Items are copied here when I
them off the front page.
Front-page articles from 2007 are here
Older articles (2006 and earlier) are here.
D90 Guide Available for Ordering
Dec 10--I've begun taking orders for the Complete Guide to the D90. Just follow the D90 eBook link in the right column until you get to the ordering page. However, please note that I do not expect to ship these until December 20th (there's a small possibility that they'll ship before that). Thus, it's unlikely that you'll get the D90 eBook and To Go booklet before Christmas unless you're in the US. Even in the US Christmas delivery can't be guaranteed, though I'll do everything possible on my end to make that happen. I had hoped that we could make my original December 17th target ship date, but weather has conspired to keep proofs from the printer from getting back and forth as fast as usual. My apologies for the short delay.
Nikon Software Updates
Dec 10--Nikon has software updates for Capture NX2 (2.1.1) and Camera Control Pro 2 (2.4.0). The big news is that these programs are compatible with the soon-to-appear D3x. Both updates also include some minor bug fixes. The Mac versions also now are tested for OS X 10.5.5. Windows 2000 support for Camera Control Pro 2 has been dropped. The updates are available on all the main subsidiary Web sites.
Final Words on the D3x
Dec 10--When I have a camera and can test it, I'll obviously make additional comments. At this point, however, I'll simply let my original commentary stand. With a couple of notes: first, many have interpreted what I've written as saying that the D3x is "overpriced." No. The only way you could state such a conclusion would be after testing the camera, which I haven't done. My primary comment has been and continues to be that if Nikon really wanted to charge US$7999 for the camera, they did not set expectations correctly and launched in a way that there would be (and now has been) a backlash. That backlash continues more than a week after the introduction. Not that I take any pride in it, but this is what I said would happen, and what I was hinting at in some forum posts prior to the D3x introduction.
The D3x Arrives
Dec 1--Nikon today announced the long-expected and not-so-secret D3x. I have a full article of commentary here, so I'll restrict this front page entry to just the basics.
The D3x is basically a D3 with a different sensor module (and all that implies: low-pass filter, ADC speed, etc.). The 24.4mp (6048 x 4032) lowers the frame rate to 5 fps (7 fps for the DX crop) and the available ISO values change to 50-6400 (100-1600 numbered). But the other things that make a D3 a D3--the autofocus, metering, dual-card slots, controls, size/weight, and so on--all remain basically the same.
Nikon says the camera will be available later this month for US$7999. Yes, you read that price right.
For more, read my longer commentary.
Some Waiting Over
Dec 1--Another month has passed, though this time I'm able to remove a couple of items from my Waiting for Nikon List (lower portion of left column). The GP-1 is now priced and in the pipeline, and should arrive in stores shortly, so I've removed it. It's life on th list was short--three months. Not on the list but also now shipped and already in some stores, is the DC-2 remote cable for the D90.
I'm also going to remove the 50mm f/1.4G, as I understand that it, too, is now in the pipeline moving from warehouse to distribution. While the High Resolution FX body comes off the list, we now will put on the list the D700 equivalent (Small High Res FX body).
One also has to wonder whether some of the items on the list will ever appear. The 17-35mm has been discontinued, but it is possible that Nikon thinks that the 14-24 plus 24-70 fill that gap. They would be wrong if they think that. There's strong need for something in the 16-18 at the wide end, 28-35 at the long end, so anything from a 16-28mm f/2.8 to an 18-35mm f/4 would be a welcome addition. I'm leaving the 17-35mm redesign on the wait list.
Other Foot Shot: D3x Fumbled
Nov 28--The D40, D80, D300, and D3 launches were quite good. They showed that Nikon had gotten firm control over their advertising and marketing initiatives, and could actually do high key launches successfully and with a high degree of coordination. But we seem to be back to the old Nikon. First the Coolpix P6000 fiasco, now the D3x fumble.
The D3x has been percolating for some time, and Nikon hasn't exactly been able to keep that secret. First, there was the D3 firmware release that gave us the pixel specs (24.5mp). Then there was the constantly changing release dates (three that I know of). Next we had a cryptic ad in Rangefinder magazine. Then NikonUSA briefly posted small photos of the camera on their Web site. And today the Nikon Pro magazine hit some user's hands with an article about the yet-unannounced camera.
First, the news: take a D3, swap out the sensor and digital board, and you have a D3x (there may be some small menu changes, too, but nothing that rises to headline level). Instead of a 12mp FX sensor, we now have a 24.5mp FX sensor. The D3x frame rate is 5 fps for FX, 7 fps for DX (10mp). The ISO range drops to 50-6400 (100 base). Other than those changes, it's a D3. Full details should be available in the announcement on December 1st, so I'll simply wait until then to talk further about the camera.
But I will talk about the timing and the way the launch was handled: terrible. We're back to the old fumbling, disorganized Nikon. It appears that Nikon couldn't resist announcing into the Canon 5DII launch window (which also moved). Fine. I'm all for competitive positioning. But the problem is that the D3x launch appears to be completely out of control. Nikon's left plenty of rope to hang themselves, as there's now rampant speculation on price, what the real bitwidth is, and a host of other important things. As one forum post title put it "Let the D3x bashing begin."
I suppose the old "any PR is still PR" notion is still believed by some, but Nikon simply needs to aspire higher. Especially for their high-end, flagship model. If it really is a flagship, treat it like one and do the launch tight and right. This release doesn't seem well coordinated, well-planned, or well-executed. And it comes at exactly the time when most people are distracted by other things. I'll call it what it is: Nikon produced a Thanksgiving Turkey.
byThom Not Cutting Staff
Nov 25--It seems like every media company I know is announcing 10% and larger staff cuts due to the economic downturn. Since I'm technically a media company, I'm sure many of you are wondering whether or not I will follow this disturbing trend.
Well, I looked in the mirror and couldn't find 10% I could cut. I suppose if I were a liposuctionist, I might be able to find something to reduce, but I'll simply have to make do with what I've got. Thus, I expect to work through the recession with the same level of staffing as I had when it started, though I admit it is tempting to work 10% fewer hours.
Nikon Cutting Staff
Nov 24--Nikon has announced cutbacks in their temporary staff at the Thailand plant where the D40, D60, D90, and D300 are made. While a lot has been made of this elsewhere on the Web, I think it's just an indication that Nikon doesn't see unit volume growth in the low end DSLR marketplace after the holiday season, so has cut back its production accordingly.
Nov 24--Nikon Mall is offering US$30 discounts on Capture NX2 (US$10 upgrade discount). Adobe has released Camera Raw 5.2, which has no new Nikon bits, but does provide support for the Canon G10 and Panasonic LX3 I reviewed in my compact shootout.
It's the Economy, Stupid (I)
Nov 20--My predictions, as usual, provoked a great deal of discussion all over the Internet. But it struck me in defending my position that a lot of folk don't distinguish between "product" and "business." To put it simply:
- You can have a great product and fail as a business.
- You can have a poor product and succeed as a business.
I didn't talk about quality of product in what I wrote, I talked about what was happening at business levels. Let me put it a different way. Given the sorry state of the economy, do people really think that the camera maker landscape is going to continue unchanged? This is a very challenging environment we've entered into. Momentum was already draining out of the camera sales channels before the financial crisis turned virtually every market indicator upside down.
There's a ton of unsold inventory out there. Nikon and Canon are going to use price to move metal (or plastic if we're talking about low end cameras). This is going to hurt product margins for them, but it's going to absolutely destroy product margins for the low volume producers. This is a business crisis, not a product crisis. Nikon doesn't have any choice in this: if they don't survive as a camera company, they don't survive as a company. They will stop at nothing to survive.
Pentax's camera operations, on the other hand, is now a small piece of a much larger company and no longer protected by family decisionmaking. Look around you. Everyone is cutting 5% or 10% or even more of their staff in anticipation of the downturn. As they should. Now what if you happen to have 10% of your company that no longer has profitable product margins and no real chance for realistic growth in the near future. Do you as a company cut 10% of your staff everywhere, or do you think about cutting off 10% of the company that's not producing the level of ROI you expect? That's why this is a business decision and not a product decision. The product may be fine, but the business environment in which it lives has deteriorated to such a point that you might not see how you're going to make that a productive, profit producing business any time in the near future. If you think the downturn is going to be long, your decision gets easier.
It's the Economy, Stupid (II)
Nov 20--Obviously you can't ignore what's going on. Your investments are worth far less than they were (heaven help you if you were in a hedge fund betting on CDSs). Your employer has laid off (or is about to) a significant number of staff. Credit markets are still frozen, but even if they weren't, you're thinking maybe you should cut back on debt. Your house is worth less than it was this time last year. Sales of almost everything are down enough that you don't actually have to measure them to see that. Speculators are betting against oil prices for a change, because they don't see any demand moving forward. The national debt (at least here in my country) is going up. Times are bleak. Is that's what's bothering you bunky?
Well then get up off your duff and pay attention! As depressing as that last paragraph may have seemed, this is the seminal moment of opportunity that has occurred in my lifetime. Things will be tough, and things will change, no doubt. But opportunity lives today all around us. Not just opportunity, but tremendous opportunity. While others are battening down the hatches and trying to hide, the ones that get out there and work at it are the ones that are going to succeed and determine the change. I hate to parrot cliches, but it really is the time to be the change you want to see.
Your investments and house are only worth what you can sell them for. Forget about the paper loss; paper gains and losses are just that: paper. No reason to cry over that. Tomorrow they'll be worth something else yet again. You can obsess over that and get depressed, or you can free yourself from the mental investment and move your brain onto more productive thoughts.
Out of however long a recession we're about to have will come change. You have two choices. You can wait until the recession is over and wait to see what the change was, or you can start making the change you want right now. (Lord I hope this little pep talk doesn't result in any divorces ;~). Use your brain and start thinking about the way your future ought to be. Follow your passion. Make things happen that aren't happening. With failure you can't control happening all around you are you really still going to be afraid of your own possible failure?
I get asked a lot by high school and college students (more so just before graduation than any other time of the year) about "how do I become a full time photographer?" Well, that's not hard to answer: carry a camera and shoot all the time. "But how do I make money doing it?" Ah, the money question. I usually turn this around. Think about someone you know who's truly happy at what they do. Now ask them how they ended up making money at it. More often than not you'll get a very long story about how they didn't make money doing it, at least not initially. But curiously, somehow they figured out how to follow their passion and make a living doing it. And all the detours they took, they'll tell you that those were times when they weren't following their passion. Now go ask someone who isn't happy if they followed their passion. The answer is universally "no."
This is the reason why I cringe when I hear a parent tell a child what they should be, or try to talk them out of what they think the child shouldn't be. The fastest way to make someone unhappy, rececession or not, is to tell them they have to do something they don't want to do. In my experience, unhappy people are not productive people.
Most of you are unhappy right now. Take your moment, cry if you have to, but shrug it off and get going again. Your company just decided to outsource your job. Great! Start the company that your previous company will outsource the job to. You'll end up making more money that way (though you actually might have to do the work this time ;~). Your company cut off all overtime work. Great, you can use that now extra time to start a new venture, a new hobby, fix the house up so it will be worth more, or whatever you haven't been doing. (Oops. My ex-wife and ex-girlfriends just called. They say you should spend more time with the family if you have more time. Silly women ;~)
I think you catch my drift now. I hope you do. While I've kept this at a personal level, the opportunity before us is much bigger than just improving your own life. As a society, we could use the opportunity to get serious about our planet's health, for instance. If that's what you want to help happen, you've got my support; let me know how I can help.
In short, yes, the shock of the financial meltdown certainly hurt and put us all in a glum mood. It may not be completely over, but that's not overly important, actually. We now know the world is a bit different than it was, but it's time to climb out from under our down comforters bought with credit cards, get dressed in our best work clothes obtained by refinancing the mortgage, walk out of devalued houses and make a recovery happen the way we want it to happen.
Damned if I remember the last time I gave a pep talk, but if you didn't listen, I'll have to do it again. I'm not going to fail at this...
Prices All Over the Map
Nov 10--With the holiday season fast approaching and the econalypse pressing everyone's finances, we're about to have a buying season that's fraught with uncertainty and peril.
Long ago, a macroeconomics professor of mine pointed out to me that in times of global financial stress, the world retreated to three currencies (the reasons are multiple and complex, but it has to do with where the primary economic drivers are). Unfortunately, one of those currencies, the German mark, no longer exists, so we're basically down to two, the dollar and the yen. As Australia and Canada are learning, their currencies are moving with more velocity against the yen than the dollar, which moves in smaller steps when it does move. Thus, we're about to enter into a very strange time for pricing.
Prices are down: With the economy in the dumps and unemployment rapidly rising, there's probably a 10-15% implicit year-to-year demand drop for high end digicam and DSLR cameras already built into the last quarter of this year. Unfortunately, the inventory for this quarter is pretty much already built and in the pipeline headed to dealers. In the US--at least as long as the yen/dollar relationship stays in the 93+ range--that means the camera makers are going to be finding ways to appear to drop prices. For Nikon right now, that means the US$300 instant rebates on the D300 (with lens) and D700 I've talked about before, plus some extra US$100-150 instant rebates if you buy a second telephoto lens with a consumer DSLR kit. The lens deals are a clever way of moving more volume while giving the consumer savings. I suspect that even more price aggression will eventually be necessary to move the volume that the makers have planned for, though (see next article). Cameras without a NikonUSA incentive are showing weakness in price, too. The D3 is now discounted about US$800 by B&H with no incentive from Nikon to do so. This shows the other part of the equation: dealers can't let inventory languish on their shelves, either, as that represents sunk capital costs. Better to move that inventory at little profit and get the money back to invest in something that you can make more profit on. Bottom line: in the US and Japan we're likely to see prices drop on sophisticated cameras and accessories.
Prices are up: This week Canon announced a Canadian$300 price increase on the 5DII before it even shipped in that country. Nikon will be also announcing a Canadian price increase this week, as well. In countries where the currency has rapidly shifted against the yen, price increases are afoot. While Japan is trying to avoid it, this may include Europe if the Euro keeps slipping. This, of course, is a double whammy to demand. With economies everywhere under assault, consumer demand is dropping, but if prices rise, consumer demand will drop faster, aggravating the slowdown. Europe, in particular, seems a likely candidate to see significantly slowing camera sales, more so than other regions (again, see next story for some support).
Canon and Nikon still have very aggressive DSLR unit volume plans, so it will be interesting to see how they manage that. This is perhaps the most challenging time for the camera companies in the past two decades. But it seems clear to me that higher and lower prices are probable, and with little warning and with short lives.
Which brings me to a subject I haven't written about much, but probably need to be more vocal about. There's a lot of "not quite what it seems" on the Internet.
Yes, I'm writing once again about gray market. When markets start splitting direction in currency valuation, gray market tends to be more prevalent. Curiously, this time around, the US isn't likely to be plagued as much by it because of the directions the various currencies are going, but it's still possible here, too. Moreover, because everyone is looking to save money on what we purchase this year, we're more vulnerable to low advertised prices than before. The problem is that gray market providers--I won't get into the outright scammers, who strip out included and necessary parts and sell them to you as accessories--sell you products that don't qualify for NikonUSA warranties, or even repair. If you end up with equipment that needs a repair and you've bought gray, you'll end up paying a lot more in the long run.
Therefore, I urge everyone who's buying via mail order or the Internet this year to do a little extra due diligence. Always look up the company making that too-good-to-be-true offer using one of the many available ratings services, such as ResellerRatings. I'm all for a bargain and think you should look for them too, but use caution and make sure that the place you're ordering from is making a legitimate offer on legitimate equipment.
Nikon's Half Year Results
Nov 10--Nikon has quietly released the financial results from the first-half of their current fiscal year. Surprisingly, the results are better than Nikon's last estimates (made in August), pretty much across the board at the gross level (net sales up, operating income up, income up, net income up). This is the sixth consecutive year Nikon has had a first half increase in net sales (income is down this year compared to last, though). Most of this was due to a substantial increase in imaging products. Consider the following table:
|Actual first half
That's pretty much a knock-it-out-of-the-park result, especially considering how many of the other camera companies reports are going. Lest there be any doubt, during Nikon's second quarter they sold more DSLRs, more lenses, and more compacts than they have in any previous quarter. One very interesting aspect--and note my comments in the article just above this one--is that the US moved from being 33% of the imaging product shipment value to being 37%, mostly at the expense of Europe.
Of course, Nikon's second half forecasts now reflect the poor economy worldwide and the new yen/dollar and yen/euro relationships. The Imaging Division has pretty much maintained its estimate on sales, but has significantly dropped (by nearly 25%) its estimate of income. This is despite increases in expectations of unit volume. Nikon now expects to sell 3.5m DSLRs in the year, 4.9m lenses, and 10m compacts. Interestingly, they've projected their market shares for the year, too: 37% of DSLR market, 31% of the lens market, and 8.7% of the compact market. But those increased unit volumes coupled with decreased operating income mean one thing: lower sales price per unit. There's a lot of price pressure, in other words. The regional forecasts also point to more US sales (35%) than any other region (well, okay, Japan+Asia also equals 35%).
One particularly revealing statement: Nikon's business execution "will be executed assuming that it will take [a] long time before the recovery." Nikon expects the conditions to be challenging for quite some time going forward. That said, their R&D commitment is once again increased.
The LX-3 Controversy
Nov 10--Sometimes I walk right into the middle of one. When I posted my original LX-3 review in the compact comparison I used a raw converter that output images with quite a bit of barrel distortion. After getting pummeled with Panasonic users claiming there was no such distortion, I decided to re-run the tests using the Panasonic-supplied Silkypix for raw and the in-camera JPEG. The distortion numbers came out much different, and about the same as the Nikon Coolpix in the test. So I changed my review and decided I needed to take another look at what that original raw converter was doing.
Well, what it was doing was converting the raw data. My original assessment was indeed correct. So how does Silkypix manage to produce images with less distortion? Well, apparently it's doing silent distortion correction, though why it wouldn't do full distortion correction is another story (did Panasonic just give them their in-camera formula, which doesn't do full correction?).
At the moment I'm not quite sure how to proceed. Basically, I'm going to wait for more converters to handle the LX-3's raw files before making another adjustment to my article. However, I can say that I won't be using Silkypix as my raw converter for the camera. No way do I want the converter to do a partial distortion conversion and then apply my own distortion fix to the now far-from-what-was-in-the-file pixels. Repeated pixel-based handling is a good way of getting pixel mush and losing acuity. I was actually impressed with the raw files (despite the distortion) the first time around, less so when using the Silkypix conversion. We really need to get it drummed into camera makers' heads that raw means raw. Don't mess with the data. Let us choose how to mess with the data. That's why we shoot raw.
More Converters Up-to-Date
Nov 6--With the new gaggle of cameras, the converter updates continue:
- Aperture 2.3: adds D90 and P6000 support.
- Silkypix Developer Studio 184.108.40.206: adds D90 and P6000 support.
Which Compact? (Updated)
Nov 6--The original post had a problem with the Panasonic comments. First, apparently the raw converter I used distorted the distortion marks, so I've retested using JPEG and other converters. This changes a few of my conclusions. Second, I've fixed the 16:9 and 4:3 remarks (when I originally started writing the review I didn't yet have the LX3 and was originally comparing against the LX2 and GX-100. Some of those LX2 thoughts didn't get corrected when I change the review. My apologies. Finally, since so many of you asked, I added some comments about optical viewfinders. The full answer is really long-winded, so you'll have to read the article, which you can find in my Compact Shootout.
Comments on Disarray/Chaos
Oct 28--My article on the Nikon instant rebate program and lack of accessories on new products (see below) seems to have hit a nerve. Actually, a bunch of nerves. I've gotten quite a few emails about it, both from customers and retailers.
First, I need to make one thing clear: I wasn't suggesting that B&H was doing anything unusual or untoward. Just the opposite, as a matter of fact. I was just using them as an example of how the whole MAP thing was supposed to work. I monitor them fairly closely and talk with them regularly, so I know their numbers as well as any, which is why I used them as an example. B&H is actually doing what Nikon asked them to do.
Surprisingly, I've heard from a lot of dealers. I can tell you that they don't like this new Nikon rebate program. They pay for stuff up front, sell it to you for a discount imposed by Nikon, apparently have to participate in an advertising program to get the rebates, then have to file absolutely pristine paperwork to get their share of the rebate back (they don't get US$300) in 60 days or more. Essentially, NikonUSA is getting a loan from your dealer, and at good terms. Given the economy at the moment, putting monetary pressure on dealers is not a smart thing for a manufacturer to do. The manufacturer just might find they have fewer dealers and lower volume when all is said and done.
Meanwhile, potential customers wrote to me saying that they couldn't find a dealer who knew about any deal on the 16-85mm. Keep looking. Some dealers may not be offering it simply because they don't have any (or low) stock on this popular lens. A few might have overlooked the change in the program. Just remember that for the dealer to get any money back from Nikon (after giving you the discount out of their pocket) that the D300 and lens have to be on the same invoice. Put another way: you need to buy them at the same time.
Oct 28 (updated)--While I was updating the Current Nikon DSLR table, I looked at the street prices on the various Nikon models still available. Here's the summary:
- D40: US$140 drop since intro (24%)
- D60: US$100 drop since intro (14%)
- D90: US$65 drop since intro (5%)
- D300: US$250 drop since intro (14%)
- D700: US$480 drop since intro (16%)
- D3: US$600 drop since intro (12%)
Of these, only the D40 and D60 have seen official price drops from Nikon to dealers, plus of course US$300 of the price drop on the D700 is from the instant rebate program. In all the other cases the lower price is due to dealers dropping prices due to lower demand.
Oct 28--The 1.10 firmware update that has been shipping from the factory for a couple of weeks now has finally been released to previous purchasers of the D300. While the list of changes is long, many of those changes are to get the D300 into correspondence with other Nikon camera firmware (for example, the change in the way headings are displayed when there is no heading information from you GPS, or the addition of the Copyright information setting). There are a few useful and critical changes in the update, including some focus performance improvements and a couple of bug fixes addressing issues that only a few people tend to hit. I would strongly recommend every D300 user update their firmware. You can find the updates at all the usual Nikon worldwide support sites.
Disarray, or Chaos by Design?
Oct 27--Judging from all the emails I've gotten lately about "what the heck is the price of a D700?", it seems that Nikon's latest maneuvers at the distribution level have confused a lot of people. Let's see if I can explain for NikonUSA's overtaxed marketing department once again...
Between now and November 22nd, NikonUSA has two DSLR instant rebates that dealers can take advantage of. The first is a straight US$300 off the D700 price. The second is US$300 off the D300 price when bought on the same invoice as an 18-200mm or 16-85mm lens. These are dealer programs, not user programs. The way these programs work is that the dealer fills out paper work (I think every month) with Nikon and gets a cash rebate back from Nikon on what they sold. That cash rebate is not US$300, but prorated at the dealer's usual discount. Thus, they share in the US$300 that you saved.
Coincident with this program, Nikon has started policing their policy that dealers and Internet sellers must adhere to MAP pricing (Manufacturer's Advertised Price, or sometimes Minimum Advertised Price). This is where most of the confusion is coming from: some places haven't complied with the MAP price requirement, while others have. For instance, B&H correctly advertises the US$2999 MAP for the D700 and a US$300 instant rebate, which should make the price US$2699. But when you add the D700 to your shopping cart, B&H applies an additional discount that they can't show in their advertising, and the price becomes US$2519. Amazon, on the other hand, is just advertising the price as US$2539 and doesn't mention anything about rebates (I'm sure the NikonUSA police will be having a talk with them ;~). Another thing that doesn't seem to make sense to some is that B&H used to advertise a lower price for the D700, then raised the advertised price. The previous price was lower than MAP, but higher than the current price if you put the camera in your shopping cart. This illustrates another thing that has happened: dealers are using Nikon's instant rebate program to grab back a small amount of margin. The bottom line is still the same: you can buy a D700 for less today than you could a couple of weeks ago.
But that's not all. I was surprised the other day when I bought a Coolpix P6000 from my local dealer. Actually, the salesperson was surprised, too (which says something about how effectively all these special deals and instant rebates are being communicated down the chain [not!]). Basically, I got a discount on the camera and an extended warranty and carrying case. What? The camera just launched! Well, it turns out that there are two things in play here. First, through Christmas, Nikon will have different instant rebates in effect for at least one model of camera (lowest Coolpix through D700) each week. Every week that rebate changes to another product, if I'm not mistaken (there may be some that repeat; I'm not privy to the actual list, only that a list exists and extends every Sunday through Christmas). Second, Nikon apparently has another instant rebate in effect for what is called a Deluxe Kit (extended warranty and case). The Deluxe Kit must be advertised for US$50 more than the bare camera, but the instant rebate is US$50 more, essentially making it free if the dealer passes that on completely.
As should be obvious now, some dealers are passing the instant rebates straight on while others are mixing them in with their discounted prices. Technically, the dealers should only be doing the former (or, as B&H does, advertise the correct program and then give you an additional discount on top of that when you actually commit to buy). But what's confusing you is that some dealers are doing the latter instead.
Meanwhile, just how hard is it to ship a ring of metal? The Coolpix P6000 is out, but I can't find the UR-E21 needed to mount auxiliary lenses anywhere here in the US (so much for doing a quick test of the camera with all its accessories). B&H doesn't even list it as an accessory, which usually means that NikonUSA hasn't yet officially put it in their order catalog. Meanwhile, the GP-1 and MCDC-2 remote cord announced with the D90 are also missing in action. The list of the Nikon MIA parts is actually quite long. And it isn't just parts. The D90 Body Only inventory appears to just now starting to move out of NikonUSA's warehouse. To me this indicates an organization that isn't, well, organized. Moreover, what a waste of marketing. It's one thing to hint at or tease a product or accessory, but another one to announce it and not ship it.
The D700 Guide Can Now be Ordered
Oct 22--As promised, I've opened up the ordering for the Complete Guide to the Nikon D700. I expect to begin shipping these books beginning with next week's (Wednesday) shipments.
More Software Updates
Oct 22--More updates:
- Adobe Camera RAW 5.1 (for CS4) has been released. D90 and P6000 support.
- Adobe Lightroom 2.1 has been released. D90 and P6000 support, plus improved Photoshop integration and a few other things.
- DNG Profile Editor profiles for the D90 have been released.
- Aperture 2.1.2 was released. Improves printing quality of books, cards, and calendars.
- DXO Optics Pro 5.3 was released. Support for Nikon D700, new lens support modules, better noise reduction, support for Lightroom 2.
Oct 13--More updates:
- Adobe Camera RAW 4.6 has been released. D90 and P6000 support.
- Neat Image Pro 4.6 has been released. CS4 support, improved EXIF compatibility with several Nikon cameras.
- FocusFixer 2.0 has been released and added to FixerBundle V2. Includes auto-focus after-the-event determination.
Oct 7 (updated)--NikonUSA have officially discontinued the SB-800 and cancelled all dealer backorders. This basically confirms the rumor when Best Buy decided to liquidate their inventory.
Note that the SB-900 doesn't do film TTL or D-TTL, thus Nikon effectively dropped a product providing primary support for those technologies without announcement. While we could all guess that such an event might be coming, I think Nikon should have made a statement prior to the SB-800 discontinuation that said something like "in the future we will discontinue products that support D-TTL and continue to introduce new ones that don't support D-TTL. Thus, anyone relying upon D-TTL should make sure that they have obtained the equipment they'll need." That's especially true because Nikon is known for its backwards support, and this is one of those few times when Nikon has decided to drop backwards compatibility. To do so without comment means that we now have to wonder what other technologies Nikon will stop supporting in the future without warning.
Also note that the Nikon Web sites don't always immediately drop a product when it is discontinued in shipments to dealers. I'm sure that's coming, but as I write this the SB-800 still appears on the NikonUSA Web site.
Things that Didn't Make the Waiting List
Oct 6--Lot's of good input came in from those of you checking out my latest. Here's a number of suggestions that I didn't add to the Waiting for Nikon list, along with my reason:
- 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor. Oh how I'd love to think that they're working on it, but it's not really mainstream enough to warrant adding, as only ~18,000 were made in its seven-year life. AF-S, VR, and a better tripod mount are all that it needs, though someone suggested Nano coating, too.
- 18mm, 20mm, 24mm f/2.8 primes (or f/2 replacements). Maybe one of those might be refreshed at f/2 someday (and should be), but at the f/2.8 I'm pretty sure Nikon is going to tell you to "use the zoom."
- 105mm or 135mm f/2 DC. While I like the 135mm version, again we've got a non mainstream flavor. These focal lengths have fallen out of favor with photographers in recent times, and you'd really need to add VR to them to make them really useful. Too much work for too small a market.
- 180mm f/2.8. This suffers from the "use the zoom" problem. Yes, I know that the 180mm is much smaller, but Nikon doesn't seem to think a small, light, compact kit is of interest to anyone other than soccer moms, and they're not going to buy a 180mm f/2.8.
- I was tempted to add the 24-120mm as several of you mentioned it and it needs an optical lift, but then I realized that this really falls into the "any FX f/4 zoom" category. The replacement should be a 24-105mm f/4 AF-S VR.
- Radio Flash Trigger. While it sounds at first like it should be awaited, the problem is that current i-TTL wouldn't support it. You could do it for a single flash, but if you're asking for radio wireless i-TTL, well, existing bodies wouldn't support it without major firmware reworks (if even then). Thus, this is a "next generation" type of thing, and frankly, I'm not in a hurry for a next generation of flash to learn.
- 64-bit Capture NX2/ViewNX. I know some are waiting for this because they're running Windows Vista 64-bit and the current versions are broken, but with software everything comes to he who waits. Basically, this item will certainly come, it's only a question of when. The list I made is a little more emphemeral: most of those things may or may not happen, and I'm prodding to try to help make them happen faster. I don't think I can prod Nikon's software engineers to code faster.
- Retro DSLR. Essentially anything like an FM2n up through an F3. Simple. Probably manual focus. No battery if possible (means no LCD, too). While I've written about such a camera before, it's not really mainstream and no one knows if the camera companies see any opportunity for this type of product, thus you can't really say that we're waiting for it. It might happen, it might not. If it does, some people will be happy. If it doesn't, very few people will be unhappy.
- Rangefinder. Same thing as the Retro DSLR only more so.
I did add the 17-35mm (or any other wide zoom with filter rings) to my list since I don't believe the 14-24mm is really a substitute. Also added was the 200mm Micro-Nikkor, which I plumb forgot about. And the month count went up by one...
Oct 6--More updates:
- RAW Developer 1.8.1 provides D90 support, fixed support for compression in D3 and D700 files.
- Nikon ViewNX 1.2.0 provides D90 support, several Quick Adjustment additions, and better two-monitor support.
Introducing the Waiting for Nikon List
Sept 30--Serious Nikon users are used to waiting, as Nikon always seem to move at their own (some say glacial) pace. Of course, glaciers sometimes surge very rapidly, so in the hopes that the powers that be at Nikon decide to okay a surge, I've added a list of the most eagerly awaited items to the left-hand column of this page and will leave it there. Each item will have a months-waiting number in parenthesis, and I'll start those off with some conservative values (I've been mentioning the need for many of these items longer than the initial wait length I suggest; besides, tomorrow the values will all increment by one ;~). Currently, the list stands at 18 items and would represent more than a full year's worth of Nikon introductions at their current pace.
If you've got items to suggest to add to this list, let me know, but be forewarned that I'm only going to put items on there that seem to have broad consensus that they're needed and overdue.
Post Photokina Post
Sept 29--As usual, I have some post show comments. You'll find them here.
A Few More Lenses
Sept 29--Photokina brought a handful of new (or renewed) lens offerings of interest to Nikon users:
- Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM--a revision of the current mid-range zoom, with built-in lens motor.
- Tokina 16.5-135mm f/3.5-5.6 AT-X DX--another new superzoom for DX cameras (26-200mm).
- Tokina 12-24mm SD DX II--a revision of the lens that includes an internal focus motor for use on D40, D40x, and D60 bodies.
- Lensbaby has revised (for the fourth time) their unique lens lineup. The primary difference between the new variants (Composer, Muse, Control Freak) is how they are oriented and hold special positions. All now use the optic swap system, which features three different 50mm variants and a pinhole option.
Dead Battery Syndrome Eradication Effort #2
Sept 24 (updated)--Nikon has introduced D80 firmware 1.11 and D200 firmware 2.01. Both are specifically targeted at removing Dead Battery Syndrome (DBS, see below for description). Thank you, Nikon. This makes four cameras for which Nikon has said they've applied a fix (D3, D300, D200, and D80). Meanwhile, Fujifilm has done the same thing by updating the S5 Pro firmware to version 1.11, ostensibly for the same fix.
Now, about my reported D700/Tamron DBS interaction ;~). Since reporting my findings I've received two other reports of the same problem on the D700 and about a half-dozen emails which say they haven't encountered the problem with the same combination. Indeed, the same lens on my D3 doesn't trigger this issue. Still, I'll point out that DBS isn't a 100% thing. When DBS first surfaced big time with the D300, I didn't encounter it with six different D300 bodies and dozens of lenses, yet another photographer I know had several different bodies that went dead with almost any lens he tried. Nikon's likely to disclaim any problem from my report because it's with a third party lens. Still, I wonder whether the D700 firmware has the same fix in it that the other cameras now do. I suspect not.
Nikon's Photokina Announcement...
Sept 23--...is the much rumored 50mm f/1.4G AF-S lens, a modest update to the very dated 50mm f/1.4 that's been in the lineup, well, nearly forever. No big news here, though the new optical design is said to deal with coma better than before. And further: it won't be available until December.
Coolpix P6000 Revisited
Sept 23--I generally don't comment on beta releases, but ACR 4.6 beta, available on the Adobe Labs site, supports the new P6000 raw format. David Coffin has also updated his dcraw to support it, and several other raw converters are claiming they'll have support for the camera soon, too.
Nikon appears to keep pointing the gun at their foot and pulling the trigger. I simply don't understand the P6000 launch and press releases. Remember, Nikon indicated that it wouldn't be supporting P6000 raw conversion in Capture NX2, or the Macintosh versions of its products. (From the press release: "Capture NX, Capture NX2 and NEF files are not compatible with NRW (RAW) images.")
No Nikon response was made to the many comments and complaints about the new raw format. Now we find out that it's just a different container package, and relatively easily supported. So the question is this: who messed up in Nikon's marketing and product management? Essentially, the mishandling allowed the launch to be completely overridden with negative messages amongst the very group the camera should appeal to. Someone is asleep at the wheel.
So, I guess I'll have to get a P6000 and evaluate it after all (with non-Nikon software ;~).
Dead Battery Syndrome Still Alive
Sept 17--First, what it is: DBS (Dead Battery Syndrome) is the sudden appearance of the empty battery icon along with the camera refusing to shoot. That, despite a fully charged battery. The D300 was most notorious for this, though Nikon issued a firmware fix that seems to have eradicated the problem.
I've been continuing to get reports of DBS with older cameras, most notably the D200 (though I've had recent reports with D2x and D80 models, as well). Unfortunately, it doesn't look like we're going to get firmware fixes for that. Worse still, I'm not sure the problem is completely fixed even with new firmware. Why? Well, because I have a repeatable situation with my D700 and the Tamron 28-300mm lens where I can trigger it. It appears that when the Tamron lens attempts to re-establish VR after a shot has been taken, the load on the camera from the lens is too high and the camera shuts down. That's a real pity, as it makes the combination unusable (my other lenses do not trigger the same problem). And the Tamron 28-300mm, at least optically, is better at pretty much every overlapping focal length and aperture than the Nikkor 24-120mm that Nikon wants to sell you. But with the DBS issue, as I said, it's unusable.
Nikon Software Updates
Sept 17--Capture NX2 has been updated to version 2.1.0 to add support for the D90, enable the extra Active D-Lighting setting of Extra High, and improve a number of operations, especially Picture Control handling. Camera Control Pro updates to version 2.3.0, also adding D90 support, latest Mac OS support, and improvements to the Live View capabilities. Finally, the Windows version of Nikon Transfer has been updated to 1.2.0 to support My Picturetown. All updates are on the official Nikon Web sites worldwide at this point.
Sept 17--Digital Camera Raw Compatability version 2.2 adds D700 support to the Macintosh OS and for the Apple imaging applications (Aperture and iPhoto). The D90 did not make this release.
Mine Goes to 21...
Sept 17--Canon has introduced the 21mp 5DII. Essentially, take the old 5D body, add the 1DsIII sensor plus 1080P video and you have the basic specs of the new camera. Overall, it looks like a useful, competent, and welcome update, though most 5D users are wondering why many of the basic attributes (autofocus, shutter, etc.) didn't get any change. The price is expected to be US$2699, which means we now have three full-frame cameras with quite differing specifications and designs in a narrow price range (5DII, A900, and D700). I'll have more to say about this when I get caught up with some other work, as we seem to be in an interesting time of design divergence.
Sept 16--It's always enlightening to see the reactions to what I write. As I've pointed out before, I'm not always right: besides the many facts presented on this Web site reside a lot of my opinions. It's okay to disagree with my opinions. Indeed, I enjoy a healthy debate and have been known to change my mind from time to time. However, it seems that quite a few people are not accurately reading what I wrote (i.e., misquoting my opinion and then disagreeing with it, something that I thought only politicians did).
For example, I'm now being quoted as saying "DX (APS) is a dead end" or "DX (APS) is going away." I didn't write that, and I don't think that. I was specifically speaking of camera designs currently "in the middle," like the Nikon D90 (I've removed the Canon reference to make that more clear, as the 50D represents the top of the Canon APS lineup). The middle is a tricky place, especially if the two extremes start shifting away from the traditional DSLR designs as I opined.
Imagine, for example, a future where Nikon has a D35, D45, and D55 that are all some DX variant of an EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) design, while the high-end has evolved to a more modular and FX (and possibly FX+) approach. At that point, a "tweener" camera has to pick which side it wants to be more strongly associated with, I think. It's either the top of the consumer (EVIL) side, or the bottom of the pro side (FX, modular). For awhile, you can get away with just executing a value-priced traditional DSLR in that spot (e.g., the D90), but long-term I think you have to make a choice and break with tradition. Why? Because you can't successfully sell a "past" design for long when the public believes that the market has changed (look how fast film SLRs disappeared). Moreover, you start getting parts and manufacturing costs that are problematic. Nikon's been incredibly good at maximizing parts usage across models in the DSLR era--they're not going to give up that cost advantage to keep producing one or traditional models.
The problem is that if a current "tweener" drifts towards EVIL, that makes it a big leap across to a more traditional, modular, high-end FX world. If the "tweener" drifts towards the higher end, that makes for a big leap from EVIL to high end. Personally, I'm not sure what the design space answer is, but I'm pretty sure it isn't "just iterate what you've got." Put another way: D70->D80->D90 ends there, I think. What follows the D90 is not likely to be a traditional DSLR with a mid-range feature set. I'd bet on a high-end EVIL with an extended feature set.
(While a Nikon DX EVIL could, like the Micro 4/3, shorten the mount-to-sensor distance, I'm not sure Nikon will do that. I don't see a huge advantage to making cameras thinner if they can't fit in a pocket (with a non-collapsing lens, almost any EVIL will be too big). The D40/D40x/D60 proves that APS with the current mount can be adequately small. The ability to use all those existing manual focus Nikkors on an EVIL would be incentive for Nikon to do what they've always done: keep the mount. Besides, we may have a new Nikon mount variation coming elsewhere in the lineup, we don't want two new ones. ;~)
Which brings me to another point where I've been misquoted and misinterpreted: Nikon's place in the market. (I've since changed one word in my original essay, below, which I hope will better focus those readers who didn't get the original point.) Historically--I'll repeat that word since it's the one that replaced "traditionally" in the original essay: historically--Nikon hasn't been particularly successful at producing long strings of successful consumer products. They've had plenty of short-term winners, starting as far back as the Nikkormat (Nikomat in Japan). But until the string of consumer cameras that started with the D70, Nikon has never managed to keep a consumer success truly going and build it so substantially that they took a leadership position that they then sustained. The current consumer success that started with the D70 and now includes the D90 is the longest and best consumer streak they've had, but even Nikon is backing away from predicting that it'll continue.
Meanwhile, the weakness of the Coolpix line has slowly allowed others to push Nikon's overall camera share downward--Nikon isn't in the top five any more. The problem is that this is the meat of the market, even for Nikon. Of Nikon's 8m or so cameras produced last year, nearly 90% would fall under the "consumer" label. So let's look at how Nikon fares sub-category by sub-category:
- low-cost, modest compacts: Nikon has a relatively full line of me-too cameras. They aren't distinguished in price, performance, or capabilities.
- high-specification compacts: The P6000 has some potential, as it has some unique capabilities (notably GPS), but it also reflects some questionable design decisions (LAN support adds price with little benefit, no true raw support), and Nikon still hasn't figured out how to get good AF performance in a compact. The other Coolpix models in this group are basically undistinguished.
- bridge and EVIL cameras: Nikon doesn't have any (I'd put the P80 in the high-spec category).
- low-end DLSRs: the seriously outdated D40 and D60.
- high-specification consumer DSLRs: the D90.
Now do you see why I assess Nikon's long-term consumer position as weak? Except for the D90 (for the moment), Nikon has no product that's strongly defendable against what we already know is available or about to be available from others, and it currently doesn't appear that we'll get any significant announcement of something that changes the consumer side until PMA 2009 at the earliest (any Nikon pre-Christmas surprise announcement this year is likely to be pro-level in nature; check back in November ;~).
Back to the Past
Sept 16--Zeiss continues their resurrection of manual focus, AI-S lenses with the 21mm f/2.8 Distagon. I've put the full specs on the Zeiss lens page, as usual. The 21mm is well regarded for corner performance, but that comes at the price of that huge 82mm front element. This is also the priciest Zeiss yet. Personally, I would have preferred to see the 21mm f/4 resurrected (maybe it still will be).
Sept 15--While I was out in the wilderness the following things were announced:
- DXO has introduced four new optic modules for the D50 and D3.
- Nik Software announced Sharpener Pro 3.0, which adds control points and Photoshop smart filter support amongst many other changes.
- AXVIS Enhancer 9.5 now adds support for EXIF data.
- Koh Global has announced a Dustless Bag System for changing lenses or performing sensor cleaning.
- FixerBundle V2 is now available (FocusFixer 2, ShadowFixer 2, NoiseFixer 2, and TrueBlur 2) and compatible with Photoshop smart filters.
- Bibble 5.0 has been announced (but won't be available until Q4). It adds non-destructive editing with selection and layers, and a more complete workflow ability.
Meanwhile, the Nikon D90 and 18-105mm lens began shipping.
In Other Developments
Sept 15--Panasonic announced the Lumix G1, a smaller Micro 4/3 quasi-DSLR and Sony announced the 24mp A900, as expected, effectively bracketing Nikon DSLRs at both the bottom and top and generating a lot of email to me while I was out of Internet access ;~). The specs of the 5DII put it in the same bracketing category as the A900. So I guess I need to comment.
First, congratulations to both companies on their efforts. The G1 looks promising as a replacement for high-end compact cameras, perhaps finally delivering on the true 4/3 promise. Putting 12mp across 18mm instead of the 5mm to 7mm in the better compact cameras is probably enough to make this a high-end compact killer if everything else is up to snuff. I'm not enthused about the lenses, though. The bigger the sensor, the bigger the lenses get. The 28-90mm equivalent zoom that was announced with the camera doesn't collapse into the camera like on compacts (the price of having interchangeable lenses), and pushes the camera beyond shirt-pocketable. Give me three small pancake primes (only one has been announced) and things start to look much better. Still, I think it'll be worth exploring as the low-weight hiking alternative I've been looking for.
Meanwhile the A900 becomes the megapixel bargain (at least for a short period of time). Ergonomically, it feels just a little clunky, but it appears that someone in the Minolta-KonicaMinolta-Sony design chain is starting to reign in the scattered placement of controls: most things can be done with one hand, though you'll move your finger off the shutter release to do so (a Canon fault, too). Initial image quality seems to put the pixels at least at the D300 level, which means that the A900 does indeed become a step up in what you can produce with large prints from the now-ubiquitous 10/12mp cameras.
Second, don't expect any such bracketing maneuvers to last long. Every camera maker is currently poking at "gaps" in the other makers' lineups (witness the D90's video capability). But history has shown that any such successful poke is matched within a full product cycle generation. At best, you get half-cycle advantages. In the Micro 4/3 arena, I suspect we'll see a Coolpix APS response in 2009 and we already know that Samsung is preparing to enter that realm, too. In the high megapixel count arena, it appears that Nikon's response is currently targeted for early 2009 (WPPI and PMA), though there's still an outside chance that it could be preannounced/leaked as early as Photokina. I expect that high megapixel camera to be highly modular and unique at the time of its launch (more gap poking). I should point out that nothing precludes Nikon from backfilling a D800 (24mp Sony sensor in D700 body) or a D3x (same sensor in a D3 body) at any time should Nikon decide that the A900/5DII needs a direct response.
I do think it curious that Nikon didn't make an immediate response, though. The A900 development and likely price has been well known for 18 months and the sensor is available to license. While the Canon 5DII specs have only floated up recently, it was pretty much a given that it would have to go upscale from the original version. So one can only conclude that Nikon thinks they have a better solution again. I've now noted seven different larger-than-APS prototypes they've tested (including what became the D3), so Nikon has been busy trying a lot of different options.
The real question all the camera companies are dealing with is how things will eventually settle out for serious cameras. It's looking more and more like the low-end (e.g., the consumer-driven volume business) will slide towards all-in-one (video and still) EVIL APS cameras instead of traditional DLSRs. This puts Canon, Panasonic, Sony, and perhaps Samsung in strong positions to win large unit volume shares. Historically, Nikon has not done well at true consumer cameras, so it will be a real challenge for them to hold onto the substantive gains they made with the D70/D50/D70s/D80/D40/D40x/D60/D90 progression. For serious still photography it's looking more and more like the old film market: solid FX DSLRs and MF cameras are the answer. That leaves tweener products like the Nikon D90 somewhat endangered long-term, I think. Certainly not this year or next. But long-term those products become either the new "entry level serious" or go away completely.
August 29--The Second Edition of the Complete Guide to the Nikon D300 is now available to order. The biggest changes are the complete update of the Introduction to Nikon Software to reflect Capture NX2 and other new Nikon software, the firmware changes, and the addition of a Table of Contents and Index to the D300 To Go component. Click on the link in the right column to find out more.
However, just a warning. Because I'm in and out of town, there's a US holiday that pushed back deliveries, and my assistant is taking several days off in the next 10 days, the usual "ship on Wednesdays" is probably going to be disrupted for the coming week. We'll do what we can, but it's highly likely that some orders will be pushed out to September 10th.
A Comment on "More"
August 27--Many people seem to want Nikon to announce "more," whether it be high-end professional cameras, lenses, or Coolpix models. I suppose that there might be a November/December surprise product--Nikon has snuck that in before--I'll note that Nikon has now basically matched their 2006 and 2007 tallies: 3 DSLRs, 6 lenses, and 14 Coolpix is dead on average for Nikon in recent years. After the original D1, we've now had 18 different DSLR models appear. That's a lot of designing. Likewise, we've had 38 lenses in that time period. So, unless Nikon's increased their design turnover yet again, I doubt we'll see much more this year.
The question becomes: what three DSLRs and six lenses will we see in 2009?
And, As Expected, Here's the D90
August 27--Nikon today announced the replacement for the D80, which turns out to be the D90 model that I predicted late last year and gave (accurate) details on previously (which have been bouncing around the Web ever since, often without noting the source; not that I care about that from a ego standpoint, but the big problem with the Internet is attribution; it's hard to understand the validity of an assertion without knowing the source, especially when we get rumor sites quoting rumor sites). But that's not important right now...
Most people are going to want to know what's new, so here's the easy of way of understanding the D90: take a D80 body (exactly). To this replace the old LCD with a 3" 920k dot one (same as the D3, D300, D700). Next, add two buttons (INFO and LIVE VIEW). Finally, add a microphone and speaker as well as a GPS input port. That's basically the external differences.
Now, to the inside: swap in the D300's 12mp CMOS sensor (and all that implies vis-a-vis Picture Controls, ISO, sensor cleaning, etc.), update the metering to use the latest Scene Recognition System, then add a 24 fps, 720p HD video capability (via Live View). Sure, there are some additional menu bits and pieces (Auto D-Lighting, for example), and some minor spec changes (4.5 frames per second now), but there you have it: nothing that was broken was replaced, most of what people asked for and a few bonuses was added. Full specs are on my Current DSLR page.
Other than the video, there's nothing unexpected or even remotedly earth-shattering here. Just a solid, competent refresh of an important DSLR model. Price is US$1299 including the new lens. One tidbit: the Nikon GP-1 GPS unit that is optional for the D90 comes with a 10-pin connector adapter, too, so it can be used on the D300, D3, and D700, as well.
What new lens? The 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S DX VR ED lens I also gave details on earlier this month, of course. Another competent upgrade (of the 18-70mm or 18-135mm, take your pick ;~).
Personally, I'm glad the D80 is gone. Early on it was plagued with the amp noise problem, the matrix metering was a bit loopy, and I always had hot pixel problems with noise (compared to my other Nikon DSLRs). It just didn't seem quite good enough to sit at the top of the consumer lineup. The D90 looks to be a different story. If it has the image quality and metering of the D300 it's a winner right out of the box. The rest of the features are about right for the "just under US$999" market. But...
Where's the Beef?
August 27--...while the D90 is an expected and competent announcement, the problem is that everyone is now wondering where the high resolution FX body went. Canon has had a high resolution FX body since early 2005 (even earlier if you count the 1Ds). Sony is about to announce one at Photokina. Prototypes of a Nikon one have been around for a long, long time. So where is it?
As I wrote earlier this month, Nikon seems to have pushed back plans. The rumbling out of Japan late last year seemed to point to late 2008 intro of something "beyond the D3." This spring those rumblings stopped completely and we eventually got the surprise D700, which I didn't expect until PMA in 2009.
Right now Nikon is in a very curious position. They've got four 12mp cameras on the market (D90, D300, D700, D3). Since the D60 looks a little non-competitive now, one can envision a 12mp D60x with Live View added as well as the 12mp sensor. Twelve is the magic number, I guess.
I wish I could say more, but I have little to add to the speculation already rampant (see next article). We all know that Nikon will do something, but it seems it won't be quite what we expect (D3x) or when we expected it (now-ish). Pity. I have so many trips coming up in the next six months where I could have used a higher resolution camera. Let's hope that by the time I get to my African trips next summer things will have changed.
August 25--The August issue of Rangefinder magazine had a curious advertisement in it. WPPI (Wedding and Portrait Photographer International) is planning a big event, sponsored by Nikon at the February convention. The two have rented the MGM Grand Arena for the event.
This has led to all sorts of speculation, the most common being that "Nikon will introduce its high resolution camera at WPPI." Possibly. But note that the ad says "The 2009 WPPI BIG event, sponsored by NIKON." A lot of people are incorrectly interpreting that as saying "The Nikon event at WPPI." There is a difference between those two statements. More interesting in the ad is the "We really shouldn't say anymore [sic], but we will. Next month!" To me that makes it less likely that WPPI would be the announcement location of a new Nikon product, though it might be the place where something is first available.
Best Laid Plans...
August 18 (updated)--All D3 Guides that were on order last week have been shipped, and I believe I have enough for this week's orders, too. My printer did a mammoth job of getting things to me despite their plant problems, so we appear to have just squeaked by. Things should be normal for D3 Guide purchases in the future.
Still, to be safe I'm pushing the D300 Complete Guide reprint availability back a bit. I'll begin taking orders on September 1st for that book, and I believe that allows enough schedule leeway so that I'll have everything in stock this time before taking any orders.
Silkypix goes D700 and other Software News
August 18--Add Silkypix 220.127.116.11 to the list of raw converters that support the D700. PhotoWiz has added ContrastMaster to their list of plug-ins. Silver Efex Pro has updated to 1.001 to deal with some stability issues. AKVIS has updated Noise Buster to version 6.1 to increase compatibility with Vista.
The August Surprise
August 18--Nikon's next scheduled press conference is August 27th. I've already noted that the D90 and 18-105mm lens will be introduced shortly, so I think it likely that those two items are on the schedule for that meeting. The question everyone is asking is "what else?" Frankly, the speculation is getting a little out of hand and becoming entirely unrealistic, so I suspect a lot of people are going to be disappointed. It's unrealistic to expect much in the way of lens announcements, for example, yet I've seen people peel off lists of as many as 10 lenses they expect to see introduced. Try two or three. That would still mean that Nikon introduced more lenses in 2008 than any previous year in the DSLR era.
Likewise, I've seen speculation on as many as four DSLR bodies being announced. Again, not likely. Indeed, I think we already know what will be announced: the D90 and an updated D3 (bigger buffer, minor changes), call it the D3s. Any more than that and Nikon has gotten even more aggressive than we know them to be.
The reason I'm pessimistic on anything else has to do with the Olympics. I've never known Nikon to miss a chance at promoting a new pro product at the Olympics if they had one. As far as I can tell, Nikon was scrambling like mad just to get VR exotics and buffer upgrades into pro photographers hands for Beijing. Had there been another pro camera about to ship, it would have been at least sampled (lent to key opinion leaders) at the Olympics. You can't put an embargo on publishing images on Olympic shooters, so we would have seen some indication of the high rez FX body already if it was near shipping (hint: look at EXIF data from Nikon shooters ;~). Plus the press core is pretty leaky, too. Even though they're bound by NDAs, they talk amongst themselves and then the others who aren't bound by an NDA form the leak. Short answer: there have been no leaks of loaners, no EXIF data that indicates anything other than D3 and D300's used.
It now appears that my 2008 pro body predictions were backwards. I predicted the D3x would appear and that the D700 would be pushed to a 2009 ship. I'm now thinking that I must have misunderstood my original source and got the products reversed. Even if a high resolution body is announced soon, I don't see any of the indications I look for showing that it is ready to ship.
Of course, what I've written here is also speculation. I simply don't know any details about the high resolution FX body at the moment. If it were about to pop, I normally would, thus I have to conclude that it's not about to pop. That doesn't mean that it won't appear, only that the expectation that it's something you can max out your credit card on in the near future is unrealistic.
Frankly, I'm enjoying what we have. Exploring replacing the AA filter with plain IR blocking glass has shown me that there's another 15% or so resolution improvement to be had if you don't shoot subjects that are likely to produce moire. Note to Nikon: we don't need an AA filter on the high resolution FX body. Really. We don't need it.
August 7--Seems like I can predict Nikon's announcement days now: they pick days on which I'm on a plane. Thus, I'll be brief.
As expected, the Coolpix P6000 was announced: 13.5mp, 28-112mm ED VR lens, built-in GPS and wired LAN, plus all the usual Coolpix features. The twist? The raw format it shoots is not NEF. I wasn't quite sure to make of the pre-release information I got, which kept mentioning Windows Imaging Component, but now we know: the camera shoots NRW files, not NEF. NRW files can be converted in camera or via Windows Imaging Component products, which will include ViewNX on Windows. What Mac users are expected to do is another story (ViewNX will browse the new format, but not convert it on a Mac). This appears to be another self-inflicted wound to the foot by Nikon. While Macs have an overall market share under 10% in the general population, in the crowd that would be interested in this camera the number is actually much higher and quite significant.
Essentially, I'd regard the P6000 as not having raw support until such time as NRW support is ubiquitous. Unfortunately, due to the special Codec that is used, I doubt that such support will become ubiquitous. We'll get NRW to DNG converters long before we get any useful NRW support, but that solution just adds yet another workflow step. The decision here once again shows that Nikon simply does not understand workflow, or that they wish to force us to use workflows that serious photographers aren't interested in. Maybe Nikon hired Ashton Kutcher as a spokesman because they are really just trying to "punk" us.
Personally, I'm disappointed in Nikon's Coolpix efforts since the 8800, and the P6000 actually increases that disappointment. My advice is to look at the Ricoh GX-200 and the Panasonic LX-3 if you want a quality compact camera in the near term. Both have true raw support. Both are excellent, photographer-centric cameras. And with care using raw conversion, both produce fine results at low ISO values. Looks like I need a new Coolpix bumper sticker to add to my collection: Skip the P6000.
Meanwhile, the S line got its bi-annual does-anyone-care? refresh: S60, S560, S610, S610c, and S710 models now offer from 10 to 14.5mp, with a variety of me-too feature lists. Living up to the S is for Style nomenclature, they all have a variety of color options.
Nikon First Quarter Financials
August 6--Nikon's first quarter financials were a good news, bad news situation. The bad news? Precision Equipment (semiconductor making equipment) is having a tough time, and that division's numbers are down significantly from the same period last year. Likewise, the Instrument division is doing a bit worse than expected.
Nikon Imaging, however, just raised their first half estimates and did quite well in the first quarter. Imaging sales improved from 145.3B yen to 164.9B yen, though income dropped a bit, as previously expected. Meanwhile, Nikon has raised their DSLR unit volume estimates for the first half of the year from 1.6m units to 1.75m units. That represents a 19% increase from last year. You'll recall that at the year-end results only a quarter ago, Nikon said that DSLR sales would be basically flat this year. Lens unit estimates have been revised up a 100k, as well. And Nikon is now even projecting decent gains in Coolpix unit volume (9.3m units compared to last year's 8.6m, or an increase of 8%). Overall, Nikon's imaging division continues to put up strong numbers and forecast continued strength.
Meanwhile, more than one market analyst queried me about my CIPA figure comments, below. The worldwide CIPA numbers don't look so grim, after all. But CIPA numbers represent sales into distribution, so I was struck by how much the compact market has collapsed in Japan in the last two months. Japan is a "short" distribution market, so if there were a weakness in compact sales coming, it would most likely show up in Japan first. June's compact sales figures were especially worrying in Japan. If that were replicated worldwide in the near future, it would mean significant hurt for a lot of companies, including Nikon.
The Nikon D80 Replacement...
August 5--The D80 is now the granddad in Nikon's DSLR lineup. On a specification level, the D80 is missing a lot of check marks that the competition can now boast about in their marketing, and the fact that we're now almost exactly two years into the D80's life seems unusual given how fast the other Nikon consumer models iterated.
Well, that's about to end. The replacement for the D80 will be called the D90, as expected. Curiously, at a casual glance the only thing that most people will notice different from a D80 is the presence of a much bigger color LCD on the back. Indeed, most of the controls look pretty much the same (though the buttons are round now) and are in the same place on the D90 as they were on the D80. However, there are a few odds and ends that catch your notice on closer examination. On the back, for example, we now have Live View and Info buttons, and the OK button is in the middle of the direction pad. On the front there's a microphone grill next to the infrared receiver. On the side, the labels on the rubber doors reveal HDMI and GPS connectors in addition to the expected ones.
So what is a D90? Well, a 12mp, ~4.5 fps DSLR, basically. On paper those seem like modest boosts from the D80. In practice, they are a distinct notch forward in performance. The big news, however, is that Live View now has a twist that other DSLRs can't currently claim: it can record video (thus the microphone grill).
We also get a new lens for kitting with the D90: the 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G DX VR. Modest in size (67mm filter size), this seems like a nice addition to the lineup and well targeted to the D80/D90 type of user. Essentially, this is a 28-150mm equivalent. Not truly superzoom, but a good compromise between size and reach. This new lens also plugs the VR hole Nikon had in the DX lens lineup (essentially no VR in the kit lenses if you wanted more than 55 but less than 200 at the long end).
Don't ask when or how much. To my knowledge, Nikon hasn't scheduled a press conference for product introduction yet, though they have a first quarter financial results meeting later this week. Since high-quality photos of production models appear to be circulating on the Internet, I'd guess that soon is the answer to the first question, and I wouldn't expect any big surprises (up or down from the original D80 list price) in cost.
Free Capture Upgrade...for Some
Aug 3--NikonUSA has announced that those that purchased a copy of Capture NX from an authorized source in the period May 1 through December 31, 2008, are entitled to receive a free update to Capture NX2. You need to to call 800-645-6689 with your license key and provide proof of purchase. (Just a note: yes, those dates are right. Apparently Nikon is anticipating what might happen if someone buys a copy of the previous version of Capture NX that is still in the retail channel.)
EVIL on the Horizon
Aug 3--Olympus and Panasonic have announced the Micro 4/3 initiative, which essentially marks the first EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens) SLR camera specification. In traditional SLR cameras a mirror is used to deflect light to an optical viewfinder, and to exposure and autofocus sensors. The mirror mechanism has one key drawback: it increases the lens mount to sensor distance, placing a restriction on the size camera you can create. You also need space for the optical finder. An EVIL design, in theory, can be much smaller for the same sensor size, resulting in mini-DSLRs that fall somewhere between compact camera and DSLR sizes.
The drawback of an EVIL design is that it has no dedicated parts for focus and exposure, which makes for big challenges in cutting shutter lag and providing high-speed focus. In addition, you need a high quality LCD in order to get good viewfinder performance (certainly possible, but no current camera has one that's good enough, IMHO).
The thing that strikes me is that Olympus is essentially back to where they started with DSLRs: announcing a new acquisition size and lens mount and claiming that it'll allow for smaller cameras and lenses. When 4/3 was originally announced, it was going to produce smaller, lighter DSLRs due to the smaller sensor size. Nope, didn't really happen. Now, in announcing Micro 4/3, they reveal why: "oh, by the way, using mirrors in 4/3 produced cameras that are 20mm thicker at a minimum than we can now produce with Micro 4/3."
The problem for Olympus is that they haven't really changed the problem they had in the first place: they keep bringing a knife to a gun fight. How much you want to bet that we see a Micro APS initiative from one or more makers? As far as I can tell, Micro 4/3 wouldn't have any real camera size advantage over Micro APS, yet it still has the smaller photosite size issue that 4/3 has been fighting all along. Rumors of an upcoming APS Coolpix now take on a new meaning. Were Nikon to match the interchangeable lens aspect of Micro 4/3, Olympus will find themselves once again with the smaller sensor issue they've been fighting in DSLRs.
Overall, I like the EVIL idea: smaller through-the-lens cameras with interchangeable lenses that are barely bigger than compacts (and should even be smaller than some so-called bridge compacts, such as the Fujifilm S1000FD) but have much better sensors. This makes for a useful travel and carry-everywhere camera that isn't plagued by yet another super small sensor and its accompanying problems. But it seems to me that Olympus is still fighting an uphill battle. If Micro 4/3 is good, Micro APS should be better, all else equal.
Analyzing the strategic point of view, my assessment is that Olympus keeps looking for empty short-term niches that are unprotectable long-term. I just don't see how you get enough momentum and critical mass to hold any gains you make, though. The original 4/3 initiative resulted in sales that are now almost an order of magnitude lower than APS. What's to stop that from happening again? Nothing that I can see.
Pop Goes a Bubble
Aug 3--CIPA's just released Japanese market sales figures show a disconcerting bit of news: compact camera sales for the first half of the year in Japan were down 15.8% in unit volume and 23.4% in value, a too-big-too-ignore change that's going to have some big ramifications downstream. Meanwhile, DSLR sales increased 64.3% in unit volume and 35.7% in value. Thus, companies that are strong in compacts and weaker in DSLRs, such as Sony, are scrambling. Companies that are strong in DSLRs and weaker in compacts, such as Nikon, are in a slightly better position. (Canon is strong in both.)
July 31--Continuing the trend of creating wholly-owned subsidiaries worldwide, Nikon announced the immediate establishment of Nikon Russia LLC. Located in Moscow, the new subsidiary joins Australia and India as recent Nikon global expansions.
Coolpix P6000 Cometh...
July 30--One of the policies I use on my site is the traditional press standard of verification from multiple sources when it comes to "reporting" about upcoming products. I've tried to keep my speculation about future products clearly labeled as such, but when I have reliable information from multiple sources, then and only then do I begin to write about them as if they're real, upcoming products.
Well, we've finally passed that point with one of the products I've been sitting on information about: the Coolpix P6000. Others have written about this camera for awhile now, mostly due to a leaked French flyer, so there's not a lot I can add to what's already known. Basically a wide-angle to modest telephoto (4x) Coolpix using a 13.5mp compact sensor, the P6000 marks the return of some P to the P lineup. For example, we get the return of NEF recording. Plus we now have two user setting capabilities on the Mode dial for getting to standard setups faster. The hot shoe is still there, but still not centered over the lens. Unlike the P5000/P5100, the built-in flash is a pop up one, though it still won't clear the WC-E76 or other conversion lens (you'll need a UR-21 for that, so those of us with the UR-20 used by the P5000 get to add another hollow tube to our collection). The lens is reputed to be both ED (two elements) and VR.
A lot of folk didn't believe the French flyer because of the GPS and network references, but there they are on the Mode dial: a GPS setting and a Camera->Storage icon. It appears that Nikon is making a concerted effort to embrace GPS and WiFi across their product line (hint: this won't be the last time you see me mention GPS support on an upcoming product you might not expect to have it).
Of course, the real test of whether this becomes an interesting pocket camera to add to the bag will come in testing, which obviously I'm not doing at the moment (otherwise I'd be locked up under NDA ;~). But I'm happy to see Nikon moving back into a realm that they should never have left. We're big boys. We know we'll have to really work over the raw data on these small sensor pocket cameras, but that's still preferable to getting only a small handful of not 100% optimal JPEG choices. So welcome back, Nikon. We've missed you.
Now if I can just get some additional sources for a few other cameras and lenses that have crossed my desk...
Meanwhile, Starting in Japan...the D3 Improveth
July 30--Nikon has introduced a memory buffer upgrade for the D3 in Japan. At current exchange rates, the cost of this buffer bump is a bit under US$500. (As I write this, apparently NikonUSA is about to announce the same thing, and other subsidiaires are piping in, as well, so it should be system wide soon.) Since the original buffer isn't really all that restrictive to JPEG shooters, the upgrade would probably be of most interest to NEF shooters, where the boost is significant (from a minimum of 16 images with the stock D3 to a new minimum of 37 images; the JPEG limits almost 130--the camera limit--for all settings with the new memory). To get the upgrade, the camera has to go into a service center, and estimated turn around is a minimum of two weeks.
So the question you're probably asking is "what the?" Well, one thing comes to mind: Beijing. But I think that's more just the timing of the announcement. I suspect the real story is a little deeper: what makes me suspect that the lower D3 prices lately are a way of clearing out the old model for...wait for it...the new D3. Maybe it'll be called the D3s, but even if it isn't it makes good sense to put a few minor tweaks into the D3 to restore it back to its rightful place above the D700. High on the list would be sensor cleaning, even more performance (that memory buffer is a good start), and maybe a dedicated Info button to get to those key settings faster (ala the D700 and an upcoming camera I won't name ;~). Sit tight kittens, mommy appears to be bringing you another meal to consume.
Look, up in the F Mount, It's....Sooooperzooooom
July 30--If FXers can have a Tamron 28-300mm, why not DXers, too? And now, due to this special offer, you can have that and much more...okay, too much late night TV for Thom. Here's what you want to know: 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 with vibration compensation, for cropped sensor cameras only. That's 28-410mm equivalent, or perhaps we should call this a supersuperzoom. Oh, and "macro" (if you call 1:3.5 macro; still, that's 20 inches [.49m] close focus, which is nice). No price or availability information was released. Other details are here.
Post Bayer Still Has Colored Photosites
July 30--Ever since Nikon announced their patent on a post-Bayer sensor using dichroic mirrors, everyone has been trying to figure out how they could do that technically. One problem, for example, is that at each pixel you need silicon space to hold all those electrons you're storing, you need room to move the electrons off the sensor or integrate them on the sensor into a pixel value, and you need room for the mirrors themselves.
The answer, it appears, is that a post Bayer sensor is still arrayed as individual colored "photosites" at the deepest level, but you put something on top that "groups" the light for a pixel. The currently circulating documents show a large 12 micron microlense arrangement feeding smaller 6 micron single color "photosites" that live in a pattern arrayed around the blue photosite. The arrangement at first looks a bit like a Fujifilm sensor honeycomb, but that's misleading. The end result is a 7.2mp FX sensor that has better than D3 levels of sensitivity (!) and slightly better than D3 levels of resolution. Seems like a logical candidate for a D4, doesn't it?
You might have balked at the "slightly better than D3 levels of resolution" statement. After all, 7mp is less than 12mp. But that 7mp is RGB pixels, not individual R, G, or B photosites. Just as the Foveon sensors provide more resolution and acuity than you'd expect from their final pixel count, so would Nikon's design. Edge acuity would be excellent in such a system, though the low pixel count could produce visible stairsteps on some diagonal lines.
All this looks to solve most of the problems that were discussed after the original Nikon idea was first announced. The one remaining hurdle appears to be how do you manufacturer the mirrors in the silicon?
How Good Can Turn into Bad...Back into Good
July 29 (updated)--I've moved the former article on this topic to the archives, since things changed today and much of what I wrote is now dated. The change? Adobe released Lightroom 2.0. While it's not mentioned in any of the postings on Adobe's site or the Adobe staff blogs that I can find (I'm sure this will change quickly ;~), the new version of Lightroom can process the D700 NEF files. Indeed, so can the release version of ACR 4.5. According to one of the developers, the support is preliminary, meaning that they haven't verified the profiles yet.
And perhaps I was painting Adobe with a bit too harsh a brush. Adobe's product manager for Lightroom and ACR pointed out to me that they have a very good relationship with Nikon. It appears that the slight delay in D700 support from Adobe was more due to a pre-existing release date for Lightroom 2.0. But this does point out the problem I was trying to illustrate: if a camera maker is too tight on information or releases it too close to the ship date of a camera the third-party community may have problems matching that date due their own pre-existing product schedules. Still, it would have been nice if Adobe would have had Nack or someone else there with a blog post something along the lines of "D700 support is imminent" when the camera shipped on July 25th.
Meanwhile, Bibble has released version 4.10.1, which includes D700 support.
So, two down, more to go. For Apple Aperture users, the latest 2.1.1 update (issued today) doesn't include D700 support. However, it appears that you can edit the plist and do the D700/D3 fakeout for the time being.
Profiles to the Rescue
July 29--Students at my workshops have noticed that I apply a wide range of "corrective measures" to NEFs converted by Lightroom and ACR. Now Adobe has fully embraced the "profile it yourself" technique that many of us have been using for years.
As part of an update to the DNG specification, Adobe has produced a beta DNG Profile Editor. Don't let the name fool you. Even though DNG is in the name, profiles you produce with it can be used with ACR 4.5 and Lightroom 2.0 converters as well as the current DNG converter. Note that you need the newest Adobe converters to use this function, however; older versions won't recognize the profiles. If you're going for accurate color, you should also use shots of the ColorChecker chart shot at 2850K and 6500K to create your profiles.
Basically, you create a camera profile using the DNG Profile Editor, and that can then be chosen via the Camera Profile pop-up menu in the Camera Calibration tab in the Adobe converters. Adobe provides a great deal of details, tutorials, and more on the Web site referenced above, including how to then set your profile so that it is the default in your converter. Bravo.
Note that there is more to it than that, though. As part of the beta, Adobe has produced "camera matching" profiles for the eight basic Nikon Picture Controls (several are named with the D2X prefix, even though they apply to all the Nikon bodies with Picture Controls; these correspond to the downloadable Picture Controls Nikon has supplied to mimic the D2x [hmm, mimics of mimics]). These camera matching profiles only mimic the default Picture Control settings, though (i.e., they don't account for any in-camera changes you make to your Picture Controls).
The profile editing capability is a nice new addition to the Adobe products, and one that I'm probably going to suggest that all Nikon users take advantage of if they use the Adobe converters. (The "probably" in the last sentence means I haven't yet come to a conclusion about what the best way to get optimal conversions out of the new converters is. But it seems clear already that using the "right" profile is a better starting place than we've been using.) Unfortunately, I just finished updating my Introduction to Nikon Software book to version 2.0, so any elaborate suggestions I have on this will have to wait until the next revision.
And Since I've Already Mentioned Lightroom...
July 29--Lightroom 2.0 was officially released today. The US$99 update is available immediately via Web download. Rather than try to repeat all the new features and changes in Lightroom 2.0, I'll just send you to Adobe's own Lightroom Journal page for all the details (and there are lots!).
Short version: Adobe made many welcome UI changes that make Lightroom even more direct, the new Adjustment Brush and Gradient Filter abilities are nice additions, multiple monitors are supported, and lots of little issues have been tackled (vignette works on the crop, files can be opened as Smart Objects in Photoshop, etc.). As Scott Kelby points out, there's still more to be done and Collections took a step backwards (I'd add the whole Catalog thing is still not quite right for the traveling photographer).
Speedlight Review Posted
July 26--Yes, this is a record for me. I don't usually turn around reviews quite so quickly, but the fact that I did might tell you which project I'm working on at the moment ;~). I'll try to back cover the other missing Speedlight reviews that are missing in the next month, as well.
July 26--More updates:
How Good Can Turn into Bad
July 26--Now that Nikon has managed a "hot" product release without running short of supply, you may have discovered that all is still not well in release-land. Here's the issue that Nikon persistently refuses to address: those of us who don't base our workflow on Nikon Capture NX2 consistently are left completely dead in the water if we buy new Nikon gear when it's released.
If you've tried bringing a D700 NEF into Photoshop CS3, Lightroom, or Aperture, you'll know what I mean: they don't support D700 images. We've been fighting this problem big time ever since the encrypted white balance controversy on the D2x. Putting tens of thousands of cameras into the market without third-party software support is a no-no in my book. This is akin to putting out an operating system without revealing details to developers.
It's not as if the software companies we're talking about (Adobe, Apple, etc.) don't know what an NDA is and how to honor it, after all. The failure, I believe, is at Nikon's end. They are simply not getting the right information into the right hands early enough in the process. At a minimum, a well-supported software community would be making support announcements coincident with announcement or ship of a new DSLR. At a maximum, we'd have Day One support.
I think it's high time for the camera makers to start thinking of their products more as an ecosystem than a proprietary lock box. I'll know they've gotten the message when we have product introductions more akin to Apple's: where representatives from third party companies get up and pledge their support, demonstrate working products, and announce tentative ship dates.
Of course, one fly in the ointment is Nikon's vested interest in Nik. I'm sure the folks at Nik lobby for the opposite of what I'm asking for, because it means that their product, Nikon Capture NX2, will be the only one you can use when the new camera comes out. This comes dangerously close to the definition of illegal tying in US product law, actually.
If Nikon really wants to convince the professional photography market that it is making professional products, it has to acknowledge and support the fact that many of the professionals and organizations they work with do not, and will not, use Capture NX2 in their workflow.
So what do you do if YOU are dead in the water with your new D700? With a hex editor (e.g. hexedit for Windows, 0XeD for Mac) look for the first instance of the string "D700" and replace that with the hex values 44 33 00 00. If I'm not mistaken, that happens at offset 176 hex. If you're afraid to do it by hand, you can try one of the third-party options that have appeared, such as this one from a regular dpreview poster. Do not make these changes on your original D700 NEF. Instead, make a copy and perform the change on it. Save your original files for when Lightroom and the other products update in the near future.
More Picture Controls
July 15--Nikon quietly added Landscape and Portrait Picture Controls on the global Web site. Landscape is another over saturated control, while Portrait seems like a more usable one, though it shifts reds and yellows a lot. Still, I'd rather have Nikon give the users the ability to create new Picture Control starting points. So far, out of the nine they've given us, three are too severe, three are simply mimics of what they've done in the past, leaving only three as something new and useful. Moreover, the color tendencies in all these Picture Controls are clearly Japanese-centric. Please, Nikon, either give users the ability to create new starting points or hire a handful of color experts across the globe to do so for us.
ViewNX and WT-4 Updates
July 14--Nikon has updated ViewNX, mostly to fix things that come up with the new D700 and SB-900 (though three are some fixes that apply to other models as well. Meanwhile the WT-4 also gets a firmware update to update it with the new thumbnail selector (which was updated last week). As usual, Mac and Windows users need to go to different places, so just go to http://support.nikontech.com and use the Knowledge Database to find what you need.
July 14--When I'm wrong I'm happy to admit it. On some Internet forums I posted that I thought the high resolution FX body might be in the D700-sized body. Apparently not. I received a message out of Japan that the high-resolution camera is in the D3 body. I trust that message more than my guess, though please note that having one (usually good) source does not mean something is verified. A few f/1.4 primes apparently will appear with that body. A Coolpix with raw capabilities was also mentioned, which would align with the P6000 rumors (13+mp, 28-112mm ED VR, optional GPS and LAN). It seems that a D80 replacement should also be in that set of announcements, which should come just before Photokina, but we just haven't seen any of the kinds of leaks and rumors we have with previous consumer bodies out of Thailand, so maybe the D80 replacement is going to be later than Photokina. Others are predicting a 24-120mm VRII and 70-200mm VRII. That would be nice, but I am not holding my breath. Note that even three or four primes would put Nikon well over their usual yearly lens quota. On the other hand, every one of the next batch of lenses I hear about seem to be just G, AF-S, and/or VR iterations of existing designs, so maybe that's freed some design space and has Nikon executing faster. Whatever the case, it appears that all of you with NAS will have some more fuel for you addictions soon.
About the D3
July 14--Astute readers will have already noticed that I have posted my D3 review and Complete Guide page. Nikon's two major firmware updates and some issues that I had to resolve with whether my sample was doing something different than others made these things painfully slow to finish, as I had to go back and do all my tests twice more, then test other D3 bodies. Nikon has a habit of sneaking in unknown changes at firmware updates. Indeed, if you've got a D300 you should probably already have noted that there appear to be two unannounced differences with the latest firmware for that camera. First, the 14-bit hesitation seems to have been either removed or lowered significantly. Second, there seem to be improvements to autofocus tracking of some motions; I notice this especially in 51-point.
Dead Battery Syndrome
July 14--I made the decision not to talk much in public about the so-called Dead Battery Syndrome when it became obvious that this was a real issue. For those that haven't been following along, what happens is that the camera--usually with a big AF-S/VR lens on the body--will suddenly report low battery and lock up, even if the battery has plenty of charge. Both the recent D300 and D3 firmware updates now include a "fix" for the problem. There's only one problem with that: I've gotten similar reports from D80, D200, and D2 series body users, including another one today from a D80 user that was obviously the same problem. So what's the fix for them, Nikon?
Carnivore Monitoring on Line
July 14--The new hyena monitoring station I (and you) helped fund in the Western Masai Mara is now built and active. You can see the blog for the entire Michigan State University sponsored operation here. The BBC has recently stopped by one of the camps to film a segment for an upcoming Big Cat episode.
July 14--More in the long line of software updates:
Camera Control Pro
July 3--Nikon has updated Camera Control Pro to version 2.20 to support both the D700 and the new D3 firmware features. OS X 10.5.3 support has been added, and many fixes to Live View issues have been made. As usual, Mac and Windows users need to go to different places, so just go to http://support.nikontech.com and use the Knowledge Database to find what you need.
Bag No Longer Contains Cat -- D700 Announced
July 1--Nikon has finally revealed the latest in their long history of poorly kept secrets: the D700 and the SB-900. As you might expect, I've got a lot to say about the new goodies. Too much for the front page. So if you want the full scoop, click here for a full article on the new products. I've also updated my Current DSLR (and Old DSLR) comparison pages.
Here's the short version for those of you who don't want to read for hours:
- The D700 is a new 12mp FX body. Essentially a D3 in a D300-sized body (that's 9 ounces overweight), with a bit of the features and performance of the D3 removed. But it's all about that sensor baby. US$2999.
- The SB-900 is a new top-of-the-line Speedlight, with the big changes being its ability to detect whether it's on a DX or FX body and adjust its output accordingly, and it's ability to adjust the shape of its light output.
D300, D3 Firmware Updates
July 1--Slightly lost in the other Nikon announcements are firmware updates for the D3 (2.00) and D300 (1.03). The D3 firmware updates bring many of the minor changes the D700 added to the D3 platform. The D300 update apparently has a fix for the Dead Battery Syndrome that many have reported encountering.
User Repair Experiences
June 26--It's my intention to start a "user experiences" component to this site (ala what Macintouch does). I've gotten enough responses (keep 'em coming) to my repair note below that I've compiled a short list of other experiences.
Nikon User Repair Experiences. Updated 7/2.
June 26--The folks at B&H remind that Nikon has an underpublicized "instant rebate" program going on with DSLR body sales. Basically, buy a D40, D60, or D80 with the 55-200, 55-200 VR, or 70-300 VR and get an instant US$100 off. Purchase a 70-300mm with a D3, D300, D200, or F6 and get US$150 off. B&H has put most of those combinations here, should you care to support this site.
More Next Week
June 25 (updated)--It appears that Nikon will announce the first in a series of new product rollouts next week. I'll obviously have full details and an analysis, as usual. But there will be a more than Nikon's news posted on this site next week. Stay tuned...
Please note that the above paragraph is being misquoted or misinterpreted on many Web forums. I haven't said anything about which products may or may not be announced, and I said "it appears" not "they will." What's been happening across the Web is what I'd call "false reinforcement." We have magazines quoting rumor sites quoting forum posts guessing at what an announcement from a magazine meant in the first place. The many fake photos don't help the situation.
Visible Dust Additions
June 25--Visible Dust has announced two new products. First is a version of the Arctic Butterfly that has a built in LED to illuminate the sensor area while you're cleaning. Anyone who's seen me clean a camera knows that I wear a headlamp to effectively do the same thing. You shouldn't try to clean a camera without being able to see. The difference in approaches is this: I direct the light where I need it with my head, the Arctic Butterfly 724 (Brite) directs it mostly to one side of the brush.
The other new Visible Dust product is the Vswab, swab for FX sensors that is only wide at the tip. This, too, makes it easier to see what you're doing, and keeps the swab from too easily rubbing against the frame around the filter. (Disclosure: Visible Dust has mailed me samples of their new products to try.)
June 25--Zeiss has introduced a new manual focus (AI-S) lens for the Nikon F mount, the 18mm f/3.5 Distagon T. Details are in my Zeiss lens database if you're interested.
Tales of Repair
June 23--I'm hard on my equipment, dragging it up and down mountains and all, so it isn't unusual for me to need repairs. So I thought I'd update you on a few experiences I've had recently.
First, the non-Nikon one. My Ricoh GX-100 took a blow to the LCD, rendering it still operable since I have optical finders for it but mostly useless (too much of the UI on current cameras require the LCD to be operative; that's true of DSLRs as well as compacts). Repair bill: US$185. That's actually better than I would have expected. An LCD replacement is major surgery with a high-priced part. If you're a G9 user, take a look at Really Right Stuff's clever L-plate and protector. It's a bit heavy and over-engineered, but it would have protected my G9 from the fate of my GX-100 in the same situation. Too bad I can't convince RRS to make a similar solution for other compacts.
Meanwhile, my 70-300mm started having ocassional fits of VR shivers on my last trip. That triggered a B2 level replacement of the VR system by NikonUSA, and since I'd sent that four-year warranty extension card in, it was done for free. Note that the lens still worked, but what would happen is that I'd sometimes have VR outages and sometimes overeager VR, and it wasn't predictable. I wasn't 100% sure that there was a real issue with the lens (it could have been contact issues or something else), but Nikon found the problem immediately when they put it on the test rig.
My 70-180mm has put on more miles than most of you have on your frequent flyer programs. Somewhere in the last year I managed to put a small scratch on the front glass. Didn't seem to impact the results, though it mocked and annoyed me every time I cleaned the lens. The zoom and focus rings were starting to get a little "gritty" so I decided to send it into NikonUSA, too. That was a C-level repair (replace the front element) and wound up costing me US$270.
NikonUSA has gotten better at handling repairs (either that or they're trying to get on my good side ;~). Both lenses arrived at NikonUSA on a Friday (based upon email notification from FedEx), and I had email estimates back from Nikon when I got to the computer on Monday morning. And their Web site was accurate and up-to-date when I checked it on Monday. Curiously, NikonUSA still seems to ship stuff back to you before they update their Web pages, though. When UPS came with the repaired lenses the Web site still listed them as being worked on at Nikon.
I should point out that I've heard from a lot of other Nikon users since I last updated my Nikon Repair article. It does seem that NikonUSA has improved many of the aspects that I originally complained about. I'll be doing a bit more research on that before I rewrite that article, so if you have any NikonUSA repair experience in the last year, I'd like to hear about it.
June 16--The following software products were updated since my last site posting:
- DXO 5.1. Finally available to Mac users.
- SizeFixer SLR 1.3 is now a Mac universal binary.
- AKVIS Enchancer 9.2 improves HDRI support and adds stability. AKVIS Smartmask 2.0 adds hotkeys.
- HumanSoftware Edit 1.1 is 12 modules that are plug-ins for Aperture and perform distortion, denoising, refocusing, and other useful transforms.
Capture NX 2
June 3--As expected, Nik (and Nikon) have introduced a new version of Capture NX. The completely rewritten product features an improved user interface, speed improvements, and some new tools, such as an Auto Retouch tool that can be used to remove dust. Owners of Capture 1.x can update for US$109.95 (the full price is US$179.95 in the US; prices may vary in other regions). A 60-day free trial is already available on Nikon sites. Official purchasing won't begin until June 20th.
Let's outline the things that'll be of most interest to continued Capture users. First, Capture NX 2 finally supports multiple monitors well. You can have your file browser open on one monitor and the picture you're working on full screen on another. There are some restrictions to what you can put where, but overall this is a welcome change. The browser itself, like ViewNX, has changed for the better, and the browser in Capture NX 2 may actually allow most to just skip ViewNX (filters, ratings, and sorting is now fully supported). There's now a Quick Fix function in the Edit List, and overall the Edit List layout is much more functional than before. The U-Point feature that provides Capture NX's primary attraction for quick editing has been improved to allow you to set U-Points for other things than just basic color and contrast changes. Now you can also apply U-Points to noise reduction, sharpening, and almost anything else the program can do.
The bad news is that workflow and, in particular, batch processing isn't really addressed in this update. Handling large numbers of images through Capture NX 2 is still not fixed (and probably the reason why you'd keep ViewNX around). Speed is certainly improved in some areas, but not enough to make Capture NX 2 the product it needs to be. That pesky Camera Settings tool (formally Camera Adjustments) is still a pain to navigate, and creating and applying a common set of changes to a large group of images is much more cumbersome than, say, it is in Lightroom.
Curiously, Nikon jumped their own embargo on the announcement, demonstrating the product two days early at a photo fair in Bievres, France and discussing it in other venues, as well. Another interesting tidbit is that Nikon claimed to have sold 8650 Capture NX 1.x licenses in France, yet shipped 17,000 copies with D3 and D300 models into the country. If the user base tripled worldwide the same way, then the update revenues may easily pay for all those free copies.
For those of you wanting to learn Capture NX 2 quickly, Jason Odell already has an updated version of his eBook available. Some authors were seeded with early copies of the product in order to make sure it was supported on day one.
Surprise for D80 Owners
June 1--I've completely updated my Complete Guide to the Nikon D80, including adding a printed Nikon D80 To Go 96-page reference (like what I did with the D300 Guide). This, of course, means a change in pricing (with the printed guide the weight is almost tripled for shipping, plus there's the printing costs). Everyone who ordered the D80 Guide in May was supplied with the updated eBook, but not the printed guide. This makes updates slightly more complicated than usual, but the details can be found here. (And yes, there's a table of contents in the To Go Guide ;~).
Nikon Software Updates
May 28--Nikon updated both ViewNX and Transfer to versions 1.1.0. The primary change is to support Vista SP1 and Mac OS X 10.5.2, though there are many other changes.
ViewNX gets a change to the Navigation Palette, which now consists of Folders, Metadata, and Quick Adjustment (previously, it had two tabs for the metadata. Support for optional Picture Controls, multiple monitors, RGB histograms, and better movie and audio file support has been added. A number of minor tweaks have been made, as well, though curiously there are still some missing capabilities for the S520, S550, S600, and P80 models.
Transfer also gets a few minor fixes.
More on Nikon Results
May 19--Nikon was asked a number of times at their press conference last week about the low projected unit volume growth in the coming year. Their answer was--if I'm reading it correctly--that they intended to concentrate more on upper end cameras in the coming year, thus didn't expect to increase unit volume. This seems to give credence to the D3x and FX sensor prosumer body rumors, but I have to wonder now whether or not Nikon will really go with just two consumer DSLRs (the D60 and the D80 replacement). Could their DSLR lineup at the end of the year really be D60, D90, D300, D10, D3, D3x?
Nikon's DSLR share for their just closed fiscal year works out to be 40.1%, their overall digital camera market share including compacts is 8.7%. Both numbers will fall if both Nikon's and CIPAs forecasts for the coming year are correct.
One reader pointed out to me that Nikon's numbers indicate that they sold 1.44 lenses per body during the period, a lower number than CIPA says others are managing. Given that half the Nikkor lenses over US$1000 are currently out of stock at B&H as I write this, one has to wonder if Nikon could have done better.
Meanwhile, Nikon's credit rating was upped from BBB- to BBB. It was also noted that Nikon now has more than enough cash to pay off their remaining debt. Debt overall has dropped to one-third the level it was in 2005. Put another way, Nikon's financial house is in pretty good order and getting better every quarter.
Tamron Motoring On
May 15--Tamron has continued to add lens motors to some of their more popular lenses (which makes them fully compatible with the Nikon D40/D40x/D60 line). The latest recipients are the 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 lens (which has image stabilization) and the 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Macro. Also, the 70-200mm f/2.8 Di LD Macro will be getting a lens motor in an upcoming update. These lenses are expected to be available in June in Japan; availability elsewhere is unknown (Tamron USA hasn't even announced the 70-200mm change as I write this).
I've gotten a couple of reports from site visitors about focusing performance on motored Tamrons, I'd be interested to hear from more users about their experiences.
May 15--Another round of software updates of interest:
- Capture One 4.1--adds D60 support, lens correction, and tethered shooting ability.
- DNG Codec for Vista--allows viewing of DNG files in Windows Explorer and Photo Gallery.
Nikon Fiscal Year Results
May 12--Nikon announced it's full year results today. Remember, Nikon's fiscal year runs from April 1 to March 31. Some numbers of interest to readers of this site:
||Year End 3/2007
||Year End 3/2008
Now let's read the tea leaves. First, note that Nikon's DSLR growth in the past year far outstripped that of the market (i.e., they gained market share) but they are predicting very mild unit growth in the coming fiscal year. The overall profit estimates are also slightly down. Either Nikon thinks the DSLR rush is over, that competition will be much more intense, that the global economy is stalled, or that its sales are shifting away from low-end units and high volumes (or some combination of the above). This is the most bearish Nikon has been in future estimates in recent years and makes me wonder about where the D80 replacement, high resolution FX body, and prosumer FX body fit in. Even the lens sales numbers, which skyrocketed last year, have only a modest increase predicted. Indeed, the basic overall formula in the Imaging Division numbers seems to be <10% increase in unit volume and a 10% drop in profit.
I should also point out that Nikon's estimated exchange rate for the coming year is 100 yen to the dollar (down from 114 last year; the Euro is pegged at 155, down from 162). As I write this, the current rate is somewhere around 104. I still suspect some price increases when Nikon's forecast resolves into reality.
May 8--Another round of software updates of interest:
- PhotoAcute Studio 2.8--improves HDR handling, adds additional lens profiling for D3, D300, D50, and D80 bodies.
- Autopano Pro 1.4.2--mostly bug fixes and performance related changes, but a few of those deal with issues that some of us reported with NEF images, particularly with the 10.5mm.
- Microsoft Expression Media 2--(formerly iView Media Pro). Faster, with shared catalogs, better importing.
- Nikon D3 Firmware 1.1B re-released. The corruption bug (reported below) has been fixed and the firmware update made available again.
- Breezebrowser 1.8 now supports the D300 and D3.
- Bibble Pro 4.1 now supports the D60 and adds lens calibration for additional lenses.
- Pixelmator 1.2 adds Curves, color balance, new selection and grid tools.
D300 To Go Table of Contents
Apr 22--As requested by some, here's the TOC for the D300 To Go. As I noted on a few fora, the reason it isn't in the final printed version has to do with page count; books get produced in 16-page increments, and that next increment pushed the size and weight into a different category for shipping.
D300 Guide: Good News and Bad
Apr 19 (updated)--Short version: all orders on file were shipped on April 18 or 20th. However, there was a PayPal database issue for orders placed during a short time period on March 17th that didn't supply me with some of the orders. If you haven't received your order, please send me your PayPal receipt # or transaction ID via email so that I can look it up and I'll fix the problem.
Apr 19--Current rumors out of Japan have Nikon introducing the D90, D3x, plus lenses, in the second week of June. I'm tightening my D90 (or whatever they decide to call it) prediction date to between May 12th and June 16th.
Postal Price Increase Coming
Apr 18--I've finally gotten around to looking closely at the new postal regulations that go into effect on May 12th. For some of my products, I haven't raised the shipping and handling rate for four years, despite two price increases and extra costs incurred for shipping during that time. Beginning in early May I will be revising all the shipping and handling charges to match what my costs will be with the new regulations.
D3 Firmware Withdrawn
Apr 18--The 1.1 firmware update for the D3 has been withdrawn by Nikon due to an image corruption issue. Specifically, when shooting long bursts at 9 fps using 14-bit raw one or more images in the burst may get an offset overlap effect. If you didn't yet update, don't. If you did, set your camera to 8 fps or 12-bit raw. A revised version is due by the end of the month.
Someone Got Part of the Message
Apr 15--Nikon has released firmware 1.1 for the D3. Included in update is one thing I've been harping about since the release announcement: Auto ISO can now be set to have a minimum shutter speed above 1/250 (specifically, now up to 1/4000). On a camera like the D3, but even on the D300, sports users shooting in low light were flummoxed to find that they couldn't use Auto ISO in any meaningful way (most low light sports require a shutter speed of 1/500, so a max of 1/250 in the setting essentially rendered it useless). Meanwhile, the minimum shutter speed setting extended to 1 second! I've yet to find anyone who wants or uses that. In essence, someone guessed at what a useful range for that setting would be, and now their guess has been corrected to something useful. Message to Nikon: Please do the same for the D300.
Other changes in the firmware include a new, crude vignette control. Since it applies only to recent lenses (D and G, with a number of exceptions, including all DX lenses!), you'd think that Nikon could have just built a table and done automatic correction, based upon aperture. Instead, we get Off, Low, Normal, and High settings, with Normal being the default. I'm not sure who asked for imprecise vignetting control, but we've got it now, at least for some lenses while shooting JPEG and TIFF (and NEF if you're using ViewNX or Capture NX for conversion). Message to Nikon: Put the resources on a project to do automatic, lens, focal length, and aperture-specific vignette correction.
Focus point illumination has some new options, and a number of minor issues have been addressed, including making the "Demo" more visible on a reviewed image when you don't have a card in the camera. The change that has me scratching my head is the moving of Highlights from the Basic to the Detailed photo info section in Display mode. Say what? First of all, why do we even have divisions there for only four items? And one could make arguments that highlight display on a professional camera is indeed a basic option. Ever since the F100 came out I've been accusing Nikon of too much meaningless menu name changes and movements. Quick: the Custom Setting number for changing Self Timer on a Nikon camera is? Well, it varies from camera to camera, guaranteed to drive those of us with multiple bodies absolutely bonkers. Names keep changing (sometimes for the better, but sometimes for no good reason). Items move in location. Items come and go. And we still have a SHOOTING menu on the D3 that takes at least 12 key presses just to get to the Set Picture Control item (yes, I know you can add it to My Menu, and in my upcoming book I suggest you do, but there are 21 items on the SHOOTING menu now; combine those with the 40+ Custom Settings and 24 items on the SETUP menu and your My Menu is going to get overburdened, too). Message to Nikon: The D3 menus, like those of the D300, are out of control. Moving something trivial that wasn't really in the wrong place isn't the fix. In some ways, the D40/D40x/D60 alternative select-from-Info-screen approach is better than what's on your professional cameras. Address this, and soon.
The updates are available separate Mac and Windows files on the Nikon worldwide support sites.
Recent Software Updates
Apr 14--More Nikon-related software updates:
- Capture 1.3.3 adds the Vignette control option for D3 1.1 firmware, the Camera Settings palette has new items, and several bugs have been resolved. Note that NikonUSA page says that Microsoft .NET 2.0 is required for the Mac version in error.
- Extensis Portfolio 8.5.2 provides performance improvements.
- Adobe Camera Raw 4.4.1 fixes the EXIF time stamp problem in the withdrawn 4.4 update.
- Lightroom 1.4.1 fixes the EXIF and DNG issues in the withdrawn 1.4 update.
- SizeFixer XL is now universal binary for Mac.
- FotoMagico 2.2 has a number of new minor features.
Me-Too Count Hits 55
Apr 10--Nikon announced three more Coolpix models today, bringing their 21st century me-too count to 55 (being generous the did-it-our-way count is 10). The model of most interest to readers of this site would be the P80 (remember, P stands for "professional" in the Coolpix lineup ;~). This superzoom runs a 27-486mm f/2.8-4.5 equivalent lens on a 10mp 1/2.33" CCD with sensor-shift VR. Still no raw mode. No hot shoe. EVF ala the 8800. Hmm. Sounds amazingly like the Olympus 18x, wonder if the two companies are contracting from the same sub-vendor? The US$399.95 price should tell you what you need to know.
The other two Coolpix are the S52 and S52c, two new 9mp "style" cameras to keep the shelf space stacked with plenty of slightly different options to confuse compact camera buyers.
One "Rebate" Returns
Apr 8--NikonUSA has announced a US$300 instant savings if you purchase a D300 body together with an 18-200mm AF-S DX VR Nikkor. The offer is good through May 11th only. I still expect Nikon to consider price hikes in the US when they announce their year-end results, coincidentally, on May 12th.
Apr 8--Nikon seems to be a little off kilter with update announcements at the moment. In Europe, Nikon has announced a firmware update for the D40 series bodies (1.11) that fixes a problem with EXIF data being recorded correctly during continuous shooting. NikonUSA has not yet announced or posted the update. But NikonUSA did for a short time have a new version of Capture being promoted through the help center, which indicated that it worked with a D3 firmware update (1.10). Guess we're due for a round of updates on various products, but once again there seems to be confusion on release dates from the various subsidiaries.
Capture NX Deal Almost Over
Apr 3--I'm not yet been able to confirm this, but there are reports that D300 cameras made at the Thailand factory beginning this week no longer are including the free Capture NX offer. I would assume that this would apply to new D3 production, as well. That would indicate that Nikon has manufactured the 300,000 D3/D300's that they promised to include the free converter with. Don't panic quite yet--as far as I can tell, all D300's currently in stores still have the free software. But this is just a heads up: if you were holding off for some reason, you might want to factor in the software and make your final decision soon. Moreover, check the box you get. Some dealers may soon have both new (without software) and older (with software) inventory.
Apr 1 (updated)--Nikon introduced a new Web site to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the first Nikkor lens. Unfortunately, the site (so far) has turned out to be nothing more than the usual "pro testimonial" type of advertising that has not worked well for Nikon in the past. I guess it's time to renew my "Nikon's bad at marketing" complaints.
Having 15 pro photographers essentially all say the same thing ("I like my Nikkors" and "I started using Nikkors a long time ago") is not a particularly strong 75th anniversary message. In fact, it seems like a freshman college mid-term Advertising 101 project, at best (i.e. formulaic, simplistic, and with no particular call to action). Moreover, to waste the 75th anniversary on a self-congratulatory message seems indulgent.
Nikon needs to Think Different (yes, that's an Apple reference; Apple has been quite good lately at differentiating their product/user and in informing in ways that are different and attract attention). Why would I care that you've made Nikkors for 75 years, and what does that imply for the future? What's in it for me? What can I do today? What will I be able to do tomorrow that I can't do today if I use a Nikkor? None of those questions--which would get them to the sophomore project level--are answered, unfortunately. Indeed, there's a whole "in the past" feel to the site, almost as if we've unearthed a time capsule.
Sure, there's some nice pictures on the site and plenty of testimonial quotes. Hmm. Seems like every lens maker has plenty of nice pictures and testimonial quotes. If Nikkors are really different, you need to tell us how, Nikon. And while you're at it, Nikon, would you mind telling us what lenses you actually really have available?
Financial Results Coming
Apr 1 (updated)--Nikon will announce their yearly results on May 12th. This has some implications for Nikon users, as it will reveal both Nikon's upcoming year forecasts (which often give clues to new products) as well as Nikon's new dollar/yen assumption, which has an impact on prices.
So What's a D90 like?
Mar 31 (updated)--The D80 replacement is due any time between now and summer, yet I find it curious that there hasn't been a lot of speculation on what it might look like. Historically, a D80-replacement should be a handful of technology and state-of-the-art hand-downs from the reigning pro cameras and as much of the parts bin as is possible from existing consumer cameras, all wrapped in a polycarbonate body that isn't fully sealed. That means that you should expect a melding of D40/D60 and D200/D300 features. As in: D200 viewfinder, D300 color LCD, some creative subset of the D300 AF and metering (e.g., same AF sensor, but fewer AF options, coupled with the use of the 420-cell matrix meter for the Auto Area 3D mode), but with the reduced control set, the shutter, write mechanism, mode dial, and remote controls of the D40/D60/D80. Sensor? It could go either way (10mp or 12mp), but expect an auto cleaning function. Add Active D-Lighting and perhaps one of the Live View modes and you've got a new mid-range model that's competitive. The key question: will Nikon go further than that?
Some have noted some slight changes between the above and my original predictions and wonder about that. It appears that Nikon flopped their timing on a couple of models (D40x and D80 replacement timing), thus the timing is a little different than I originally predicted. As for the sensor, Nikon seems to have three options: the current 10mp sensor, the D300's 12mp sensor, or Sony's new 14mp sensor. Nikon hasn't exactly been pushing megapixels as much as the other makers, so I still insist it could go any way. Remember, given the number of bodies Nikon is making, there's a financial advantage to using the same sensor across bodies, thus my comment about it likely being the 10 or 12 megapixel sensor.
A Little Faster This Time
Mar 19--Apple updated the raw file support for Aperture to include the Nikon D60. Hmm. The pro cameras took months to support, the amateur camera is supported almost instantly? Let's hope that trend doesn't continue.
Getting a Little Ahead of Themselves
Mar 19--Sigma has announced a 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM lens, but I'm getting a little leery of calling these things "announcements," as most of the details were not released (configuration, aperture blades, weight, size, filter size, price, or the date it might be available). We still don't have some of the details yet from Sigma's January lens announcements. While this new lens sounds desirable (and is FX compatible), I suspect that Nikon may announce its 50mm f/1.4G AF-S before the Sigma actually appears.
Mar 14--The dollar just dipped below 100 yen briefly for the first time in a long time. The dollar doesn't look to recover any significant strength any time soon. Nikon hasn't yet published their yen/dollar assumption for the year (they will when they release their year-end results shortly), but the dollar has been under last year's assumption for several months. Those of you complaining about the price of the 16-85mm DX lens may be just at the forefront of a trend: I expect Nikon's prices to have to rise in the US during the coming year. This time last year, the yen was about 117 to the dollar, thus we've had a 15% slide, mostly within the last few months. Nikon isn't going to absorb that slide by itself--US customers will likely be paying more or receiving less.
Lightroom 1.4 appeareth, Lightroom 1.4 goeth
Mar 14 (updated)--Version 1.4 of Lightroom, and ACR 4.4, now support the Nikon D60. Also, Adobe has tweaked the color rendering in extreme lighting. But both versions were withdrawn after Adobe found errors in the EXIF data recording and DNG support.
It's a Start
Mar 9--Two books, 1000+ pages, two articles, three short videos, and some bits and pieces done and ready for deployment. Four books, 2500+ pages, sixteen articles, and a few other odds and ends left to go...
The D300 Guide will be available for pre-order next week. Normally I wait until I've gotten product back from duplication before I begin to accept orders, but since I've added a printed component to the D300 Guide and I expect it to be popular, I need some idea about how many units to order. So, while the product isn't quite ready to ship, you can guarantee that you'll be one of the first to receive it by putting in your order next week.
Mar 6--Photo Mechanic version 18.104.22.168 has added raw support for the D3 and D300, along with a number of small fixes.
Did I Sleep in February?
Mar 2--Answer: probably not. As twelve workshop students know, it was up at six or earlier for sunrise, shoot travel and eat all day, critique or Photo Survivor sessions until after midnight, and then for me, some more work before hitting the sheets. That's if I actually hit the sheets. On the night of the lunar eclipse, for example, I was shooting all night, as I was on a few other evenings when the weather warranted it.
So, coupled with the tail end of a cold I picked up, it may be too much to expect me to hit the ground running early this week now that I'm home. But I'm crawling...
Mar 2--More Nikon-related news to note:
- The D60, 16-85mm, and 24mm PC lenses are all shipping now, though in limited quantities in some locales.
- NikonUSA has rolled out a new Web site design. There's also a blog dedicated to comments on the new design.
- Nikon Transfer is now at version 1.02 (D60 support and a bug fix).
- Nikon ViewNX is now at version 1.03 (D60 support plus a large number of small updates).
- The D80 has been updated to firmware 1.10, which adds Vista certification, MTP/PTP transfer via USB, and improves Long Exp NR with shutter speed set to Bulb.
- DXO has added 10 lens support modules for Nikon users, including the Nikkor 10.5mm, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 24-120mm, 70-300mm, and Sigma 10-20mm.
What I Took to Patagonia
Mar 2 (fixed)--As usual when I go somewhere exotic, I get the "what did you take" questions. Be wary of my answers, however, as more often than not I'm not optimizing my equipment choices, but doing testing. To wit:
- D3 and D300 bodies for testing, Ricoh GX-100 compact.
- 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-300mm AF-S lenses, plus some other odds and ends, like the new 18-55mm VR. The lens choices were mostly test-driven, with only the 70-300mm chosen to purpose.
- Gitzo GT2530LVL with RRS BH-40 head and pano equipment.
- The usual filters, flash, and other paraphernalia, all wrapped in the ThinkTank Airport Antidote.
Some Quick Updates
Feb 21--I'm actually looking at the portion of the glacier in the above picture as I update this site. Sigh. The Internet is starting to be available everywhere. But there's been some product announcements and updates that you need to know about, so here goes the quick update before I get back to teaching and shooting:
- Nikon updated Capture to version 1.3.2 and Camera Control Pro to version 2.1.0. The big change is D60 support (both the D60 and 16-85mm lens should be out shortly). But the Capture sharpening bug has also been fixed, which will make many happy.
- Silkypix Developer Studio is now at version 3.0.
- Aperture got a big database rewrite and user interface simplification, and is now available in version 2.0. A number of "parity with Lightroom" features popped up, as well.
- It appears that NikonUSA has finally gotten around to addressing some of my complaints about logging in equipment. They're now sending emails with PDF attachments when they log in new equipment and do the initial estimate, instead of mailing it (and slowly at that).
Short Teaching Break
Feb 6--See that group at the top of the glacier in the photo above? Well, I'm somewhere over the other side of that ridge teaching another group how to be better photographers. Internet access, obviously, is somewhat limited for me, thus I'm going to just say "see you in March." But be sure to read "Coming Soon" in the right column.
Nikon Financial Results
Feb 6--Nikon announced its third-quarter fiscal year results and estimates for the full financial year (ends March 31, 2008). As expected, the Imaging division continues to do well, and Nikon has once again upped their year-end estimates for the division. The basic numbers of interest:
- Fiscal year sales now estimated to be 570b yen, with 80b profit.
- DSLR sales still expected to be 3m units in fiscal year (a bit over 50% increase from last year).
- Lens sales now expected to rise to 4.3m units (previous estimate was 4m, and also a 50%+ increase year-to-year).
- Coolpix sales now estimated to be 8.3m units (previous estimate was 8m).
I should point out that a 10% operating margin (57b yen) would be considered good, so Nikon is still pushing very high profit numbers out of the division (14%). The only possible downside news is that inventories and accounts receivable showed a minor increase year-to-year, but since that's reported on a company-wide basis, you can't tell if that's in the camera business or other Nikon products. The inventory increase could also be build-up of products not yet for sale (D60 and 16-85mm lens, for example).
The Problem of Innovation in a Mature Market
Feb 6--Post PMA we're getting a lot of the same emails and forum posts. Basically, they go something like this: "Watch out Nikon and Canon, Sony's new Live View (or fill-in-the-blank's new fill-in-the-blank) is going to blow you out of the market."
Such "observations" are not really observations, but wishful thinking. The problem for all smaller-share players in a market dominated by legacy players is simple: how do you take market share and hold it? It's not as simple as coming up with a new feature (even a useful one). Sony's approach to Live View (viewfinder CCD) is one that Olympus pioneered, and it didn't win Olympus any new market share. Indeed, in that last sentence you see the problem: if Olympus and Sony can use the same approach, what's going to stop Nikon, Canon, Pentax, et.al., using the same approach down the line?
You might think that patents are the answer, but that hasn't proven to be the case in the past. First, there are too many cross-licensing agreements in place amongst these companies to keep new technology to themselves. Second, there are always ways around patents. Worse still, some of the underlying patents aren't in the hands of the player making use of them, which means licensing to others is possible. Finally, there's the patents themselves: they simply may not be enforceable (viewing via a viewfinder sensor were discussed in public well prior to their actual design; indeed, the Nikon F5 had "live view" via Photo Secretary back in the 1990's, and I've been asking since the beginning of the digital era where that capability went).
It takes a disruptive technology to make significant inroads against established players, and even then you don't always win. In SLRs we have the case of Minolta, who jumped first on phase detecting autofocus technology (and violated Honeywell's patents in doing so). Minolta managed to climb into the top tier of SLR makers for a short time, at one point taking about a third of the market. But note that Nikon and Canon both adopted phase detection technology very quickly, essentially negating the upstart's seeming technology advantage. Some say that the distraction of the Honeywell suit crippled Minolta--and it most certainly slowed them--but in the end little performance aspects count, such as shutter lag, 100% viewfinders, frame rates, and much more. At least amongst serious photographers. You have to deliver it all, not just a new feature, and you have to do it across an entire line of products, not just a handful.
It's true that marketing is one key element to all this. Sony and Pentax, for example, seem to be trying the "check box" approach to features: got IS, got sensor cleaning, got live view, got...well, you get the idea. The problem is that their check boxes are at most a generation ahead of the big competitors they wish to unseat, and they're running low on useful ammo. The only real drawback to the new Nikon D60 vis-a-vis the new Sony Alpha 350 is lack of Live View. How much do you want to bet that the next consumer DSLR introduced by Nikon has Live View?
I'm impressed by Sony's efforts. They certainly are pressing forward hard and showing that they want that third spot very badly. The technology problem-solving they're showing is also impressive. But short of a true disruptive technology that the others can't easily reproduce, it's not going to be as easy as they seem to think to topple the leaders. Will Sony and Pentax/Samsung bite off some market share from the leaders? Probably, though it's going to be expensive to do (either through bigger advertising presence, shelf-space incentives, and/or consumer pricing). Will Nikon and Canon sit quietly while others take any market share from them? Not a chance.
Game on; but not over.
Jan 31--Since we're near the end of life of five Nikon DSLR bodies, I thought it might be interesting to do a quick analysis of how prices went from intro to end-of-life for these Nikon DSLRs:
- D40 with 18-55mm lens. US$589 intro to US$479 recent, a US$90 (15%) drop.
- D40x body. US$729 intro to US$534 recent, a US$195 (27%) drop.
- D80 body. US$999 intro to US$781 recent, a US$218 (22%) drop.
- D200 body. US$1699 intro to US$1364 recent, a US$335 (20%) drop.
- D2xs body. US$4999 intro to US$4299 recent, a US$700 (14%) drop.
So what did you just learn? You pay a 15-25% premium to be an early adopter, and if you see a body price drop 10-20% mid-life, that's a good deal. What's mid-life? Nine months for the consumer bodies, one year for the prosumer bodies, 18 months to two years for the pro bodies.
Of course, increased competition, a weak economy, and a declining dollar could all change those numbers in the next generation, but I think it's a pretty good starting place if you're the analytical type.
Nikon's New Lenses
Jan 29--Nikon announced three new lenses at PMA as expected. What wasn't quite expected was which ones:
- 24mm f/3.5D ED PC-E. This FX-capable tilt and shift lens provides perspective control at a wide angle. Tilt is up to 8.5 degrees and shift is up to 11.5mm. Available in spring.
- 60mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Micro-Nikkor. The shortest macro lens gets its update, ala the 105mm, though minus the VR. Also FX capable.
- 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR DX. The one expected announcement: basically the DX equivalent to the 24-120mm. Bundles with the D300 are expected in addition to being available separately.
Also announced was development of a 45mm f/2.8D ED PC-E Micro-Nikkor, and an update to the current 85mm PC, both to be available in the summer.
Most Nikon users are going to be puzzled by these announcements. Indeed, even though I've known about these lenses for awhile, I'm perplexed as to why Nikon is putting so much macro effort into the 105mm and under range. What's startlingly missing from the lineup is any new macro with a working distance that's suitable to outdoor work (e.g. 70-180mm, or 200mm). The European press release for the 60mm originally used the words "leave animals and insects undisturbed," so apparently no one there has ever tried to photograph insects in the wild with a 60mm macro whose front element is a few millimeters away from the insect.
Moreover, we now have a full line of tilt-shift lenses to match our lineup of macro lenses, but we're missing a DX counterpart. In other words, Nikon is trumpeting a "full" lineup of macro and PC lenses now, but their definition of full isn't mine or the market's. Do we really need 60mm, 85mm, and 105mm macro lenses? Do we really need a 45mm PC lens more than a DX one? I think the answer to both questions is no.
However, there is an interesting point to all this: Nikon appears to be returning to its roots. Nikon's early success in 35mm SLRs was not just due to having a great professional SLR (and a constant stream of consumer ones). Much of the early interest in Nikon was that they augmented the camera with lens choices that went beyond their great basic wide, normal, telephoto offerings (in those days, 28/35mm, 50/55mm, 105/135mm). It appears that Nikon's current thrust is stealing from their old playbook: establish lens capabilities that other mounts can't match. Personally, I'm all for that--I like new options to play with. But I can't help wonder whether or not whether the digital crowd will react the same way the film crowd did.
And the New Body, the D40xs (sic)
Jan 29--Let's see, we've had 40, 50, 70, and 80, what's left? Well, now we have one of the answers: the new Nikon D60. This appears to be a simple D40x update. Still 10.2mp, but with a dust control system (sensor cleaning function plus directed airflow within the mirror box area).
Personally, I'd call this the D40xs myself, as all the changes are modest ones that didn't require deep design or critical part changes. Other things that were added: Active D-Lighting and automatic shut-off of the color LCD when you're looking through the viewfinder. Both those items are functional and useful additions. We also get a new battery, date imprint, stop motion animation support, an update to the metering system, none of which we needed. A couple of modest interesting additions: the rear LCD shooting display pivots with the camera and you can now have the camera process an already shot NEF into a JPEG. The one significant item that didn't make it into the update but should have is Live View.
Basically, it looks like Nikon concentrated on fixing the big issues that some have found with the D40x, a camera I already liked and think is under-rated. I expect a chorus of "disappointment" posts on the various Internet fora, but I think you need to look at the price/performance of this low-end camera.
Coupled with the new 18-55mm VR lens in the basic kit, the D60 makes one heck of a compact travel camera. Add a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 and a 55-200mm VR and you've got a pretty compact kit that can do most of what the consumer needs to do.
Coolpix Anyone? Bueller? Bueller...?
Jan 29--And, of course, the requisite Coolpix models were announced, too:
- P60: Take the one good feature of the P50 out (28mm), add some zoom range (36-180mm), add an electronic viewfinder and sensor shift IS. Another miss
- S600: Pardon me if I think a new "Pastel" shooting mode is not important.
- S550: Like the S600 the new features are D-Lighting, Red-eye fix, and face-priority AF.
- S520: More of the same, only smaller in most of the numbers.
- S210: Okay, we get it, four stylish cameras with similar features differentiated by sensor and lens. And, by the way, when did "black" become "urban black?"
- L16 and L18: At the low end the same basic feature set has been rolled into the simplest and least expensive Coolpix models.
The one thing that can be said for the new Coolpix models is the consistency. Previous generation announcements have had multiple models with differing feature sets and even different UI. This time around, Nikon seems to have worked harder at trying to get to a more basic selling pitch: "these cameras all have the same great foundation of features, so how many megapixels and how much lens do you need?" The thing that I can't tell yet is whether Nikon has fixed the primary thing that has held their compact cameras back: speed of focus. Given that the press releases make no AF performance claims, I'm guessing no.
Jan 31 (updated)--As expected, there are a stream of minor announcements of relevance to Nikon users:
- Sigma announced several interesting new lenses, most notably the 18-125mm f/3.8-5.6, the 120-400mm f/4.5-5.6, and the 150-500mm f/5-6.3, all with optical stabilization.
- Tamron announced a version of the 17-50mm f/2.8 with an internal lens motor, which makes the lens fully compatible with the D40/D40x/D60. They also announced development of a 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 lens and re-iterated about lens motors in two other lenses.
- DXO has added D300 support, and will add D3 support to the Elite edition in February. Unfortunately, Mac users have to wait.
And Now These Final Words...
Jan 29--Today is a mixed message day from Nikon, at least at first glance. Or is it?
Let's start with the D60: the D40x got an update in 12 months. Most of the things in the update are trickle downs from the high end lineup. Gee, that still sounds aggressive to me, and it seems to indicate that Nikon is going to continue to roll frequent updates in the consumer lineup, basically as fast as they can do the integration. Note that D40x, D60, and D300 were all "short cycle" products, coming faster than expected. If the D80 replacement is on track for Spring announcement, Nikon will have effectively gone to compact-speed camera rotations with the DSLR lineup.
That's good news for me, I suppose, at it gives me a constant stream of product to write about, but it's not necessarily great news for consumers. You'll note that late last year I wrote about skipping a generation between buying new DSLRs, and I think that's going to be the norm pretty much from here on out. Individual iterations sometimes look good on paper, as the marketing departments crank lots of effort into describing new functions and features and make them seem compelling. But on close examination, are you really getting better pictures from Generation 6 than you were from Generation 5? Yes, but not enough so to pay full price again for the privilege.
The lens situation is interesting. Nikon has essentially said the following: we're continuing to roll with desirable DX zooms, we're re-establishing a full macro line, and we'll be extending the lens options to a full tilt-shift line. Those are all good things, and we shouldn't discount their importance. On the other hand, we're still missing a lot of basic lenses. I'll have much more to say about lenses soon, but the bottom line is still the same as what it was last time I wrote about missing lenses: Nikon needs to up their game. I've liked almost all of Nikon's recent lens offerings, but why is it I still find significant gaps in my case? If Nikon go from making 0 to 4 million plus DSLRs in less than a decade, I think they can fix a system that has historically produced only 5 lenses a year (and many of them were just updates).
As for Coolpix, well, they say a rising tide floats all boats, and that's the only good news on the Coolpix front: Nikon still launches new boats, though they all seem to be the same basic designs with new paint jobs and new names for the paint (e.g. "urban black" and "titanium silver").
Alternate Ring Flash
Jan 23--While doing some online research I came across the Dine Mini Macro Flash, which appears to be some sort of SB-400 conversion to provide closeup ring-type TTL for recent Nikon bodies. Haven't tried it myself yet, but it does seem like an interesting variant, even if it is a bit pricey. Dine has been selling to dentists for as long as I can remember--my childhood dentist had one of their early units.
Jan 23--Nikon apparently is scheduled to announced new Coolpix models, a DSLR replacement (probably the D40x update), and three new lenses next week (just prior to when the Photo Marketing Association trade show opens).
D80 Firmware Gets an Update
Jan 23--the D80 firmware has been updated from 1.01 to 1.10. Only three changes are mentioned by Nikon: Vista certification, PTP has been updated to MTP/PTP ala the new cameras, and noise processing for Bulb exposures with Long Exp. NR set has been improved. The update should be on all Nikon sites shortly.
Another Motorized Lens
Jan 22--Tamron has updated their 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens with an internal motor so that it will work with the D40 and D40x. As if we don't have enough trouble with lens names, this one gets the acronym laden and cryptic AF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di LD Macro Model A17NII. Other than the internal motor, the only other specification I can see that changed is that it gained a slight bit of weight (probably due to all the extra ink in the lens' name ;~).
Sigma D3 Compatibility
Jan 22--Sigma is offering free upgrades to four of their lenses that don't perform as expected on a D3. The 10-20mm and 30mm f/1.4 HSM lenses don't automatically crop to the DX format when mounted, while the 120-300mm f/2.8 and 300mm f/2.8 do (and shouldn't). Servicing information will be posted on the Sigma Web sites shortly. In the meantime, you can contact your local Sigma distributor for more information: Sigma Distributor Web site.
A Program You Might Not Have Heard of But Should
Jan 22--PhotoAcute Studio has just been updated to version 2.7.4. The primary addition is the ability to stack photos to add depth of field. Which brings us to why you might want it: this unique program is a stacking wizard: stack photos to remove noise, stack photos to increase resolution, stack photos to remove things that move, stack photos to increase dynamic range, and now, stack photos to add depth of field. Of course, you have to shoot with that intention, but this product can do things that are very useful with a little planning. Oh, and did I mention it can do geometric and aberration correction? Windows, Linux, and Mac versions are available.
14 is the new 12
Jan 14--In the beginning there was 3, which became 6, 8, and 10. And 10 begat 12. So shall 12 give way to 14.
What the heck am I talking about? Megapixel creep. Yes, folks, it's once again time for the marketing folk to get out their erasers and remove all the references to 12 and start penciling in the new champ, 14. At the upcoming PMA you'll see both compacts and DSLRs start trumpeting the new number as if it were magical.
And buyers will fall for it. You'll hear chants of "More pixels mean better cropping choices." "Advances in noise reduction mean I get the same quality with more quantity." "Finally, I can print 13x19" at 300dpi" (not really, but someone will say something like that). Just remember: more pixels come with other issues, more storage space needed being a big one (and transfer times per image go up).
Here's a better choice for your money: spend it learning how to best use what you've got. Go to PhotoshopWorld and learn some new techniques. Browse Shaw Guides and find a workshop near you. Purchase a good book and study it carefully.
Buying incremental increases like 10 to 12mp or 12 to 14mp generally don't buy you much (though every now and then the camera body the new sensor is in provides something worth the money). A couple of hundred new pixels in each direction almost always gets you less than learning how to properly frame the pixels you have.
Jan 14--Those that ordered my eBooks over the holiday and shortly after experienced delayed fulfillment. All orders through Jan 8th have now shipped, and the explanation for the delay is in a letter accompanying your package. My apologies for the slow processing of orders. Things should revert back to normal now that I'm able to direct my attention back to the business.