Opinion: Nikon's 'back to basics' approach is a no-brainer
|Well-rounded, polished and reliable: mid-to-high end DSLR cameras have been Nikon's bread and butter for years.|
In its first public statement since the DL series' cancellation, Nikon has stated to the Japanese press (Google translated here) that it will be focusing chiefly on 'mid-to-high end SLR cameras and lenses and mirrorless cameras that can make the most of their strengths.'
Good gravy, it's about time.
A rough patch
Sure, 2016 was the year of the D5 and widely adored D500 DSLRs, but those two cameras stand against a pretty dismal backdrop.
That backdrop includes the continued release of low-end Coolpix cameras into a market segment that's been obliterated by smartphones (though admittedly Nikon isn't alone in this regard), the ailing Nikon 1 series which hasn't seen a new camera body in almost two years or a new lens in almost three years, and the KeyMission series, which has had a tepid reception at best (and personally, I wish they'd taken whatever development costs the KeyMission ate up and poured those into the DL series instead).
|Ah, the Coolpix A300. This 2016 release features a 1/2.3" sensor, 720p video and a low-resolution 230k-dot rear screen. Please Nikon, why?|
On most recent occasions when the company has stepped outside of its traditional DSLR realm, Nikon has stumbled somewhat. To illustrate, imagine for a minute that these various camera market segments are house parties (that's a bit of a stretch these days, but bear with me here).
The Nikon 1 series got stuck in traffic on the way to the mirrorless party, and finally arrived only to realize it totally misread the dress code. As for the KeyMission series, it's way past fashionably late to the action camera party, and brought a twelve-pack of what everyone's already sick of drinking.
And the DL series, well, it seems to have just pre-funked too heavily and didn't make it out at all.
There are several things that are disappointing about this. With the 1 series especially, Nikon has had years and years to flesh out a lens lineup to really make the most out of that small package and incredibly fast sensor (remember, they could shoot 60 fps Raw bursts years before the likes of the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II, and had incredible on-sensor PDAF to boot). The company has simply let the whole line stagnate into obscurity. This stands in stark contrast to the company's DSLR line, which has used the same basic lens mount for the last fifty-eight years. So it clearly shouldn't have issues with commitment.
The KeyMission is also, in my opinion, an ill-conceived scheme – after all, they've come about just as GoPro's stock and sales are tanking in the wake of competent and ever cheaper Chinese competitors. The KeyMission line is literally years too late, the rocky VR market in 2016 didn't do the 360 model any favors. I can understand Nikon's desire for some form of diversification given the state of the camera market as a whole, but this just wasn't the right way to go.
|Sure, the KeyMission 170 is ruggedized without a case, but it's entering a very crowded and very competitive market.|
Picking back up
But perhaps what's most disappointing about all this is that, contrary to the views most keyboard warriors seem to espouse these days, Nikon is capable of true greatness, and even some spurts of innovation. It's just that most of that is wrapped up in the DSLR world of the D5 and D500.
Those two cameras remain in our possession, with Nikon's permission, as the current autofocus tracking benchmarks against which most other cameras are measured; 3D Tracking was an incredible innovation with the D3 that has been steadily evolving ever since, and it changes the way you shoot for the better. The D5 / D500's use of XQD slots combine with incredible overall responsiveness to ensure that you are never waiting for those cameras; they'll only be waiting for you. They're the first DSLRs with Automatic AF Fine Tune, bringing DSLR autofocus one step closer to the accuracy of on-sensor autofocus systems in mirrorless cameras. There's also the AF-S 105mm F1.4G, a world's-first lens for the company's venerable DSLRs.
|Now that's a nice combo.|
In short, if Nikon's DSLRs are so competent already (QC issues such as the D600 fiasco notwithstanding), it'll be interesting to see what the company can do with more focus and more resources available for their development. One thing's for sure; we're all hoping for some new 'professional' DX lenses to go with the 'professional' D500, but even taking this new statement into consideration, I'm not holding my breath.
|The Nikon 1 V3, the latest 'enthusiast' offering in the 1-series lineup, was announced nearly three years ago.|
Stepping aside from the world of DSLRs, Nikon's statement foregoes any specific claims concerning the KeyMission series (hmmm...), and promises a renewed focus on 'mirrorless cameras that can make the most of their strengths.' What that really means is anyone's guess, though the stagnation of the 1 series indicates Nikon will be heading a different direction than continued development of the 'CX' system.
The brief statement closes with the mention of a high-class compact in the future, but given the incident with the DL series, the company will 'judge the next development carefully.'
Coolpix A Mark II, please. But maybe with a name other than 'Coolpix.'