Nikon Lost in Hall of Mirrors

The Wall Street Journal blames Nikon’s poor overall performance on missing the mirrorless boat. “Nikon needs to start breaking some mirrors,” the paper says. “That isn’t usually seen as a way to good fortune, but mirrors — specifically, the ones that add bulk to its high-end SLR cameras — are one of Nikon’s biggest problems right now.”

Up to a certain point mirrorless cameras today deliver what DSLRs do. Let’s not descent into pseudo-religious talk by saying one system is better and one is poorer. To each his or her own. The end justifies the means, so as a photographer you alone should and can know what system suits you best. Mirrorless today is up to the most demanding jobs — something Nikon still seems to ignore, says the Journal, and one wonders why they don’t mention Canon.

The only still camera segment growing is mirrorless cameras.
The only still camera segment growing is mirrorless cameras.
People make more photos than ever, driven by the growing popularity and ease of use of smartphones, but less and less digital still cameras are sold.

Both Canon and nikon offer mirrorless “compromises,” fearing that releasing a full-blown mirrorless camera systems would cannibalize their high-end DSLRs. Quoting form the Journal:

The digital-camera market is in sharp decline as smartphones spread. Compact cameras have been hit hardest, but Nikon’s professional grade cameras are suffering as well. Just one category shows growth: “mirrorless” cameras. They are smaller and cheaper than DSLRs but also offer high image quality and interchangeable lenses. They make for a good upgrade from a smartphone camera without breaking the bank.

In the first four months of 2014, shipments of mirrorless cameras by Japanese firms rose by 12% year over year, according to the Camera and Imaging Products Association (CIPA). Shipments fell 42% for compact cameras and 17% for DSLRs.

Nikon was the last of the major Japanese makers to release a mirrorless camera. It likely fears cannibalizing its high-end DSLRs, but its strategy seems not to be working. Revenue for its camera division fell 9% in the year through March. Sony, Olympus and Panasonic are leading in the new field.

Nikon’s solution to its flagging stock price seems rash. Incoming Chief Executive Kazuo Ushida said Nikon plans to dive into medical equipment, where it has no expertise, and has earmarked $2 billion for relevant acquisitions.

Canon invests heavily in security cameras, Nikon’s sees the future in medical equipment. Both may have missed the party. And rival Olympus is already a leader in medical imaging as well as in mirrorless cameras…

The solution to Nikon’s problems is easy, concludes the Journal. To revive its image among investors, it must focus on making cameras that consumers actually want to buy.

Which raises the question whether Nikon — or Canon for that — are willing to drop their halfhearted mirrorless systems to come up with something more substantial that’s on par with DSLR performance. I got nice results with the Canon M, yet (and pardon my French) the smaller the sensor, the flatter the images seem…

Micro Four Thirds reaches a sweet spot already, delivering high image quality. However, at the latest since the ascent of the Sony A7 lineup the benchmark is, again, 35mm. Dropping one young small-sensored mirrorless system — or developing two mirrorless systems simultaneously — would be any camera company’s nightmare.

Either way, both Nikon and Canon have to act (while I remain a completely happy user of that old box with mirror technology while shooting mirrorless alongside…).

(via Wall Street Journal)

  • GaryMulcahey

    Nikon would kick butt if they just brought out a digital version of the old S3 rangefinder. It was a hell of a great camera. It would have that reto appeal with Nikon tech and optics. In my opinion it would be a winner.

  • Rich Owen

    Especially if they made it so the legacy Nikkor rangefinder lenses could be used!!!

  • Jason Schultz

    Everything else I’ve ever read/heard about this issue is contrary. Mirrorless cameras are not taking off in the North American market. Point & shoot/iPhone camera people, when they upgrade to a “real camera” buy a Rebel or the D3300. Because that’s what a “real camera” is in their minds. DSLR is far from a dead market. I don’t understand this article.

  • C.R. Parish

    More or less my impression also.

  • In essence, the article suggests Nikon will have better chances in the future to sell more serious cameras without than with mirror technology.

    The article ignores that many of us are “still” perfectly happy with the “old technology.” I ventured early into mirrorless only to find out that — and that’s a totally personal impression — I still prefer a good old optical viewfinder and a certain size of a camera, both arguments that actually contradict current trends. For good reasons many people favor EVF and small size above slight advances in performance.

    Truth is, these advances in performance are so minimal if not non-existant that they don’t matter too much in the real world. That’s where the pro-mirrorless argument comes in the WSJ article pleads for.

    It simply says get rid of the mirror box and make a lighter, slightly smaller with all the advantages of mirrorless technology, i.e. absolutely silent shutter, and so forth.

  • Ross

    Also, the more companies that actually seriously produce mirrorless cameras, the more chance of more improvements with each doing there own R&D & we can all benefit from it with healthy competition (well we can hope anyhow).

  • One More Thought

    Well, one error in the article is that Nikon was not the last of the major Japanese camera makers to release a mirrorless: Canon was.

    There is no doubt that mirrorless is getting better, and I too wish that Nikon and Canon would come out with better mirrorless offerings.

    However, this is yet another article from the WSJ trying to make the facts fit a preconceived narrative.

    Mirrorless sales still lag far behind DSLRs; hence why the article has to cite growth percentage and not sales numbers.

    And there is no doubt that still mirrorless does not quite measure up to DSLR’s overall well rounded performance.

    So shame on the WSJ for not being a true journalist but just wanting a more sensationalistic headline.