium.

With Nikon's quarterly financial statement coming later this week, now's a good time to ask: how's that goal coming along?

Not so well.

Nikon has been stuck in the second position in serious cameras for a long time now. This started with the Canon EOS film models getting to solid autofocus capabilities and being better marketed before Nikon got there. The film era ended with Nikon clinging to just a bit more than half the unit volume of Canon in serious cameras.

Digital reset the numbers a bit, especially since Nikon got an early start at the top end. But Canon responded and re-established dominance in DSLRs.

I write this because the 2012 numbers are coming clear now. While Nikon's fiscal year is offset by a quarter from Canon's, we can already extrapolate some head to head data from numbers published so far. Basically it goes like this: Canon 40.1%, Nikon 34.7% of the interchangeable lens camera market worldwide. (This is units shipped from manufacturer, not sold at retail, and it includes mirrorless cameras, where Nikon had an advantage of shipping some the entire year, while Canon only had one quarter of shipments. There's a chance I'll have to adjust this slightly when Nikon reports its final numbers, as I'm taking their last estimates into account here.)

Canon's forward estimate for 2013 turns out to be an increase to 40.5% of the interchangeable lens market (Canon projections and CIPA estimates combined; for more on Canon and CIPA numbers, see my companion article on sansmirror.com). So one has to ask: what is it that Nikon can or will do that is going to cause it to achieve its goal of passing Canon? Remember, that's been the goal for over two decades now, and while Nikon has had a couple of very brief periods where it managed to tempararily overcome Canon's lead, Canon has always responded immediately with product that sets things back the way they were.

Let's first talk about what won't get them past Canon:

  • Following instead of leading. Canon was first to full frame sensors. Nikon took several years to get there after Canon. Canon was first with dedicated video DSLRs. Nikon isn't there yet. Canon was first with a large sensor mirrorless camera. Nikon isn't there yet. Canon was first with the f/4 zoom set. Nikon has just now gotten there. Speaking of which:
  • Optical failures. Surprisingly for a company supposedly centered around optics expertise, it isn't the optics side where Nikon is leading the way. I already mentioned being last with an f/4 set of zooms, but there are so many gaps, holes, late-for-replacement, and last-to-technology problems in Nikon's lens lineups that it should be not just embarrassing, but near beat-down shameful to Nikon at this point. I've covered the missing lenses issue enough that I'm not going repeat the specifics, but the problem is now so bad I'm of the opinion that Nikon is no longer an optical leader. Indeed, it's interesting that Nikon's corporate philosophy statement now leads with "unwavering commitment to the study of light" and not "push the boundaries of optical technology" as it used to.
  • Brand dilution. I'll use an anecdote here: a friend bought a Coolpix just prior to my Grand Canyon rafting trip last year, as she wanted to be able to take a few of her own pictures on the trip even though several of us on the trip were documenting pretty much the entire trip with serious gear. Day two the camera suffered a problem I've found common with Coolpi: the lens wouldn't deploy when turned on because a small grain of sand had wedged in the barrel. If you attempt to create the next generation of DSLR users by first selling them compact cameras, you'd better make sure that they have a positive experience with the original product they bought from you. That's not really happening with Coolpix.
  • Hiding from the user. The customer support complaints continue to pile up on my desk. I have to wonder how high the pile is on someone's desk at Nikon (they probably can't get to their desk any more, which may be why they're not answering ;~). Enforced silence on real issues is even worse. Hiding behind voice mail systems and an online database that lags the reality of the service department doesn't help.

You'd think that just fixing those four things would get Nikon a ways further towards their ultimate goal. Unfortunately, it appears that Nikon is hoping that Canon will just someday "fail bigger" than Nikon does, and that will allow them to pass into the lead.

Now some say that I'm only negative in my writings, so let me point out a few positive things that have happened in Nikon's quest to top Canon:

  • In the FX lineup, Nikon has created a strong group of products. The holdover lenses coupled with a few updates is holding its own, and all three of last year's FX bodies are arguably strong. Stronger than the similar Canon offerings? Debatable. In some ways yes, in some ways no. So debatable. You need to be clearly better to pass a rival with a lead, but Nikon has been playing the FX game well ever since the D3.
  • The CX product line was certainly a step outside the traditional box, and there's a lot to like about those products (most of the complaints about the Nikon 1 series so far aren't about performance, it's about small things like user interface goofs and lack of a full system). Here, Nikon has shown a willingness to do something different from Canon, and Nikon is indeed doing better than Canon in mirrorless so far. But Canon just got started.
  • The constant low-end DX iteration has actually "fixed" a lot of my (and others') complaints about some of the earlier models. For consumer-oriented cameras, the D3200 and D5200 are solid performers. Stronger than Canon offerings? Again debatable. In some ways yes, in some ways no. Here, too, there isn't anything that makes Nikon a clear leader over Canon, so it's tough to take the lead from them just by iterating product. Still, Nikon was first to 24mp, and managed to do so with low noise and high quality. Canon APS lags a bit now.
  • Nikon now markets with relative constancy. While I think some of the ads miss the point, Nikon does now have a very visible and constant ad presence, something that had been missing in the past. Moreover, here in the US, they were the first to truly get coop advertising driving customers to stores and products off shelves, and they've not relented on that since figuring it out. Kudos to getting a tactic right and sticking with it.
  • Nikon sometimes gets aggressive. The free-lens-with-D600 offer last Christmas buying season was incredibly aggressive. It provoked a lot of buying where that otherwise might not have been, and if you're going to pass your competitor in market share, you need to provoke a lot of buying. That Nikon beat Canon to market with the entry FX model and was aggressive in pricing compared to the Canon 6D is indeed the first place other than CX where you might be able to point to Nikon looking a bit more like a true leader rather than a follower.

Which brings us back to the premise of this article: how does Nikon take the mantle of camera leader from Canon?

  • Completeness. I always get some negative pushback when I question Nikon's choices in product offerings. For example, lately there's been a lot of people telling me that the DX consumer zoom lens lineup is good enough, because that's all people buy. Two things: (a) self-fulfilling prophecy; and (b) are you trying to be the leading photography vendor or just a pusher of boxes? I have a strong bias towards making a strong, broad, complete, and task centric lineup of product. Such lineups are difficult for competitors to break. If you leave gaps you leave vulnerabilities to others trying to gain their own market share. So: (1) Fill out the lens lineups. Race to get the CX line filled with a full range of lenses and accessories. Find the real gaps in the DX line and fill them, especially since Canon has those same gaps. Get the FX lens replacements that are overdue done and in customers hands. Think photographically when doing this, not just what might push boxes out the door. What do I mean by that? For example: how many of those 18-200mm DX users Nikon sold a lens to eventually realized that they had merely bought convenience, not true photographic purpose, and eventually sought something else? How many of them then looked in the Nikon lineup for the DX lens that would solve their photographic problem and found that it didn't exist? Oops: pushed a lot of boxes but didn't lead. (2) Get back to leader status on optical breakthroughs. Sure, Nikon was early to ED glass and Nano technology, but was that it? Canon beat Nikon to diffraction optics, for instance. Are we done with optical breakthroughs? I sure hope not, but if we are, then this increases the need to complete my point #1 ;~).
  • Listen more carefully. I'm going to make a bold statement here: most photography buying is going to become just pro users and very serious hobbyists soon. Everyone else will have "image taking devices" that are "good enough" and which Nikon (and Canon for that matter) really can't make (e.g smartphones). But here's the thing about pros and the prosumers: they are a replacement market only. To sell them something new it has to perform better, get rid of user frustrations, and have the features that the serious user wants, not just a bunch of new menu options that really just disguise licensed stuff stuck into the ASIC. Simple example: our cameras are computers, so why can't they bracket anything we select? If we're not sure of a choice, let us simply bracket it. Isolating your engineers behind language and cultural barriers, voice mail walls, and hiding their email addresses doesn't cut it in this world. Your engineering team needs to be photographically oriented, and they need to interact with worlds' photographers constantly, not in a back room with a few pros every four years at the Olympics.
  • Move more rapidly. It isn't a hardware world any more. While we buy hardware (cameras, lenses, flash units), the primary job of photography is a software chore. It starts with the firmware in the camera, but it extends outside the camera, as well. The software world moves quickly, and in small increments (with a big movement every once in a while). I'm really surprised that no camera maker has offered a "base firmware" option with the initial camera and a subscription to regular firmware updates that aren't just bug fixes, but extensions that users want (see listening, above). Would I subscribe to this if done right? You betcha. But I'd also want to know that photographers are at the heart of those changes (which is why Sony's PlayMemories initiative is a dead end). A programmable camera is something I've mentioned before, and that's part of this, too. If a group of serious users are making your hardware better, guess which hardware starts to look better to new purchasers?
  • Great products require great QA and great service. I have this constant impression that Nikon likes to shoot themselves in the foot. They don't seem to mind having their foot hurt as long as their hands are still giving out more boxes to customers. That hurt foot might feel a lot worse when the box demand goes away and you have more time between handing boxes out to think about how much your foot hurts, though. The Internet fora are filled with Nikon support and repair horror stories. My In Box is certainly filled with them (I'll get back to publishing those when the new site launches, so keep them coming, good or bad). It's a topic of discussion in almost every group of photographers I've joined physically, too (workshops, seminars, trade shows, etc.). Canon isn't perfect at this themselves, but the level of din is higher on the Nikon side. Without fixing this there's always the thought in the back of a potential purchasers' mind: "will I be one of those that succumb to Nikon's terrible customer service?" Hard to pass a competitor if the perception is that the competitor is better than you at fixing the things that do go wrong.

I actually expect Nikon's upcoming quarterly report to be positive. They should hit their estimates for units and revenue, which were somewhat aggressive. But they won't pass Canon ;~). So succeeding at keeping shareholders happy: check. Succeeding at primary goal of passing Canon: no check.

Something I get hit with when I write things like this article is this: if Nikon's profitable and growing, they must be doing something right, so can the negativity Thom. Sorry, but just being profitable and growing isn't the full story. The real question is whether Nikon is being as successful as it could be, and my answer to that is a clear no. I believe that they've been mostly coasting and cost cutting and not actually particularly seriously pursuing their goal of unseating Canon as the camera market leader via product definition. Much of Nikon's success is in "moving boxes," not making photography equipment the best it can be. Nikon may have pushed out more than 10 million Coolpix in a declining market, but is that actually pushing their primary business of photography forward? Most of those Coolpix will die quickly and will likely be replaced by something other than a Coolpix, as the smartphone market continues to ramp. In other words: thanks for the D800E, but from about the DX line down it's about moving boxes.

Remember, Nikon is about three-quarters a camera company. Unlike any of the other Japanese camera companies it really doesn't have other businesses to fall back on if it fails at photography. I would argue that Nikon needs to pass Canon as the market leader. Dramatically so. Nikon needs to lead the way to the future of high-end imaging. They need to make Canon look like a follower.

Which is probably all just a long-winded way of saying Nikon needs a D300s replacement ;~).

D4 Firmware Update
Jan 29, 2013 (news)--
The D4 got a firmware update today, A1.04, B1.02, which improves subject tracking when in continuous autofocus using the viewfinder (phase detect system).

FX Gets the Valentines Love
Jan 29, 2013 (news & commentary)--
FX continues to get all of the Nikon love, with the 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G ED FX lens getting a refresh. This US$750, 385g lens rounds out the variable aperture line of zooms for FX, and will be available in March. FX users now have:

  • f/2.8: 14-24mm, 17-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm VR
  • f/4: 16-35mm VR, 24-120mm VR, 70-200mm VR
  • variable aperture: 18-35mm, 24-85mm VR, 70-300mm VR

As you get more consumer, the zooms move a little more towards the telephoto side. Curiously, only the f/4 set has VR across the board.

Still, FX has a pretty complete set of zooms that'll take you from very wide to fairly telephoto. It has f/1.4 and f/1.8 prime sets, too. But apparently Nikon has stopped dating DX and no longer is sending its love that direction, as the 14-year old DX lineup is still pathetically neglected and sports lots of holes in its lens lineup. Just buy a D600 seems to be Nikon's consistent message of late. Makes you wonder what message they'll come up with when they finally do get around to iterating a higher-end DX body later this year. Perhaps: If you don't buy a D600, buy this?

Along with the 18-35mm, we also got the official announcement of the US$17,900 800mm f/5.6, coming in April along with a new US$750 1.25x teleconverter for it (making the lens a 1000mm f/7.1).

Nikon's sample images, once again, leave a lot to be desired. One is even back focused ;~).

Tokina, at least, showed a wee bit of DX love at CP+, showing two lenses, one DX: the 12-28mm f/4, a slightly wider focal length range than their existing 12-24mm. So at least one lens maker hasn't forgotten that DX bodies far outsell FX bodies and those users would like a few more options than they've got; options that are a lot like the FX options. Tokina also officially announced their FX 70-200mm f/4 lens, their first with the VCM-S image stabilization.

Memo Not Received
Jan 28, 2013 (news & commentary)--
Nikon Image Space (NIS) has now gone live. If you have a Nikon camera, you can download a utility that will let you register for 20GB of free space instead of 2GB. Okay, let's do that, then try to upload a file using the preferred method in NIS:

Sure enough, apparently Nikon hasn't gotten around to OS-X Mountain Lion's requirements, which require that applications be signed. Are you kidding me?

Sigh. I was actually hoping for progress from my Picturetown, even if only a little. Nikon has chosen Adobe Flash and Adobe Air to power features of the site. Even Adobe has moved on to HTML 5, so one has to once again wonder about the Nikon software group's ability to assess and choose appropriate platforms and technologies to build on. Much of the problems we've seen with Nikon software in the past have resulted from their choices of platform, licensed DLLs and packages.

Nikon's naming practices don't seem to have improved, either. The utility you download is named (on Mac) S-UG_UTL_0100000MF-ALLIN-ALL___.dmg. Yeah, that's friendly. As usual, if you're not paying attention to file names, you'll end up with odd stuff in your Downloads folder that you don't know what it is. Note this: all the Nikon file names for downloads tend to not have the word "Nikon" in their file name. For example, S-VNX2_-020701WF-NSAEAN-64BIT_.EXE is the name for version 2.7.1 of ViewNX2's installer.

These names are instantly recognizable to Nikon employees, as Nikon has standardized their naming policies internally (a good thing). But it shows just how little they think about customers. Over the course of a year I collect all kinds of installers and files in my Downloads folder, not just Nikon stuff. I can't even do a search on "Nikon" and find the Nikon-related files in the folder. Or a search on "ViewNX" even. I just did a quick look in my Downloads folder: the only products by which I couldn't search for by product name are...you guessed it, Nikon files.

Maybe the promised linkages to social sharing make it worth all the pain of joining NIS (I wasn't able to figure out how to move my myPicturetown account, by the way):

Well, if you're a Facebook user, you can share. Seems to me I recall that there might be some other social sites out there these days. You know: Twitter, Google+, just a few others. Plus I'm guessing that Nikon isn't going to consider sharing sites like Flickr as being useful to link to ;~).

For now I believe the initials NIS stand for Not Interesting Software. Perhaps things will improve with time, but this is Nikon's second start after several years of trying to get cloud photo support right, and they haven't made any useful progress yet.

The Kermit Syndrome
Jan 24, 2013 (commentary)--
It seems that I'm seeing another round of "my Nikon produces incorrect colors" and "my Nikon images are green" comments in my In Box. If I'm counting correctly, this is the third time this Internet meme has come around since the D3.

If these statements were absolutely true, then all you'd have to do to verify them is go to any magazine using pro work and you could spot the green Nikon images from the (assumed) non-green Canon ones. Go ahead, pick up a Sports Illustrated or Time or People or National Geographic or any other magazine using work from pros using Nikon and Canon DSLRs. See the green images? Didn't think so.

Unfortunately, the minute I try defending color rendition this way, the memers will use another Internet tactic: redirection. Obviously the magazines must be correcting the Nikon images. That's right, you heard it here first: the US publishing industry has a secret Photoshop Plug-in called Nikon Degreener. Saves a lot of work.

Before we go too much further, let's separate the issue a bit. I see two variations on the Kermit Syndrome: (1) the color on the camera's LCD; and (2) the color in the resulting image.

About that color LCD: it very well may be out of spec. To my knowledge no camera maker certifies that the LCD on their camera is calibrated to a specific Color Space, or even accurate, for that matter. Nor do they certify that it will stay in factory spec. Nikon has revealed that they have a calibration process in manufacturing and attempt to make each color LCD match heading out of the factory. Given what I've seen from hundreds of Nikon DSLR bodies, that seems accurate. It's been rare that I've seen one LCD behave differently than another on a Nikon DSLR. But I have seen a rare variation.

One comment: we're pretty sure that the Color Space the camera LCDs achieve is less than sRGB, so what happens when you select AdobeRGB as your in-camera Color Space? I've been recommending that you keep the camera set to sRGB if you are doing any evaluation on the LCD. But I also recommend that you don't count on such evaluation.

Nikon has recently started responding to people who claim their LCD is green or inaccurate or Andy Warholish, or whatever the color complaint of the day is. They'll adjust the color output to the LCD (it's driven by a semiconductor that allows adjustments) if that's what you want. But they'll insert a statement saying that the camera is no longer in compliance with the factory standard. As I demonstrated in my D800 book, my D800s are slightly less pink in the LCD than my D700 and D3 models were. But they're not green. If anything, there's a slight yellow bias in mine, but it's slight.

But you shouldn't be making color decisions based upon a VGA-sized LCD. An LCD for which we don't even know how much of the sRGB Color Space it covers nor what Nikon's manufacturing target is. If you don't like the color you see, you can have it changed, as I note, but that still won't tell you how accurate it is to actual colors you capture. You're basically flying in the dark. It's like trying to evaluate color without having tested yourself for color blindness first (and 6% of you men reading this have Deuteranomaly, a reduction in green sensitivity).

Which brings us to the images themselves. I first heard about "color issues" with Nikon DSLRs when the D1 came out ;~). I actually spent a great deal of time traveling around to various different photographers and pro shops "fixing" their color. My tool? A Macbeth ColorChecker chart, something I'd owned and been using for decades even back at the turn of the century. A ColorChecker chart is certified to be known colors. So if you take a picture of it, just follow it through the chain and you'll quickly find what's causing your color issues.

Right up front was White Balance. If you don't get White Balance right, you'll be rotating red and blue around green and guaranteeing that colors move. Each Nikon sensor has had a tendency to have a slightly different zero balance point, meaning that the rotation starts at a different color temperature, typically just below 5000K. Differences in red, green, and blue Bayer filtering can make small differences, too. Bottom line: get the White Balance right.

Next up was camera settings. Let's just say that the Rockwell Picture Control, uh, I mean Vivid, isn't color neutral. I'm not sure why you'd expect Vivid to be color neutral when there's a Picture Control named Neutral, but apparently some of you do (and in old Nikon bodies we had a different variation of this: Color Mode).

At this point we've got a JPEG that should be color neutral because we've captured it right, so the color monitor you're using to edit becomes the next possible culprit. Sure enough, I found a lot of folk who didn't have a calibrated monitor (or a monitor that could even display all the colors the camera could capture in sRGB; see comment about the camera LCD, above).

It doesn't stop there, though. Who's handling color for printing, and what does the printer do? I had one client who had a high end (commercial) printer and was having D1x color issues early on. Turns out the printer driver was inserting its own definition of how things should be interpreted. I made an adjustment to that driver and we had perfect color.

The net result of following that chain correctly is that you should be able to take a picture of a ColorChecker, print the results, cut out small color patches from the print and drop them onto the original ColorChecker, and they'll disappear. Since I've been able to do that with every Nikon DSLR made to date, I fail to see how they're "green."

Oh, but wait, what raw converter did you use? Let me guess: Adobe. Let me guess further: you used the Adobe Standard Camera Profile. Go back to the Basic tab in Adobe Raw Converter. Notice that second slider under White Balance? Tint is labeled Green at the left side, Magenta at the right. Do you have a significantly negative number there? Yep, you've got a green image. I've learned to mistrust Adobe's White Balance interpretation if I'm seeing large numbers in the Tint section. (And don't get me started on the over-abundance of Orange saturation in most Adobe conversions.)

I'm tempted to say that my Nikon DSLRs are more of a Fozzie Bear: they're always joking around with focus and my Nikkor lenses tend to make wocka wocka noises (buh-duh-bump). But my Nikon DSLRs are definitely not Kermits. Neither are yours.

The Value of User Data
Jan 23, 2013 (commentary)--
First, head on over to the Reikan blog and look at their initial post on user data samples for focus. In particular I want you to look at the D800 + 24-70mm or 24-120mm and the Canon 5DIII + 24-105mm results. The reason for picking those samples is that there are a lot of data points already, so the data is more likely indicative of actual camera/lens populations.

The D800 + 24-70mm chart is especially disturbing. While we have a bell curve centered around zero for a lot of the tested cameras, we have a second bell curve at about -17 AF Fine Tune and a lot of outliers in the + AF Fine Tune realm, too. The D800 + 24-120mm is better, but the bell curve is still quite spread out (as Reikan notes, the "variability is significant").

Now look at the 345 tests (even more than the D800 tests) with the Canon 5DIII and 24-105mm: a near perfect bell curve almost at the center of the Fine Tune area. That's what we want to see: low variability and a bell-shaped curve.

I've written several times in the past year that Nikon's quality control has slipped. This simple data set is an example of how that shows up in a hidden, but tangible way. When I tested a large number of D800 bodies early in the "left-sensor is wrong" crisis, I also noted that I was seeing an AF Fine Tune curve that wasn't bell-like in shape. I found cameras that were from -15 to +20 with the same lens, and that was with the central sensor, which generally wasn't the problem on those cameras (in the problem cameras, the left sensors were not "fixable" with AF Fine Tune).

Data like my user surveys and the posting of multiple test results like Reikan's are starting to get to levels where we can closely predict from them. For example, Reikan's numbers for D800 bodies with the 24-70mm have a 95% confidence level an a confidence interval of 13.33. That's almost enough to make a serious statement about the entire population. The confidence interval on my left-sensor survey was 95%, so I was able to feel comfortable about my statements about early D800 models. The plus/minus interval was less than 5%, which is why I wrote that between 20 and 30% of the cameras shipped at that time had the problem.

One issue from the very beginning has been the "I've got no problem" folks. Those that have a perfectly functioning D800 have been quick to jump on the claims of those that are having problems with theirs. I'll remind everyone that absence of a problem on your sample doesn't mean that there wasn't a problem on other samples. Moreover, I happen to have two D800's that perform pretty much as expected; I didn't dismiss those claims by others: I investigated those claims with testing. It's only through aggregation of data that you can tell whether there are infrequent problems, common problems, or no problems at all. D800 focus issues appear to be a common problem, as the Reikan data suggests.

Nikon can hide behind their wall of silence if they'd like, but real user data will out them in the end. The Internet has a lot of garbage to wade through, but it's also very good at aggregating real information when handled correctly. I call upon Nikon to make a definitive statement about the focus issues some users have been having, and what they're doing to make sure that this doesn't continue to be a problem into the future.

When a Product Loses Momentum
Jan 22, 2013 (news and commentary)--
When your pet product just doesn't achieve orbit, give it a different name and relaunch it.

Today Nikon announced NIKON IMAGE SPACE (yes, apparently all caps in every instance in the press release and Nikon's Web sites: they apparently intend to shout about the product in fear that it might not otherwise get heard). What is NIKON IMAGE SPACE? Why, it's my Picturetown relaunched, apparently, as it still has the basic free account and all my Picturetown accounts will be moved over.

Indeed, the press release has other indications that this is just a relaunch: "Improved usability. Significant changes to the window design..." Uh, if it's a new product, how could it possible be changed already? Oh, right, it's just a new name for my Picturetown. Note that this allows Nikon to relaunch all the apps in various app stores, issue new press releases, make lots of noise about something that is basically a 2.0 version of a product that never really achieved traction in an already crowded image cloud market.

Go to my Picturetown itself and if you look closely you'll see a link named "Notification about the renewal of my Picturetown." Hidden away within that is a notification that the my Picturetown system will be down for maintenance for 13 hours on the 27th and 28th, by the way. So both of you currently using my Picturetown should be aware you won't be able to get to your images during that time, and will have relearn a new system to use them the following day.

So what do we my Picturetown users actually get? New UI, faster performance, and more collaboration with Facebook, Twitter, et.al. Of course, you can already get that with Flickr and other services that are more robust and developed.

This project of Nikon's seems to be a bit like North Korean missile launches: multiple launches with too much ego and "me too" and not enough actual usefulness to the (Nikon) citizens.

But I'm being snarky. The actual service doesn't launch until January 28th, so maybe it will be so marvelous that all of us will immediately switch to it (hmm, I thought the snarky switch was off, but apparently not).

Let me be the first to say it: NIKON IMAGE SPACE's future is just as cloudy as my Picturetown's. Yes, that's a pun. And that's about the most enjoyment I've gotten out of my Picturetown so far.

Good Design, Good Images Too
Jan 21, 2013 (article)--
It's a holiday here in the US today, so we're on a short week.
I'm still working through my "high degree of difficulty" bits for the remainder of this week. I've now completed the second half of my article based upon Dieter Rams' design ethic. read the second part of this two-part article

Are We Analyzing Small Details Too Much?
Jan 18, 2013 (commentary)--
Ever since the D4/D800 combo was announced (and now with a D600 in the middle in terms of pixel count), I keep getting the "which is better" and "do I need" questions. I haven't posted my reviews of the D4 and D600 yet (hope to by the end of the month), so these questions repeat, but now with details, such as: "the DxOMarks are 96, 94, and 89 (D800E, D600, D4), what does that mean?"

It means something and it means nothing. I've long been a proponent of testing your equipment and understanding what it can and can't do. Nothing's changed there. But to be frank, we long ago passed the point where small differences in test results are meaningful to most folk.

Let me illustrate. Let's say that I took my D600, D800E, and D4 to a basketball game and shot them side by side, then had Sports Illustrated use a photo I took in their magazine. Could you tell which camera I used for that photo? I'm betting that the answer is no for 99.9% of you. Even the 0.1% might not be comfortably sure, and they might actually be keying on something that isn't particularly important in that shot to make their determination.

Which camera would I have preferred in that instance? The D4, of course. It's better suited for the type of shooting I would have been doing (action). Technically, the D800E would have produced slightly better acuity, all else equal, but with the dot gain in the printing process, I suspect no one would actually see it. Likewise, if Sports Illustrated used the image on their Web site, it probably would be limited to 800 pixels or less. Even assuming we had to crop to the final image, that's not a high enough bar that the difference between DxOMark's 96, 94, and 89 numbers would show up in any way.

Don't get me wrong, there are times when a particular camera is "right" and another one isn't, based on the sensor. If your goal is print landscapes big, get a D800E. The D4 would frustrate you. This has little to do with dynamic range or any of those other measurements that people are getting overly anal about, but simply with pixel count: you have more sampling with 36mp than you do with 16mp.

Many readers of this site were aghast when I dropped my DX kit for an m4/3 in the backcountry. How could the OM-D E-M5 beat a D7000 for landscape work? Well, since I generally don't print that work larger than 16mp allows, there's not enough difference for me to worry about. True, I tend to use filters a bit more with the E-M5 than I did with the D7000, mainly to pull in dynamic range, but that's an example of my understanding what the tests I did mean in a practical sense: yes, the D7000 was better by a small bit, but I could do something about that. Technically, the Olympus lenses I'm using are better than some of the Nikkors I was using, so there were trade offs both directions.

Thus, I test to understand the limitations of my equipment, then adjust my shooting accordingly, not to pick equipment. But it's surprising how little I have to adjust sometimes (the first SI example I use, above).

Many of us are using Marianne Oelund's Optical Simulator these days to try to understand how specific parameters impact very low level (pixel and sub-pixel) results. It's definitely an interesting scientific pursuit, and I've learned a few things from it along the way. But are any of those extremely low level things impacting my choice of camera? No. They only help me understand my camera of choice at a very low level.

So here's the scoop on FX these days, based upon not agonizing too much over the low level details:

  • D3/D3s -- I'll take the D3s over the D3 because there was a difference in sensor that has an impact on high ISO work. But both are still very good choices for a lot of the types of work where you need ISO 3200 and ISO 6400. You have to ask yourself if you really need more than 12mp. If not, nothing wrong with using these cameras.
  • D3x -- It's even more clear with the D3x, though with a minor caveat. The D3x is a remarkably good 24mp camera with an exceedingly high body build. Unless you're pushing into very high ISO ranges (the caveat), you don't need a D600 or D800. Of course, Nikon overpriced the D3x ;~).
  • D4 -- It's very much like a D3s, only with 16mp. Thus, if you need more megapixels plus the other things a D3 does, it's a valid choice. If you don't, stick with your D3s.
  • D700 -- Same as a D3, only in the smaller body style. Just like a D3, there's nothing particularly wrong here if you don't need more than 12mp. You can agonize over getting a new camera, or you can save your money and get a new lens instead. Which is going to net you a bigger gain: >12mp or better lens?
  • D600 -- As the DxOMark numbers indicate, the low-level differences aren't huge between the three current Nikon FX bodies. Thus, the D600 is the bargain camera of the bunch. But it has fewer features and a lower body build than the others. Can you live with that to get a bargain?
  • D800 -- You buy this camera if you truly need more pixels. Maybe you buy this camera if you are using smaller images but need more acuity. But you give up fps and you'll need more RAM and drive storage, so you truly have to need the pixels to go this far.
  • D800E -- The winner on acuity and resolution at the moment. Landscape shooters printing big probably ought to land here, but you'll be needing good skill sets and a really good lens to fully take advantage. And remember, you need more RAM and storage if you're going to go here. Also remember that if you're dealing with static landscapes, you might be able to get to this point with your current camera using stitching.

If you didn't quite get what I said: I'm choosing between these cameras primarily based mostly on feature set for intended use, secondarily on pixel count needs. Some of you will probably throw cost into the decision hopper, too (e.g. a used or refurbished D3s might be a good choice over a D4 if you don't need 16mp). But these are all high-level specifications that are easily distinguished without testing.

Here's what I don't agonize over these days, but it seems many of you are still splitting hairs on: dynamic range. Every camera I just mentioned has enough dynamic range for me. Every camera I just mentioned captures more dynamic range than you can print directly. Virtually all of my landscape work these days compresses dynamic range (not linearly or evenly; much like I was doing in the film days). Fill and graduated NDs are important tools, as are post processing contrast tools and techniques that deal with pieces of the dynamic range at a time (some of you may remember that I supplied an action with my earlier books that split the captured range into 10 "zones" (layers in Photoshop) of contrast, for individual manipulation).

Don't get hung up on numbers and tests. Try to understand whether the camera helps you do what you need it to do. This little article is bracketed by "Good Design, Good Images" parts one and two. Analyze whether the camera you choose has a design that helps/lets you make the images you choose to make, nothing more. If all you're ever doing is making Facebook snapshots to share with friends, a D800E shouldn't be your choice ;~).

Virtually all of my responses to people asking "which" all boil back to that: understand what you're trying to do, find the products that let you do that, then choose either the least expensive one or the one you like the best. That's it. And yes, there will be multiple products that let you do what you want/need. Comparing low level numbers on them to make the choice is not the right thing to do. Which is cheaper? Which do you like best? (After handling it in a store, preferably.)

There's a really good example of that happening in the mirrorless world right now, for example. The Olympus OM-D E-M5 and Panasonic GH3 are within whiskers of each other on the numbers, but the E-M5 tends to be the winner by very small, actually teeny, margins. Margins that aren't meaningful to selecting which one to buy. Price, size, menus, features, ergonomics are all much more meaningful things to make the choice on. This is one of the reasons why I don't publish the numbers I get from my testing any more. Over reliance on those is delusional. If a camera is one Rat's Eyelash better than the other on Test XYZ but you always press the wrong button because of the design and miss the picture, who cares about the Eyelash? If the camera that's an Eyelash better is one you can't afford, who cares?

Be pragmatic in your decisions about gear. Make sure that the things and design points that will impact your shooting most are what you're basing your decisions on. Truly, how many of you can say that 11.7 stops of dynamic range versus 11.2 is the thing that will impact your shooting most? Comprende?

Every FX camera Nikon has ever made is a winner. At something. For someone. Every FX camera Nikon has made. Every one. You'll only lose if you do the analysis of which you need wrong, and those low level numbers are probably the wrong thing to analyze, so stop obsessing on them.

(Aside: OMG, Thom wrote something positive with the word Nikon in the sentence. Is Thom sick? Yes, sick like a fox. ;~) Get a grip people: I write positive comments about positive things. I write negative comments about negative things. Nikon's QA and customer support in 2012 were (mostly) not positive and were a significant story of the latter half of last year. Let's hope for a better 2013 in that respect. Stop shooting the messenger. Note that one of the stories below is that NikonUSA set up an online parts store, as I suggested they should. It solves some, but not all of the problems that I reported on. Messengers are sometimes good things ;~)

Good Design, Good Images
Jan 17, 2013 (article)--
This is "high degree of difficulty" week, so let's see if I can pull off a complex article, equating the elements of good camera design against good imagery. read the first part of this two-part article

Looking Forward
Jan 14, 2013 (article)--
(Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show, which was coincident with the Photo Marketing Association show.)

The consumer electronics world is filled with dead-end technologies and things that didn't quite pan out the way people thought they would. One recent casualty, for instance, is 3D TVs. Yes, I know someone out there will say they love their 3D TV, but overall, adding 3D to TV sets didn't produce even the teeniest blip of new TV purchasing. At the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), 3D was generally only mentioned as a footnote on new TVs. Ultra HD is the wanna-be buzz of the rapidly declining TV industry.

In retrospect, the reason 3D TV failed is easy enough to identify (some of us were on record prior to the introduction of the first consumer 3D TVs that this wouldn't be a winner, though ;~). In a world where a majority of people had already bought a large screen HD TV, was the addition of 3D enough to compel them to replace it with a 3D HD TV? The answer was no, and that was partly due to the lack of 3D content offerings, but more importantly due to a misunderstanding of how people actually use their TVs (they don't want to be bound to a narrowish angle in front of the set wearing 3D glasses; believe it or not, most television "viewing" is actually listening--people tend to be multitasking while watching TV; this was one of the reasons why I originally felt that 3D wouldn't be the thing that saved the TV makers).

Okay, but what about cameras? read rest of article

Here's Something You Probably Don't Think About
Jan 11, 2013 (commentary)--
Quick question: how many sensors does your smartphone have?

More than you think: ambient light, proximity, camera(s), microphone(s), touch, position (not just GPS, but WiFi and Cellular), near field communications, Bluetooth, accelerometer, magnetometer, gyroscope, pressure, temperature, and humidity. There may be even more that I don't know about brewing their way to the next cup of products. And yes, those are all technology sensors, as they're sensing things (sometimes amongst other duties).

So how many sensors does your camera have? Not as many, though again quite a few, and probably more than you realized. Obviously, some of the Android cameras that are starting to pop up may even match your smartphone in sensor accumulation.

So why is it that we use those sensors so poorly? Yes, we use them poorly: in our not-so-smart devices sensors tend to be singly-purposed. Think about it: all your cameras now have video in them so they have a microphone. Why can't you have a Clap-On type shutter release?

The reason we're not getting greater than the sum of the parts from these sensors is that the sensors are being put in there for one specific feature, the microphone is there to record the audio track for video only.

So what needs to happen to bring all those in-camera sensors together and create something much more interesting? First, you need imagination. You need to think creatively about what happens if you use A, B, and C simultaneously: does that net you a possibility you hadn't considered before? Sure it does. Workflow is one of our banes, but what if we had a camera that allowed us to enter some parameters prior to shooting (EXIF fodder) and then used that when something was sensed? Gee:

IF (EXIF(JPEG_Transfer)=TRUE) AND (PendingImages = TRUE)

That's a grossly simple example that simply relies upon the WiFi system as a "sensor of network." Another simple example:


Hmm, can we detect subject and camera motion? Sure. Can we detect subject motion, camera motion, and remote release (via Bluetooth)? You betcha. Can we detect subject position and motion, camera position and motion, and remote release? Still not a problem. Wait, how did we get subject position? From their smartphone ;~).

Beyond the fact that we don't have programming capabilities on our cameras (and camera firmware tends to be hard coded, too), there are other reasons why we're still far from stringing all those sensors together. First, many of the sensors themselves are hardwired to something. There's poor timing coordination and synchronization between sensors, the sensors use different time scales, and we have little sophisticated control over the sensor (heck, we just got 20 levels of audio levels from our microphones on some Nikon bodies).

Yet when I look at what's being done with smartphones and tablets at the moment, I see the opposite: more coordination of sensors and more recognition that you can combine them to create something more interesting (much of the augmented reality ideas require multiple sensors being coordinated together). Heck, I just discovered that my quad copter has orientation ability (comes from the combination of GPS and compass): no matter which way the copter (and its camera) is pointed, I can have my controller joysticks programmed to always provide movement relative to my position (i.e. the chopper/camera is pointed left but I push the joystick forward: does the chopper go left or forward? Well, I can control that ;~).

There's a ton of technology in our cameras (did you know that the D4 has a Linux-based computer system in it just to run the Ethernet port?), but it's all being underutilized. Way underutilized. Want to start a camera revolution? Better use the technology that's already available.

I'll have more to say about future photography technology next week in my post CES/PMA commentary.

The Yen Dollar Dance
Jan 10, 2013 (commentary)--
What goes around comes around.

I've been checking in on the yen/dollar relationship from time to time and what it does to camera pricing in the US. If you follow the financial reports the Japanese companies release each quarter, you'll tend to find that one of the key numbers that's always up front is currency exchange contributions.

Japan these days consumes less than 10% of the cameras made, especially at the high end (DSLRs). Thus, they're all exporters. When you export, currency fluctuations are something you watch really carefully, as they have ways of killing profitability if you're not careful. Indeed, many of the Japanese companies use hedging strategies to try to "smooth" the impacts of these fluctuations.

Until mid-to-late 2012 we were in a long "yen appreciating against dollar/Euro" pattern. This reversed in the second half of 2012 and now we have "yen depreciating against dollar/Euro."

So what's that mean?

Well, from the peak of the yen to the time I'm writing this, we've seen a 11% change in favor of the dollar (yen depreciating). The camera companies were all forecasting something around 80 yen to the dollar for the last quarter of 2012, but it may have averaged as high as 85, a 6.25% difference. That's a tangible difference. Indeed, big enough that, used wisely, can be used move product via price adjustments. [Today's current rate: 88.2.]

It's no surprise that Nikon had a number of strong instant rebates and price reductions in Q4 2012 as a result: the changing wind of the currency values gave them flexibility to do so. Nikon seems to have used the softening yen as a way of increasing unit volume sales (or at least meeting their aggressive estimates in an otherwise declining market) and balancing inventories. In other words, Nikon worked at using the change to buy some market share and get the warehouse shelves emptied.

The question, of course, is what happens in 2013. We'll know shortly. Once the numbers from last quarter have firmed up in the accounting department, Nikon will make a choice. My guess is that they will continue to be aggressive, though perhaps not as aggressive as a free lens with an FX body ;~).

I should note that you can see some interesting trends in the CIPA numbers, which I think we'll also see reflected in Nikon's results when they announce them. There aren't a lot of economies in the OECD that weren't flat or in recession in the last half of 2012. China, US, Germany, Brazil, were the primary countries not in recession. The CIPA numbers show a significant shift of product shipped to the US, and I suspect it's because of two things: our economy was growing, and the yen/dollar relationship first stayed relatively stable, then swung towards the yen devaluation, which gave them pricing flexibility to move more iron.

I'm not an economist (probably a good thing considering how often they're wrong), but it does seem that the trend lines are all set for continued dollar appreciation against the yen. Given some of the statements of the new Japanese government, it seems that the Japanese policy is now tilted towards depreciating the yen (thus increasing exports).

Of course, not everything is done in yen by the Japanese companies. Nikon makes most DSLRs in Thailand, so the bhat is another currency that is important. Likewise, the Nikon 1 and Coolpix cameras tend to be made in China, so the yuan comes into play.

Still, overall, the factors look favorable at the moment for continued price aggressiveness in the US by the camera companies, especially with DSLRs and higher end gear. Our economy is growing, the currency fluctuation is favorable for Japanese exports, and we still like DSLRs over mirrorless ;~). I expect Nikon to continue to aggressively promote product in the first quarter of this year.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due
Jan 10, 2013 updated (news and commentary)--
Last year I tore into Nikon for forcing people to pay shipping and repair fees for stupid things, like replacing user-replaceable parts.

Well, the good news is that NikonUSA seems to have at least partly heard the complaints. If you lose the vertical grip plug or the battery compartment door, you'll now find that you can get many of those parts from the Nikon Parts Store. That's certainly a step in the right direction.

But it's only a step, as I discovered in a couple of emails I received since Christmas about o-rings and other small parts that should be user replaceable, but which Nikon insists on repairing themselves. Also, there's a flat UPS shipping charge of US$12.50, and out of stock items can't be placed on backorder, which means you have to keep checking back for when an item goes into stock.

Grading on a curve, we went from a D- to a C-. Woo hoo, Thom wrote something positive about Nikon! Let the celebratory tweeting commence.

Things for New FX Users to Think About
Jan 9, 2013 (article)--
Nikon's mostly FX 2012 and their aggressive pricing on the D600 and D800 at the end of the year means that a lot of you reading this site have now opted for your first FX camera. Here are some of the things you new FX users need to deal with: read rest of article

XQD Gets Second Source
Jan 8, 2013 (news)--
Lexar officially launched their 32GB and 64GB XQD cards at the Consumer Electronics Show. Minimum guaranteed transfer speed is 168MBs, which Lexar labels as 1100x. Along with the cards, Lexar introduced the XQD Reader, which is a USB 3.0 card reader.

At the moment, the Nikon D4 is still the only available product that uses XQD cards, though.

D5200 Announced (Again)
Jan 8, 2013 (news)--
As expected, Nikon used CES/PMA to launch the D5200 DSLR in the North American market. No real surprises here. The announcement also reiterated the launch of the WR-10 wireless remote control. The D5200 is packaged with the 18-55mm kit lens for US$900, or the 18-105mm kit lens for US$1100, and comes in black, red, or bronze (body only; lens is always black). My understanding is that US dealers should be getting initial inventory shortly (this week).

As I noted earlier, the D5200 does not use the same 24mp sensor the D3200 does, which seems a bit strange to me. The D3200 is a Nikon-created sensor, the D5200 is a Toshiba-supplied sensor. There are slight differences in pixel count, video capabilities, and bit depth between the sensors, though initial testing shows them to be essentially the same in low level image quality capabilities. As always, I've updated my Current Nikon DSLR page with all the detailed information.

Some Changes
Jan 7, 2013 (news)--
No, this isn't the site redesign. But in anticipation of that I decided to do some simple pruning and modification so that I'm not spending as much time fighting with HTML coding in the old site, and the site works better on small, mobile devices. To wit:

  • Support this Site: moves from the top banner to the right column, as with Sansmirror. I've added UK and Canadian Amazon links in the page that the button takes you to. Yes, this requires a double click on your part, but it also means that the front page is less cluttered and content begins immediately. If you want me to emphasize content, then you should be fine with having to click twice ;~). Thanks to everyone that used this option in 2012; your support is appreciated.
  • Article Links: the article links in the left column have been removed (as has the column itself). You'll find all the articles on this site are linked in the Nikon page (Nikon tab). Took me awhile to get that fully updated, but as of today, it should be. The net result is that this main column now expands wider and isn't so constricted.
  • Caring and Sharing: I still do this (2% of my sales to charity), but I've removed the details for now.
  • Social links and other site links: they've moved from the top left column (now gone) to the right column. By the way, I am now tweeting whenever a new article appears on sansmirror.com. You can expect me to start doing this sometime soon with bythom.com, too.
  • Waiting for Nikon List: temporarily removed. It will soon become it's own page.

Don't Panic, This is Only a Test
Jan 7, 2013 (news)--
Most of you know about Nikon's recent overly complicated lens survey, which I reported on towards the end of last year. This week, Nikon has been asking some registered users of various products quick questions.

For example:

"When using your Nikon D800, do you shoot mostly Video or Still Photos?" The possible responses are: Only Video, Mostly Video + Some Stills, An even balance of Video & Stills, Mostly Stills + Some Video, Only Stills:
Nikon Survey

Or, if you registered a PC-E lens and have signified that you're an architectural photographer, the one-question email survey from Nikon NPS you might get goes like this: "The line now includes 24mm, 45mm and 85mm Perspective control lenses that have tilt and shift. We would like the opinion of Architectural photographers like yourself, as to the need for something wider than 24mm and in particular what focal length would be most valuable for that wide approach to shooting. Our competitors have introduced a 17mm perspective control lens but we are hearing feedback that 17mm might be too wide and too susceptible to flair from lighting in interior shots. I would like to solicit some advice on the subject. Would you please take a moment and drop me an email with your thoughts."

So what's with all these questions from Nikon all of the sudden?

I think a lot of it is normal long-term planning, though some is obviously trying to figure out whether to follow through on some previous plans. Basically, when a new pro generation comes out (the D4 in 2012, for example), Nikon's top engineering teams start a new process of trying to figure out what the next generation should be like and why (e.g. the D5 in 2016). According to my notes, there were a fair number of similar surveys in early 2008, six months after the D3 appeared, too (I guess we all answered them wrong, as I don't remember telling them to make one of the slots a new card type shared by no other camera ;~).

In other words, Nikon looks to customers every pro cycle to check for possible course corrections, or things that they didn't quite see themselves. I think all this surveying is not a sign of Nikon suddenly becoming interested in user perspective, but mostly their usual cycle of soliciting user feedback.

It does seem that there are more questions this time, and maybe more surveys, too.

Two things: (1) register your Nikon products. That's where Nikon is getting the people to survey. (2) if asked to fill out a survey, do so. It really is the best way to get your wants, needs, and comments looked at in the next long-term planning cycle.


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