DX Month, Week Three

The compilation of DX stores from Week Three of DX Month (October 2012)


Why DX Month Now?
Oct 19, 2012 (commentary)--
The answer is simple: with the D3s and D3x I became mostly an FX shooter, and this year's mad rush of FX bodies (D4, D800, D800E, D600) kept me riveted on FX. But somewhere this summer I realized that I, too, had taken my eyes off of DX just as Nikon had. So I made a personal commitment to fix that and give DX some of the coverage it was missing.

The question is whether Nikon has also figured out the same thing. Through most of the post-D3 years FX has been less than 10% of Nikon's DSLR sales. It might break into double digits this year because about the only new things in the DSLR lineup have been FX, but given FX's 2x cost over a similar DX body we're not going to see Nikon replace their DX body sales volume with FX.

The answer to Nikon's fixation on FX has to do with ego, and can be easily seen in the rear-view mirror. Canon clearly got the pro market with it's 1.3x and full frame products in the middle of last decade while Nikon had the dud D2h and great-at-only-base-ISO D2x. It's clear that Nikon's primary focus is on ousting Canon at the top, then trying to work that down into the lower lineup. Thus, Nikon had no choice but to abandon pro DX and go pro FX if they wanted to "keep up with Canon."

The D3/D3s/D3x combo changed things dramatically in the pro ranks. For quite a few months, Nikon was outselling Canon in the full frame market. Some of that, however, is false reading of the facts. A Canon shooter was already shooting 16mp full frame in 2004. The 16 to 21mp upgrade of the 1Ds Mark III wasn't exactly a big leap, so it wasn't an urgent upgrade. Likewise, the 1D II shooters were already at 8mp and 1.3x crop, which was a very good compromise between pixels and reach. The 1D Mark III wasn't a big upgrade, either, plus early autofocus problems put off a lot of upgraders. So it wasn't an urgent upgrade for a Canon shooter, either.

In other words, Nikon's first FX push came into a period where Canon was iterating, but not compellingly so. Nikon's pro user base finally had FX and so rushed into the vacuum; Canon's user base was just doing regular updating. Nikon outsold Canon in pro full frame during this period for that reason. These days, however, things at the top end are more like they usually are in the duopoly: both Canon and Nikon are iterating high end cameras, and at the very top of the lineup, but it's mostly about upgrades, not new users. Thus, what looked like a big Nikon win in FX in 2007/2008 at the top is now much more muted.

So the whole full frame competition moved downward from the absolute high-end pro camera. The Canon 5D begat the D700. The 5DII begat the D800 and 5DIII. Now the D600 begat the 6D. Again, the initial rush was typically Canon's, the second rush was Nikon's, and then things even out into a more even field. The Big Two have full frame mostly to themselves, with only Sony making occasional forays into this world, and then not particularly sticking with them (at least so far).

Bragging rights in DSLRs are seen by both Canon and Nikon as being primarily about what's happening at the top end. Thus we have had the 5D, 5DII, 5DIII, 6D, 1DIII, 1DIV, 1DsIII, 1Dx, and D600, D700, D800/D800E, D3, D3s, D3x, D4 in this post 2007 battle. Yet through most of these five years that has been 5-10% of the DSLR marketplace. That's a lot of iron dedicated to a few users.

And yes, we shooters got distracted by it, too. As I've noted, we've had eight FX bodies introduced since the D3 announcement in 2007, and only ten DX bodies (and one of those updates wasn't very big). So Nikon's paid about as much attention to the smallest portion of their audience as to the far larger portion.

Meanwhile, below DX/APS things have been fairly heated, and we've now got some interesting players that are nibbling away at DX/APS from the bottom (primarily m4/3 and NEX). When I first started contemplating a DX Month early this summer, one of the things that I immediately noticed was that the big moves were coming in mirrorless and FX, and DX was just lazily iterating the same thing with different sensors. In Nikon's case, they also push a few higher model features down a level each iteration. But where has there been a new significant feature added at the top of DX since the D300 in 2007?

So, in the end I realized that not only had I gotten a little lazy about DX on this site, but Nikon themselves were taking DX for granted. Okay, so I'm working my way towards fixing my oversight, but we're back to the same question: is Nikon doing the same?

Another Pivot Ahead
Oct 17, 2012 (commentary)--
Reviews of current DX products continue this week. Next week, I'll wrap up DX Month with another pivot, this time towards DX's future. We'll also find out what nearly 10,000 of you said about DX lenses.

From the feedback so far, it seems DX Month was well received, so look for me to do some special topical months again in the future. But every month can't be special, so we'll return to more regular coverage next month.

Oct 17, 2012 (reviews)--
And finally the promised DX reviews (more coming, keep watching this list).



Rationalizing DX Lenses
Oct 14, 2012 (commentary)--
Here's a new article that speaks to rational DX lens sets here in 2012. There aren't many, as it turns out. But it is what it is.

Rationalizing all lenses, including FX.

Emotional Arguments Versus Rational
Oct 13, 2012 (commentary)--
A lot of the "DX is dead" thinking is related to emotional arguments, not rational. It's important to understand which one you're using in making up your mind about something. This is just another of the "want" versus "need" juxtopositions I've written about in the past. Wanting something is different than needing something.

Right now Nikon is playing the emotional card with FX. "Hey folks, full frame cameras just like you used to use are now affordable and state-of-the-art." The rational argument is a bit different: DX is one stop less capable than FX (at state-of-the-art), but about half the price (and also slightly smaller and lighter).

That "half price" thing is important, because a fair number of people do purchase on price (and some have to). Moreover, we know from price elasticity of demand, that sales at US$500 will be higher than US$1000 versus US$2000. In fact, it's not a straight line relationship, but an escalating one (e.g. you don't sell 1/4 the product at 4x the price, you may sell only 1/16 the product).

I've argued all along that DX is the "value system." It lives in an area that's a balance of price and performance. It's more than enough performance for most people, maybe even 95%+ of the people.

But the emotional argument still pulls some to FX. When I'm out in the field these days, I make it a habit of talking to every D800 user I encounter. After identifying myself, on some pretext I'll ask to see their camera. In so doing, I'll quickly look at the pictures these people are taking. I've yet to see a photo that required a D800.

True, those folk may be using the D800 to do double duty (i.e. serve as the family snapshot source rather than get out a different camera for that). But still, it's like discovering folk with Ferraris who drive them on a 2-mile commute on city streets with lots of signals and stop signs.

The same thing is true at the other end. The OM-D is a popular mirrorless camera amongst former DX users (with the Fujifilm X-Pro1 and X-E1 also getting a lot of mention these days). The retro style and controls are emotional connections to the past. The smaller size and weight certainly set off emotional responses. But try taking shots of your child playing soccer under the stadium lights and you find you really need a DSLR (and the right lens).

A lot of people say crop sensor DSLRs are either already dead (these people don't read sales charts, apparently) or will soon die, usually because they see mirrorless and FX squeezing them out of existence. I don't quite see it that way. While there certainly is a squeeze on, that doesn't mean there isn't a middle position worth defending long term. For example, EVF is not the same as optical in terms of viewfinders (lag, brightness to the eye, 2D versus 3D, battery life, and a host of other factors all come into play).

Still, I'm getting a lot of emails that say "[your article] hit a nerve." Those last three words are exactly repeated, and that means that my articles are also provoking an emotional response (I don't believe that your Web browser actually sends an electrical signal from the monitor to your body and physically toggles a nerve ;~).

I've learned over the years to never bet against technology progression. Almost certainly DSLRs will slowly find more and more of their mechanical heritage giving way to electronic. And that argues for more mirrorless systems. But even if a mirrorless system could cannibalize the D3200 market, that doesn't mean it could immediately also take over the D7000/D300s market. Indeed, that's just one of the reasons why I find Nikon's neglect of high-end DX short-sighted. I'd think you'd want to shore up a significant market before it gets nibbled at from both ends. To do so, you have to make sure that you have the rational arguments in place, plus find an emotional argument to help make the sale. Right now DX is a bit lacking in both, and that's what's driving the "DX is dead" commentary you find all over the Internet and those "hit a nerve" comments I'm receiving.

As we slowly pivot from the past to the future in these articles, let me be unequivocable: DX is not dead. That should become clear soon, and in multiple ways later. It might not be quite the same as it once was, but it will live on. Just from the economic aspect, crop sensors have to live on. Smart companies don't abandon a best seller before extracting all the value that's there. DX is alive. It will remain alive for quite some time. It's only rational.


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