Nikon’s Last Annual Report

bythom nikon ar

Nikon’s 2020 Annual Report was late. Then somehow it snuck into publication without the usual RSS alert, so most of us didn’t notice it. Still, it was months later than usual. Normally, I write about these reports when they come out, but this time around, I’m also late, partly for the reasons just stated.

Much of Nikon’s Annual Report this time was about Nikon’s structure and management plans, plus how that is changing or will change. 

Nikon’s “vision” has changed over the years. I actually like the current one: “Unleashing the limitless possibilities of light.” Or wait, is it “Unlock the future with the power of light”? (Redundancy happens a lot in Nikon’s corporate materials.) I still think Nikon is primarily (and best at being) an optics company, but you generally need optics if you’re going to do anything with light, so the current vision(s) is fine.

Of course, you don’t have to read very far before you get a slightly different take: Nikon claims their core competences are: opto-electronics and precision technologies. That’s important, because Nikon’s future growth strategy centers around material processing and automated manufacturing, which aren't things Nikon is particularly known for yet, but which does use their core strengths in different ways than their current largest divisions (Precision and Imaging). Some of this new business growth will come from acquisitions and partnerships.

“Reform cost structure” comes up early and often in this report, but this isn’t a vague goal. Nikon wants to get everything to an ROE (Return On Equity) of 8% or higher (that’s higher than they’ve been achieving, on average, in the past six years). 

Curiously, though, the part of the company you want to know about—Imaging—is marching to a slightly different drummer: “secure a stable…20b yen or higher operating profit.” To put that in context, under the accounting rules they’ve used since 2017, that would be a higher profit than the 2016/17 fiscal year and about the same as 2018/19. 

We don’t yet know whether Nikon is on track for that amount in the current fiscal year that’s just started, but we do know that the Imaging Group has now “quickly achieve[d] profitability” in the on-going imaging business. 

A couple of things struck me in reading the high level messaging about the Imaging Group:

  • "It can also be expected that the distribution of images will become increasingly more personalized in the future. In light of this new social trend, Nikon will focus on product and technology development as well as online services.” It’s that last bit that intrigues me. Nikon has the Nikon Image Space cloud-based photo service that is absolutely underperforming. SnapBridge is really just a bridge. So exactly what is Nikon focusing on in terms of online services? Or are they just posing by saying something shareholders want to hear? 
  • "Meanwhile, the Imaging Products Business is branching out from its currently BtoC-centric model to develop a broad spectrum of BtoB and other businesses in pursuit of paths to further growth.” BtoC is business to consumer, meaning Nikon selling you a camera. BtoB is business to business, and the Mark Roberts robotic camera acquisition awhile back is the first tangible example we have of that. The report discloses an additional investment I hadn’t reported previously in wrnch, a company working in computer vision and deep learning. Curiously, Nikon claims they have investments in 22 such companies, but I don’t see a complete list anywhere.

I was immediately amused when I got to the section labeled “Improvement of Employee Engagement.” Uh, ding ding, what Nikon really needs to engage is its customers. Far too many parts of the corporate report take consumers for granted. Granted, an Annual Report is targeted towards investors, but where is anything at Nikon targeted at customers? Indeed, Nikon keeps using “distancing” language when they do talk about customers, as in “responding  to customer expectations.” Nowhere does Nikon ever disclose how they know what those expectations are.

I won’t get into most of the raw numbers, as they reflect the period that ended over a year ago and I’ll probably be discussing them when Nikon reports this past year’s financial results later this month.

But I did want to address one thing (though the numbers will have changed slightly by the next annual report). Nikon ended up with 184.8b in cash last April, and A+ or A credit ratings. Those aren’t the numbers of a company about to fail (and indeed, Nikon didn’t fail in the ensuing 12 months and this year’s numbers are going to say essentially the same thing). In terms of who owns Nikon, 34% of the shares were owned by Japanese banks and insurance companies last year, 1.4% by Mitsubishi. Nikon is not a Mitsubishi subsidiary, obviously, though the Mitsubishi keiretsu still has influence. 

Another falsehood that keeps getting repeated on the Internet is that Nikon has substantively cut back on R&D spending. Not really. In 2015 through 2020 the overall R&D spending has ranged from 60.7b yen (2018) to 66.7b yen (2015). 10.5% of revenue in 2020 was spent on R&D, the highest percentage in the last ten years. Within Imaging R&D spending is down about 16% from its five-year high, but still substantive (at 21.2b yen/year, and it’s still the most Nikon spends in any division). 

No doubt that some of the R&D spending has shifted away from Imaging (and Precision) to the new businesses, but Nikon isn’t backing off deeper research projects. 

Nikon does make some lip service in terms of board diversity. The wanted to increase external directors on the board to 45% and the diversity of the board in doing so. However, I wouldn’t call their board diverse in any sense of the term. It’s mostly Japanese men with either electronics or banking experience. There’s one woman. They do better in their workforce where women outnumber men. But that actually makes things worse: we have a narrow group of men telling women what to do. 

We’re in the middle of the quarterly and yearly earnings reports in Japan, so I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks as we get more details that are more current.

The bottom line is the same as it has been for awhile now: Nikon is a company that is contracting, but still managing to make their financials work. They are trying to add businesses to flip contraction into growth, but it’s too early to tell what success they’ll have at that. 

Quiet Time

It’s quiet time in the camera industry. Besides the usual Japanese holidays and the quarter-ending business results quiet period, we have semiconductor shortages, the pandemic, and still somewhat weak demand in play. 

Canon did just make a statement that should raise eyebrows: they estimate 2021 ILC demand to be 5.8m units, of which they expect to ship 2.9m. 2020 final ILC shipments were 5.3m, so a near 10% increase is what Canon thinks will happen this year. I think that’s low if the pandemic eases, high if the pandemic continues to rage and slows International travel. 

It’s probably a good time to make some guesses about what the camera companies will or should be doing for the rest of 2021:

  • CanonPriorities: (1) fill out RF lens line; (2) eliminate DSLR models/options; (3) figure out APS-C (is it RF or M?); and (4) introduce a new lower end full frame model. Analysis: The huge battleship has its rudder hard to port, but big ships don’t turn fast, and the waters are rough and filled with others also maneuvering. What happens won’t be pretty, but I wouldn’t want to be on a kayak in the same waters.
  • FujifilmPriorities: do they have any in particular? Analysis: As far as I can tell, Fujifilm is just iterating on the same general plan as before, and thus we’re going to see them doing “more of the same.” We’re getting a lot of II versions of lenses instead of true gap fillers, and the T, S, E, Pro, A, H model mess seems like an on-going mess to me. Also, how does X get to 8K, and when? The Medium Format cameras aren’t exactly perfectly aligned, either, and the GFX100 and GFX100S have different problems, so there isn’t a “perfect” high-end, either. 
  • Nikon Priorities: (1) Z9 out and a leader; (2) APS-C figured out; (3) fill out the Z lens line faster, not at the current pace; and (4) another DSLR or two or not?. Analysis: Nikon seems reasonably organized compared to Canon. The mirrorless full frame lineup seems logical and is filling out, with only a Z8 (high megapixel pro) being a question still. Firmware is pushing the current bodies forward, though slowly. It’s everywhere other than full frame mirrorless that Nikon seems to be confused. So, using the ship analogy, Nikon’s lead admiral has his portion of the fleet moving in the direction they want to go and beginning to accelerate, but the other two admirals seem to be all-stop at the moment and pointed in no general direction. 
  • Olympus Priorities: OM Digital Solutions has a lot to prove, and they need to prove it quickly. (1) What will future OMD’s be like?; (2) cost, production, distribution, and marketing need to be proven to customers, not Tokyo bean counters; and (3) how to get to 8K?. Analysis: OMDS so far is talking a good story, but the proof will be in the execution. We have no real evidence of anything other than the transitioning of in-house to out-of-house went relatively smoothly in terms of current product. We really need a head-turning E-M1 Mark IV. We’re about to get a new Tough camera. 
  • Panasonic Priorities: (1) GH6 out and a winner; (2) m4/3 profitability; (3) L-mount viability; (4) the video group needs to embrace the L and m4/3 mounts or it's just more mixed signals to customers; and (5) focus performance improvements, stat. Analysis: Panasonic is in two different mount consortiums, and neither is exactly dominating. Panasonic’s cameras are well-regarded, but aren’t top sellers. Panasonic’s video group is still marching to a different drummer. Personally, I think Panasonic needs to give up the “we’ll build everything” mentality—they’re still active in the compact camera market—and come to a consensus on what they’re going to do best. There’s not enough volume left in the market to be a huge conglomerate, do everything, and make excellent ROI. And Panasonic is not close to being one of the top three makers in ILC any more. At the moment they’ll probably fight OMDS for fifth.
  • Sony — Priorities: (1) APS-C still needs work, particularly in making the models differentiated; (2) the A7 is looking old, and needs a IV (pardon the pun); (3) more telephoto lens options; and (4) what’s the next exciting technology? Analysis: Sony’s been sailing in one direction for awhile now, their fleet is all moving (mostly) together and is (mostly) complete, so everything seems like it is in good shape. One might say “just keep on executing.” But…the R3 and Z9 developments are signs that the semiconductor technologies Sony uses as primary weapons may now start to be equalled. The “next technology” leap is going to be a tough one, and a big one, because it will almost certainly require fully embracing computational photography. The fact that a Sony camera can’t currently combine an image using pixel-shift in camera isn’t a good indicator. 

This is also the time of year that the upper management in Japan has finished their soul searching and is dictating the short, medium, and long-term plans to the rest of the company. As part of the year-end financial reports to shareholders, we’ll begin hearing more bits and pieces of those plans. 

I think we’ll have a late and busy spring in terms of camera announcements. We’ll also see the Japanese companies target the markets where the pandemic is reducing or in control and the economies are running stronger (China, Australia/New Zealand, US, and United Kingdom, probably in that order right now, but subject to change).

I’m not sure how “hungry” the camera companies are, though. Now that they’ve managed to survive (and most be profitable) at lower volumes pushing into higher priced products, I think they’re going to be more selective and cautious about aggressive sales. Previous generation products will lead the way, is my guess. 

Lexar CFExpress Card

This site’s exclusive advertiser currently has the Lexar 64GB CFexpress Type B card with card reader [advertiser link] on sale for US$99.99, a savings of 33%. B&H lists this as a “weekly special,” so the pricing is temporary, though I don’t know for sure when the deal expires.

I know many of you think that CFexpress is expensive, but we’re now starting to see spot sales like this on CFexpress cards. Just thought you’d want to know about this deal if you’re still looking for cards for your new camera.

Just a reminder about my card recommendations: D500, D5, D850, Z6 and Z7 users should probably just stick with XQD cards unless they have short-term plans to move to a camera that uses CFexpress. CFexpress in these cameras doesn’t add any performance, and sometimes actually causes small decreases in buffer performance. I’d buy XQD or CFexpress for these cameras based upon price. 

D6, Z6 II, and Z7 II users should buy CFexpress cards (and UHS II for the second slot in the Z models). These cameras do get a small performance benefit from using the latest cards. 

The Lens Parade

So far this year we’ve had one DSLR, two development announces, four mirrorless camera announcements, and no compact camera announcements. In 2019 it was no DSLRs, seven mirrorless cameras, and eight compact camera announcements. 15 actual camera releases versus 5. It definitely feels a bit like we’ve entered the camera desert and are happy to see even tumbleweed.

On the other hand, lenses are still proliferating, with well over two dozen new lenses announced this year so far (it may even be three dozen if we count everything; I’m still trying to catch up). Even that’s down from about four dozen in 2019—Sigma alone almost had a dozen that first quarter just bringing their Art lenses over to the L-mount—but it doesn’t feel significantly so. 

Here are some of the more significant of the recent lens announcements, just in case you missed them (unless something feels truly special, I just add new lenses to the sansmirror, zsystemuser, or dslrbodies data bases):

I expect this to trend to continue. Canon and Nikon have a couple of bodies to fill in, Fujifilm and Sony have one or two bodies to update. But the total body count for this year is likely to be on the low side.

Meanwhile Canon and Nikon have a lot of lenses to fill in, Sony is obviously still filling in gaps, while Sigma and Tamron are likely to try bringing existing lenses over to RF, L, and Z mounts this year. And of course, the Chinese optics companies are iterating lots of manual focus lenses still. 

To me, this feels like a “lens year.” We’ll know more about how the mounts are filling out with optics this year, much more. 

The Spring Z Sale

Nikon today announced new instant savings on three full frame mirrorless cameras:

  • Nikon Z5 is now $999 (save US$400)
  • Nikon Z5 + 24-50mm lens is now $1,299 (save US$400)
  • Nikon Z5 + 24-200mm lens is now $1,699 (save US$500)
  • Nikon Z6 is now $1,399 (save US$600)
  • Nikon Z6 + 24-70mm lens is now $1,999 (save US$600)
  • Nikon Z7 is now $2,299 (save US$500)
  • Nikon Z7 + 24-70mm lens is now $2,899 (save US$500)
  • You can add the Nikon FTZ adapter to any of Z body purchase for $99 after a $150 rebate

Some people have been asking me why such large discounts? Well, two of those bodies are the previous generation camera, and the third is Nikon’s entry camera, and it seems that Nikon wants to entice people into the Z System aggressively now, and with cameras on which they don’t have parts shortages or new manufacturing issues. 

We’ll also see firmware updates for all the Z cameras shortly, improving or adding various small bits and features. Following that, I believe we’ll get new lens announcements and perhaps a new camera announcement.

Note: Yesterday I posted the following articles on

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The Consumers Are Restless

First some facts. In 2021 so far (3.5 months in):

  • Canon — one future camera (R3), three future lenses (100mm, 400mm, 600mm)
  • Fujifilm — two cameras (GFX100s, X-E4), four lenses (18mm, 27mm, 80mm, 70-300mm)
  • Nikon — one future camera (Z9), no lens announcements
  • Olympus — no camera or lens announcements
  • Panasonic — no camera, one lens (70-300mm)
  • Sony — one camera (A1), five lenses (24mm, 35mm, 40mm, 50mm, 50mm)

Normally in the first few months of each year, we get quite a few announcements, often triggered around big trade shows. We're three shows in, and we've got mostly squat, with Fujifilm and Sony being the main exceptions. Overall, we're probably at a quarter of the expected cameras, a third of the expected lenses for this time period.

It's basically like listening to crickets in Tokyo right now. The marketing departments appear to be on sabbatical. Management is huddled around Zoom meetings planning strategy. 

We're three months away from the (not yet cancelled) Tokyo Olympics. Normally that, too, would generate more apparent action in the camera companies—and probably explains the three cameras and two of the thirteen lenses that have been announced—but still not nearly as much action as we would expect. Given that the Tokyo Olympics won't have foreign spectators, the need to be marketing to the incoming crowds is nil. That's why the primary Canon/Nikon/Sony camera thrust has been at the pros who would be photographing at the games.

The camera business is mostly on hold at the moment. I expect that to change some in the next two months, but not a lot. 2021 is going to be a year of only a handful of new cameras as well as filling out lens lineups on known paths. 

I'm hearing more and more complaints from the enthusiast and pro practitioners about the quiet, and more and more complaints about things that are out of stock, as well (particularly Nikon, but it's happening with others, too, and will happen even more if other companies have to consolidate plants and other facilities). 

At the heart of this "quiet time" are four things:

  • The pandemic — offices got disrupted, travel by engineers to factories got disrupted, presentations from parts suppliers got disrupted and went virtual, some economies are lagging. 
  • Parts supply — semiconductor plants are pretty much fully booked, parts are still in short supply. A critical plant burnt down. Another plant closed for upgrade. Wafers are in short supply. 
  • Shipments — container supply in SE Asia is problematic. This appears to be partly residual damage from the US/China disputes where cargo started becoming highly one-way, as well as the fact that both the docks and return shipments of containers are operating slowly. Shipping costs have gone up. 
  • Contraction — the camera market is far smaller than it was even a couple of years ago. 

All of those things will resolve themselves in some way, though I don't think they'll resolve quickly.

Nikon has said pretty emphatically that they're planning (and managing) on being far smaller in the Imaging group than previously. Canon was making that same noise starting a couple of years ago, but hasn't really taken it to heart yet that I can see. Fujifilm and Sony are operating as if they can make it through the smaller market by filling more niches. 

The reality is simple: fewer products, higher prices, longer iteration cycles. That's the most likely combination of things that can weather the multiple storms and keep the dedicated camera companies in the camera business. Nikon, Olympus, and Panasonic already seem to be working in this realm. Canon still has some clear downsizing to do. Fujifilm and Sony probably won't be able to sustain their aggressive product pushes for very long; they'll have to figure out models to cut and get more aligned with the market.

My advice to folk is to think more long term. Your current gear still works, you don't need to be in a hurry to replace it, and when you do, it should be a carefully considered replacement. 

That said, my In Box gets more and more "where is the..." messages every day. The natives are getting more restless. 

This is exactly where marketing departments need to come to life. Unfortunately, marketing at the camera companies has now devolved to cut-and-paste product announcements (and, of course, we're getting fewer of those).  

Over on Sansmirror

It's been a mirrorless news week:

A number of cameras also got firmware updates (e.g. R5, GFX100. etc.), so check out the "most recent firmware updates" page.

Simple Questions, Simple Answers

Should I use JPEG or raw?

If you need an immediate out-of-camera file (sharing, client, etc.), JPEG done right is just fine. If you are looking to process the image downstream, then use raw, as it preserves all the available data. Want more? See this or this. What's "done right" mean? Well, try this article.

Which post processing application should I use?

Adobe Lightroom Classic CC solves most problems (both processing and organization). It also has the most training available. But...yes, Adobe's profiles and math leave a bit on the table from what you can get out of a raw file at times, so you can do better. These days we have a plethora of choice, and it's nearly impossible to anoint one program better than another because of these two critical words: "it depends." For example, which raw converter produces the best color? It depends. Thing is, virtually everything has a free trial period, so spend some time figuring out which one works best for you. But you probably won't accept that answer, right? Okay, DxO PhotoLab is usually the program I steer people to after Lightroom these days, as it has excellent noise reduction and really good profiles for most cameras/lenses. Another strong choice is CaptureOne. 

Should I use Adobe's Super Resolution or Gigapixel AI on all my photos?

No. I'd only recommend using the upscaling products when you actually need to upscale (e.g. you don't have 300 dpi for the output size you're creating). Make sure you're not just into bragging rights (psst, wanna see my 100mp image?). Make sure you're not pixel peeping (look at your output at its output size!). 

Which is better, Denoise AI, Prime, Dfine, or something else?

Everyone always wants to boil things down to one choice (witness these common questions). Those of us who perform image processing for a living—or probably more accurately, a part of our living—use multiple tools, not one. The reason has to do with how each of them performs and what the results look like for different problems. Since I’m writing about noise reduction here, Nik Dfine works quickly and produces a reasonable result on most images. DxO Prime is slow (and slower if you don't have the right computer horsepower and want its best efforts), and cleans most noise up really well, though Topaz Denoise AI sometimes gives me better edge acuity as well as clean tonal ramps.

So which tool I use for a task basically comes down to two questions: (1) Do I need it fast or can I tolerate slow? (2) What's the output going to be and what product produces the attribute I most need? From this you should surmise that no single product answers both questions for me (or you) all the time. 

Do I need Photoshop?

No, maybe, yes. For the vast majority of you, the answer is no. I can do 95% of my Photoshop CC work in Lightroom Classic CC (but I don’t); you might be able to do even more. 

The maybe answer comes about when people start trying to do things that either require (a) editing individual pixels or (b) would benefit from complex masking (e.g. luminosity masks). You can mimic the latter in a lot of products these days, and a product such as Affinity Photo, which is a very affordable Photoshop "clone" can get most people 100% of the way they need to go with both (a) and (b). 

But boy, when it comes to getting down and dirty with the pixels and making them do exactly what I want them to do, it's really only Photoshop that gets me there. There's so much complexity, options, subtlety, advanced techniques that are opened up with Photoshop I could probably spend the rest of my life just describing all the strange things I've done with the program that I don't know how to do with something else. It seems that all of us who take the time to dig deep into Photoshop are always discovering interesting and useful techniques that we didn't know about before (or are the outcome of interactions we accidentally triggered).

So, here's a simplistic way of thinking about things: Apple Photos is a Bachelor's degree (assuming you actually study it fully; it can do a lot more than you think). Lightroom is a Master's degree. Photoshop is not only a PhD, but also a lifetime residency program.

Do I need to calibrate my monitor?

Yes, you should. I'd also argue that once you've done that, you should take a known source (e.g. ColorChecker) and follow it throughout your workflow. You can mess color up in the camera, in the processing, and in the printing. Just calibrating your monitor doesn't tell you where things are going south. 

What's the best way to create panos?

Probably PTGui, but it's on the geeky side; prepare to learn. Moreover, you really need to pay attention what you're doing in the field with the camera/lens, too, if you're going to produce the best possible panos.

Should I use Active D-Lighting?

This question came up as a response to my "You Want Great JPEGs?" article. (Other cameras have different names for this function, such as DRO; Active D-Lighting is a Nikon term.) The answer is maybe. First, there are two things that would indicate you should skip Active D-Lighting: (1) you're shooting NEF+JPEG; and (2) your scene is lower in contrast than the dynamic range of the camera. 

#1 is a problem because Active D-Lighting (ADL) uses underexposure to preserve highlight data. Your raw image will be underexposed, by as much as 1.3 stops. You don't want that. Settle for the correct NEF exposure and a JPEG with blocked up shadows. Because by the time ADL raises the deep shadows, it may be putting in a four stop correction. If you have the raw data, you'd rather keep your shadow boost lower than that. 

If the scene doesn't exceed the range your camera is capable of (#2), you don't need ADL. You might want to move shadow information upwards and highlight information downwards, but you have more control over that in post processing than you do with ADL. With ADL in JPEGs, it's one and done, and it may not be done the way you want. 

That said, when taking JPEGs only, I sometimes set my Nikon's bracketing function to ADL bracketing (2 shots, Off and High). In a high contrast scene I just flip bracketing to On and take two shots. 

Latest Strange Things Written

From time to time Thom takes on statements made on other Internet sites and tries to provide the correct context for them.

"If you have twice the reach and/or can handhold shots, you get a lot more winning shots much more easily." —comment about Olympus 150-400mm f/4.5 lens.

A lot to parse in this seemingly simple statement. I'll start with the un-obvious: what the heck is a "winning shot"? This particular comment came about as the result of someone asking how to get an acceptable image of a reticent bird. Somehow that escalated to "winning shot." The implication is that a "winning shot" only is a tight one of a bird. While I'm an advocate of getting the composition (crop) right in the field, I've seen really great shots of a bird taken with a lot less focal length than even 300mm (effective).

What tends to happen is this: people want to replace access (being close to something, like a bird) with focal length. That brings up all kinds of other issues, including what's happening in the air between you and the subject. And let's not forget perspective. There's no one right answer, and the rightest answer is not "the longest lens you can find." 

"Thanks to [X-Trans] technology, our cameras don’t have moiré or false color." — Fujifilm executive in dpreview interview

Simply not true. This statement and its authenticity has been examined by many for years now. You can still produce color artifacts with X-Trans sensors, it's just not as easily provoked and has different characteristics than Bayer color artifacts. As I pointed out in my early X-Trans camera reviews, the original approach to converting X-Trans raw data tended to produce color smudging on small detail. More recently, raw converters have found ways to reduce the visibility of said smudging, but X-Trans still has the same problem as Bayer: near adjacent color data is being used to interpolate missing color data. There are always consequences of interpolation, typically false color and/or antialiasing. 

I understand the problem, because it's a marketing problem. How do you say "our approach is somewhat better." Not perfect, but in some modest yet meaningful way better. Let's just say that the visibility of color artifacts is minimized in Fujifilm's approach. But as a marketing statement, that's pretty weak. The majority of your potential customers won't know what you're talking about, and those that do will want a measurement. But lying about the difference? Sorry, that's a terrible approach, and Fujifilm needs to stop repeating that falsehood, immediately.

Worse still, the same executive goes on to say "our medium format 100MP sensor resolves 99% of subjects, so there’s no moiré or false color, so no need for X-Trans." Also not true (including that 99% resolution claim). Yes, with more pixel density—and that 100mp medium format pixel density is basically no better than the APS-C or full frame state-of-the-art right now—the visibility of color artifacts would be reduced, particularly if you compare 8x10" prints from a 100mp medium format camera against a 24mp APS-C camera. But no, it doesn't go away completely as Fujifilm keeps suggesting. 

Thing is, by lying you lose credibility with the very customers that would be interested in an actual reduction of artifact visibility. Why the heck would you ever do that? This is a "just believe me" approach that ultimately gets you into trouble, because it will turn out some day for a customer that you shouldn't have been believed. 

As much as I like the Fujifilm products, Fujifilm needs to stop misleading customers about them. These aren't just misstatements, they are outright falsehoods. Funny thing is, later in the interview one of the Fujifilm executives correctly points out a key difference: "our biggest point of differentiation is color reproduction." Yes, very true for many serious photographers. Moreover, it's an aspect related to the thing they're misleading people about. Not only are the Fujifilm film simulations different in what the other camera companies are doing, but the presence of color artifacts does tend to be lower, as well. Why can't we just get that wrapped into a strong, accurate marketing statement?

"Nor does cropping an image change its depth of field, whether the crop is the sensor, or Photoshop. For example, capturing an image at 300mm @ f/4 is identical in the APS-C portion whether the camera records a full-frame capture or an APS-C crop-capture." —assertion about depth of field on another site

The pixels don't change when you crop, that much is true. But depth of field (DOF) as a concept—it's not a fact, as actual "focus" is always in a infinitely narrow plane (which may be curved), so what we're always talking about with depth of field is perception of acceptable focus—and that has to do with how the final image is presented. To repeat: DOF is a concept that items outside the actual focus plane might be perceived as in focus by someone in the final reproduction. Zeiss's original formula, which generated the Circle of Confusion values that are so prevalent throughout photography, is based upon magnification of the capture to a common presentation size, and how that presentation size is viewed. 

So if your intent is to produce, say, 13x19" prints, you'll be magnifying the crop-sensor pixels more than the non-cropped pixels. And in doing so, the so-called Zeiss approach asserts that you trigger a change in perception of acceptable focus. This is the most commonly held DOF concept in use.

Now there are plenty of other theories about DOF—again, not facts, but theories—that speak to something other than what Zeiss does. The two most prevalent have to do with the size of the aperture opening through which the light moves, and the size of the photosites on the image sensor. In both cases, those theories are trying to get to "the smallest thing you can record." If that thing is within some acceptable "focus"—and remember, we're usually dealing with interpolated Bayer data—then you have "depth of field" that's "acceptable". 

It doesn't help that the DOF discussion more often than not devolves into comparison of m4/3 and full frame, which have different aspect ratios. 

There's a reason why we talk about "equivalence" so much. As with almost everything in photography, we have to balance different factors against each other in considering what to do to capture an optimal set of image data.

Look Behind to Look Ahead

One common question I get is this: if I buy a BRAND_X# camera today, will it last me five years? Or ten years? Or n years?

Well, let's leap to the Lookback Loupe and learn its lesson.


Let's set the dial exactly five years prior to today…

Five years ago a top Canon user would have bought a 1DX Mark II (or maybe a 5DS). An APS-C user would have been a Rebel T6 or 80D. The 1DX Mark II and 80D hold up reasonable well against current cameras of their class, the 5DS and Rebel a little less so. Could you still be photographing with one of those and be relatively happy today? Yes. 

Five years ago a top Nikon user would have bought a D5 (or maybe a D810). An APS-C user would have picked up a D500 or D7200. Actually, all of those cameras hold up really well today. I still own two of them myself. 

Sony users five years ago would have been topped out with an A7R Mark II or an A6300. The former looks elderly now in terms of UX and focus performance, but still holds up well in image quality, while the A6300 is hardly distinguishable from current cameras until you dig deep. 

So my answer would be sure, a top camera bought today should have a solid five years of useful life in it where it's not going to be completely eclipsed by something new. 

There is a caveat here, though. Every once in awhile a "big change” comes along, and then all bets get shifted some. The introduction of mirrorless and the introduction of DSLR were two big changes that started to impact the previous generation gear, though in neither case did things change overnight. Five years of use is still a pretty safe bet.


Now let's look back 10 years to see how things stand up:

  • Canon: 1D Mark IV, 7D, 60D, Rebel T3
  • Nikon: D3s, D3x, D300, D7000
  • Sony: SLT-77 or NEX-7

Things feel a little more dated going back that far, though frankly I know people still shooting professionally with four of those cameras. 

As someone who drove his last vehicle 15 years before finally succumbing to modern auto technology, I got a lot of use out what I bought before throwing in the towel and getting useful things like a backup camera (and a whole lot more). The same is really true with cameras, too, assuming you buy a higher end one and treat it well. 


The fact that cameras are quite capable of providing years of use, of course, is part of the camera maker's difficulty, and one reason why I think Canon and Nikon finally decided to fully jump on the mirrorless movement. Mirrorless is enough different from all those older DSLRs that the camera makers can say "see, you're missing out on stuff," much like the auto makers did with me for 15 years ;~).

Are you really missing out on much, though? I'm not sure that you are in terms of the basic function of a camera—to take photos—because we’ve had very competent still cameras for some time now. I know that those five-year old and ten-year old dinosaur DSLRs are still taking photos that manage to sell, because I can find people doing just that with them. Heck, with Adobe’s latest Super Resolution function, those cameras may hang on even longer against the megapixel monsters of today. 

So what does that all say about the question you keep asking me? (If you can’t remember or have forgotten how to scroll back to the top of the article: "if I buy a BRAND_X# camera today, will it last me five years?”) The answer is yes, it mostly likely will. 

If you keep having FOMO on “the next camera introduction,” then you’re never going to buy a new camera, are you? At some point you have to say “this is enough to keep me going and productive for awhile.

I know Canon and Nikon want you to transition now. You don’t have to transition on their timetable. I know Sony wants you to snap up the latest and greatest Alpha that they’ve announced in the last 30 milliseconds. You don’t have to jump every time Sony says jump. 

That’s not to say that there isn’t a new camera out there that might entice you. Just that you should be in no hurry to fall prey to its allure. 

You Want Great JPEGs? Here’s the 411

The permanent spot for this article is in Technique (here).

It always amazes me that people will argue at length over which camera’s JPEG is better, but they then use examples from Web sites that always test with default settings. If they use their own images to evaluate, I still find the default settings in place ;~). 

Yes, the camera makers all pick default settings for you when you set JPEG. Those tend to have a contrast boost, a slight saturation boost, and sometimes more. Many of the defaults also have “automatic” adjustments in them that will make results tough to repeat. I will also say this: it would be rare that a camera maker’s defaults created an image exactly as I wanted it to be.

It’s probably a book-length topic in its own right, but today I want to call attention to the basics you need to understand and master if you want great-looking JPEGs out of the camera. 

The short list:

  1. You must “nail” the exposure. You don’t have room for error here, as the data will be encoded into only 8 bits and then compressed (i.e. data thrown away). Errors in exposure are tough to fix downstream with JPEGs, and trying to move tonal ramps after the fact often results in banding when you do.
  2. You should “dial in” the color. Yes, I know the cameras all have an automatic white balance capability. Outside of noon outdoors on a sunny day, “automatic" tends to drift off the proper colors. As with exposure, having only 8 bits means if you have to adjust white balance downstream, you’ll be limited in what you can do.
  3. You need to “season" to taste. Saturation, contrast, sharpness, and noise reduction, for example, are not things where there is a right or wrong answer. Your taste will be different than mine. I will say this: particularly with these types of settings it’s far easier to adjust (fix) a neutral value in post processing than one that is already cooked into the pixels, particularly extreme choices for multiple settings. 

--> Note one persistent thought in each item: post processing gets harder if you don’t manage these three things correctly. <--

Already we have two big things to discuss.

First, what’s the order in which you perform these three items? Would you believe the opposite of the numbering I just used? #2 and #3 impact #1, so I’d tend to have #3 always set the way I want for a scene first, then measure white balance and set that, and only after those are done attempt getting the exposure set. If you do it in the above numbered order, what happens is that you iterate a lot: set exposure, set color balance, adjust exposure, set seasonings, adjust exposure.

So, for me, when I take JPEG images I first make sure my camera is already set for the seasonings I need for the type of photo I’m taking (probably from a settings file I saved). I then walk into the scene, do a quick white balance (typically PRESET measured off a gray card), and finally dial in my exposure as I start to compose and begin to take photos. You can do it a different way if you’d like, but it might not be as concise and fast as my method. 

Note that “light” (and thus #1 and #2) doesn’t tend to change in a scene unless something is changing it. That’s why my friend Chas says “shoot the light.” Unless something changes the lighting, setting white balance and exposure is something you only do once. If the lighting does change, well, revisit those two settings. 

Okay, that’s the broad picture, so now let’s drop down into those seasonings for our second discussion.

No camera that I know of takes “neutral” JPEG images when set to its defaults. None. The camera makers are all juicing color, contrast, saturation, sharpening, and other attributes to something they think you’ll find pleasing. Perhaps they got that right, but I’ll bet that I can create better looking JPEG images from your camera by changing settings than you can by using the defaults. 

Before we get to that, we have to distinguish between two types of images: (1) straight out of camera results; versus (2) best JPEG data for post processing. These are not the same. If you have a need for a finished JPEG image right out of the camera—no post processing will be used—then you absolutely must get all three points above correct. On the other hand, if you know you’re going to be post processing that JPEG, you need to be careful about not baking too much seasoning into the pixels, because a ton of interacting settings will just make it near impossible to get those impacts back out of the pixels if you need to.

So let’s start with #2 (collect best JPEG data). I’ll use Nikon settings here as those are the ones I’m most familiar with, but every camera has their own variants of these:

  • Neutral Picture Control — Why? Because it doesn’t shift colors, it tries to put them in proper relation to one another. No Hue twists or other color shifting constructs are applied. Red is red, blue is blue, green is green. 
  • Default or no Sharpening (range -3 to +9 or -5 to +5) — Nikon uses a very low value for sharpening in their defaults (+2 sharpening, +1 mid-range, and +0.5 clarity). I’m okay with using Nikon’s defaults as they’re mild and don’t produce halos, but my preference for a “clean” JPEG data set would be 0, 0, and 0. 
  • Contrast (range -3 to +3) — In a high contrast scene I might add a minimum minus setting (e.g. -1), and in a low contrast scene I might add a minimum plus setting (e.g. +1), but generally I just leave this at 0. Why dial in a slight change in extreme contrasts? I’m trying to make sure that the full width of the data set is used, basically. We only have 8 bits, I don’t want to waste any or overshoot that. 
  • Brightness (range -5 to +5) — Nope, not changing that. 
  • Saturation (range -5 to +5) — Also not changing that.
  • Hue (range -3 to +3) — Definitely not changing this, as it shifts colors. 

What I get from JPEGs set this way is accurate color—again, assuming white balance was set properly—with nothing added or subtracted from the pixel values that would be difficult to later remove. Images with the best possible JPEG data are easier to post process and add things to than JPEG images with lots of settings already baked into the pixels.

But most of you want the other choice: a great out-of-camera image. 

Thing is, I can’t give you a formula for that because, as I noted, this would be seasoned to your taste, not mine. (And that’s another reason why you want to get away from the defaults, because those also aren’t seasoned to your taste.)

I do have some advice, though (again, I’ll use Nikon Picture Controls in my descriptions):

  • Avoid automatic. First of all, many of the so-called automatic parameters aren’t 100% repeatable. You get what the camera thinks you should get based upon its evaluation. Even small changes in lighting or contrast or subject movement (overlap) might shift what the camera does. You want to be in full control, not having something making decisions for you. 
  • Be careful to not be extreme. The more you bake into your JPEGs, the less likely you can make reasonable changes after the fact with post processing. Moreover, what looks okay on a 3” LCD might not look so great when you see it in full size. 
  • Contrast and Saturation are the most common things to adjust. Most people gravitate to a contrastier, more saturated image, but it’s easy to overdo this, so sneak up on the right settings and test them by showing images to friends and family.
  • Sharpening and noise reduction are “make it look even better” settings. They come last. You have to figure out the first three things before you can set these. 

Ah, I used the “test” word in the bullets. Yep, that’s exactly what I want you to do. 

Nikon has helpfully labeled their basic Picture Controls Standard, Neutral, Portrait, Landscape, and Vivid (they also have Auto; Auto is Standard that might decide not to be Standard ;~). So, a Nikon shooter can use those as their test bed: set up a landscape, portrait, and other typical scene to shoot, and run through the Picture Controls. (It helps if you know what Nikon is adjusting in each one; for instance, Portrait tends to use lower sharpening than Landscape.) Find the Picture Control you think works best for each of the types of scenes you photograph. For me, that’s boiled down to three: Portrait for a truly person-focused scene, Landscape for a true Landscape scene (Vivid is too much), and Neutral or Standard for everything else. 

Then refine your settings for each of those typical scenes. For example, I rarely change the Portrait parameters, though I might add a little Saturation if my subjects are wearing colorful outfits. For Landscapes, I ended up with slightly different Sharpening, Mid-range Sharpening, and Clarity settings than Nikon defaults to for the Landscape Picture Control. For Neutral, I add Sharpening, but backed out the Clarity. Your decisions will be different. 

What about Hue, you ask? Well, on a Nikon camera, if you want to fiddle with the position of colors, I’d tend to use the AB/GM tuning control in white balance (Hue changes all colors equally, in the direction on the color wheel you tell it to move them). 

At this point you’re probably saying, “wait a second, Thom, you shoot raw, right?” Yes, I do. Virtually all the time. However, I sometimes shoot raw+JPEG because I need to push images to a client via SnapBridge or my KludgeBridge quickly, and they want finished JPEGs. And I want those JPEGs to look as good as possible, thus I indeed do (did) all the things that I just described. 


Okay, you don’t want words, you want pictures.

I’m not going to try to go through all the permutations and combinations, as there are too many. But let’s look at just two of the things I discussed.

First, white balance.

This is what the camera chose. It is slightly on the magenta side. The white patch should be equal R, G, and B values, but B dominates over R which dominates over G.

This is a Preset white balance from a white card (be careful some white sheets have brighteners that’ll push white balance towards blue). The neutral patches are now more evenly matched. R and B values should be equal or within a single digit, as it is the R and B values that shift white balance around the G value. Now, you might not have noticed any difference, but look at the red patch: it’s now true red.

Whoa, what happened? The light changed. I simply turned on an incandescent lamp in the room. Not how all the values went warm. This is what I mean by shoot the light: as long as the light didn’t change, my white balance (and exposure) didn’t change. But the minute the light changed, I need to work through the steps again.

Okay, that’s one of the changes we can make to get good looking JPEGs. How about another? This time let’s look at Picture Controls (that’s what Nikon calls them; other camera companies call them styles, film emulations, and other names, but they’re all basically the same thing: adjustments to underlying values in the post processing).

We’ll start with Nikon’s Neutral Picture Control, which is indeed very neutral. The flower is indeed a faded pink, the background a gentle cyanish blue. 

Just changing to Nikon’s Standard Picture Control does a bunch of things. Note that colors are changing and getting more “in your face.”  Contrast is higher. You might notice that the rocks towards the bottom are getting darker and closer to black. 

I’m not going to step through all the Picture Controls here, but it’s important to understand what each does and whether the things it does are things you want in your image. For a portrait, for example, you probably don’t want the increased contrast that Standard applies, Neutral or Portrait would be better choices. For a landscape, you probably do want these changes, so Standard, Landscape, or Vivid probably is the right choice. 

But remember, we’re now into the seasonings. You’re in charge of the spices that are going to be used in your final JPEG. Bam! 

Using an ILC as a Webcam

We pretty much now have all the camera makers providing software to allow for their interchangeable lens camera (ILC) models to be used as Webcams with applications such as Zoom.

It's not a perfect world, though, as there are still some programs that don't see the Webcam utility software supplied by the camera makers, or slight model variations in performance, or whether or not the camera can charge at the same time as serving as a Webcam, so be sure to read the notes that come with each maker's software.

Here are the links to each brand’s software to make your ILC (and a few compact cameras) into a Webcam, along with the models that are supported (grouped by type):


  • Canon EOS Webcam Utility (compatible with macOS 10.x)
  • G5X Mark II, G7X Mark III, SX70
  • 1DC
  • R, Ra, RP, R5, R6
  • M6 Mark II, M, M200
  • 1DX (II/III), TD (all models starting with Mark III), 6D (I/II), 7D (I/II), 90D, 80D, 70D, 60D, most Kiss/Rebels


  • Fujifilm X Webcam (compatible with macOS 10.x)
  • X100V
  • X-E4, X-S10, X-T30, X-T2 through X-T4, X-Pro2/3, X-H1
  • GFX50R, GFX50S, GFX100, GFX100S


  • Webcam Utility (compatible with macOS 10.x, 11.x, M1 processors)
  • Z50, Z5, Z6, Z6 II, Z7, Z7 II
  • D5, D6, D500, D750, D780, D810, D850, D3500, D5300/5500/5600, D7200, D7500


  • OM-D Webcam (Chrome only, not Safari)
  • E-M1 (I, II, II), E-M1X, E-M5 (II)



  • fp and fp-L directly supported


  • Imaging Edge Webcam (compatible with macOS 10.x)
  • HX95, HX99, WX700. WX800
  • RX0. RX1, RX10, all models, RX100 (from Mark IV), ZV-1
  • A99 II, A77 II, A68
  • A5100, A6100 through A6600, A7 (II/III), A7R (II-IV), A7S (all), A7C, A9 (all), A1

Since I can't possible test all of these models with all software and on all operating systems, if any of you have specific experience you think should be added to this, send me an email.

All Z News Fit to Print

I posted my comments about what the Z9 needs to be on on Friday, and today I’ve posted my review of the 14-24mm f/2.8 S Z-mount lens and the Z6 II camera.

Staying in a Lane Versus Changing Lanes

At times in the interchangeable lens camera (ILC) business we've had periods where people mostly stayed in their lane. Canon users bought Canon, Nikon users bought Nikon, and so on. At other times, we've seen people changing lanes. Long-term readers will know that I've been pointing out for almost a decade that DSLR owners were sampling, leaking, or switching, mostly to a competitor's mirrorless system. 

We're now in a period where people are being forced to choose which lane to be in if they want to have "current" equipment. That's led to a lot of discussion about brand loyalty and the future of some companies. For the most part, though, we've always just had a Triopoly in ILC, where three companies chew up an overwhelming majority of the market. Moreover, if we conflate Minolta and Sony (Sony bought KonicaMinolta's camera business), it's been pretty much the same three since the 70's: Canon, Nikon, and now Sony. 

How those three divvy up the 80%+ of the ILC market they consistently seem to own has varied some over the years (the best publicly available data says the number is currently 84% for the Triopoly), with the most recent change being that Nikon is no longer #2, Sony has now taken that spot. But that's not necessarily the best way to look at the camera market in terms of predicting a company's success or profitability. 

I try to monitor four streams of numbers: consumer mirrorless, prosumer/pro mirrorless, consumer DSLR, and prosumer/pro DSLR. Each of the companies are doing differently in each of those four areas.

It should be obvious that Sony gave up on DSLRs and now effectively has no sales there. So, when trying to figure out how Sony is doing, it's really just about analyzing the balance between their consumer mirrorless and prosumer/pro mirrorless sales. 

Canon is overproducing consumer DSLRs still, and their consumer mirrorless offering (M mount) doesn't align well with where Canon is driving both the prosumer/pro still camera sales and eventually their video line (RF mount). 

Nikon overproduced (note the tense difference) consumer DSLRs and underproduces consumer mirrorless. Virtually all of Nikon's concentration starts with the Z5 and goes up through the (currently) D6. 

Each company is steering themselves differently, and that's causing customers to think more about what lane they're in. Nikon, for instance, seems to have shifted most of their revenue collection to the prosumer/pro market, which given the collapse of the consumer DSLR, makes sense. The net result of them continuing to follow that path will be that they become a smaller company in terms of market share than they were during the DSLR era. How much so will depend on what models they add to their mirrorless lineup in coming months. If they were to launch one DX Z in the next 12 months, for example, a Z30 might slow the market share shift, while a Z70 would accelerate it even if the model was "successful". Both models are probably needed.

But in analyzing where we were, where we are, and where we're likely to be, I'd say that the Triopoly will likely stay Canon, Nikon, and Sony, but the shares will shift, as happens over time. These three companies essentially play a perpetual game of leap frog.

What's more interesting is trying to figure this out:

  • The consumer DSLR installed base is enormous. They've slowed their updating or stopped buying completely. Do these folk just go away completely or do they eventually show back up, perhaps in lower numbers, but in the mirrorless world? If so, do they stay in their chosen lane or switch?
  • The prosumer/pro DSLR installed base is large and loyal. They, too, slowed their updating and buying. Many really still want "a better DSLR." Canon seems to suggest that won't ever happen, while Nikon seems somewhat more likely to iterate a DSLR or two. So what happens when these folk don't get what they want?
  • The consumer mirrorless business is completely disloyal. I see a lot of brand switching and sampling as people look for "the right answer" and don't find it. 
  • The prosumer/pro mirrorless business is small but slowly growing. This is where most of us see the heart of the ILC business ending up. Both Canon and Nikon are slow to get there and still in the middle of their transformation, so it's unclear just what we'll get and when, though we're getting better and better choices as the transition continues. 

I don't know the answers, nor do the Japanese camera companies know the answers. As a long-time product line manager, the second and fourth bullets would get my (mostly) undivided attention, though the first bullet has some intriguing possibilities in it. 

The third bullet—which is where the majority of the mirrorless camera sales have been and which fuel the "market share" win/fail posts from the brand fans—sends many warning signals to me. Something's wrong in this portion of the ILC market: the right product hasn't evolved, or there isn't a right product. You can waste a lot of time, effort, and money in that morass if you're not careful. Moreover, winning is not necessarily very profitable in this segment.

Much of the angst being shared in various ways around the Internet has to do with the fact that we're still in a transition period and it's somewhat unclear what the landscape will look like once the transition is mostly completed. So let me state my thoughts clearly: 

  • I don't see any companies going away any time soon, even Pentax.
  • I don't see any ILC products dying in 2021 other than perhaps low-end consumer DSLRs.
  • The exact market shares will adjust, but some of that will be intentional on the part of the companies as they retarget.
  • Because of the previous two bullets, I'm not sure we'll see the big discounts and deals we've seen in the past, as overall everyone wants to raise their average selling price to make up for the market contraction going on at the bottom. Maybe they'll be a consumer DSLR fire sale.
  • We haven't yet seen the best of what any camera company can do, though Sony might have a tougher time pushing further quickly given the A1. 

My advice? Relax. Pick a lane and stick with it (caution: your lane might merge from DSLR to mirrorless). It's a rare person I've met that's maximized the potential of the camera they already have, so concentrate on that first, as it will inform what you should get in the future.

Finally, a tangential thought: if I were concentrating on the second and fourth bullet in my product management, I would want to also up the number of lenses that people are buying per camera body (currently runs about 1.6x). These two groups should be more receptive to additional optical options, but you have to produce them in order to take advantage of that. And no, Sony, I really don't think we need any more 35mm or 50mm options ;~).

What No April Fool’s?

No, I’m not going to post an April Fool’s page this year. It just doesn’t seem like the world needs intentional disinformation at the moment, so I’m not going to create any. The few that I saw this morning were all fairly lame, at that. 

I think the pandemic,, still has us all a little uptight. And while humor is a good way to loosen up, April Fool’s jokes are a very strange form of humor that isn’t always appreciated correctly when everyone is feeling “normal.” 

So today’s posts are real, and curiously, they’re both about DSLRs, which don’t get as much posting these days as they used to.

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