As most of you know already, Nikon launched its full-frame mirrorless cameras on Aug 23/18, revealing two models that will appeal to both pros and hobbyists alike. Priced respectively for those markets, the pro model will be available in September and the consumer model in November.
This isn’t a review of that equipment. You can get a very good overview of the offering in the great article by M. Zhang from Petapixel.
What struck me as I watched the launch was just how hard Nikon was struggling to differentiate this product from the offerings already out there. Perhaps it was the English translation, but “redefine possibilities” and “new light…to pioneer the future” left a lot to be desired as to why I would buy this camera over any other.
“Full-frame” caused me to take a look. Teaser videos about a new mount with a seamlingly very wide opening also caused me to take a look. Strangely, through the whole launch, not very much was said about how this camera could make my photography life better. Instead, the focus, pardon the pun, was on revolutionary design. Shouldn’t it really be about the customer? Oh, well.
But not too revolutionary a design. Nikon has realized that the investments made by its users in lenses in particular was not something that they could ignore. A lens adapter is being offered for a modest price of a couple hundred US dollars. There are a lot of implications in that decision. Two come to mind:
At launch, Nikon confirmed three new lenses for the new camera and mount – only three. Others are in development, with release dates of 2019 and beyond. Perhaps this is typical of new product lines, but given the length of time that Nikon has been aware of the mirrorless surge, it is surprising that only three lenses are ready. While the adapter is positoned to make it easier to switch cameras, I suspect it is equally there to compensate for Nikon’s slow product development cycle.
Secondly, with the Z line cameras and lenses positioned to “redefine possibilities”, I have to wonder how much redefinition can occur with older lenses on the front of the camera. That wasn’t demonstrated in the launch.
Instead, two photographers put work on display that was shot with the new system. Viewing the work over the internet limits the quality of the assessment, but it seems to me that the biggest advantages illustrated and commented on by both photographers were the lighter and smaller form factors, and the ease of use of the systems. Here is the accompanying article by one of the photographers, Tamara Lackey.
The work itself, with all due respect, didn’t really redefine anything. It was impressive, as all pro photographer work should be. But was it in any way revolutionary – no. In all fairness, there were comments about edge to edge sharpness, crisp colours that pop and extraordinary detail. There were also comments about the new autofocus system in the pro model and the ability to get very close with a non-macro lens. In all these cases, the result was a shot that was easier to get, not better. And maybe that’s the real message.
Almost everything about photography gear today is about making it easier for photographers to get the shot. There are always some “revolutions” and I agree that the first mirrorless cameras were indeed that. Perhaps computational photography is another. But given that the first mirrorless, interchangeable lens camera was introduced in 2004, releasing a flagship mirrorless in 2018 ain’t no revolution – sorry.
What Nikon released is a generational improvement – like the iPhone these days (so sorry, iPhone). Again, in fairness, Nikon has a lot to build on, given the universal applause for products like the D850. Why mess with success? They should take as much of that design philosophy as possible and add it to the next generation. Completely understand that. They have fully built the Nikon reputation for quality and craftsmanship into these mirrorless products. The accompanying videos prove it. Not sure that will sell a lot of cameras though.
Personally, my big driver today is ease of use of a system. I look forward (hopefully soon) to a lighter, more intuitive Canon full-frame mirrorless offering that also lets me leverage my existing investment in lenses. But will I stand in line on a cold winter night to be the first to get it? Nope.