Nikon’s Mirrorless Cameras – Dying?

Nikon released financial results recently that were way down, mostly due to lack of sales of their mirrorless cameras – the Nikon 1 series.  Following the announcement, the stock took a beating.  A few random thoughts on all of this.

First off – camera manufacturers were behind the curve in figuring out that smartphones were going to rapidly disrupt the lower end of their market.  Why spend a couple or a few hundred bucks for a pocket-sized point and shoot camera when your iPhone or Galaxy already has a serviceable point and shoot camera?  Not to mention what for some people is the most important feature – you can edit and upload a photo directly from your iPhone to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Very very few dedicated cameras have this sort of feature built in.

At this point, they’ve all realized that to continue to thrive in the market, they have to adjust their strategies by differentiating their products. On the upper end of the market we find DSLRs, which for the most point seem relatively immune from all of this. Everyone understands the differences and most hobbyists want one.

On the lower end of the market, we have a variety of pocket-sized and almost pocket-sized cameras with larger sensors inside, such as the Sony RX100. The average Joe or Josephine doesn’t understand the difference in sensor size and doesn’t care. But hobbyists seeking a second camera, advanced amateurs and so on do understand. I don’t know what the sales figures are for the RX100, the latest Ricohs, or similar cameras but I suspect they’re respectable enough.

But then you get to the middle range – the mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Everyone’s got one now – Nikon, Canon, Fuji, Sony, Olympus, Panasonic – you name it.  I don’t know sales figures so I’m making assumptions based on coverage I read around the net.  Fuji, Sony, Olympus and maybe Panasonic are doing okay here – Nikon and Canon aren’t.

I’ve already written about why I’ve turned away from this format.  It comes down to several factors for me, primarily size and price. Once you stick anything other than a pancake lens on one of these, it may still be smaller and lighter than a DSLR but it’s still big enough to require a bag of some sort – and I’ve decided that if I’m gonna take a camera in a bag, it might as well be my D800. Also, having a DSLR and a range of lenses for that, I don’t want to start buying a second range of lenses for a second body. I’d get more mileage from buying a smaller Nikon that would allow me to use the same lenses and accessories. And let’s face it – most of these interchangeable lens mirrorless cameras cost the same as lower end DSLRs, but their performance is no better and often worse (not to say they’re not good, just not as good).

First I had the Sony NEX-7. A great camera. I loved it.  Sometimes I wish I still had it. But when I did actually have it, I was frustrated with the lens selection, with just a couple of lenses capable of properly working with that 24 MP sensor. So I gave up waiting and sold it. Then I had the Fuji X-Pro1. Loved it. This camera had better ergonomics and controls than anything else in its class. But the lenses were too damned expensive, costing as much as DSLR lenses. And at the time Lightroom did a miserable job of processing the RAW files. So I gave up and sold it. Finally I went with the Olympus OMD. Also a lovely piece of kit. But with any decent lens it was huge – and yet offered a smaller sensor and poorer low light/high ISO performance than the Sony or the Fuji. I didn’t have the lenses I wanted for it and couldn’t afford them. So I sold it. (Luckily Hong Kong has such a huge secondary market that one can sell used cameras for respectable prices fairly easily.)  I took the money I got from selling the Olympus, bought the pocket-sized Sony RX100 (which does outperform my iPhone) and had a lot of money left over to bank.

I think Nikon really stumbled badly with the Nikon 1. A crappy looking camera, a smaller sensor, and not compatible with my other Nikon stuff right out of the box. (I understand the science behind this. Doesn’t change my feeling, even if you find that vaguely irrational.)  But Nikon has rarely built successful cameras that weren’t DSLRs. They’ve never dominated the field the way you’d think they could. Instead of being #1 or #2, they’re probably a distant 5th or 8th.  All I had to do was see this chart to know I would never even consider a Nikon 1:

sensor-sizes-comparison

 

(Chart from here.)  For all the night time shooting I do, for the importance I place on low light/high ISO performance, this was a total turn-off.  Yes, my Sony RX100’s sensor is about the same size, but at least it fits in my pocket.

With this in mind, I’d like to share two recent excerpts from two other bloggers – one of whom gets it and one who obviously does not.

Let’s start with the guy who doesn’t. Steve Huff.

People were expecting more from the 1 system at launch. Namely, a larger sensor. Those who never owned or tried one trashed it and sadly, it got a bad rep for no reason. By the time real reviews came out with real samples and showing what the Nikon 1 system could do, it was too late. V1′s were being cleared out and sold dirt cheap, and THEN they sold in mass amounts.  I LOVE my V system and it gives me better out of camera colors than any camera I own as well as the fastest performance.

And now the guy who gets it, Thom Hogan.

I’ve been scratching my head lately trying to reconcile Nikon’s decisions in the Nikon 1 line. Let’s see:

  • Make lower end products (e.g. S1, 11-27.5mm), but keep DSLR-level prices.
  • Reduce parts count by an order of magnitude, but charge same price as DSLRs.
  • Make high end lenses (18.5mm f/1.8, 32mm f/1.2).
  • Make a high end camera that costs almost as much as a D7100, but leave off high end features.
  • Talk about marketing to women, but not really doing it.
  • Improve the FT1 autofocus but don’t really market it (e.g. just update the Web site downloads and hope people notice).
  • Fire sale price zips the cameras out of the store (well, maybe not the J1), but regular price has them sitting on shelves.

From a marketing and positioning standpoint, the Nikon 1 is a complete failure. First, the camera pricing was ridiculous. Taking needed shooting controls out of the high-end model, also ridiculous. No real sharing of accessories with the main Nikon lineup, again ridiculous. Mostly expensive, high-specification lenses for a line that’s had four out of six cameras entry level, strange.

The J1 is still around and selling for US$400 for the two-lens kit, brand new. That has to be the best <US$500 compact camera available (though the fire sale on EOS M gives it a run for the money). Got a compact camera budget but a DSLR-like quality fetish? Get a J1 while they’re still available. Have we heard Nikon say that? Of course not. Because Nikon sells 24 different compact cameras and 12 different DSLRs right now. If you’ve got a compact budget, Nikon wants to sell you a compact. If you have a DSLR quality fetish, they want to sell you a DSLR. Strangely enough, Nikon has done everything they can to not sell you a Nikon 1 and now are perplexed as to why you won’t buy one.

Really, I’m as die hard a Nikon fan as you’ll find and I spend far more time looking (and lusting) at Fuji’s X series.  I’d buy a Fuji X100s if I could afford it. And I wonder what their X-Pro2, whenever it comes, will do. And sometimes I wonder what Sony has coming next in their NEX series. I’d almost consider buying that Leica X Vario camera, if it wasn’t priced so high.

I love my Nikon D800. It is the best camera I’ve ever owned. I’ve had it over a year and feel no desire to part with it. (For that matter, I didn’t want to part with my D700 either, but I needed to sell it to have the money for the D800.)  I’d like to feel that same love for a smaller, every-day-walking-around camera as well.  But the technology just isn’t there yet.

 

 

 

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2 Comments

  1. UII August 19, 2013 at 11:56 pm #

    Nikon’s figures aren’t way down because of the 1 series. They’d be even further down without the 1 series.

    Yes, the 1 series has been poorly managed, but camera sales are tanking.

    What will it take you to upgrade from your D800? Same for the majority of photographers. What they have is already good enough.

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