A Review of Nikon From a Business Perspective

A Review of Nikon From a Business Perspective

With a bevy of camera announcements (and rumored announcements) setting the internet on fire over the last couple of weeks, I thought it might be fun to offer a review of a different sort.

To start things off, I will point out that this will not be a review of a particular Nikon camera, per se. As a career-long Nikonian, I will mention some things I like and don’t like about their products in general. But I’m approaching this thought exercise only from the distant standpoint rather than diving down into issues like specs or comparing one camera to another.

This is also not intended as a way to say that Nikon is better or worse than any other camera brand. It’s simply that I personally have the most experience with Nikon and intend to continue to shoot with Nikon and thought it would be fun to analyze their strengths and weaknesses the same way I do a quarterly review of my own business.

Camera reviews and company reviews actually have a lot in common. In both cases, you have to look at the subject’s strengths relative to the competition. You have to consider red flags in the business model while searching for hidden opportunities. And, ultimately, you have to decide whether it’s worth the investment.

Trust

Businesses usually become large in one of two ways. Either they have a revolutionary product that brings a brand new technology to a market that didn’t even realize it needed it. They scratch an itch that it turns out a large segment of the public was trying to scratch. And, seemingly overnight, the company goes from a name on a business loan application to a verb, like Google or Netflix.

The second way a company grows is little by little. They may not have a product that revolutionizes the market, but they make a solid product consistently for years and years, and the business grows a little bit at a time. These companies, at some point, do usually have a yen for creating technologies that push their market segment forward. But their real value is that they have built up so much trust among their customer base over the years that their user base comes to purchase their products almost out of habit. Camera companies that last seem to fall somewhere in the middle.

Now, when I say “habit,” I don’t mean to slight the company's product. Rather it is meant as a compliment. I’ve been buying Nikon cameras for going on 20 years now, and I can say I have yet to buy a bad Nikon camera. There are some I’ve loved more than others. But they have all been variations on good, which has earned my trust when it comes to purchasing decisions. This trust from its base is almost more valuable to a company like Nikon (or Canon) than attracting converts.  

As a simple analogy, we can look at it from the context of politics. Let’s say we have two political parties. Party A and Party B. Most of the population of a country falls into one party or the other. Then, there are independents in the middle who sway one way or the other depending on the election. Winning those independents can often be the key to winning the election. But if you try so hard to win independents that you ostracize your base, you run the risk of not only losing the election but seeing your baseline support erode.

One of Nikon’s biggest competitive advantages is, in fact, that baseline support. Clients who have been through thick and thin with Nikon and have come to depend on the tools they create to run their own businesses. Of course, that advantage can cut two ways.

It’s Currently Competing With Itself

As I said, I was interested in exploring Nikon more because the brand has meant so much to my own photography career. I’ve had multiple Nikon bodies over the years and currently have a Nikon D850, D750, and finally came around to buying a Z 6.

I wasn’t an early adopter to mirrorless, however. In fact, if you've read any of my previous articles, you’ll probably be well aware at this point that I still prefer DSLR’s for shooting stills. The Z 6 purchase was mainly the result of wanting a second body to focus on video which is an area where mirrorless really shines.

Of course, in the mirrorless market, Sony jumped out to an early start in gaining market share while Nikon and Canon largely sat on the sidelines, preferring to focus on their DSLR lines until fairly recently. Once the growth of mirrorless got too big to ignore, each company took its first tentative steps into the mirrorless market. There seems to be a common belief that neither Canon nor Nikon, hit it out of the park with their initial offerings and that both companies have a long way to go before they catch up with Sony. I don’t necessarily agree with this assessment. For one, Sony had the mirrorless market completely to itself for several years, aside from Fuji who aimed their crop sensor cameras at a slightly different market segment (and their medium format cameras at an entirely different market). The first round of Nikon and Canon mirrorless cameras weren’t perfect. But, it’s important to remember that the Z 6 and Z 7 were the first interactions of Nikon mirrorless cameras, not the last. So, grading on a curve, I’d say both cameras turned out pretty darn well. Especially given the firmware update, I’ve been thrilled with my Z 6 to the point where I would give serious consideration to a Z 6s, Z 7s, Z 8, or whatever else Nikon has come down the line.

But, would I sell my D850 to buy a Z 7 right this moment? No. Not because the Z 7 isn’t good, but rather because the D850 is a borderline miracle worker. It’s pretty much the perfect camera for my kind of still work and it’s hard for any camera, mirrorless or otherwise, to compete. I think Nikon wanted to pitch the Z 7 as something of a mirrorless version of the D850 due to the similar sensor size. But I think they may have done more marketing damage than good by soliciting that comparison.

Again, it’s not really a fair fight. One is the very first Nikon mirrorless camera. The other is the end result of decades worth of R&D and real-life field use in designing the perfect DSLR. Of course, the same conversation could be had from consumers considering whether to trade from their D750/780 to a Z 6 or from their D500 to a Z50. In my case, I know that, if I’m going to trade in a camera that has proven itself to be an all-star for a newer version, then the newer version needs to be definitively better than the camera I already own. It can’t even be on an even-par. If you want me to invest a significant amount of money into a new camera system and likely new lenses, then the advantage of the investment needs to be absolutely clear.

In this sense, Nikon mirrorless is not competing against Sony or Canon. They are competing against themselves. Their existing products are just so darn good. Of course, that’s a positive thing. But, it does mean that getting a base who already loves the product you are currently offering to trust you and change to a completely new one will take some time.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the rumored Z 6s and Z 7s will exceed sales expectations where the first generation of mirrorless cameras might have fallen short. I think the biggest potential target market for those second-generation mirrorless cameras will be existing Nikon customers as opposed to first-time buyers. Three years' worth of market research and real-life user experience later, I suspect this second generation will address many of the issues which arose during their maiden journey. If the rumors are right, they will address things like the number of card slots, battery grip options, and other minor improvements over the originals. Personally, my own dream is that they will find a way to incorporate the 3D tracking autofocus system from the DSLRs into their new mirrorless bodies.

But if they can create a second generation of mirrorless cameras that are genuinely better alternatives than their already excellent DSLRs, I don’t think it would take too much to get existing Nikon users, hesitant to invest in mirrorless, to have a real look.

Lenses

This is an area where Nikon will need to walk a tightrope for a little while, but ultimately could be sitting on a major competitive advantage.

My original plan when purchasing the Z 6 was to stick with the FTZ adaptor and my existing F mount glass to cut down on costs. Nikon has a simply amazing back library of excellent F mount lenses already on the market. For existing Nikon users or users wanting to adopt less expensive legacy glass to the new mirrorless format, this is a real money-saver. One of the biggest hurdles of coming into a new system is having to reinvest in lenses. From my test so far with the FTZ adapter, I haven’t noticed any major disparities in terms of focus speed when using my F mount glass on the Z 6, meaning you could legitimately go to the Z mount without needing to buy a single Z lens.

With that said, I've since bought two. Why? Well, in my case, the entire point of the Z 6 was to serve as a video-centric body in conjunction with my D850 being used for stills. The F mount glass focuses well through the adapter, but it turned out the F mount lenses are a bit loud when focusing. It’s not something I ever noticed in all these years of shooting stills. But, after a few video shoots ended up with audible focusing gear sounds on the soundtrack, I decided that I should purchase at least one Z mount lens to address the problem. Not only did the 50mm f/1.8 S fix that particular problem, but it created another one. A personal one. The native Z mount lens, more designed for video, focused plenty quietly. But it turns out that it is also razor-sharp, pretty much the perfect weight for the Z 6 body, and is littered with certain customizable features that I never realized were even a possibility. Long story short, I fell in love with the lenses even more than the body itself, so much so that I purchased a second lens, a 24-70mm f/2.8 S, to use with the system.

While that poses a problem for my bank account, it provides an opportunity for Nikon. As many photographers will tell you, before deciding on a camera system, you should first consider the lenses. Camera bodies get all the glory but tend to have very limited shelf lives. Lenses, on the other hand, can stay in use for decades and make all the difference in your images. I only have the two Z mount lenses so far, but, if these two are any indication, the new lenses are going to offer photographers huge advantages over their F mount counterparts, while at the same time, being able to operate in the same kit as legacy F mount lenses via the adapter. This not only removes a huge hurdle to reaching the existing, ready-to-buy Nikon base, but actually gives them an incentive to try the newer mirrorless systems, which will drive future revenue to the company.

Color Science

I wrote in a recent article that one of the main reasons why I purchased the Z 6 to do video, despite already having a number of other video systems from competing brands, was that it was simply easier for me to match my color between stills and video on jobs where I am shooting both. Yes, you can do wonders in post these days to make just about any camera brand take on the color profile of another one. But that’s still a lot of work. The Z 6 complements the stills I’m shooting with the D850 because they share the same base color theory. Where the Nikon color science ranks on the scale compared to other brands is both subjective and besides the point. The point is that it makes my life easier and be more efficient.

With that said, completely subjectively speaking, I happen to love the way Nikon handles colors. This is no doubt a result of having shot with them for so long. In a recent article where I discussed the colors emitted by my Fujifilm GFX 100, I related a story of how I kept trying to get its color to match those of my Nikon. Keep in mind that the color accuracy of the GFX 100 is second to none. What you see is exactly what you get. It’s one of that camera’s biggest strengths. But, because I’ve been shooting with Nikon's for so long, my mind is somewhat hardwired to want to see those Nikon colors in my images. It is not objectively better. I’ve tested it side by side with the GFX 100, and, as much as I love my D850, the GFX colors are more accurate. But photography is, of course, an art form, not a mathematical equation. “Right” is a matter of preference. In this case, I love the slight warmth native to Nikon cameras. I couldn’t give you a scientific explanation as to why. I just do. And I know I’m not the only Nikonian out there who feels that way and would factor that into a purchasing decision in the future.

A Less Defined Legacy When It Comes to Video

Earlier in this essay, I pointed out that I purchased a Nikon Z 6 primarily for its skills as a video camera. Only three years ago, if I had included the words “Nikon” and “video” in the same sentence, it might have drawn jeers of derision. Until the arrival of the Z 6, Nikon really didn’t have anything that could be considered a first choice filmmaking tool. Some of the DSLRs had video almost as an afterthought, but this was one area where Nikon always lacked. Some may still contend that other brands have better video offerings, but these days, the Nikon mirrorless cameras have a legitimate chance to compete.

As social media drives the need for more and more content and many younger photographers especially are as enamored with creating YouTube content as they are with building their stills portfolio, video capabilities drive new camera purchases in a way that they never have before.

Prior to recent years, in order to scratch that video itch, consumers had to upgrade to more expensive cinema cameras or dedicated video systems in order to produce high-quality content. Canon, for example, has always been a leader in the pack for having a separate higher-end video camera line in addition to their stills driven cameras. They’ve even often been accused of crippling their own stills cameras intentionally in an effort to protect the market share of their more expensive line of cinema cameras. From a business standpoint, this makes sense. You don’t want to put too many features into your less expensive DSLRs. Otherwise, why would someone pay more for the cinema camera? But regardless of how you felt about their tactics, Canon always had a top-notch motion product to offer. Pushed by Sony, some of these video capabilities have slowly begun to trickle down into some of their newer still cameras and were ultimately taken to a new level with the Canon R5.

Nikon, on the other hand, has never had an upscale video line that it had to fear to cannibalize. At first, this seems like a disadvantage, as they don’t have a product to compete against the Canon cinema cameras on the market. But it could also be a major opportunity. Because they don’t risk cannibalizing other segments of their own market share, Nikon is perfectly positioned to pour higher-end video features into their DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. Unless they have plans to create a cinema camera, then the Z line will be the pinnacle of video on a Nikon camera for the foreseeable future. That means they have no motivation to hold anything back. Their competitive disadvantage in the cinema camera and video camera market can be a competitive advantage in the mirrorless and DSLR market. Their curse might actually be a blessing.

Conclusion

From a selfish point of view, I definitely want Nikon to continue to thrive. I’ve shot with just about every type of camera on the market by this point, and still, no other brand’s cameras have quite melded to my hand as easily as my Nikons have. Sure, they may not currently be number one in market share. But, I don’t buy cameras based on market share. I buy them based on the advantages they give me as a photographer and as a business owner. Nikon is well positioned to be able to provide the top quality product its customers have come to expect for decades to come. And I, for one, look forward to seeing what they will do next.

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21 Comments

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

So you never owned a D600? I did and wouldn't trust Nikon to this day.

Deleted Account's picture

I had one and never had any problems. Even so, when I sent it in for an unrelated problem (slippery fingers), they replaced the shutter, etc.. without my asking. I'm sure others had problems but that was my experience.

John A. Koerner II's picture

You sound like a whiney teenage girl. Every manufacturer has produced a model or two which proved to have defects. An adult man knows this, and doesn't let it affect him, while snotty little babies remain butt-hurt for the rest of their sensitive lives if they ever experience a problem. You seem to fit the latter profile.

For example, the first D500 I bought, right when it came out, had issues with reading cards. At the time I had the D810, which performed flawlessly for me, so I didn't panic (nor was I turned-off for life); I just figured there was a glitch, either in my model specifically, or perhaps some design flaw. After six months, I decided to buy a new D500 ... which was three years ago ... and this has performed flawless for me also.

I now have the D5, D850, D500, and Z7, all of which perform flawlessly for me. And I guarantee every one of these cameras outperform whatever cheap camera you bought instead.

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

Do I hear your fathers words every time you didn't meet his expectations? You are welcome to your opinion, as am I.

David Burckhard's picture

Nikon quickly replaced my D600 shutter mechanism and I've never had an issue with it. I've delivered photos from the D600 that have appeared in national ads and brochures. It's been my backup camera for years and my primary video camera on which I've shot promotional and other videos for global businesses. I'm sure I'd have equal luck with other popular brands but I've never had to make an excuse for my Nikon gear in the last 35 years.

Jeffrey Puritz's picture

Nikon quickly replaced your shutter after months of denying that there was any problem and only finally reluctantly giving in after class action lawsuits started. They then honored your purchase by immediately coming out with a new model whose only change was a new shutter mech and the subsequent elimination of the resale value of your D600. Kudos.

Wayne Tibble's picture

So I've shot with Nikon since high school. That was 1976 and owned ready...F, Fe,F2hp,F3, D40,50,70,90,200,300,600,610,700,750,800,810. A D3,D3s and currently a D4 and 610. Had w 600s and never had a problem. And racked up over 40k shots on them. Have also had Plans,Oly,Sony mirrorless models. I for one don't like lil cutesy cameras. I'll never bitch about a weight problem. As when I go to shoot nature or Astro I carry about 40 lbs in backpack. And almost all are primes

Rick Rizza's picture

I wish all the best for Nikon. As a Canon user since my teenage years, I have been referencing my results with pictures taken with Nikon. It helps build my confidence through out the years.

John A. Koerner II's picture

Comparing the results of Nikon and Canon is why I left Canon five years ago and have enjoyed better tools, dynamic range, and color fidelity ever since.

Rick Rizza's picture

Yes understand. It's all about taste and people have many varieties. Some have bad taste and some knows which one is actually good. I wish Nikon and their fanboi have an excellent time taking pictures. Good luck

Steven Dente's picture

Where was the business part? All I read was a justification on why you buy Nikon. If you really analyze your own business this way all you would do is justify how you do things.

If it were a business you would have mentioned Nikon's financial, share price (currently setting new lows) , announced plans to deal with the shrinking market, Covid-response, and product mix.

You make a good case for why you are a Nikon fan. WE are all happy that you are happy with Nikon. But this is in no way an examination from a business perspective.

Jan Holler's picture

Indeed, that is missing completely. Although the article was nice to read.

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Tim Gallo's picture

a "perfect" comment for a "perfect" post. lol.

what business perspective are we talking about?

now to my actual comment.

in video department Z6 sucks. in N-log or Raw the AF becomes unreliable (they even officially state it), manual it is than... but if you go manual - maybe a cine-camera would do better. Thats what I did... sold Z6, bought bmpc and was happy with that. i dont know, maybe you have a better experience with video AF than me.

But I loved Z lenses... loved the color science. But aside for video - there is no reason to leave D850. I am kinda interested in D780 now. And waiting for Z7s or something...

John A. Koerner II's picture

I have the D5, the D850, the D500, and the Z7. Your statement about the Z6 is sophomoric and itself sucks. Just because a camera has certain features that are not top end, doesn't mean all features are not top end. The high ISO capability of the Z6 makes whatever else you're using suck, including the D850 as well as anything by Canon and Sony (it's about even w/ the 3x more expensive A9II).

Aside from superior high-ISO capability, another thing both the Z6 and Z7 can do is render your autofocus usable with a 2xTC and an 800mm f/5.6 lens. Every DSLR, from every manufacturer, when a TC is used, cannot use AF anymore. This means even a 1.4x TC creates an f/8 aperture, and renders AF unusable. However, with the Z6 and Z7, I can actually deploy a 2x TC with my 800mm, and shoot 1600mm f/11, and retain AF (whereas I have to switch to AF, even with the D5).

Even better, EVF completely brightens my screen and I can actually see my subject, clearly, when enjoying AF and 1600 mm — whereas my OVF is almost completely black.

So you might want to sit down, and keep your mouth shut a little bit, because the Z6 and Z7 do not suck at all. While not perfect, with their updated firmware I consider them more useful for wildlife photography, at virtually every capacity, except fast action. I expect the next sports iteration of the Nikon Z system to eclipse the capabilities of all their best DSLR's.

Tim Gallo's picture

do you feel offended or something? also have you read my comment at all?

". Just because a camera has certain features that are not top end, doesn't mean all features are not top end."
nobody talks about all features. i talk about video from a professional business stand point(also i explain that it applies to n-log and raw, see? very specific pro-level).if you dont need n-log and raw - then whats your problem? nobody talks about any other feautres. as i said, aside from that i think lenses and color science are great.
and for me there is no reason to leave d850. i dont use 800mm lens lol. your case is very specific. and good for you. i am pretty sure you will get same great results with olympus, sony or any other mirrorless camera. they mostly got you covered in sports and wildlife department :)

"So you might want to sit down, and keep your mouth shut a little bit"
dont tell me what to do. i suggest you to learn to be humble a little and actually read people comments before feeling personally offended. we are talking about "tools", not even religion lol.

"The high ISO capability of the Z6"
yeah, have you tried using Z6 AF in mixed light situation in dark studio? with backlit primo, led and strobe at the same time. so no, it does not whatever else suck :) A9 kinda keeps with D850, but nowhere near it. Z6-7 hunts like crazy. and dont start me on video... it looks stable for some time, than it starts going forward-backwards, or even looses the subject for some reason and refuses to focus at all.

Troy Phillips's picture

I’m a Nikon DSLR user and love Nikon new and old . Especially old Nippon/Nikkor lenses. Just the history of their lens develop over the years is so interesting.
I just spoke with a national tv satellite company about airing live music shows that have all been shot mostly with Nikon DSLRs to Atomos recorders. The image quality is great. I also shoot live music photography, events , festivals, macro , nature and some wildlife with my Nikon DSLRs.
I have been a fan of mirrorless for a long while and have been pumped for the Nikon mirrorless system. I didn’t dive into the first Z bodies and figured I’d let Nikon dial things in first . I purchased a d850 instead and love it .
I think Nikon has been making some big first off mistakes that were almost no brainer moves . But looks like they are seeing that .
And as you said the have no reason to not really dive into some high end hybrid video centric cameras. Something like the Panasonic S1h is what they should shoot for but in camera ProRes and or B-Raw . 10bit 4:2:2 ProRes codec would be so nice . Then a fan and heat sink of some sort for sure.

Bob Locher's picture

You imply that Nikon's first generation mirrorless cameras were good efforts especially for the first iterations. But they weren't! Sony and to a lesser extent Canon offered mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras long before, and gave Nikon a road map to follow, and a feature list to match. From that perspective they did a mediocre job. Yes, Nikon is catching up now - but how many years behind Sony and Canon are they? And as near as I can tell Nikon has brought absolutely nothing new to the mirrorless party; strictly a me too albeit late performance.

Michael Laing's picture

I have to disgree with quite a lot here. Yes, Nikon has had a brand loyalty to a point but I think that has eroded over a number of years. They have had some great cameras during that time but also quite a lot of failures and criticism, sometimes deserved and sometimes not.

Nikon were late jumping onto the full frame mirrorless background and the Z6/Z7 felt rushed. The idea with the Z mount, is very smart have a larger mount, to allow for better lenses, it very good and it seems that Nikon are not the only company doing this but they built the mount around a fundamentally flawed camera and tried to do it on the cheap.

We all know that Nikon have been charging more over the last few years and trying to save money at the same time. To do this, Nikon put the Z6 and Z7 in the same body. Now I can forgive the Z6, which is a prosumer camera but not with the Z7, which should have had a professional body. Unfortunately, we are left with an expensive camera, that doesn't match up to level that the prospective customer wants.

The Z50 and Z5 have been big improvements and the Z6s/Z7s and Z8 are rumoured. with fixes to many of the issues that I and others have. If Nikon keep a similar body and add a grip and second card slot for the Z6, they will have a great camera (particularly if they extend the grip by 2cm). The Z7s and Z8 need to feel more like the D850, which is a great camera. Yes a tiny bit smaller but they needs to feel professional.

As for lenses, I think Nikon have done a very good job, with the unfortunate exception of PR for the 58mm f/0.95 Noct, which I think is a great lens but not the lens that most Nikon users want. Nikon were smart in many ways in releasing f/1.8 lenses because they are exceptionally good and a lot of existing Nikon users will have very good f mount lenses. So the choice of f/1.8 primes aimed at newer users means that people will buy lenses, whilst experienced Nikon users who have decided to go over can still use their existing glass.

Of course, Nikon do need to start stepping up with the expensive glass now. with the 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 85mm, really needed in the next year or so.

As for video. People forget that, whilst Canon popularised video in DSLR's, they were not the first, with Nikon releasing the D90. Nikon also were the first to allow an external recorder to work with their DSLR's and the way Nikons compression worked, meant that Nikons files were smaller. Yes, Canon did bring the world dual pixel AF, which was very good but generally, Canon have been trying to hamper people doing video with their DSLR's for years, with Panasonic leading the way since the GH3.

Nikon now though have stepped up and I have to say, they have done an excellent job, which has surprised many.

Nikon need to make some big steps over the next year. Certainly, I won't entertain upgrading from my old D800, until I feel the system is up to a level I am happy with and I think a lot of photographers who use Nikon won't go over for quite some time.

So Nikon has a lot of work to do and fingers crossed they step up and don't think they can take their customers like they are just loyal fanboys because a brand loyalty isn't what it once was and a lot of people have been impressed with the other cameras being brought onto the market by the likes of Sony, Panasonic and Fujifilm (I still think the rivalry between Nikon and Canon,will stop many Nikon users going over to Canon, just on principle).

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Nikon produced its first mirrorless in around 2011.

Alan Myers's picture

You're correct. The Nikon 1 mirrorless cameras & lenses were intro'd in 2011, discontinued in 2018. The were sort of weird outliers that used a CX sensor (aka 1"), smaller than anyone else. They probably did that out of fear that APS-C/DZ or fullframe/FX would cannabalize their DSLR sales. (Canon did similar wirh their APS-C format M-series, also intro'd around 2011, but still in production today... M50 is a top selling MILC.)

Because the Nikon 1 system was so far out in left field, design wise, they got almost no third party support, leaving it to Nikon to develop lenses, which they did rather slowly. I don't recall if adapters were avail., but with the small sensor there would have been a huge 2.8X lens factor anyway.

The point is, the Z-series are not Nikon's first mirrorless... Just as the R-series are not Canon's first mirrorless.

I suppose it tells you something about the market awareness and acceptance (or lack there-of) of the Nikon 1 system, that an avowed Nikon fanboy who has lovingly used their products for 20 years completely forgot or overlooked their first efforts to make a mirrorless system!