The Messaging is All Wrong

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of feedback that centers around what I’d call the perception of a camera company. More than usual. It seems to be the “new complaint.”

I’m going to use Nikon in this example, but I see similar messages from Canon, Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony users with slightly different complaints.

So let’s get started:

"In the foreseeable future I may be upgrading [my] camera for better video, and as Nikon never produced much for DX DSLR I don’t trust them to do so for DX Z (can’t be the only one thinking that).” 

You’re not the only one thinking that. This is a very common complaint. Now I’ll be the first one to admit I hear the complaint from my readership mainly because I’ve been pointing out the DX lens problem for ten years now. But that complaint is now mainstream, and again, very commonly expressed, both privately and broadcast on the Interwebs. 

When Nikon decided to emphasize FX over DX to get users to upgrade to a more expensive camera, they essentially stopped rolling out DX lenses (for my regular readers: buzz, buzz; for the rest of you, that’s the annoying sound I make facing Nikon Tokyo every time I have to talk about the lack of DX lenses). If people didn’t notice that on their own, they certainly noticed it when I kept pointing it out. 

As I pointed out in Back of the Envelope Math, there’s simply not enough volume solely in full frame to sustain and grow a full-fledged camera and lens operation. The problem is that the Japanese are seeing the other products they need to provide too narrowly, and even as niche (compacts and crop-sensor cameras). Yet crop-sensor ILC is still where the volume is, so they need to do something. 

Nikon’s “something” so far simply looks more like “we’ll build some low cost bodies but not support them with a full lens set.” They’re not alone in that, as Canon is doing the same thing with M. Unfortunately, that’s not the right answer. Even if it were the right answer, neither Canon nor Nikon is setting customer expectations correctly or even close to well with their messaging. 

And so I get emails like the one above—just this week alone there were at least a half dozen—and unfortunately Nikon doesn’t sell a Z50 to those folk. Now, I like getting the messages, because it gives me something to write about. But I’m pretty sure Nikon doesn’t like not selling a Z50 ;~). 

Ironically, the Z50 is a very good video camera. For its price, really really good. Too bad there aren’t any lenses that really suit those video users (buzz, buzz). 

"What cracks me up about this is that I’m falling all over myself trying to buy more Z gear, but Nikon steadfastly refuse[s] to do the main thing that would tip the scale, and [which] you keep telling them: Let me configure the function buttons as I have on my D850, allowing me to switch modes AND activate focus with one instant button push. You’re gonna need another “buzz buzz” shorthand just for this one glaring refusal.” 

The funny thing is that Nikon got this right with the D5 generation cameras (D500, D850, D5) but failed to carry it over to anything else. The D780 doesn’t have it and the Z’s don’t have it (push, push ;~). Yet “focus” is the one area where the Internet keeps saying Nikon hasn’t gotten fully up to speed compared to Sony, so you’d think that someone at Nikon would be smart enough to realize that even a Sony A1 doesn’t do what the D850 does with that instant reconfiguration bit. 

Nikon did seem to hear users about a few things and provided those as firmware updates. Fixing Subject Tracking, for instance (the original implementation was way too modal). The II models also gave us the full vertical grip, USB charging, and a few other hardware fixes to common complaints. But a simple button fix? Nope. Not in sight (push, push). 

If you have fewer customers than before—and this is true of virtually every camera company—then you’d think you’d listen to them more carefully and set off a team to fix every complaint, particularly when it’s something that you’ve already got the code for and is a simple firmware change. 

Sigh. 

And later in the previous email: "I feel buyer’s remorse for getting my Z7 in the first place, and I LOVE my Z7. That’s a weird company/customer relationship.”

Nailed it. I’m hearing echoes of this sentiment from most Nikon users these days, and I immediately recognized that my thoughts are similar. 

Thanks for the good stuff, Nikon, but didn’t you hear us about the bad stuff? 

Now, to Nikon’s (weak) defense, they’re not the only ones that have fallen into this paternalistic design trap. Apple is a really good example, particularly the Ive-era design tendencies. Minimalism is good to a point, but the product still has to perform. Taking out the SD card slot—or hiding it behind the computer—definitely makes the design clean, lean, and simpler. Unfortunately, the minute I have to hang a card reader off the computer that simple/clean thing is broken for me, particularly with my laptop, where keeping the “desk space” it’s taking up often needs to be kept to a minimum (ever try using a dock and dongles on an airline tray table Jony? Not so elegant is it?)

"Okay, I know what Nikon wants me to do.  They want me to dump all of my DSLR’s and F-Mount lenses and buy mirrorless and all new Z-Mount lenses.  They are provoking me to do this by discontinuing all DLSR and F-Mount camera and lens development.

Other variations of this remark I’ve been getting point out the missing screw-drive lens support from the FTZ Adapter as further evidence. 

First, I’m not at all sure that Nikon is discontinuing all DSLR and F-mount development. Indeed, there’s still a D850 replacement lingering out there for sure, and I keep hearing about two F-mount lenses still in development. 

What all the camera companies are having problems with at the moment is the difference between the installed base and the buying public. Canon and Nikon’s installed base of DSLR users is huge. Still. I believe both companies are still selling more DSLRs than mirrorless, but that ratio has come down considerably recently. 

Nevertheless, DSLR user is still a thing. Dedicated DSLR user is still a thing. DSLR buyer is still a thing. Maybe five years from now that last item might not be so much of a thing, but it is still today. 

Frankly, I think Canon and Nikon are both sending horrible messages to their tens of millions of established customers. The message should be “we’ve got you covered, no matter whether you want DSLR or mirrorless, but look what these new mirrorless systems can do that’s new.”

As I pointed out ten years ago, mirrorless is inevitable if for only one reason: it reduces parts and simplifies manufacturing, which is another way of saying “it costs the camera companies less to make them.” That eventually these cameras will do more than DSLRs—and already do in some ways—is a carrot to users. 

Olympus and Sony DSLR users essentially suffered when those companies went all in on mirrorless. Now it’s the Canon and Nikon users’ turn, apparently. Look how long it took Sony to regain footing after not treating their DSLR customers right. You’d think Canon and Nikon would have learned something there. Apparently not.

So, yes, Nikon would really like it if existing Nikon DSLR users simply stopped buying DSLR gear and replaced it all with mirrorless gear. But wishes are not reality. Nikon is not only messing up parts of the transition (screw-drive, focus controls, etc.), but they’re being pretty bone-headed about the messaging to customers. Both those issues are costing Nikon tens of millions of dollars in sales. You’d think they’d want to fix that. 

“[Nikon says] most of my F-Mount lenses will work via their (clunky) adapter, but do I really want to spend the rest of my life photographing with my F-Mount lenses on an adapter - no.  Or, do I want to buy a new Z-Mount 600mm f/4 lens for $12,000+ when it comes out - no.  So what is one to do.”

I empathize with that. I’m in the same boat. 

So let me pick on Nikon some more ;~). 

For the most part my exotics (e.g. 400mm f/2.8) work just fine on the Z System. However, those missing focus controls and some small oddities with focus performance based on aperture make it less than 100% smooth. 

The problem with this class of user is simple: the minute you tell them that they have to replace both their expensive camera bodies and really expensive lens sets, you open that customer up to considering the competitor’s cameras. Plus if you don’t give them good options for staying DSLR, they might just stop buying. 

Frankly, Nikon has gotten a few things wrong and they need to figure out how to correct them. For instance, if they offered a service to convert my 400mm f/2.8 from F-mount to Z-mount, I’d take them up on it. Even if it cost US$1000 (last time I looked US$1000 is less than US$12,000). Likewise, not updating the D850 would be a big mistake, too, as the DSLR user wants to get as much out of their lens set as possible for as long as possible.

Of course, Nikon can’t do everything at once, so perhaps those things will still happen. But even a comment like “we’re exploring whether we can provide an option to convert the expensive F-mount lenses to Z-mount” would be the right messaging to sooth a few customer’s qualms. Unfortunately, Nikon sucks at messaging. I’m not even sure they know what that is. (None of the other camera companies are all that much better.)

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