News/Views

Configuring the Sony A1 Book Now in Print Form

I try as best as I can to provide the products that my site readers want, though as a one-man band sometimes you might have to wait for your request to register ;~). 

One persistent request is that I return to providing paper books. That's simply not possible with the Complete Guides any more, unfortunately. They're far too big to be done well as paperbacks. The 800-page D3/D3s/D3x Complete Guide had binding issues and didn't stand up to any abuse in reading, at all.  Moreover, it was expensive to print. My Complete Guides now average over 1000 pages each—they are, after all, complete—which doesn't translate well to paper at all. 

However, since I started providing shorter books under the "Configuring the [camera]" name, I decided to once again try offering paper versions of new books. The Configuring the Sony A1 Camera book is now available on Amazon as a paper product, if that's what you want instead of an electronic one (you can also see a preview of the first few pages there, as well).

bythom sony book at amazon

The downloadable versions of the Configuring books will now be priced at US$19.99, while the printed ones will be at US$29.99. If you want both, you'll have to buy the downloadable from my Web site, the printed one from Amazon. I have no simple way of creating a bundle without losing money doing so. The only way I can keep these books even modestly up to date is if I don't get discounted to death in pricing. 

One thing to note: while these Configuring books look good on paper, the inside pages are in monochrome in order to keep the cost reasonable. So, the Creative Styles examples, for example, don't translate well on paper as they do in electronic form. Other than that, the printed book is the same as the downloadable one. 

Along with the Sony A1 book, I'm also making my Configuring and Using the Nikon Z fc book available this way, as well. As I produce other products that are appropriate to on-demand printing capabilities, I'll make them available this way, as well. 

I'm not sure why I have to say this, but: please note that the printed books are printed on demand. That means that Amazon does not tend to keep any in stock, and that there is usually a few day period as they put the PDF file onto their machines and create a completed book before shipping it. My own experience with that is that it runs a week to ten days from ordering before a Prime member sees the van pull up with your package. 

Thom's Been Busy as a Zee

Duplicate of article on zsystemuser.com, with some bythom addenda at the end

Or is that zusy as a bee? 

Just because the site is quiet at times, doesn't mean I haven't been hard at work behind the scenes. 

Today I'm announcing a ton of things (look out Nikon, I'm catching up!):

Yeah, that's a lot of work. Some of it has been languishing "almost complete" on my desk as other things came up. Some of it was intentionally timed (I prefer announcing book and review together). 

So some additional things you need to know:

  • The Configuring and Using the Nikon Zfc book is available in two forms from two different sources. You can order the downloadable electronic version from the zsystemuser.com site, as usual. It comes in ePub form. You can order a black-and-white version of the book as a printed paperback from Amazon. No, there's no deal I can provide you for a bundle combination, you have to order them separately. Having previously literally moved tons of paper product in and out of the office, I'm not going to repeat that at my advanced age. The printed book is print-on-demand, and is mailed to you directly from the printer, if that's the version you want. Again, note that the color illustrations in the electronic version will end up monochrome in the printed version (to save cost and keep the price to you down). This, of course, brings up the question of whether the Complete Guides will be available this way. The answer is no, they are far too big to fit into a single bound book, and I don't have time to split them into what would be essentially three volumes (in order to not stress the paper binding). Moreover, a three-volume printed set would be costly to customers.
  • Configuring and Using is not the same as Complete Guide. I've taken Nikon's approach here for my Zfc book, and made a more casual and feature-limited book for their more casual and feature-limited camera. This is an experiment, but I think one appropriate to the likely audience for the camera. Before you ask, I don't currently have the intention of making such a casual book for the upcoming Z9 ;~). 

What's currently still in the queue?

  • Reviews of the 20mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.2 S and 58mm f/0.85 NOCT 
  • Review of the Viltrox 56mm f/1.4 
  • Updates of Z6/Z7 and Z6 II/Z7 II books
  • Updates of the D5, D500, and D850 books
  • Review of the Nikon D6
  • Complete Guide for the Nikon D6
  • Review of the Sony 20mm f/1.8G
  • Review of the Sony 200-600mm f/5-6.3G
  • Much, much more

Yes, I'm going to be quite busy for awhile...

What Would [Fill_in_Name_Here] Do?

One persistent request I get because I spent so much time at Galen Rowell's side in the 90's is "what would Galen be using today?" 

I think that's the wrong question. Moreover, asking one person to get completely and accurately into the mindset of another is fraught with problems to start with, and becomes impossible to when trying to guess what might have changed in nearly 20 years after his death. 

There's a better question to be asking, and it's coming up over and over again with the pros that are being targeted with the Nikon Z9 and Sony A1. 

The question is "what does [fill_in_product_here] provide me that I can use effectively?

So let's start with those considering the Z9 and A1. Much of the group that's grappling with the idea of moving to those cameras are currently using 20mp cameras. Cameras they believe have been specifically tuned to high ISO work. Many of them are already facing a persistent and on-going problem: they need to deliver images near instantly to their clients and agencies. As in "within minutes." More pixels seems out of alignment with that need, so they're balking. Moreover, the persistent notion that per-pixel noise is the most important thing to control in low light makes them resist more pixels in the first place. 

Nikon did something with the D6 that was somewhat brilliant for these folk: JPEG Slot 1+JPEG Slot 2. Save JPEG fine Large to the first slot, JPEG basic Small to the second slot. Push the second slot in real time to your client or agency. You still retain a high quality image that can be pushed later on demand, while providing Web-worthy images quickly. Sony did something equally brilliant for these folk with the A1: scroll through marked images (whether with protect or specific star ratings). You can chimp your images between plays, mark the ones to send, and go immediately back to shooting. Later, say between quarters, quickly step through your selected ones and push just those to your client or agency. My friend and Sony Ambassador Patrick Racey-Murphy is saying that he's already sent images to his clients before the other photographers around him even get to the press room to download from their cards at halftime. 

You'll note that neither thing I just mentioned is about dynamic range, frame rate, autofocus speed, or the number of pixels the camera has. The real monster that's being tamed in both the Nikon and the Sony case is workflow. Can I use those workflow things effectively? You bet. Indeed, I want both companies to copy the best workflow ideas of each other!

Now Galen was an adventure photographer, which is to say that he climbed mountains, went hiking deep into the backcountry, toured out-of-the-way places that were Nat Geo worthy, and more. Having been on many trips with him, it was not at all unusual to put in 15-20 miles of hiking plus several thousand feet of vertical every day. Which is why he kept working towards lightening his kit. That's not to say that he didn't constantly try new gear to see if it provided him with something he wasn't already getting—he always sought to be a "best" photographic practitioner—but often heavier and bulkier gear simply didn't meet the bar he set for mobility. So often times he opted for older product rather than new product. A stripped down F4 was smaller and lighter than the unstripable F5, so he re-opted for the F4 after testing the F5 thoroughly. 

It's impossible to predict what Galen would be using today if he were still alive and active, partly because so many options now exist that are under his original bar. But I could predict that he would be evaluating whether each item he considered would be more effective for his needs than his existing gear.

One thing that keeps getting forgotten in all the tech hoopla is that professional photographers have at their core a need to make money at what they're doing. Which means that new gear needs to have something hugely compelling that makes it worth buying. And amateur photographers want to imitate or echo the pros. But not only does the camera gear itself have to allow you to do something beyond what you're doing today, you also have to spend time marketing what you can now do to potential clients (even if that's just your spouse ;~). We went through a period in digital where "number of pixels" was something that you could easily market against your not-quite-with-the-times competitors. Today, not so much, despite the bump from 20/24mp to 45/50mp.

So first and foremost in figuring out the answer to the question I posed in bold above is this: what is it you're doing?

A landscape photographer, for instance, has far different needs than a sports photographer. Since I used sports in my earlier discussion, let me next lay out some things that would make me much more effective with landscape photography:

  • Stacked focus, HDR, and pixel stitching simultaneously. Yowza. I need from X feet to Y feet with acuity (focus), from dark to bright captured with accurate data, and it would be nice to pull out the photon noise and gain additional acuity with a four-step pixel stitch to erase the Bayer pattern and temper the randomness of photons. And no, I don't want to have to do lots of calculations in the field to get all the variables set right. Start focus here, end it there, start exposure here and end it there. Done; press the shutter release.
  • Location recorded and keyworded. Yes, use the GPS to get the exact coordinate data, but let me speak into the microphone and dictate an IPTC location field entry (e.g. "Just off the path of the John Muir Trail looking at Devil's Postpile"). Also, let me pre-create keyword lists (e.g. John Muir Trail, hiking, etc.) and have sets (or individual keywords) applied to an image.
  • Capture the missing info. If I'm using my 19mm PC-E lens, wouldn't it be nice if the tilt and shift settings were saved in EXIF? Did I use an ND, graduated ND, or circular polarizer? Yep, stuff it into the EXIF data. (And if you tell me that these are "just filters" without an electronics, then you're telling me you have no imagination about how accessories can convey information to the camera. If Nikon wonders why they don't sell many filters anymore and thinks it's because of all the third-party knockoff competition, then they only have themselves to blame.) 

Would I rather have a 45mp camera with those things or a 60mp camera without? (Do I really need to answer that question? ;~)

The problem I see is that the camera companies, in their naive engineering and marketing efforts, have conditioned us to ask the wrong questions (e.g. "do I need 24mp or 45mp?"). Yes, those are simple to describe and market because higher numbers are always better, right?  But most of the time simple constructs like that don't really speak to a clear benefit that's going to make me a more effective, productive, and successful photographer. 

So, again, the question to ask is "what does [fill_in_product_here] provide me that I can use effectively?" When I ask that question these days, If find myself coming up with a blank for many of the products that are being introduced. That doesn't make them bad products, but do I need them? No. 

Production Roulette

In the past, the following has happened: Quakes have shut down image sensor plants. Floods have shut down manufacturing plants. Tsunamis have wiped out small parts suppliers. Fires have cut off critical parts supplies. And that's just the high-level and obvious-to-everyone stuff.

Each time one of these things occur, the camera makers who are impacted issue statements about how they're going to implement mitigation tactics so that the same problem can't recur. Guess what? The camera makers are probably more vulnerable today to event disruption than they've ever been. The pandemic is pointing that out, but the next big geological event will likely be the proof.

Nikon, for instance, had somewhat distributed manufacturing back when the 2011 quake, tsunami, and flood hit (first in Japan and then in Thailand). The Thailand plant that made most of the Nikon DSLRs was essentially rendered inoperable for months due to flooding. Meanwhile, the Nikon Sendai manufacturing plant in Japan had already been rendered inoperable earlier in the year due to the quake/tsunami. Lens production picked back up fairly quickly because it was mostly done in a different plant in a somewhat less affected area in Japan, with a few lower end lenses produced in China. The Nikon 1 suddenly became the primary focus of the company's ILC sales efforts because it was made in a plant in China that wasn't really impacted by the problems elsewhere. 

Guess what? Due to market contraction, Nikon has moved camera production out of Sendai, much of its lens production out of Japan to Thailand, and closed the China plant that made the Nikon 1. Nikon's current production has mostly been consolidated to the Thailand plant. Another flood similar to the one in 2011 would shut virtually all of Nikon's manufacturing ability down (there's a primary Sony manufacturing plant in the same industrial park right next door, by the way). 

Nikon isn't the only one in this position. Everyone has been consolidating plants and making themselves more vulnerable to disruption. The fire last October at the AKM semiconductor plant in Japan was another of those "lots of eggs in one basket" bets, and disrupted the supply chain for critical parts for months. Then in March we had another fire at a Renesas plant that caused more supply issues, though primary for the auto industry. Both plants had about a one month stockpile of parts in inventory that was not impacted by the fires, but as you might guess those are long gone now, and both plants required major reconstruction; the Renesas plant is back online now with a full capacity resurrection expected this month. Still, demand didn't stop during that downtime, and the length of the downtime means that there's now pent-up demand, so we'll feel the effects at the consumer end for awhile yet.

As if that weren't enough, China's saber-rattling regarding Taiwan raises another potential point of disruption to parts supply (and manufacturing of phones and computers). 

Personally, I'm glad I'm out of the day-to-day job of having to deal with manufacturing contingencies. There isn't a perfect answer. Create inventory and manufacturing capacity "just in case" and you risk it not ever getting used and thus eroding your margins. Create efficiency via "just in time" and plant consolidation and you risk being thrown completely out of product. The trick is to get the balance of the two approaches "just right." 

Unfortunately, the current situation shows that nobody got it just right. While some camera and lens makers are doing better than others in keeping product in stock, every maker I've looked at seems to have at least some products that have been impacted. 

You might have noticed the two results of that: (1) some products are going in and out of back-ordered status; and (2) the Instant Rebate parade of savings doesn't have many participants these days. I've talked to executives at two companies, and both have hopes—but not yet confirmation—that things will ease up by the time the serious holiday shopping starts in November. 

For popular items—Fujifilm GFX100s, Nikon D850, Sony A1, for example—I'd say just get in line if you want those models. If you don't, you risk not having one this year, as these all pretty much go out of stock as fast as the companies bring a new shipment into the US. If you get in line with a reputable dealer, you might get it sooner than you wanted it (e.g. next shipment instead of holiday present), but you stand a better chance of getting it. (I know of one dealer with incoming D850 inventory not committed to at the moment, by the way.) 

I'm sure there will be deals come the holidays. I'm just not sure what they will be on (usually at this time of year I begin hearing what products each company is going to push into discounts). My suspicion will be that aging inventory will be the thing that gets the Instant Rebates this year. Previous generation products still produced, or that recently that stopped production, which the makers want to get off their books.

If it weren't for the latest state of emergency enacted in Tokyo, I'd be predicting a large slate of new camera products hitting the shelves in the first and second quarter of 2022. I'm aware of a lot of prototyping and planning that companies want to get to production in the first half of next year. I'm not sure all of it will, though.

I See No Difference

Hmm. “Unscientific test, I see no difference.” 

I encounter this illogic all the time. Some form of casual testing takes place, almost always without tight and well-considered controls, and then an incorrect conclusion that is essentially confirmation bias ensues. 

I’m a bit stunned at how often in society—not just in camera discussions—I see this same pattern repeating over and over these days. As a society we seem to be mistrusting facts, science, and statistical analysis more and more, and just making a lame effort that wouldn’t pass peer review in order to support a position we want to believe. And when peers do complain about our lax efforts/conclusions, then those peers are attacked as “not getting it.” 

We have autos, planes, phones, homes, computers, grocery stores, cameras, and pretty much everything else you see around you because someone did pay attention to facts, science, and analysis. To some degree, the casual hunch/observation that's a relative to uncontrolled testing is a negative response to the rapid pace of change caused by those who are following facts, science and analysis. But let me point out that if a lion were charging you, you wouldn’t want to be casual about anything: you’d want to know what your best option for survival was and why, and you would have wanted to learn that from those around you that know. Worldwide, we have a lot of lions charging us, including a virus pandemic. 

Now whether image A from camera A looks slightly better (or slightly worse) to you than image B from camera B definitely isn’t a charging lion (well, it might be to a pro trying to make a living against other pros who know what they’re doing and who are constantly improving their output). The fact that we aren’t talking about a charging lion with most camera and lens reviews wouldn’t change the fact that one of those images is probably better than the other. It’s just that the casual evaluator says the do but really doesn’t care about that. But again, for most readers it’s not a charging lion, so who cares?

One problem with this “I did an unscientific test and didn’t see any difference” attitude is that it starts to be repeated for everything by the practitioner, even for things where the correct and more considered approach might reveal a real difference. 

This gets me back to one of my long-time points: you have wants versus needs. Don’t get them confused. A need has to be evaluated with facts, science, and analysis to get to the best (right) answer. If sharpness is a necessity to your imaging, you do need a scientific, controlled tests to know which lens produces more MTF (and where it does that, and whether that triggers other optical issues you might need to know about). You also need to know how post processing sharpening is different than capture optimization (e.g. what the lens/sensor do). 

Much of what drives the camera market however is not need, but want. And specifically “I want my images to look better.” I’ll remind everyone that you can get that result not just by buying new/different equipment, but by learning and getting better at technique, and yes, by post processing. I did an unscientific test on that, and it proved I'm right ;~).

Canon Promotes Olympic Results

55%. 

That's Canon's claim of market share of professional photographers at the Tokyo Olympics. That number is predicated on 14 events at the games, and is an average counted by Canon themselves, so be a little careful about putting too much weight on the specific value. Also, Canon is a Gold Sponsor for the Olympics, so there is other mostly unseen marketing going on in the background, though this tends to get concentrated on the video side, not the stills side.

As the Internet is wont, that little data nugget is already being taken all sorts of different ways and generating plenty of arguments debate. I'm not sure that Olympic market share is a good indicator of anything other than agency buying predilection and Professional Services support. Moreover, I'm not sure a pandemic-plagued games would be 100% indicative of any true balance among professional photographers. I know quite a few sports pros who decided not to go to Tokyo, due to the logistics of Japan's COVID protocols.

But, let's go there. 

Two things stood out to me in what I saw (while viewing events) and from what I've heard from a couple of colleagues that were there:

  1. Canon's presence seemed down a bit (which may be why they're trumpeting it in marketing; 55% is still an awful good number in a competition of three). At London and Rio it seemed like the breakdown was closer to 70% Canon, 25% Nikon in the official photo pool areas. 
  2. Tokyo was the first Olympics where we saw a clear and obvious presence from mirrorless, primarily Canon R5/R6s and Sony A9/A1s.  

That said, I'm not sure there's anything we can conclude other than that this might have been the last Summer Olympics at which DSLRs held the majority. With the Nikon Z9 and Canon R3 getting formally added to the fray soon, the Beijing Winter Olympics in February are likely to show even more of a move to mirrorless.  By the time Paris rolls around in 2024, I'm sure that mirrorless will have the top share over DSLR among the Olympics-covering pro.

In other words: nothing to see here; just the same general trend we've been following for the last several years. 

Responses to Lens Tyranny

Here a few reader responses to my Lens Tyranny article, and my comments.

"It took me years to build this collection of lenses and it will take me years to build the next collection."

Exactly. The real issue is whether the camera companies fully understand and respect that. The customers with more than one or two lenses in their collection should be their most valued customers, as these folk have proven loyalty and they buy and buy again.

In terms of respecting that customer, I'd say so far things have reversed from where they were early in the digital era: Canon is now the best at this (as long as we don't go back before EF lenses ;~). Three different adapters, and the EF lenses seem to perform exactly the same on the RF cameras as they did on the DSLRs. Nikon is (surprisingly) worst: the lack of AI-S indexing and screw-drive focus support is problematic, the single FTZ adapter has a non-removable tripod mount that can get in the way, and we've seen instances of older lenses "frying" the FTZ (specifically, certain old 24-70mm and 80-200mm ones). After years of respecting the lens closet of the Nikon user, Nikon took shortcuts this time around. Sony (Minolta) fits somewhere in between.

"As a business/market strategy having a compatibility or transition path (for lenses to new bodies/lens mount): (a) increases upgrade and transition sales by lowering customers' cost hurdle; (b) somewhat reduces urgency to invest huge amount of development dollars and other resources (supply, engineering, manufacturing) to provide a gap-free native 'eco-system' immediately (i.e. lowers the lens selection hurdle); and (c) fosters/rewards brand loyalty."

It's (a) and (c) that Nikon is struggling with. I get the Nikon point about the new Z-mount lenses being "better" and thus more desirable, but that isn't the primary reason why Nikon DSLR users would want to switch to mirrorless (e.g. it's not "I want to switch to mirrorless for better lenses"). Nikon is complicating their transition process by leaving some older lenses in the lurch. I finally decided to sell my 70-180mm macro lens, simply because it isn't well supported by the cameras I'd use it on most now. But as users start jettisoning lenses that lack full compatibility, they also start to question the loyalty that had them build their lens set in the first place. In essence, Nikon's strategy allows a long-loyal Nikon film SLR/DSLR user to think "if I'm going to be buying some new lenses, which brand do I want to do that with?" Given Sony's long head start in full frame mirrorless, the lens pasture sure looks greener in the FE mount than the Z mount.

"One of my takes from the Tyranny of Lenses article is that you are somewhat dismissive of folks who are 'hung up on their loyalty to their old lenses.'" 

Okay, I'll own that (as long as the "somewhat" is included). I've been in high tech pretty much all my life (I designed a computer on paper in my teens). The one thing I've learned is that technical progress is often just that: progress. Despite Photoshop's long-held ability to "remove" chromatic aberration, there are scenes with some older lenses that require time and skill to clean up well. And then along comes some of these new lenses, and even without lens correction profiles they're remarkably free from things I formerly needed to spend time correcting. So yes, I'm a huge fan of technical progress. Not all progress, but progress that makes my life simpler. 

On the other hand, I don't mean to demean those who like and want to continue to use their older lenses. I do that, too, though not with as many lenses these days as I used to. Note my comments about Nikon's strategic error here: it is an error to overturn the apple cart: Nikon's given their most loyal customers a reason to consider another mount. 

One thing my teaching assistant and I just spent some time trying was this: Nikon lenses on a Sony A1 (Monster Adapter) and Sony lenses on a Nikon Z7 II (TechArt adapter). Our reason for doing this is that I'm encountering more and more students that are using Sony gear, and when we're in the middle of nowhere in Africa and someone breaks (a body or a lens), can we help provide them with a backup solution that works? I still have more work to do on this testing (and I need to include Canon/Nikon and Canon/Sony testing, too). But the initial results have been interesting enough for me to spend some more time trying to suss out what does and doesn't work well. That, too, could come back to haunt Nikon with their limited support strategy.

"Nikon could really distinguish themselves from Canon right now by offering an F mount to Z mount conversion, starting with Nikon Pros, and also releasing a successor to both the D850 and D500, but it seems that Nikon is hell-bent on ignoring their existing customer base."

I'd vote for an F-mount to Z-mount conversion for the exotic lenses (not sure we would want it for the others; a US$500-1000 conversion cost for a 400mm f/2.8G/E is a lot different than having to buy a new 400mm f/2.8 S. 

Meanwhile both Canon and Nikon are now doing the Sony thing and signaling to DSLR customers that the end is near (or has already happened). I still see enough demand in the Nikon DSLR crowd that a D580 and D880 done right would sell plenty of units to warrant producing (though delaying doing so will erode that). Both, if they were available right now, would easily sell 50k+ units a year, which is plenty to keep them in consideration, given their unit pricing and margins. The problem, of course, is messaging: Nikon really wants to sell the existing DSLR users a mirrorless camera, because they really need to bolster the Z System fast. The Internet buzz world doesn't talk about ILC, it talks about mirrorless.

"'If a lens is really needed, Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony will all get around to making it.' Ha! Tell that to my pair of D7000 that are collecting dust on the bookshelf! As you say, buzz buzz."

You got me. The problem with generalizations is that they're generalizations. That said, somehow we as customers never managed to prove to Canon/Nikon that more APS-C lenses were needed in the DSLR lines. Couple that with Canon/Nikon wanting you to move up to a full frame camera, and yes, we got mostly bupkis. 

I think (I hope?) that with everyone now concentrating on mirrorless mounts that the companies will start to get back to the generalization I offered. It's way too early with Z DX to tell just how many camera models we'll end up getting that are DX, and what those cameras will really need in terms of lenses. I do find it interesting that Nikon is offering the full frame 28mm f/2.8 prime with the Zfc. Indeed, Zfc buyers will get it before full frame owners. So it appears that Nikon understands that maybe they need more DX (or at least DX worthy) lenses in order to sell DX bodies. One wonders if the number of Zfc+28mm kit orders sent a signal to Nikon about small primes. You never know with Nikon. It's not like they have someone looking up in the sky all the time for bat signals. 

Someone wanted me to comment on the Sigma CEO's interview comments on lenses: "When making lenses for mirrorless, if we only focused on the needs of stills photographers, we could design lenses similar to those we made for DSLRs. But that’s not a great idea from the point of view of either continuous autofocus performance or video. So we need to achieve a balance between the requirements of stills and video."

Focus breathing, parfocal (versus varifocal), and other aspects come into play when you design a lens that needs to be "right" for both stills and video. I'm not sure I accept his comments at face value, though (and I've heard similar ones from other companies). What companies are really doing is trying to extend sales volume while reducing overhead.

Consider this: you make only lenses for stills cameras, so you don't get sales from a subset of the user base that also records videos. So you decide to make both a stills lens line and a video lens line. A video-only lens line would sell in less volume than a stills-only one, but would require as much (if not more) R&D, plus would increase your associated manufacturing, inventory, and marketing/sales costs. If instead you make one lens that caters to both, you increase your R&D costs some, but not all the other costs. And you (probably) increase the number of sales you'd get if you only produced a stills-only lens. 

The problem from the maker point of view is that the market has gotten so small in volume that it is harder to make a "niche" work. With the industry now making very capable still/video combo cameras, the problem is doubled. 

Check Your Credit Card Limit

Okay, tongue in cheek again. But it seems that the last four months of 2021 is going to be big ticket time from the camera makers. In order I expect to hear details: Fujifilm GFX50S (September), Canon R3 (September/October), Nikon Z9 (October/November), and Sony A9 Mark III (December). Sony also may introduce the A7 Mark IV in this time frame. Plus Panasonic may sneak into 2021 with a late official GH6 launch, too, though I suspect that the GH6 is an early 2022 announcement. Throw in some exotic lenses, such as the also-about-to-be-announced Nikkor 400mm f/2.8 S TC1.4 VR, and it could be an expensive holiday season for the gear head that must have the latest and greatest. 

Lower-end cameras seem a little stalled at the moment, with their gestation periods lengthening. I suspect that's mostly because of the ongoing parts shortages. It's not an effective use of a product launch if you can't quickly deliver in quantity (or worse, have to cannibalize production of an existing camera to deliver the new one). That's particularly true going into the holiday season.

Personally, I was hoping for "more" at this point in the year. Notable other expected new products that haven't appeared:

  • Canon APS-C anything 
  • Canon R/RP update/replacement
  • Canon 100-400mm f/5.6-7.1 RF, 500mm f/4 RF
  • Fujifilm X-T40 (though there are rumors of an XT-30 II coming in September)
  • Nikon Z30
  • Nikkor 18-140mm DX, 24-105mm, 100-400mm S, 200-600mm
  • OM Digital Solutions "new technology" camera
  • Sony A5xxx anything, any A6xxx update, A7 Mark IV (though some rumors now have it appearing in October)
  • Sony 500mm f/4, 800mm f/5.6

The camera industry is moving at a different beat and rhythm at the moment. It's possible that the beat may have slowed and the rhythm gotten less consistent permanently, but I'm betting that the Japanese camera companies will respond to any market growth with more frantic drumming.

Personally, I wonder whether we're about to get a round of credit card fatigue. While there's a modest-sized group that has the disposable income to make big ticket purchases every couple of years, I'm hearing more and more that they'll stick with what they've got. 

Chasing the Unknown

Do you know what you're chasing?

My guess is that most of you reading this do not. Given how good cameras and lenses have gotten lately, I'm not entirely sure if I'm chasing anything gear-wise anymore, either.

I see all kinds of placeholders for what people are chasing—more dynamic range, more frame rate, lower blackout times, more pixels, no-brainer autofocus, etc.—but I wonder just exactly what it is that would happen were you granted any of your requests. Does your photography suddenly improve? As a pro do you instantly make more money? Is your previous gear immediately rendered useless?

You know the answer to those questions: no, no, and no. 

Now there are some specific things I've been chasing. The biggest of which is to get the gear I normally use down in size and weight, since I'm growing older and feebler. And to get my gear closet down to just the equipment I'm actually using. So I have to, for instance, look at the Sony A1 and the Nikon Z9 in that light and evaluate accordingly. The Sony A1 and a 400mm f/2.8GM lens would be a substantive size and weight reduction from my current D6 and 400mm f/2.8G. But suddenly having to buy backup Sony gear and replace my entire lens set is a drawback that I can't really justify. So that's a chase that I'm not likely to undertake (I do keep an A1 and three Sony lenses in the locker so I can evaluate against other gear, though). 

I was struck by all this by watching the Olympics, by the way. 

Olympic athletes have something quite clear they chase. First, to get into the games. Second, to do their best at the games and perhaps win a medal. For a few elite athletes, only the gold would mean their chase was successful.

When you have a very specific goal like those athletes do, it focuses your decision making. You can ask yourself a simple question at every juncture: does what I'm about to do hinder or enhance my chase? If the answer is hinder, then they know they shouldn't do it. If the answer is enhance, they absolutely do it (which has been taken to extremes at times with performance enhancement drugs).

My hypothesis is that you're not clear about what it is you're chasing, though. So how do you evaluate the decisions you make along the way? Well, you probably don't. Which means that you'll make bad decisions, avoid decisions, or just take a random walk with your decisions.

Almost none of us are doing exactly what we want to be doing right now because of the ongoing pandemic. If there were no pandemic we'd be traveling when and where we wanted to, balancing work and leisure normally, and tackling side projects as we had time and saw fit. Very few of us are doing any of that at the moment. For me, the primary things that aren't happening are overseas travel and some sports photography commitments. Which has changed my photographic focus and has me spending more time in my photo library than I usually do.

It seems clear to me that we're in a new world now. The likelihood that COVID completely goes away is now pretty low, so we have to come up with a new plan of how we deal with the world around us. Some risk is involved in every endeavor, but the virus has reset those risk values enough so that we should all revaluate and come up with our new plan. 

From a photographic viewpoint, though, nothing really changes. Many of you have been simply chasing "own the latest, greatest gear" as your goal. That's a bit like getting on a vertical climbing machine and not being able to get off: you'll use a lot of energy (money), but you don't actually get anywhere because you just have to immediately do it again, over and over.

This is a really good time to evaluate what motivates you to photograph, and how you want others to see those photos. If you don't know what those things are, it's difficult to spend both your time and money wisely, because you're chasing the unknown. 

Taking a Short Break

I'm taking a short break for a week or so. I'll be back in force by August 16th.

Nikon is Still Not Dead

As I hinted would be the case last month, Nikon today reported better-than-expected results for their first quarter of their 2022 year (which comprises April 1, 2021 to June 30, 2021). The actual numbers will probably be a big surprise to some (though perhaps not to those that were tuned into the whisper numbers in Tokyo).

For instance, last year the Imaging Products business sold 25.1b yen worth of product in the same quarter. This year? 50b yen, a nearly 100% increase. Profit went from -8.3b yen last year to +9.2b yen this year. And if you thought Imaging's recovery was good, Nikon's Precision Equipment business recovery was better (mostly due to sales into China). For the first time I can remember, Nikon had profit in four of their five business groups. Even their nascent healthcare group finally poked its head out of the red.

For the full fiscal year (which ends March 31, 2022), Imaging is now expected to bring in 170b in sales and 12b in profit. That's based on selling 750k ILC units, 1.3m lenses, and 250k compact cameras. My guess is that those forecasts would be higher if supply chain and travel issues weren't still in play. Inventory is at a historic low for Imaging, so any Nikon sales improvements will have to be basically organic, not "stuffing the channel" as they have been at times in the past.

The only anomaly I could find in Nikon's presentation was this: profit in the second half of the year is 20% what they forecast in the first half. That seems to be a clue that Nikon isn't done writing down underperforming assets, as they tend to do that at the end of their fiscal year, if possible. Nikon's forecast numbers don't seem to hint at any significant, new camera models in 2021 other than the Z9 (which isn't a volume product). 

As I've been writing for some time: Nikon is still a financially healthy company. Today more so than last year. 

None of the above changes anything vis-a-vis Nikon's competitive position. Nikon is still #3 in ILC and probably will be for some time (a low volume camera such as the Z9 won't make a big difference to that, even if it's a total winner in its category). The Z system still needs to fill in missing cameras and lenses to be a full lineup. The DSLR market is still going down, and Nikon has to carefully adjust the balance between what they're doing with DSLRs and mirrorless, lest they produce sub-optimal financial results. I suspect Nikon is now leading the DSLR market, at least in some regions, so it's important that they don't ignore that.

In other words, like any business, Nikon has a range of things they need to do to continue to succeed. But sale or closing of the Imaging business isn't one of those. 


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