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Monday, 01 August 2016

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"Homologating"? Wow!

Color me impressed. Though didn't you write recently about writers and rare words? Or is this a public service--a way of keeping us on our toes? (Or seeing if we're still here? Sound check? Time travel?)

[It's a specialist word but not a hard one. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homologation_(motorsport) --Mike]

Speaking of which, what would win out in your case, Mike, if it came up today: a teaching position or TOP? (It seems a plausible scenario.) Or would you try to search out a have-it-all solution?

[If the teaching position paid the same as TOP or nearly so, taking the teaching job would almost be compulsory. No more self-employment tax (I paid 33% of my income in taxes last year, and I don't earn all that much--self-employment tax almost equals income tax); weekends, holidays and summers off; no more income insecurity (July, for instance, was not a good month, which will cause problems in September when I receive those earnings); a lighter workload (I've been a teacher so I know); and the potential for benefits, including possibly some sort of retirement benefit, neither of which I enjoy now.

Then there's this quote from ex-blogger Andrew Sullivan that Jim Richardson sent me this morning: "One thing I realize, I thought I was living a life and blogging; in fact I was just blogging. It’s zero-sum. You can’t do both at once.”

I like my current job a lot, and I enjoy it and it suits me, but I can't fault Rob for his decision. --Mike]

What if we look at the business another way? What if Nikon (and Canon and the rest) are considered lens makers that need to make cameras in order to sell lenses?

In any case, analyzing this (or any) business requires looking at gross margins (difference between manufacturing cost and average selling price) for the various products in addition to unit volumes.

I've had a Nikon DSLR (D50, D300, D7200) since 2005. I remember thinking that buying into a Nikon system will give me access to the largest (or close to, depending on how you count) glass collection available and help build a system without too much gaps and "switching temptations".

What a mistake.

Over the years owning a Nikon has turned into a "waiting exercise" for me. Nagging questions kept surfacing as I was learning what I need and want from my camera:

1. Should I go "manual"? Nikon has some beautiful, cheap and small legacy primes that were historically mounted on reasonably priced, fairly compact and quite serious cameras. Where's the camera I can mount those lovely manual focus Nikkors on? Here comes Nikon Df... wait... no interchangeable focusing screens... premium price... hmm.

2. Should I stay DX? Where are the DX prime lenses and DX non-consumer zooms? Everyone on every photo forum I've read for years has been waiting for a small, fast Nikkor DX wide angle primes forever. They still are.

3. Should I wait for a mirrorless Nikon? Why are new, serious DSLRs and lenses growing bigger and heavier and more complex? I've been hoping for a digital Nikon FM equivalent (in terms of size / weight / simple operation via marked physical dials) with great small primes... wait, it actually exists: it's called Fuji XT-1.

I've been trying other systems including Leica and I now use my Fuji almost exclusively - it has everything I always wanted my Nikons to have, and more. I keep my Nikon DSLR because my daughter likes using it (hint: with the 35 1.8 DX).

I agree with Thom's conclusions and will not invest in Nikon anymore - I've lost trust in their ability to come up with a long-term product development strategy covering the needs of (not so) serious amateurs like me.

"Thom Hogan is the leading independent Nikon expert, certainly on the English-speaking Internet and probably in the world."

This is inaccurate. Ken Wheeler is the biggest Nikon expert in the world.

Nikon is clueless, I tell ya, clueless.

It's very likely that, with respect to DLSRs, mirrorless is the disruptive innovation that Clayton Christensen describes so well in The Innovator's Dilemma.

In essence, the dominant incumbent (in this case Nikon) have their head in the sand while a young and upcoming technology (mirrorless) comes in and displaces their traditional markets.

Classic photography industry victims of disruptive innovation are (the original) Hasselblad and Kodak, who likewise had their head in the sand about the advent of digital photography.

"Professionals will always use film because image quality is of primary importance!"

Wrong. Look where they are today. The late lamented Michael Reichmann wrote an excellent article about just this subject some years ago on The Luminous Landscape.

Incremental innovation (which is what Nikon have been doing, with more and more megapixels and more and more models) has not rescued them from catastrophically tanking sales, either. Clueless.

What Nikon has to do is find new users and new uses and get back to real innovation.

"Real innovation" is best defined as the creation of a revenue stream for the company that did not exist before. I can't think of a better example than this than Sony A-series and Fuji X-series.

As I've said before, Fuji anything BUT clueless. They totally get this, and is pulling out all the stops with the X-T2, it's Power Booster Grip, new flash system, improved responsiveness, AF shooting scenarios, etc, etc. You can bet Fuji will see more and more pros move to them from Nikon when the X-T2 hits the market.

Nikon is clueless, I tell ya, clueless.

The trouble with Thom, is he tends to trash brands such as Pentax. In fact if you believed him and his predictions were correct, Pentax would have become defunct years ago.

Just one last comment about Nikon. A quick one, I promise.

What Thom Hogan is really talking about that Nikon is failing to do is a business-critical best practice called "Voice of the Customer" (VOC).

Fujifilm lives and breathes "VOC". They embody this with their New Product Development activities and commitment to kaizen. I have doubts that Nikon is even familiar with the concept of VOC.

Since when is f1.8 slow? is a 24mm f2.0 lens considered slow? f1.8 50mm (or equiv.) lenses often have the advantage in fewer optical compromises and sharper pictures. And smaller and lighter as well.

[I guess since it's not fast. f/1.4 and f/1.2 (and even faster) are considered fast, anything else is slow. Of course f/1.8 is fast enough for most anyone and most anything. --Mike]

Homologating??? You're testing to see who read last Tuesday's "Big Words" post, aren't you? :)

I would have never even looked at FF, M 4/3rds, or another system, if Nikon had just made a "right sized" 16mm f/2.8, and 24mm f/2.8. I'm happy with the 35mm f/1.8, and the 60mm Macro G (used as a 90mm) is fine. Imagine how tiny an f/2.8 APS-C sized prime could be? I'll bet not much bigger than M 4/3rd's primes...(one look at the Sigma 19mm, 30mm, and 60mm for Sony APS-C, and you get the idea).

I wish Sigma would have attacked this problem. Even back when I started to complain about this, it would have seemed to be a "no-brainer" for some smart independent lens company!

"I know, we'll make 'right sized' primes for Nikon and Canon; we'll clean up!"

For me, as I've said here previously, the problem with Nikon isn't so much that their beating heart lies with catering to pros, but that their heart beats only for the mainstream subset of pros whose shooting style is of a certain, conservative kind: spot news, sports, and wedding photographers, primarily, who use big pro bodies with big zoom lenses. All the others - pros who want to use small cameras and small lenses, such as documentary photojournalists, as well as serious, avocational shooters - can pretty much get stuffed, for all Nikon cares. It's like these photographers don't even exist. Which is especially strange when you consider that Nikon first made its mark on the world with the rangefinder.

I understand the requirement for a company like Nikon to be business oriented - to take decisions based on marketing requirements and market segmentation. Those are sound business practices. Given the company's devotion to such practices, though, their refusal to cater to 95% of their users by developing a DX lens lineup makes even less sense.

homologating? Phew!
Read it ... huh? WTF? ... Copy ... Paste into search window, study and think about the answer ... return to article ... Now, where was I?

I believe there was a topic discussed here not long ago that described the above phenomenon.

My own unscientific poll: I walked out of my hotel last week into a gaggle of press photographers on the sidewalk. While I was waving and smiling (to no avail - they were waiting for Usain Bolt, who was also staying there), I estimated that about 2/3 were shooting Nikon (including a few D500s), the other 1/3 Canon.

I worry about the Ferrari F1 team, now that the mothership has gone through an IPO. Sooner or later, some hedge fund type is going to question why they blow all that money on racing.

Thom certainly nailed it with the 'stupid' comment, in my opinion. I was a big DX user for quite a while but finally threw in the towel when the lenses I needed were either not available or only available in the BIG HEAVY FX format (sort of defeats my main purpose of using the DX bodies). And I saw no chance of getting them in the foreseeable future. This is not good.

Today I shoot Olympus m4/3 bodies with wonderfully ligh, small and fast lenses. I make great enlargements up to 16x20, and so far nobody has complained that the images need more or bigger pixels.

I remember when a lot of people I knew were excited about the nikormats and the Nikon EL, which were actually made by one of the copal licensees.

None of us were particularly interested in owning one, but knew that they would sell a lot of nikkor lenses and subsidize the pro equipment.

On the other hand I never got nikon's obsession with light meters but maybe that is because I never shot chromes except with strobes.

Gordon hit the nail on the head. If Nikon see their APS-C competition as Canon, they have nothing to worry about. Take the "normal zoom", for example. Canon have a couple of decent kit lenses, and one step up the OK 17-85mm. The allegedly premium 15-85mm is execrable.
It's not the complete reason why I moved to micro 4/3, but the sweet Panasonic 12-35mm just doesn't have a Canikon equivalent.

Gordon Lewis wrote: "What I would ask your readers is what they think is missing"

My answer would be better choices in wide to normal lenses, preferably some small but decent primes, and update the DX zooms with a good range of choices. Why is it that Sigma has better wide to normal Nikon DX zooms than Nikon? I guess the short answer to your question would be "more choices."

Eamon Hickey wrote: "Over the past 15–20 years only one company has done better in the consumer (i.e. not industrial) still camera business"

What about Apple? Or Sony if you define the consumer still camera business to include sensor profits?

+1 for Eamon
Nikon & Canon make some great stuff and also make plenty of folks unhappy. But the Camera business has been a very tough business, and there is no doubt in my mind that listening to customers more attentively would benefit both of them.
The future may show that they indeed had their heads in the sand too long and disappeared from the Earth. It may also show that they let the upstarts duke it out to find the next big thing and then swooped in at the last moment and took it away from them.
It looks like the former will be the case, but the latter is not impossible--especially if you consider that we may be confusing two different but related activities. Making good cameras, and making a profit in the camera business.
Any company commonly mentioned here already makes good cameras. Only 2 turn a profit. Even in a down market for cameras.
I have no crystal ball. Nikon, Canon, or both could be walking dead, and be gone in 5 years, But if I take emotion out of it, it's probably more likely that fate will befall other folks.
I suspect many good ideas will survive, but some makers may not.

I have no idea why neither Nikon or Canon has bothered with the ILC market in a serious way, but I'll bet their absence is not an accident

Coincidentally, some photo enthusiast friends (including a full-time pro) and I were just talking about camera-car company analogies. We'd come to the subject because said pro, who is arguably the most GAS-susceptible of all of us, was complaining about one of his latest ubercameras failing in some way. It's not important which camera it was except that it was neither a Canon or Nikon, and its failure has to do with effectively limiting the camera's image quality in certain situations.

He opined that despite all of the fancy and expensive gear he had, he usually ended up coming back to the D810, because it just works, or those situations in which it doesn't work have workarounds which are well-documented. But it was a boring camera otherwise, so we decided Canons and Nikons are like the Hondas and Toyotas of the world. Both Honda and Toyota have deep technical knowledge and both are capable of competing at the highest levels of motorsport, but they choose to mostly make boring, photo-taking appliances: the sort of stuff pros depend on so they can concentrate on the picture taking.

And I can only agree with him. (Knocks on wood.) My D810 has never let me down, gamely goes on shooting all day like it was nothing, is responsive and willing, and has a huge, flexible ecosystem that basically caters to any photographic whim I might have. I think the various gear arsenal shots coming out from the various news agencies as they prepare for the Rio Olympics bear this out. I'm sure there are a few mavericks using something besides Canon and Nikon, but for most photographers covering the events, it's Canikon because they work and they have lenses and support infrastructure like no other camera manufacturer.

The D810 was also the tip of Nikon's technological spear for a while, so it does live in a privileged part of the Nikon world. Having used some of their cheaper consumer cameras like the D5500, I can't disagree with anything Thom says either. The pro cameras are a cut apart from the cheap stuff they make, some of whose limitations feel like it was imposed by a marketing committee rather than any kind of real engineering constraint.

BTW, we'd concluded that Ferraris are expensive, somewhat temperamental, and require a bit of effort to extract the most from them, so they're perhaps closer to medium format digital?

Why be precious about the 85%? What would be so horrendous about Nikon downsizing and focusing on the 15%? i.e. "do what you love"

I was a Nikon user for over twenty years and was waiting for the D700 replacement but really wanted smaller and lighter. I always ended up using Sigma lenses as Nikon didn't provide the ones I wanted (18-50/2.8, 50-150/2.8 as two examples) and gave up on Nikon to finally settle into Fujifilm. No regrets whatsoever.

"I question the efficacy of having Rob teach a few classes of students rather" ... Oh Mike ...

As a Canadian (though not an Albertan - nice enough place but I got married in Calgary and it didn't work out, so there you go) I have to say that any gain for our students outweighs the ephemeral nature of the Inter-tubes. Face-to-face interaction and guidance will be multiplied in real lives.

Are sales numbers enough to come to any conclusions? Of that 85%, how many are buying a nice camera for travel pictures? How many read/write photography blogs? How many are looking for a lens that Nikon (or some other company) doesn't make?

I think Nikon is making a mistake by not working on a serious mirrorless product, and if they are working on one they should start dropping hints so people know it's coming. But as an enthusiastic novice, I think the available DX lenses are good enough to make nice photographs.

Nikon has been my preferred brand for 20 years now. Yes I admit I've cheated playing the field with Fuji and Olympus. But! I just picked up a used D600 for a very fair price.

Really if you are not into high end video what more would you want in a camera? My Oly's despite being more compact cannot match the overall image quality or dynamic range or high ISO abilities. And there are several affordable "sleeper" lenses that work great on the camera. Maybe there is a reason Nikon is what it is and maybe again we are just a bit too critical of the company as a whole? Why does mirrorless have to be some kind of goal others have to aim for?

"Homologating??? You're testing to see who read last Tuesday's "Big Words" post, aren't you? :)" Peter Conway

In the Inspector Morse novels, Colin Dexter (the author) always, I think, slipped in one obscure word that you needed to look up. Maybe Mike is 'Doing a Dexter'?

Mind you, at least Dexter was a cruciverbalist.

Nikon and Canon is making money because they deliver what the average person wanting to buy a DSLR wants to buy. A competent camera with a kit lens. Most don't care about a full lineup of DX primes, they just want a cheep kit lens, and at most another telezoom.

All that other stuff is for people like us reading TOP, and we are probably few compared to the number of DX customers. The primes are probably only wanted by FX users. Making an additional range of DX lenses for 5% of your customers (pro DX customers) is probably not profitable, let them use the FX lenses. I´d say that Nikon seems to be competent and know their customers well enough to realise that making lots of different DX lenses is not going to be profitable.

I stopped reading Thom Hogan because of his incessant criticism of Nikon. Frankly his relentless negative view of Nikon seems more like schadenfreude than trying to be informative. Odd approach for a Nikon user.

As for mirror-less being disruptive, perhaps somebody should tell Fujifilm. Their lens output doesn't seem to translate into better market share. Of all the mirror-less manufacturers, only Sony is increasing market share, and I'm guessing that is because of their relatively lower price points. For how many years have mirror-less acolytes predicted the demise of the DSLR? Why are Panasonic, Olympus and Fujifilm still in business? Perhaps because the parent companies can sustain the lower earnings of their camera divisions?

I use both kinds of cameras and frankly I wonder at the fatuous belief by the mirror-less camp that good photography is just not possible with a DSLR.

Nikon DSLR and Sony mirror-less in my bag.

"Since when is f1.8 slow?...f1.8 50mm...lenses often have the advantage in fewer optical compromises and sharper pictures."

[I guess since it's not fast. f/1.4 and f/1.2 (and even faster) are considered fast, anything else is slow. Of course f/1.8 is fast enough for most anyone and most anything. --Mike]

f/1.8 is only 1/2 stop slower than f/1.4, and costs substantially less.

In the absence of Rob Galbraith as a leading Canon-centric voice, may I point you to Bob Atkins...

www.BobAtkins.com

Canon guy all the way, very knowledgeable, and many informative articles on optics too for those so inclined.

Not updated as often as it used to be, but still a good resource..

Way back in my days of analog Nikon, I owned 28, 35, 50, 85, 105mm lenses and a couple of zooms. Every brand offered something like this.
Nowadays, neither Nikon nor Canon are able to do this. So I am happy to use mFT and APS-C can bugger off.

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