Dear Nikon: You Really Need to Innovate Your Cameras and Lenses

We’re not too sure about the future of Nikon and feel like they really need to innovate.

I’ve been in this industry long enough to remember the times where Nikon users would push their bias into the face of every other photographer. At those times, they rightfully should have. Does anyone remember the Nikon D300 and the fantastic photos it shot of President Obama during his early years? Or the Nikon D700 and the class-leading high ISO output it had? Or what about the more top-end cameras like the D4, the D800, etc.? Nikon has enjoyed a long time of creating cameras that were fantastic in many ways. But in recent years, they’ve fallen off of their horse and created things that only let them catch up to everyone else. For what it’s worth, everything they produce is still good–but they don’t really have an edge that makes someone want to buy their products. They’re a jack of all trades and a master of none. These are times when photographers need a specialized tool and not a Swiss Army Knife. And Nikon isn’t really keeping up.

I want to get this across first: I’m not bashing Nikon. They’re making great cameras with parts and features everyone else has. They’re a pretty fantastic curator in that way. But they’re not doing something particular that makes me want to and need to buy them. And this is what I think every camera manufacturer needs to do right now to survive. I’m not alone in this thought process, either. Gear Editor Brett Day thought the same thing when reviewing the Nikon Z50. Reviews Editor Paul Ip has also often said the same thing. For the naysayers, let me further reiterate this by looking at things brand by brand.

Canon: For years, Canon was positively lousy on the innovation front. It was almost like they were sleeping at the wheel and flying by the seat of their pants. But they brought in a whole lot of little tiny innovations to the Canon EOS R like the shutter that comes down over the sensor to protect it when the camera is powered off. However, most of their innovations are with the lenses. Let me list them: an autofocusing 50mm f1.2, an autofocusing 85mm f1.2, an autofocusing 28-70mm f2, an autofocusing, and incredibly compact 70-200mm f2.8, etc. And there’s more coming. In my eyes, they’re doing a great job now. They’re genuinely trying. We’re getting the R5, R6, and the new lenses in for trial too. We’ll see how this goes.

Nikon, in this regard, could be coming out with a 50mm f1.2, and a few other lenses that could be innovative. Reports have talked about a compact 28mm, compact 40mm, a 200-600mm, a 100-400mm, a Micro 105mm, Micro 60mm, a 24-105mm (oddly not their 24-120mm), a 24-200mm, etc. They’ve got the 58mm f0.95 Noct. Nikon is also catching up with these new teleconverters of theirs. But are you really going to spend $8k on a lens? In terms of lenses, Nikon has a small edge over Canon: compact primes and lenses overall. Canon seems to just throw caution to the wind in this regard.

Sony: This one may really annoy Nikon users. Sony has a plethora of APS-C and full-frame camera bodies for everyone that could need them. They’ve got significant advancements in AI and autofocus. They have a ton of first-party lenses and third party lens support. Plus, they make the sensors for Nikon. Every time a Nikon rep tells me, “We’re not saying who made the sensor,” it basically means Sony did. For example, if Canon made a sensor themselves, they’d do a full presentation on what makes this sensor so unique. But Nikon doesn’t really say a whole lot in comparison here. Where Nikon has Sony beat though could be with ergonomics. Sony cameras feel like computers and Nikon cameras really feel like, well, cameras!

Fujifilm: Fujifilm is an odd beast here. They don’t have a full-frame option. In the long run, I really hope this doesn’t bite them in the rear like it did with Pentax with regard to long term sustainability. But in the APS-C world, they have arguably the most unique image quality out there. Fujifilm also has a myriad of celebrated, compact lenses so many photographers adore. Nikon is still catching up in a way. Neither brand has licensed third party support. I’d say that Nikon is beating them on video, but Fujifilm’s GF series got a major upgrade recently.

Olympus: Well, Olympus was just sold. You could say it’s game over for Olympus, but that’s not the truth. Where Olympus is mostly winning is with lens support from third parties, telephoto lenses, and the popular Live Comp feature. Olympus cameras are also arguably some of the most durable in the industry. With Nikon, you could say that they’ve got full-frame and high ISO output for sure.

Panasonic: In this case, we’re going to talk about Panasonic’s L mount options. Panasonic is, in many ways appealing to DSLR users. They’ve got a big selection of lenses via the L mount alliance. And they’ve got some excellent features in the video world. Plus, their sensor output is pretty impressive. However, there are reports that they’re using Sony sensors, and I could never get clarity on that. Nikon isn’t doing a lousy job vs. Panasonic here, but Panasonic’s ergonomics beat Nikon if you want big and beefy.

Leica: Leica wins for durability, lens selection, and image quality. Nikon otherwise is beating them in many ways.

Nikon needs to find a way to blow everyone else away, in my opinion. But for that to happen, they also need to find a market they really want. Fujifilm’s market likes old-school and film aesthetics, Panasonic’s is video-centric, Olympus is for the wildlife and outdoor shooter, etc. But Nikon doesn’t really have a market they specifically target. They need to figure this out.