The Nikon Z 9 Announcement Shows What’s Wrong With Camera Gear Marketing

The Nikon Z 9 Announcement Shows What’s Wrong With Camera Gear Marketing

I shoot with Nikon Z. I really like the system, and I’m excited to see Nikon making a clear commitment to the high end of the lineup. What I don’t like is the pointlessness of these pre-pre-release announcements.

The Nikon Z Roadmap Is a Mixed Blessing

One thing I thought Nikon and Canon started getting right with the release of their mirrorless systems was the relatively clear and concise roadmaps they provided. I bought in based on the first lenses they released and because of the clear promise of lenses to come. For the most part, they’ve stuck to the major mile markers of that map, and everything has been good.

Unfortunately, that roadmap has started to be forgotten. New teleconverters and lenses that weren’t on the map were released, while unreleased lenses have started to pile up. With over 10 lenses to come, but only a few lenses released each year, it seems that this could represent the next couple of years of glass announcements from Nikon, but currently, there’s nothing more than rumors and supposition about when things will actually come out. 

This uncertainty might be what Nikon wants: it could make people eyeing a switch to another system question their decision. After all, that lens they need or want might be coming out soon! It also lets them grab headlines and articles (yes, like this one) without having to do anything more than update a graphic. After all, while they haven’t contravened the roadmap yet, they aren’t bound to it by any means.

I question whether these benefits are actually worth it, however. One of the most direct impacts of dangling the promise of future releases is that it costs sales today. Would any Z shooter buy the perfectly competent F mount 105mm macro with a Z version coming soon? The same goes for the 80-400mm, 200-400mm, 200-500mm, 400mm, and 600mm. These are all good to great lenses, and represent anywhere from $1,000 to over $10,000 in revenue, but unless you need one today, would you think twice about buying one? 

Before the Z 9 announcement, I think many D6 or D850 shooters who weren’t yet committed to the Z system wouldn’t let a roadmap for a mount they weren’t using affect their decision. But now, the messaging from Nikon is pretty clear: they see Z as the future and the high-water mark for their cameras. Especially for things like the super-teles, which can be a significant investment with a long expectation for service life, the mount is going to be more of a factor.

Why The Z 9 Announcement Is a Mess

The Z9 has been rumored for a while. Now that it’s actually scheduled to release this year, let’s take a look at what info Nikon has provided. 

Surprisingly, it’ll include an image sensor, a processor, and support video. As the flagship, it’ll also “deliver the best still and video performance”. That’s a pretty underwhelming insight into the camera if you ask me. If you were a F mount or Z mount user, do you feel reassured that this will compete with Sony’s Alpha 1 (my guess as to the intention behind this pre-pre announcement)? If you're an F mount user, is it clear what this will add to encourage you to jump from that D6 or D850 over to Z mount?

Since the company’s been plagued by doom and gloom prognostications over the last couple months, you can look at this announcement through one of two lenses. The first looks at this as a return to form for Nikon, bringing together their technical prowess together with their lens design skills to create a great combination, able to compete with any camera out there. The other view could paint this as a move from weakness, trying to catch up to a newly emboldened Sony, but without much to show for it. That mentality results in a few banal lines about how our camera will be good too, once it comes out at some point this year. Depending on how charitable you want to be when reading this announcement, I think you could take it either way — that’s hardly a strong marketing message to send.

What’s particularly galling as a photographer is that this all seems to be an exercise in vaporware, delays, and creating uncertainty. Consider the Z 70-200mm: first announced in January 2020, delayed before its release in February, finally supposed to ship in fall, and still not consistently available now a year after the supposed release. That 70-200mm is a bread and butter lens for many photographers, and while the business environment of 2020 was understandably difficult, these issues were present before COVID was widespread. The same scenario is playing out with the Z 7 II, with availability inconsistent months after release.

The roadmaps and the announcements don’t mean much if dates slip many months into the future. Frustratingly, this is a mostly solved problem for other technology companies. When Apple sets a release date for their iPhones, there are phones in UPS trucks on that day. DJI got me a drone the day of release all while being economically blacklisted by the US government. Other tech companies making equally complex products are able to stick to their commitments to customers. Why are camera companies (and this seems to apply to all of them to some extent) dropping the ball?

With that situation in mind, it makes these announcements of future announcements seem silly. Do many photographers really expect they can add a Z 9 to their cart at B&H and actually get it in 2021, given past performance?

The Moral of the Story

This might be a successful business practice. I know I’ll be curious to see how their financial results play out and how the market-share numbers develop over the rest of this year. I’ll also be curious to see how the narrative forms around this camera online in the coming days. 

What I know as a customer, however, is that I don’t like this practice. Open transparency, like with the roadmap, can be great. It requires a commitment to consistency and good faith, however, and announcing nothing more than a camera name in reaction to a competitor’s release is not helpful to anyone.

Alex Coleman's picture

Alex Coleman is a travel and landscape photographer. He teaches workshops in the American Southwest, with an emphasis on blending the artistic and technical sides of photography.

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Everyone was hot when Canon had their product pre-release, but it's curtains when Nikon does it.

I didn’t like it under Canon either.

But you didn't write an article then, right?
As a Nikon user I am very critical about their release process since I feel that sometimes they are under-delivering in terms of timing or performance or (in the past) reliability, but I feel that we all are influenced by this Nikon-hating trend and I myself am no different or better than others.

I'm just trying to say that there are worst thing about camera gear marketing, and maybe we should just be a little bit more forgiving in this harsh times.

As a Nikon-using photographer, I didn't have as strong of an opinion on it.

What's that got to do with your opinion on pre-releases?

Indeed. What would be the issue with Z9 announcement? A development announcement is industry standard, all across national barriers, branches and types of products (hardware, software.) It prepares the customers for the upcoming new product, gives planing guidance. In this case clearly also hints to Nikon users to not to switch the brand in order to get the next level technology soon. Everybody can than balance the pro-and-con between waiting for the Z9, or investing considerable time and effort in switching the entire system now.

So where's the criticism for Sony launching the A1 out of the blue as their most tight-lipped mirrorless project ever, then?

Almost like it's organized.

PTSD from Nikon's longwinded initial mirrorless preview campaign, where they failed to reinvent mirrorless as advertised.

I don't understand why photographers are so concerned in the business of the camera makers. Nikon has consistently brought to market a solid product. The D850 was extremely hard to get when it came out but that was because it was an extremely popular (and amazing performing) camera for the money. Nikon is the small guy in this battle so I'm not expecting them to release 25 versions of their Z cameras like Sony does the A series. They have to be more conservative and that's traditionally how they've operated in the digital era. I anticipate that if you are very keen on buying a Z 9 that you will be able to get one. If you slouch and don't pre-order or wait until they are all sold out... yes it will be more difficult for you. As for the 70-200 - that is kind of a debacle, but I don't think it's fair to use the example of - they introduced a new lens they've never made for a new mount they just developed - and in the midst of a pandemic they are having a hard time getting this product to people who want it.

Apple is in a completely different market with a completely different customer base. Nearly 40% of all smartphones in the US are iPhones, everyone has a smart phone. They have become culturally important to many owners in a way that a Z 9, a 70-200, etc never could.

I think at the end of the day it's wiser to focus on creating art with whatever camera you have vs worrying about the latest and greatest technology. It's a distraction from creating the art you want to create.

As I pointed out, that 70-200 was all set to go before the pandemic became a consideration. While that might have further complicated things, these issues were happening before. The same goes for the accessories announced with these cameras, like vertical grips, or body vs kit only availability.

OK, separate out Apple. Consider DJI, competing in a similar market segment and with comparable revenue.

For working photographers, being able to access the equipment they need is an important consideration, especially with the new mount. it’s why I applauded the road maps in theory, but are now disappointed in their execution.

So what should they do? Hold back announcements and official release dates until they have a big stockpile? I don't think so. They have to get product out and if demand exceeds supply that is just the way life is. I get that they are neck and neck with Sony overall but in mirrorless they are well behind and have to get product out even if it means people don't get stuff as quickly as they would like. Surely you don't think they are slowing production on purpose right?

It isn't fair at all to compare Nikon to DJI. DJI has a very commanding market share in drones. Not even a close second. They are playing a different game entirely.

In fairness, Nikon has always not been great at either anticipating the massive sales of certain cameras or not having enough made when they announce. The Z6II and Z7II are STILL backordered. The D800/D800E, D810, Z6, Z7 - all had notoriously massive wait times.

But, also in fairness to them, they don't have the scale of production that Sony and Canon do. The a7SIII and even newer FX3 are in stock everywhere. So is the Canon R5.

"The 70-200 was all set to go before the pandemic"

No, it wasn't. It was announced, per your words, two months before the pandemic. **Before the pandemic became an issue in the United States** - according to google, the pandemic hit Japan January 16 and Taiwan January 20th. It was announced January 6th.

I'm sure it was "a consideration" for those countries well before the US, since you-know-who denied and downplayed the situation until no longer possible and completely refused to take any countermeasures. Japan and (I assume) Taiwan did not.

So, the pandemic hit about two weeks after the announcement and surely it was a "consideration" well before then. Except, no one could have possibly known just how bad it was about to be and how quickly it would get there.

If you don't see that COVID was entirely the reason for the massive delay of that one product, that's pretty weird.

P.S. I do agree with you about the vague "it has a sensor, processor, does 8K video." Also the ONE picture of the front straight on - the least informative angle possible. I said this in a comment on NikonRumors and got wholly sh*t on, even called stupid to have hoped/expected more. Because apparently this is what camera manufacturers do all the time (I've only seen it when they announce a whole SYSTEM, not a single model).

Totally agree - Asian countries were the first to have to deal with this. Can't have been easy to finish development and launch a product during that time.

The single pictures is downright annoying but we won't have the opportunity to actually purchase the camera for months. I think I'll have time to look through the pictures as they come through in that time....

It normally doesn't matter, but with the inevitable transition to mirrorless in progress, many more photographers are considering switching systems than with previous announcements.

As someone who waited 7-8 months for the D800E to become available, and over 11 months for the 500mm pf to reach my hands, I actually care about a company's record and Nikon in particular. I have a foot in the Nikon camp and the other foot in the Sony camp. I would be much more likely to wait on Nikon if I knew that their forthcoming 600mm offered compelling benefits over other vendors (such as significantly reduced wait and/or size). But with no clue as to announcement date and knowing that I may end up close to a year for delivery, I'm far more likely to consider the offerings of other vendors.

I'm down with Nikon marketing doing a pre release announcement. I was getting ready to pull the trigger and a D6, but I think I am glad I waited. The Z9 sounds very promising, and it appears that mirrorless will be our future anyway. I hope we see a 600 5.6 PF soon!

This is what they always do though they did the exact same thing with the D6. I feel for nikon it’s like they can’t win people moan they don’t do marketing and say what’s coming. They then do some marketing and tell you what’s coming and then they get moaned at in articles like this

It may be frustrating but ti's probably a good practice. It assures current customers that something is coming down the line so they don't switch away to other systems. That's how tech marketing has worked for a long time.

And I think that would be fair if this provided any insight into the product. Is this going to be a lower megapixel body like the D6, or compete with the Alpha 1 at resolution and speed? What’s the 8K performance actually look like?

Tech marketing has emphasized the specs in announcements almost to a fault, so leaving them out here makes this announcement hollow.

I agree 100% man. We don't need the in depth specs like video bitrate, EVF/LCD resolution, whether it has pixel shift, is it 14 or 16 bit (it's rumored to be 16 bit*, ISO values, etc. But knowing basics like the sensor resolution, frame rates, video FPS and if it's 10 bit or RAW, and some basic info about the AF.

ALSO, pics of the back and top would have been nice. But....

Apparently in the release it actually says (in the fine print) that the final camera may not look like the picture. What the actual hell? Apparently I'm stupid for assuming that's idiotic, according to people at NikonRumors. Which is why I rarely comment on those sites (unless someone needs some schoolin' and a knowledge drop about optics and sensors, I'm at least useful for that).

P.S. if it shoots 8K video, it can't be lower resolution like the D6. It'll be at least 45 or 46MP.

*One of the rumored sensors is the 61MP Sony sensor, which IS 16 bit ADC. Actually the same sensor as the Fuji X-T3/4 and GFX 100 cameras, just cut to 36x24. The GFX files are 16 bit. Would love to see how much the 16 bit compares to the a7R4's truncated 14 bit files. It could have a nice DR benefit depending on the sensor's capabilities in that department and whether 14-bit is limiting. If the Fuji X-T4 output 16-bit files it would just be wasted space.

Perhaps because customers tend to be locked into one manufacturer’s system, all the major camera brands treat buyers with an indifference that borders on contempt. It would take very little effort to give us a rolling release schedule kept up to date if there are delivery problems. A ‘roadmap’ that the company ignores doesn’t help anyone. Keeping silent on future releases is no better - if I had a video business and had bought a handful of a7s3 bodies, I would not be praising Sony for releasing the FX3 so soon afterwards. It’s not as though a schedule gives competitors much help because most of these products have a long lead time. We don’t need all the details of the spec- just the key features.

Totally agree with the author, Alex Coleman. The practice discussed isn’t very customer centric and contributes to confusion and irritation about what’s real.

I find “dear diary” articles to be more frustrating than pre-pre-release announcements. They perpetuate the toxic side of fanboy culture more than anything.

I actually love these development announcements, it's what the gaming industry does too. Sure it could affect current sales if people wait but they could also swap to another brand if they think that body they don't want will release soon.

There's a lot camera manufactures could learn from the gaming industry so hopefully the development announcements continue.

It is interesting how most of you oxygen thieves and mouth breathers steal precious resources from the rest of the population.

People on this site are for the most part amateur / enthusiast photographers. They do it for fun and relaxation. not really talking to you...but read on and take notes.

The part time and full time working photographers I am talking to you.

If you are so smart and know how these camera companies:

1. Make their products,
2. Market their products,
3. Run the business.
4. The camera industry,

Why don't you design, market, sell, cameras and run a multi-billion dollar company....seriously.

80% of you can't even balance your cheque book properly and keep your business afloat, and your car running. You complain and complain...its never this is great thanks.

If you don't like the products, build your own...otherwise shut up.

That’s a silly post. Usually development announcements are no more than a few months ahead of a products release. When it could be a year in advance, and Nikon said available up to a year from now, they meant it could be March next year. Pentax does this too. They make a development announcement up to three years in advance, and the product never comes out.

I’m not too impressed with you. You don’t know any of us, but because you’re upset someone would dare to criticize, you demean everyone. Perhaps it’s you with the problem.

"You don't know me" sound like a 14yo girl...

Because of people like yourself who are too concerned with things many MP does it have, how many FPS, oh they are developing a new product and I want it now this is stupid, oh thats a shite camera buy brand xxx, what a stupid feature I would never use that, they don't know what they are doing...etc..yet you don't even understand why you are taking the f'ing image in the first place.

That is all people constantly say but yet the same fool can't even make a decent image out of camera, doesn't even understand how to use their equipment effectively, or is too busy listening to some YouTube entertainer(s) (they are not even working photographers actual working photographers are to busy working for real clients) who say all same the same garbage. They go on how brand xxx is garbage and brand xxx is uber garbage, but brand xxx is the cats ass and you must buy it.

I say this because you, the consumers, are your own worse enemies and you don't even know it or understand what you are doing. Companies compete for market share and keep prices affordable to make profit and sell as many products as possible. If you clowns continue to bash these camera systems, what happens is companies lose market share to the other company, go out of business, thus the number of companies when a company shutters, the other companies pick up their customers...and then raise the price of their products...and the cycle continues..until there is only one or two. Then how much do you think your camera will cost? You won't be able to even afford a camera to take your pictures of half naked women...and cameras will be only for those who can afford a 5k entry camera with barely any features that you want.

Think about it...think bigger than yourself...

I love these development announcements! And Honestly I don't mind waiting for their lens line up either, since I can't afford all of them at once anyway.

What could be more pointless than a Z9 pre pre pre release announcement? Well, an entire article about a Z9 pre pre pre release announcement, I suppose...

These pre-announcements never used to happen. Plain and simple, Nikon and Canon in recent years have been using this tactic to keep customers from switching to Sony. The Sony a1 brought on the most recent flagship pre-announcements from Nikon and Canon. And these announcements are either in the form of an official announcement or well-placed leaks.

Sorry my dear, but I think you are not seeing the current market.
With Nikon's overhauls closing out sales offices and factories, launches are lagging behind other manufacturers. It turns out that operational overhaul was urgent and a priority. I couldn't go on as they were.
Are Nikon users bothered? No doubt. The other companies are launching more and new products? No doubt.
To say at this point that there is a new camera with a stacked sensor, which will offer 8K in video, clearly shows that Nikon is late, but is alive and shouting to its users: Do not switch to another brand ...

I would add a “please, please” to the end of that.

It's obvious from this story that you're thinking about the Z9 a LOT. So, marketing mission accomplished by Nikon!

I don't post much, but it's funny because I recently posted about wanting a dependable roadmap for the Canon M-mount mirrorless APS-C product line. It's just that if you're not independently wealthy, it takes time to accumulate lenses and accessories and I want to know that I didn't turn down a dead end street. Anyway, I suppose a vague nebulous product announcement is better than none at all. The road will continue being paved ahead. You just have no idea how long you'll be waiting for the construction crew. 😃

"I want to know that I didn't turn down a dead end street"

And that's a troubling sign for Nikon, since the first Zs. Nikon used to be #2 in the industry, but they've fallen off a cliff with mirrorless, and now have to reassure potential and returning customers that they're still making things, to be released... eventually. That overly, unnecessarily reassuring sign from them, multiple times, at that, also puts up red flags.

I would run away from M mount as quickly as I could if I were you. It seems clear that Canon has not intention to develop the mount, they will just continue to milk existing customers with minor camera updates.

What an unnecessary article, for anything other than clickbait. You wouldn't appreciate your work or website being slammed by others just to increase traffic to their site.

I am scratching my head why this pre-announcement is an issue. Because of the announcement, there are things that we know today that we didn't know last week. For example, Nikon will be coming out with a mirrorless version of the D6 in 2021 with superior AF performance, 8k video and at least 45mp.

I fail to understand why anybody would be annoyed or angry about this?

Some people are just paid to trash Nikon, others wake up in the morning and in these tough days the only comforting thought is the belief that they own the best camera from the best brand. If that brand isn't Nikon the Z9 is problematic because it can only threaten this belief.

Personally, I want a camera that takes photographs but a seemingly important part of new models is video. If I don't use video, why would I want to pay the money that will be asked for a top-of-the-line model. My D810 does video but I almost never use it because taking video from a boat rocking with the waves and chop when I have to look through the rear screen instead of the eye piece doesn't produce anything worth while.

Undoubtedly there are many people who will find the new Nikon to be just the camera they need but Nikon has made several offers to me for free 30-day trials of various Z's and I found no reason to bother. I don't take pictures to make money; although, I have made some and I have helped charities make some through donations of prints. I take photographs because that offers me a chance to be creative, something I can't do with a a pencil or a brush.

D810 is perfectly capable of making fine videos. 7 years ago I was a corporate photographer working alongside a content marketing team with 2 videographers. I asked them to give me a quick and dirty tutorial on shooting, editing video with my DSLR (it was a D600 at the time). Fast forward to today and not only have most of my paid gigs been video projects, but I currently work for a company where I do both photo and video.

The ability for a camera these days to shoot high quality video is a godsend. Without this bridge I would be stuck shooting exclusively still photography. While my passion lies with stills, I thoroughly enjoy creating videos as well. It is now a part of my skillset and a valuable way for me to express my creativity.

I always felt bothered that I was given the ability to shoot video on my camera which I knew everything else about but not how to work with video. This is the catalyst for my inquiring to learn about it and I'm thankful I did. I will never complain about a camera company including something on their cameras that opens up creative possibilities.

The "D810 may be perfectly capable of making fine videos" but you try holding one, with a telephoto lens attached, about a foot in front of your face while on a 70-foot boat rocking in 4-foot waves as you try to photograph moving, diving whales and see how happy you are with the results. I'd love to be able to get good video instead of stills but it just doesn't work in this situation. High quality video may be what you and others need but not me (and I expect others).

Rigging is more intensive with a video production and a boat on a large Z axis swing rocking up and down is going to require more rigging than even car mounted applications. None of these things are the problem of the camera and just because you can't get video footage in every imaginable scenario with the same ease you will with still photos doesn't mean video is garbage. Just shoot from a cruise ship - you'll be fine.

Are all your cogs meshing today? I started my original comment by saying, "Personally, I want a camera that takes photographs but a seemingly important part of new models is video. If I don't use video, why would I want to pay the money that will be asked for a top-of-the-line model."

I want a camera that has high ISO with great noise handling so I can shoot at very fast shutter speed and something other than the widest lens opening, plus larger sensor size, without paying for things I'll never use (like 8K video). It might be the perfect camera for some but I expect that most people will pass.

Take a cruise? Yeah, I could book a trip to Antarctica and get some great whale video. Or I could buy the camera. Oh, wait, I could just drive 40 miles to a local harbor and take a whale watch trip from there for about $20 plus $5 parking...and do it about once a week for about six months.

Great personal attack - subtle but nice. Yes they are - thanks for asking - the reason we are talking about video is because you said "My D810 does video but I almost never use it because taking video from a boat rocking with the waves and chop when I have to look through the rear screen instead of the eye piece doesn't produce anything worth while." My point is this is not a problem with any of the cameras that have ever existed to shoot video. It is a function of the intensity of waves. And since you claim to shoot from a dock all the time - why not shoot your video there?

I think for someone interested in the highest quality photos with great ISO performance, a D810 is probably the exact right camera for you. And go ahead and ignore all future camera releases because they will all feature 4K video. Even the Hasselblad X1D does 2.7k Video. Do you think they specifically added that to this camera and charge more as a result? I doubt it since it was introduced as a firmware upgrade. I think they are able to offer it because the ability already exists on these cameras, so why not add the feature for the 99% of people that will at least appreciate the option.

The specs they teased actually tell you more than you may realize at first glance. Stacked CMOS sensor means high speed readout and much less rolling shutter. 8k means we're looking at 45+MP sensor. Nikon needed dual Expeed 6 processors to up the speed and performance of their latest releases, so advertising an all new image processor makes sense in the speed narrative, (and gives some credence to the 16-bit RAW rumor). So we can be confident that this will be a high resolution, high speed camera.

The photo shows us a unibody design with integrated vertical controls and pro legacy 10-pin and X-sync ports so it will be marketed to working pros of multiple disciplines and fully system compatible. It immediately looks like a D6 which is their way of telling us it's built to take punishment. So we can be confident that this is a durable and weather sealed camera.

Nikon has done dev announcements for many products in the past. It's just marketing. They're the token whipping boy at the moment. In a world where every YouTuber with a subscriber base completely opposite their talent ratio sings the doom and gloom of Nikon as clickbait, this gives their existing and potential users confidence that they aren't going anywhere. Smart move, IMO.

Total non-issue. Or trying to make an issue out of a non-issue.

Like many Nikon shooters I'm happily shooting with a D850, D5 and backup bodies along w/ a handful of lenses. I've not seen anything from Nikon Z or other manufacturers that's a must-have-difference-in-my-craft thing yet. I'm looking forward to mirrorless but there's no reason to rush. I've not bought a lens in 2 or 3 years and don't plan to until I see where Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fuji and others are at and then I'll make a system decision.

I thought I'd likely go Nikon Z but the Z9 may actually change that as I was hoping for a smaller lighter form factor high performance camera, maybe 10% larger than the Z7, not another massive D5 type body.

My son bought a Z7 when they came out. He likes it and has bought a couple of more Z lenses since. He still shoots w/ a D5 as his primary camera and a couple of D800's as backups. My guess is that he may buy a Z9 when it's available but that's a decision he'll make at that time. He's in no rush. He's somewhat less bothered by the bulk of the Z9 but wasn't too happy about it.

I don't think there are 2 ways to look at the Z announcement.

There is only one and that is that the Z9 is the new D3. And that is outstanding news for Z mount users and very bad news for Nikon's competiton. Because they have never failed to deliver best in class high end equipment, at least not since the D3 13 years ago.

Does Nikon need to improve their production ramp up? Yes and I believe that this is the very reason why they have not announced new lenses on the roadmap yet.

Don't forget that Nikon is putting in place the strategic elements to be a top provider of high end photographic equipment, which includes a major reshaping of their manufacturing structure. This is a very profound transformation that is painful for any company. I don't know whether you have experience with business transformation but I do and these are extremely complex processes.

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