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DX Month, Week One


The compilation of DX stores from Week One of DX Month (October 2012)

Where We Are, Where We're Going
Oct 5, 2012--
The next phase of DX month (next week), will be some much-overdo reviews. Basically, these first two weeks are about where DX is. The last two weeks of the month we'll talk more about where you can go and where Nikon is likely to go.

See 'ya again next week.

Keeping with today's Theme: More Nikon Won't Want to Hear
Oct 5, 2012--
Interbrand just released their 2012 "Best Global Brands" list. So how did the camera makers do? Here are the results:

#2: Apple
#4: Google
#9: Samsung
#19: Nokia
#30: Canon
#40: Sony
#65: Panasonic

No Nikon in the top 100. But wait, you say, Nikon isn't a big conglomerate or a mass marketer like some of those companies. True, but there are plenty of companies smaller than Nikon on the top 100 list, and plenty of niche companies, as well. Adobe is #78 on the list and smaller than Nikon, for example.

Note that the three factors Interbrand assesses are: overall financial performance, the role brand plays in a customer choosing it, and the strength of the brand to command a premium price. Since Nikon does pretty well in the first category, the fact that they don't show up on the list must have to do with the second and third items, right? (By the way, Nikon shows up as an Interbrand client, so whatever consulting Interbrand has provided Nikon isn't working ;~).

Nikon's not resonating quite as much with consumers as they think. Here in the US, I believe that it's a recognizable brand that pushes product mostly based upon instant rebates promoted through coop advertising. Over the years, I believe this has been diluting Nikon's brand reputation here. While the halo products (D4, D800) are generally well regarded (despite the focus issues with the D800), as you move downstream from them you don't get the same brand response. Right now, the high-end DX lineup is a bit behind the times, and this can't help, either.

Here's Something Nikon Won't Want to Hear
Oct 5, 2012--
The survey now sits at over 8000 responses, with not quite a half being D7000/D300 owners. Just a small preview: my conclusion from the DX data of most desired lenses is that Olympus and Panasonic are designing the right lenses for m4/3. Almost dead on right. Oops.

And Here's Something Else Nikon Won't Want to Hear
Oct 5, 2012--
Many of the emails I get have either an assertion or a question about using FX lenses in place of missing DX lenses. This clearly is what Nikon wants you to do, and is probably why they haven't produced a DX portrait lens, amongst others.

But consider this: portraiture is partly about perspective. A head and shoulders shot of a bride-to-be is often in the 85-105mm range for a reason: it provides a very flattering perspective. Nikon wants you DX users to use an FX 50mm f/1.4G for this. But let's see what happens.

When I shoot an 85mm at 8' on FX I get a cut-off just above the elbows, a traditional chest/shoulder/head view. With a 50mm on DX at 8' I am framed slightly below the waist and well below the elbows; in fact, it's an awkward framing. I have to move in nearly two feet to get the same framing as FX, but now my perspective is starting to not be flattering on the model.

So what FX lenses do we have that can put us in the right position and perspective? The 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor, which is going to be too sharp for most portraiture (unless you like doing lots of skin fixing after the fact) and not allow us as much DOF control. The 70-200mm f/2.8 (or any other f/2.8 lens that can get us to 70mm). Same comment about DOF control.

Back in 2001 (yes, over ten years ago; consider that in considering the DX portrait problem), I wrote that the perfect FX lens for portraiture on the DX DSLRs that Nikon made was...the 58mm f/1.2 NOCT. Almost immediately every used NOCT on the market disappeared and the price sky-rocketed. Partly because every pro shooting portraits realized I was right. It's 87mm equivalent on DX and it's got that fast aperture, a fast enough aperture that we almost get to 85mm f/1.8 FX equivalence on a DX body. To this day, it still is the best choice for a DX wedding shooter looking for that classic 85mm portrait look. Did Nikon notice? No. Did Nikon ever release a true DX portrait lens? No.

This is just one of the reasons why I don't think that "just use FX lenses" is the right answer to supply DX shooters. It's a hostile answer that tells photographers that "We don't care what you think about perspective, just do it our way and shut up." How's that for customer support?

Professional photographers understand and care about perspective, depth of field, and all the other elements that allow them to make their imagery exactly as they want it. If they're using DX cameras, the company that makes them doesn't care about those things nearly as much. That's being "at the heart of the image"? That's a focus on what's necessary to be the leader in imaging? I don't think so, because it doesn't actually show much understanding of what makes an image what it is.

Now, the fan boys will get all upset by the last two paragraphs and tear into me on the Internet. Just ask yourself this: when was the last time those fan boys shot great images that spoke to you? If photography has become just about resisters and capacitors and ASICs and image sensor specs, then photography is no longer photography.

[Climbs ladder down soap box, holsters guns, turns off amplifier, and watches fireworks]

Wow. Dare I Go To Sleep?
Oct 4, 2012--
Emails are now flooding in about DX basically at a rate of about one a minute. I may be able to type fast, but I'll never keep up with this onslaught without giving up food, sleep, and everything else. Again, I appreciate the responses and keep them coming, but my ability to respond is severely limited at this point.

Maybe Not?
Oct 4, 2012--
Okay, I've pointed out that Nikon thinks some D7000 users will upgrade to the D600 (to the person who thinks I believe that and posted that misrepresentation of my words in an Internet forum: read more carefully).

Let's let one such person who made exactly that switch take it from here: "my D600 is going back tomorrow. Reason: I can actually live without it. I don't gotta have it and I can use that $1K extra for some other things. I tested the heck out of the 600 against the 7000 and yeah it's quite better in SOME areas...but not in those areas that I typically shoot with, and not to the extent that they're overriding factors. The 7000 makes incredibly good images. And I will tell anyone that the jpegs even hold up completely fine up to 24 inch print size. I really thought I wanted the 600. But it turns out the 7000 just feels better in my hand. And when I switched from the 700 to the 7000 2 years ago, I had the same nice feeling of relief in my hand."

One voice not enough for you? How about this one: "As a D7000 user, here's how I see the [upgrade path]:
The D600 is basically a D7000 with an FX sensor – but I lose 6 MP in DX mode – and can't crop like I can on the D7000. At least it's a small body – but I already have that with the D7000."

Does This Make Sense?
Oct 4, 2012--
DX isn't the only interchangeable lens system Nikon makes. They also make CX (Nikon 1) and FX systems. The FX system is well known. The DX system has had 13 years to play out. The full CX system has been demonstrated in prototype in the first year. Let's look at the basics:

  CX DX FX
kit zoom 11-27.5mm
10-30mm

18-55mm
18-70mm
18-105mm

24-85mm
telephoto kit zoom 30-110mm 55-200mm
55-300mm
70-300mm
all-in-one zoom 10-100mm 18-200mm
18-300mm
28-300mm
wide prime 10mm f/2.8
14mm f/2.8*
NA 14mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm (f/1.4 to f/2.8 models)
normal prime 18.5mm f/1.8 35mm f/1.8 50mm f/1.4
50mm f/1.8
telephoto prime 32mm f/1.2* NA 85mm f/1.4
85mm f/1.8
wide zoom 7-13mm* 10-24mm
12-24mm
14-24mm
16-35mm
17-35mm
mid zoom 9-25mm*
9-43mm*
16-85mm
24-120mm
macro 40mm*
60mm*
40mm
85mm
60mm
105mm
200mm
high end mid zoom NA 17-55mm 24-70mm
high end telephoto zoom 24-70mm on FT1 NA 70-200mm

*indicates previewed lens; no guarantee that it's coming, but it has been designed and prototyped and shown to press

Now let's add one more point: FX is 50+ years old, DX is 13 years old, CX is one year old. See anything wrong with this picture now? Those three NA's in DX stand out like a Amanda Bynes driving demonstration (go ahead, I'll wait while some of you google "Amanda Bynes Driving").

Why is it that Nikon has shown CX prototypes (on day one) and we haven't heard a peep about similar lenses for DX after thirteen years? The only conclusion you can make is that Nikon doesn't think they're necessary for DX. My question is this: why would some of these lenses be necessary for CX, m4/3, NEX, NX, X-F, and FX, but not for DX? Moreover, some of those DX lenses only appeared after many years of waiting.

A Quick Hit
Oct 3, 2012--
The DX lens survey is now well over 6000 responses with over a 1200 current D300 and D7000 users (each). So we can start to see some trends. Since this generally shouldn't affect the main part of the poll for those who haven't yet taken it, let me just state what the most popular currently owned lens situtation is, which will give you some food for thought:

  1. 35mm f/1.8 -- 42.8% ownership
  2. 18-200mm -- 28.8% ownership
  3. 16-85mm VR -- 20.7% ownership
  4. 18-70mm -- 18.7% ownership
  5. six other lenses with 10-17% ownership

Surprised? Let me throw out one more statistic: 30.9% of the poll takers sold their 18-70mm. That means that, all, total, the 18-70mm was the most purchased DX lens amongst the poll takers (just barely beating the 35mm).

Now, I'm well aware that my site visitors are biased towards higher end cameras. The D80/D90/D200/D300/D7000 poll takers out number the lower end DX DSLR users, which is a flip of the overall DX sales Nikon sees. Still, this is a critical group, and the one most likely to buy into a lens set, if offered.

I'll show the final results of the poll later in the month as we move towards talking about DX Futures.

Hit a Nerve
Oct 3, 2012--
I get a lot of email. A typical day often has well over a hundred emails I need to respond to. Well, DX month is triggering a massive outpouring of emails. I probably won't be able to respond to them all, but certainly appreciate users' thoughts on the matter. More so than any other topic I've written about in the past year--even D800 focus issues ;~)--the first few DX month articles have provoked a huge flood of email, and much of it is detailed and well argued.
Thank you for your thoughts, and even if I don't respond, please know that I'm reading these and learning from them.

Why Upgrade?
Oct 3, 2012--
Implicit in many of the responses I've been getting to the DX month articles is a notion that "upgrading is the norm." This gets us back to one of my favorite points: need versus want.

It's certainly Nikon's strategy (as well as that of other camera companies) to incite you to upgrade your existing gear. The run from 2007 to the present has actually been a heady one, where clear image quality gains have come with each generation of cameras, which made Nikon's goal of getting you to upgrade easier. But as I've noted before, we're headed into a time of diminishing returns in terms of image quality. 16mp DX and 24mp FX is "good enough" for most people, and the gains we're seeing beyond that come only with discipline and attention to details. While I will always consider more sampling a better thiing, we're now pushing into the realm where much of what we're getting better samples of is diffraction, lens aberrations, focus mis-hits, and more.

But here's the thing: many of you were excited by the D300 back in 2007 when it first appeared. It took great images, you said (and I said). Well, thing is, it still takes great images. Yes, there may be something that takes somewhat greater images now, but realistically, the only real liability I see in a D300 today is that it is weak at ISO 1600 and 3200 compared to current cameras.

For some of you, a D300 update that fixed that problem would be enough. No new features: just make it work better at higher ISO values (which also implies that it would have more dynamic range at lower ISO values). That, I think, is at the heart of the D300 user frustration. And that's likely to be "fixed" when the D400 appears.

But as one reader put it to me, Nikon's failure to understand their user base and offer the right solution to a group like the D300 user: hurts Nikon because they're not making a sale; hurts the local retailer because they're not making a sale; hurts the user because they're stuck with the camera they've got. Everyone loses.

In business we talk about opportunity costs. Nikon is implicitly saying that the opportunity afforded by low end DSLRs (e.g. 24mp D3200) is a higher priority to them than catering to their existing customers (e.g. launching a D400). I've watched this kind of attitude eventually kill many businesses. Basically, they get into a situation where they constantly need "replacement users," and that escalates to the point where all they have time for is finding new users. The magazine business is a good example. There are some magazines that have 75% turnover of subscribers a year and are in a constant low-price situation to attract new users. There are a few that cater to their base, and have 75% retention of subscribers. Attracting new users gives them growth, but only if they retain them. (Guess which type of magazine I ran? ;~)

The DSLR makers think that lenses are a "lock" that forces retention. But then they make mistakes like thinking that a D7000 DX user upgrades to a D600 FX camera, which partially breaks that lock (all the DX lenses they bought aren't really useful, and the FX lenses they want are expensive, as is the camera upgrade itself).

My view is that the game is breaking open; the lens lock is not very tight. When DX users don't get what they want from Nikon, many of them see the option to get most of what they want from a smaller, less expensive system (e.g. m4/3). Others start looking at FX or even competitive APS systems. After all, Nikon is saying that the "logical upgrade" is a body twice as expensive, so they've put the money equation in play, and some users are actually good at math. I estimate that I could get 50% of what I paid out of my DX gear at the moment. Hmm, (X*.5)*2 sure puts a different spin on the upgrade game.

Nikon needs to watch out that they don't go all in on a race to the bottom. The serious enthusiasts that helped establish their brand reputation are starting to unravel a bit. Some bought the Kool Aid and went FX. Others shunned it and are going m4/3 or even NEX. Still others--the critical D300 owner--are waiting for an answer.

User Quote of the Month
Oct 2, 2012--
From my mailbox, a gem: "I neither want to leave the Nikon camp, nor do I want to upgrade to FX." A significant number of DX users think the same (see next story). So the question becomes: "when Nikon makes you go to a competitor or upgrade to FX, what happens?"

I've personally come to believe that Nikon has created their own little bubble. That bubble will break if they don't fix a few fundamental issues. How long can they keep pushing Instant Rebates on DX DSLRs with nothing more than kit lenses as the mainstream of their interchangeable lens thrust? As I've pointed out, we've already got significant leaks of customers happening. FX is not necessarily the answer. Nikon 1 isn't the answer. Nikon doesn't have an answer for some users, basically. So while people don't want to leave the Nikon camp, they are. A few are just succumbing to FX, but dare I say that a lot of FX lenses are missing, too? ;~) Especially ones that the DX-to-FX upgrader would probably want. The old f/2.8 primes are no match for the current FX DSLRs, the 80-400mm update is still missing in action, and more.

It's as if Nikon found a straightaway and pushed the accelerator to the floor but is ignoring the fact that there's a hard turn at the far end. Brute force doesn't win finesse races.

Does Nikon Really Know About You?
Oct 2, 2012--
I've now had basically the same conversation with four different Nikon product managers and engineers. It starts with my asking "who do you think will buy the D600?" At some point in the response, you'll hear the Nikon employee say "...and we think that the D600 is a natural step up for D7000 users."

This, of course, is the DX-users-eventually-step-up-to-FX strategy that a lot of you think is Nikon's current plan. My response is usually to then ask "what about the wildlife shooter who's picked DX for the balance of cost and reach?"

Sadly, I would categorize three of the four responses I received to that second question as being basically "what wildlife shooter?" Simply put, Nikon doesn't see the D300 or D7000 user who's picked that camera for pixel density. Perhaps Nikon needs to do a survey of 200-400mm and 500mm users to see exactly what body people are mounting those on. It's going to be DX more often than Nikon thinks.

But let's go back to the original answer for a moment. Is the D600 a natural step up for the D7000 user? For the time being it is if the D7000 user wants more pixels (24mp instead of 16mp), better low light capability (bigger sensor), or more lens choice (wide angle FX lens choices are more abundant than DX). In return for those things the D7000 user gives up: twice the money, lower size/weight, and pixel density on long lenses. It's not necessarily a no-brainer upgrade: it has pluses and minuses. And for those who dabble to sports and wildlife, one of those minuses is significant. Note also that Nikon could correct two of those D7000 deficiencies to the D600 by putting the 24mp sensor in the followup and issuing a few key DX lenses. The fact that they've done neither yet says what?

Curiously, Nikon isn't saying that the D800 is the natural step up for D300 users nearly as blantantly (they hint at it but I haven't actually heard them say it explicitly as they have with the D7000->D600 connection). At the moment, a D300->D800 upgrade is actually a better one than the D7000->D600, in my opinion. The D300 user making that switch gets more pixel density (15mp at DX crop), better low light capability (newer sensor generation and larger sensor), and more lens choice (again at the wide end). The D300 user gives up: twice the money, lower size/weight, frame rate. Again, not necessarily a no-brainer update, but arguably more rational in the current choices than the D7000->D600 move.

When you couple the "just move to FX" notion along with several key missing lens updates (300mm f/4, 80-400mm, no 400mm f/5.6, etc.), it sure seems like Nikon isn't seeing the long lens shooter very well. In particular, the D300 user who is shooting wildlife with it.

I hate to bring cultural generalities into this, but I think it applies here. Want to take pictures of Snow Monkeys in Japan? You can do it with a wide angle lens. Want to take pictures of bears in Yellowstone National Park? You'd better bring all the lens you've got and the camera with the most pixel density you own. Just as the Japanese auto makers once didn't understand the US market, I think the Japanese camera makers are running into the same problem. They aren't seeing the users in other markets nearly as well as they should be. Thus they have blind spots in their design plans.

It's DX Month at byThom!
Oct 1, 2012--
Nikon won't give you the love, but I'm here to rub you the way you want, baby. Oh, wait. That's copy for a porn site, not for byThom. Let's start again...

Like Nikon, I have been holding some of my DX product coverage for what I thought was going to be the appropriate time. Part of that has to do with site design issues (yes, there really is a site redesign coming; be careful what you wish for ;~). But I realize now I just need to share the love and get these things published. So expect just a few reviews between now and the end of the month, and none of them are going to be FX (D4 and D600 owners need to wait until November, when I go all FX on ya').

The State of DX 2012 article is here

DX Lens Poll here

Some DX Statistics
Oct 1, 2012--
The first DX DSLR from Nikon was the D1, announced in June 1999. Including it, there have been 25 Nikon DX DSLRS. In order of introduction: D1, D1h, D1x, D100, D2h, D70, D2x, D2hs, D70s, D50, D200, D2xs, D80, D40, D40x, D300, D60, D90, D5000, D3000, D300s, D3100, D7000, D5100, and the D3200. By comparison, there have been 6 FX DSLRs. Any notion that Nikon is dropping DX for FX flies in the face of reality: even in the "FX era" we've had almost twice as many DX body introductions as FX. DX is at the core of Nikon's interchangeable lens camera strategy: it's the volume upon which Nikon relies.

On the other hand, we've only had 17 DX lenses introduced in 13 years. During that same time we've had 40 FX lens introductions (though some of them were updates to existing lenses, and of course, at the long telephoto end there isn't any benefit to making a lens DX).

The camera and lens statistics, taken together, seem to indicate that Nikon thinks that DX users aren't really interested in lenses, and that the only place to make money off of lenses is in FX (note that 16 of those FX lens announcements pre-dated the existence of FX DSLR bodies).

Even discounting the long telephoto lenses, the disparity in numbers is statistically significant. Thus, one can only conclude that Nikon's strategies for DX and FX are different when it comes to lenses. One problem with such strategies: you only sell what you make, thus you don't know if you could have sold what you didn't make.

Looking at sales numbers of DX lenses, the big sellers for Nikon appear to have been the 35mm f/1.8, the 12-24mm f/4, the 17-55mm f/2.8, and especially all the mid-range and kit lenses. But that doesn't leave many other lenses, does it? The 10.5mm isn't a big seller. The 40mm and 85mm macro lenses are modest sellers. But here's the thing: those last two DX lenses--which aren't very popular--still outsell the FX 35mm f/1.4G or any of the PC-E lenses, for example.

Based upon my surveys and sales data, I'd have to conclude that Nikon is not making lenses DX users would desire and purchase, but is instead making FX lenses that the lens designers get ego satisfaction from. (I'm going to try to verify that; keep reading.)

Even in the FX lens line, there are missing lenses that DX users would want. A 300mm f/4 VR AF-S, for example. Or an 80-400mm f/4-5.6 VR AF-S. That latter lens, for example, has sold nearly 100,000 units in its lifetime, despite being non AF-S in a world that demands AF-S (the D3xxx and D5xxx cameras require it). True, the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR AF-S is closing in on a million units sold, but some of that is the fact that the the AF-S version of the 80-400mm doesn't exist.

On average, a Nikon DSLR body purchaser also buys 1.5 Nikkor lenses. This number has remained virtually unchanged through the digital era, despite the fact that a majority of those DSLR bodies are bundled with kit lenses. The kit lens strategy is one specifically targeted at new-to-DSLR purchasers: upgraders end up with extra lenses they don't want or need, which is why you find so many kit lenses so cheaply on eBay. I would argue that the 1.5 lens-to-camera ratio is not changing because Nikon is doing absolutely nothing to change it ;~). The most likely place they could change that is in DX. Unfortunately, there's no indication that Nikon has a clue as to how to do that, let alone show any action that they are attempted that.

So it's time for a poll to see if I might be right. If you own a DX camera and want to help out, click this poll link.

 

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