Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/22/nikon-re-registers-legendary.html
Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/22/nikon-re-registers-legendary.html
Oh man what a classic. A digital version would be amazing. It would be interesting if anything comes of it. I’m not up on the market, but I can’t say I can recall anyone with a similar product currently.
Nikon recently had a mirrorless model and a couple of lenses that were fully submersible without a housing. (AW1 if you’re curious to look it up.) The problem is that it was part of Nikon’s first, small-sensor mirrorless system, which never got much traction and was finally discontinued after a slow death.
There is currently a waterproof Leica (fixed lens, APSC sensor) and various waterproof compacts around. I’d even say it’s the last segment of the compact camera market that hasn’t been crushed by smartphones.
Nikon is still a going concern for now but it and the entire industry are on pretty shaky ground. It’ll be interesting to see if there’s ever a new Nikonos but I wouldn’t hold my breath…
Well the AW1 is still available. The line was only discontinued last month.
And the mirrorless section of their website is currently set to a countdown to a live steam from Tokyo. Presumably where they’ll be announcing a new line.
The Camera business is also on much less shakey ground than it was. Things were much worse when digital first hit. And most of the companies that out and out failed did so during the digital transition. Smart phone ate the compact market a long time ago. But the rise of mirroless and increased sales of DSLRs (especially as they moved into video) reinvigorated things a lot. Nikon kind of ended up an also ran with the 1 line. But they make an awful of of surveying and medical imaging equipment among other things. As do Leica and Fuji. For most of your big camera companies, the still cameras are just one section of their business. Even Fuji, who’s major business was film have come out fine. Those companies without those other businesses (Kodak, Poloroid as examples) shat the bed a long time ago. Cannon actually came close to dying a few times a decade back. Video is what saved them, and its also what made their DSLRs the default as that market expanded. I’m always surprised Ricoh didn’t make it through. Very early on digital cameras and the bulk of their business was in shit like photocopying and printing equipment. Still around but they seem to have disappeared from the camera market.
And those compacts (and the AW1) are only water proof to 50 feet or less. And come with standard sized controls (no good with gloves) so they aren’t exactly proper dive cameras. The market they’ve always been meant to target was vacation snorkling.
Point taken on snorkeling vs dive cameras. I assume now you put your camera of choice in a housing, if you’re a diver.
As for the 1 system and the imminent announcement: Nikon will be announcing a full frame, pro/prosumer-grade mirrorless system. Totally different ballgame from the 1 system, which may only have been officially discontinued recently, but had seen no updates or new products for over three years.
The new Z mount is different in that it’s make-or-break for Nikon: it’s the successor to the F mount, not a companion, and Nikon has to navigate the transition without alienating customers who own thousands of dollars worth of F lenses, while also attracting new customers for cameras that cost $2500+ while fending off aggressive competition from Sony and Canon. I think Nikon will survive as a camera manufacturer (as opposed to its industrial business) but it isn’t a given. They don’t just need a home run with the new mount, they need a grand slam.
And while you’re right that most of the current players have other money makers, the fact remains that standalone cameras are a shrinking niche. It’s reflected in the way the remaining manufacturers are going up-market with most of their new gear. Still a lot of desperation in the air. And the overall numbers are small… Apple or Samsung could swallow the industry whole with barely a burp.
Not for the most part. I used to sell the stuff. Went to film school and sold professional video and still camera equipment right as the digital transition was happening. I also grew up not to far from Canon’s US headquarters.
And I can tell you as a first hand witness whatever instability your seeing. Is absolutely nothing compared to what was going on at the time. between the early 00’s and around when mirror-less hit big 2010. Canon’s corporate headquarters were quietly for sale multiple times. There’s nowhere near the level of layoffs the last 8 years or so as their were in the previous 10 years. These companies have actually been actively hiring for a pretty long stretch. I find it hard to believe that companies that made it through that, and are currently making better profits then they were at the time, even if its on fewer cameras. Are suddenly at risk of shutting down or pulling out of the market.
And a lot of what you’re talking about is stuff that’s already happened. Like I said point at shoots were already on their way to a dead market a decade ago thanks to camera phones. The first iPhone was release in '07. And at that point every cell phone already had a camera. Most of the manufacturers went upscale with their main thrust of their product line not too long after that. Digital point and shoots were really only a dominant part of the market for a few years. Not too long after they became common DSLRs and other large, feature rich cameras became the bigger growth market. Stand alone cameras have been a shrinking niche for 15 to 20 years. For every day snapshots and casual shooting. But whats a been growing niche is hobby photography and video. As well as a boom in digital media creation. That’s where the market is going, and that’s quite specifically the areas where the companies that are thriving have been making their bank. Its why Canon is where it is right now.
I also don’t think its as likely as you’d think for Samsung or Apple to just swallow the camera business. They cornered the market on lowest common denominator cameras. But those sensors and lenses are not in house products. They’re off the shelf or semi custom components produced and designed by suppliers. Like the screens button switches, often times processors etc. None of the major smart phone companies are going to spin up a full on imaging and camera business from scratch and blow out all the competition. There’s a level of IP, engineering know how, manufacturing experience etc that they just don’t have. Companies that have been doing it for decades wiff regularly. Hell Panasonic, who work with Leica haven’t shipped anything truly competitive, particularly in DSLRs in the decades since they entered the digital camera space. And Panasonic is the company that people used to warn about when talking about big electronics companies shutting down camera companies.
Eagerly awaiting NikonOS, the latest in camera operating systems.
Sure, every phone had a camera a decade ago, but they were uniformly terrible, whereas there were plenty of decent standalone p&s options (and many that were pretty bad but still much better than anything in a phone).
Cameras in phones didn’t start to get good enough to really gut-punch the camera industry until around 4 or 5 years ago, which is when the cheap end of the p&s market fell off a cliff. You can repeat this exercise for any of the majors, but here’s Canon’s product line up in reverse chronological order. Note how the small, pocketable p&s part of the lineup mostly fizzles out about four years ago. Ironically, the most recently announced product is just such a camera – but it has a number of features, like 40x zoom, to keep it ahead of the latest smartphones.
And the smartphone companies, being much bigger and richer than any dedicated camera company, are continuing to improve their cameras, largely through software. They long since passed the “good enough for most people” bar, and they’re still marching toward being “good enough for enthusiasts.” They’ll probably never get to professional-level quality, but there’s no point in aspiring to that anyway since pros wouldn’t accept it – you can’t look like a pro shooting with a phone.
I don’t think Apple or Samsung ever would swallow the industry – just that the camera industry is so small, relatively speaking, that they hypothetically could. But they won’t, because, well, companies don’t swallow entire industries. Sometimes, like Sony, they do buy a failing player and try to turn it around but I don’t even expect that level of involvement from Apple, or a repeat performance from Samsung. It was only a comment on relative size.
Samsung already did “spin up a full on imaging and camera business from scratch” and the products were very well-regarded. But it wasn’t a money-maker and they spiked it. Sony, on the other hand, with a pedigree in video but not still photography, bought failing Minolta and turned it into a very successful camera business under the Sony name. Panasonic, again with a pedigree in video, built a successful still/video hybrid camera business from scratch. And speaking of Panasonic…
… Panasonic did flop with its two DSLRs, circa 2007. But it also pioneered mirrorless (jointly with Olympus) and has carved out a good niche in the video-centric end of the market. The GH5 is a very successful camera, for example. And there have been quite a few others over the first decade of mirrorless. I really don’t think Panasonic is a very good example for your argument.
Canon, like every other DLSR maker, tacked video onto its cameras to keep up with mirrorless, which is inherently much better suited to video. Its DSLRs lead the market for other reasons.
Ricoh is still around, and actually owns Pentax. Not really huge players in the market, but respected.
As for Nikon and layoffs, just a year ago Nikon had 1000 “voluntary retirements” and had to cancel an announced product line, not to mention enduring the utter failure of the 1 series. It’s still a going concern in SLRs, but the F mount is on its deathbed after 60 years of hacks, kludges and patches to keep it modern, and generally speaking the SLR’s days are numbered. A new mount is a huge, risky change for them, but it’s also necessary. That doesn’t sound like a company on a solid footing.
Which brings us back to the Nikonos. It’s nice to dream, but I’m very skeptical of the idea that a new digital Nikonos could be a viable product. Would be happy to be proven wrong.
Well we can take a look at Nikon’s stock and financials:
Pretty stable, and generally up over 5 years. Though down from a big run up and peak about 10 years ago. Revenue down but profits and margins up. Up quite a bit.
That looks totally fine. Thats actually about where the whole camera market has been at. Some big volitility, fewer cameras sold. But those cameras that are sold are much higher margin and ultimately it seems like a healthier business than who can sell more bulk. And the number of times I’ve heard “x is make or break for Nikon” is fairly rediculous. The company is still around and doing better than many companies in the space.
I think you may be looking at this a little too much from the camera fan side of it. In terms of camera quality.
Take Panasonic. I used them as an example becaue while they’ve regularly produced regular cameras. Sales wise they’ve typically not been in the top tier. Even their video cameras have never really been the top sellers. I’ve long considered their pro and prosumer camers the best out there. But baring a few models at certain times and their cinema cameras. The best they’ve done is number 2 behind Canon. And that was a while back.
Sony. Who you keep mentioning. Has been enough of a corporate shit show for long enough that we’ve got a solid decade or more worth of deep dives into “whats wrong with Sony”. Their professional video cameras spent most of the aughts as a less common option getting outsold by other makers. Their phone business is dead. Much of their audio business outside of headphones and home theater is dead. Their PC business is largely dead. Most of their proprietary formats are long forgotten. Their dslrs only started selling as well as they do recently. Their point and shoots did well, but its a dead sector. And simple consumer camcorders are following. And their mirrorless system has done well but they didnt sell nearly as well as Canon for a long time.
But you know what Sony is still here depite all that. And despite all that coverage predicting their demise. And still in the camera space. Panasonic too.
In terms of dslr video. Canon was putting video capabilities in their dslrs, as was everyone else. Well before mirrorless took off. And iirc before mirroless cameras where a thing. Mirrorless may technically be better for video. But Canon was quite early with putting good HD video in their professional grade cameras. The massive trend a few years back was not for shooting with mirrorless. But shooting on canon dslrs. The 5d specifically. To the point where companies were bragging about shooting commercials entirely on 5ds, tv shows were making a big deal out of shooting full episodes on the 5d, and I had to explain repeatedly to employers why building your entire video workflow around them was a bad idea. That camera flat out invented a space for dslrs in professional video work flows. And became one of those “I want you to think I know what I’m talking about” by words like the RED. And Canon were also the first company to really hit big with mirrorless as a broad consumer product.
These sorts of cameras are increasingly less niche. So while the stand alone camera market itself is smaller the market for these sorts of prosumer and professional platforms is actually larger. I knew maybe 2 people besides myself with slr cameras when I was a teen, and everyone had some sort of point and shoot. Now noone has a point and shoot (except my grandma). But more than half the people I know currently own and use mirrorless or slrs. When I went to film school I had to take a class in a seperate department to learn still photo. Now my friend is teaching still cameras to his film students (for video use).
Oh, that is definitely my interest. I fully expect Nikon to survive as a company, and it may well be healthy as a whole. What is less certain, and all that really interests me personally, is its future as a camera maker. And as I said, I do expect it to survive, but I do not think it’s a given. All of these companies, even Canon, face big challenges ahead. (Canon will also have to think about migrating to ff mirrorless at some point.)
Likewise, I don’t much care that other parts of the Sony conglomerate are a mess, but I do find it interesting that the camera division has led the way in full-frame mirrorless and making gains against the big two in the process. And if we can agree that mirrorless will eventually displace the SLR (but still has a long way to go) that’s relevant to anything we might have to say about Nikon.
There’s a reason Nikon is 3 minutes away from announcing a successor to the F mount, and that is a huge deal for a company built on the F mount. (The two mounts will probably co-exist for some years but don’t expect much future development on the F side.)
Well sure, companies or divisions can keep going against the odds for various reasons. The Olympus camera division has been said to be struggling for years. Makes great cameras and lenses, has trouble making money on them. But apparently the parent company sees prestige value in keeping that division going, so it keeps going. I’m sure there are comparable situations for other companies. (Pentax comes to mind.)
I stand corrected on Canon and video. Googling first Canon dslr with video gives me a date of September 17, 2008 for the 5D mk 2. That’s about a month after mirrorless officially hit the market, but that first Panasonic mirrorless didn’t have video; that came some months later, and didn’t get serious traction with video pros for some time after that.
There were a couple mirrorless cameras before that Panasonic. Though they were technically “digital rangfinders”. From around 2004 I think.
It was relatively common to put video in digital still cameras from around that time as well. It was just terrible. The storage wasn’t there to get any kind of resolution worth while. Though many of them could be used as web cams/jacked directly into a computer for better resolution. So they could be used as perfunctory studio cameras. Did some animation that way too.
I have a Nikon fixed lens prosumer camera from around that time that shoots video. Like better exposed early cell phone video. I dont think it was even full sd. And you could only get a few minutes on a card at best.
It wasnt typical to put it in professional cameras that early. Because it was kind of useless. Some other cameras had quality video or HD before the 5d. But Canon seems to have been the first company to put the full force of their video division behind the idea. And they did it at just the right time. It ended up being the cheapest broadcast grade HD platform you could get. And they took a lot of what they learned there and applied it back onto their commercial camcorder line. To turn what had been home video cameras into small broadcast grade cameras with proper 3ccd video chips. At dirt cheap prices. It very much carried Canon over the collapse of point and shoots and shrinkage in the camcorder business. It made their dslrs the default. And it lead right into their success in mirrorless.
Canon’s quite good at that. I think it was the XL1 camcorder released late 90’s. Prosumer broadcast grade video camera. They put professional image sensors and features, xlr jacks, and a bunch of other stuff important professional features in a fairly affordable package. Most of their competition did as well. But what Canon did was make their camera with interchangable lenses in a market segment/pricepoint where that wasn’t common. And produce adapter rings to allow you to mount basically any photo lense ever made instead of their new video lenses (of which there werent a lot for a good long while).
Photo lenses are a fraction of the cost of video/cinema lenses. And much easier to come by. Especially second hand. Over night they had the cheapest interchangable lens video platform with the biggest selection of lenses. The video division that grew out of that floated them through the digital transition.
Pro video on a cheap platform is Canon’s power move. And they’ve almost always drawn on their much deeper history with still to make it happen. So I’ve pretty much always assumed the video on the 5d was long planned.
back in the day… circa 2007
ISTR that one thing that slowed the inclusion of video into DSLRs was that video and still cameras have different import tariffs…
A dive camera is probably a bigger market than the cineroc. http://www.rcgrabbag.com/archives/estes-cineroc-1970
Thanks, that was super interesting.
Yes, because not having a mirror is not the sole defining characteristic of a “mirrorless” camera. A rangefinder is still a rangefinder and not a “mirrorless” if it doesn’t have some kind of WYSIWIG preview, minimally on the rear screen or optionally through an EVF, as well as autofocus. “Mirrorless” is a term that seems to have been adopted by the masses more for brevity than accuracy.
Just my opinion but Canon’s success in mirrorless comes to a very large extent from the ability to put the Canon name on its offerings. They entered late (2012) with very conservative products that were pretty far behind what was already out there (and just two native lenses IIRC). But with a very large customer base, those two strikes against them didn’t matter at all.
But, the failure of the Nikon 1 system shows that Canon also had to make something that enough people wanted and could see a future for. Nikon didn’t do that on its first crack at mirrorless (and I’d put much of the blame on the choice of sensor format). I think they’ve probably learned their lesson and will get it right with the Z mount. I won’t be buying one anytime soon, but I do hope the new system survives and thrives long enough that we eventually see some consumer-grade offerings.
Of course, and I shouldn’t have implied otherwise. I blame my faulty memory of the timeline, or perhaps I was thinking of Nikon, which I believe was a laggard in the video department.
Anyway, we’ve drifted way off topic here, though maybe that isn’t such a big deal if not many people are interested in discussing the Nikonos (which I still think is very unlikely to reappear… but if it does it will be really, really expensive).
Well my bigger point with the conon video spiel was that Canon’s more recent success was down to video. The Canon name on those mirrorless cameras wouldn’t wouldnt have gotten them much without the boom in their DSLRs. And coming in technically late or not. Mirrorless was like 5% of the camera market when they entered. Its more than a quarter of the market now. And Canon’s line were the first to have broad success as a consumer product, they too had a little trend when introduced. Sony’s offerings were more popular internationally, but it took them time to catch on in the US.
Right around the time mirrorless was taking off I had family over from Ireland. They like to pickup expensive electronics here to avoid tax. And my cousin wanted one of the Sonys. It took a full week and 10 stores to find one in stock. Places did not carry the line, and kept pointing at Canon (and even Nikon). And when he did find one they did not carry any lenses or accesories for it. So all he could get was the base kit and a memory card. Ended up ordering extra lenses to the house.
So to bring it back home if theres a big problem I’d expect Nikon to address on a new platform its video. They’ve missed a fair bit of the expansion of the market on DSLR because their video lagged.
I would also expect them to do what they’ve often done in the past. And exploit some niche uses. Like underwater cameras. As mjch as video has been Canon’s power move a bunch of times in the past. One of Nikons has been specialised equipment for extreme environments. You dont just reignight a lapse trademark.
I suppose with the new mount and the experience of the AW1, a Z-mount Nikonos is not inconceivable, assuming they plan to make it an ILC as in the one shown a few posts up. Personally I think (but what do I know?) it would be wise for it to be not just an “underwater” camera but a rugged one for all kinds of extreme environments.
(Now I’m being chastised by the bbs for interacting with only the one of you… humph.)
Why not? It’s probably a very cheap way to protect IP. Owning the name but not using it is much, much better than not owning the name and watching someone else slap it on a piece of shit.
Well thats thats the thing. They didn’t do that. Per Jason’s article, the Nikonos trademark expired in 2008 and they didn’t renew. They let it sot unprotected for a decade. And now theyre essentially reapplying for it.
Comopanies usually just renew whether they plan to use a mark or not. Just to keep itbloxked down. They don’t generally let them lapse, especially for a decade, unless they see no value there. And they dont generally apply for new ones, or bring expired ones back to life. Unless they have a plan to use them. Whether that plan pans out or not.
Theres also a big trend at the moment for water and dust resistant/proof gadgets. Starting with cellphones to prevent them from toilet drops, and spinning out. Gadgets are advertising their IPv dust and water resistence level. And its commong for press to compare producys based on that rating, and test to see if they live up to that rating and how products within a rating compare. Durrability is the bigger thing than just water proofing alone.
Nikon has a lot of experince, and patents on exactly those things. Keeping dust and water out of cameras.
They’re already announcing the line. And they’ve only just reactivated the trademark. So obviously they dont have a dive camera ready to go. But as the new platform develops I’d say your likely to see water proof and resistent products. Or durability/extreme environment focused products. They’re likely planning some sort of underwater camera for if that works. Otherwise they’ll keep doing what they’ve mostly done. Build cameras that shoot good under water, and foster a healthy secondary market for housings and accessories.
Makes sense, sure, as a general principle. But for all we know, in this specific case there could have been all kinds of internal politics involved, and the re-registration is simply a sign that somebody won a petty power struggle.
I do find it surprising, however, that no other company registered it in the last decade. Maybe it would have been a legal minefield (given the “nikon” in the name) despite being there for the taking.
Pretty sure that is already the case for the announced products. Very common these days to have at least splash-proofing on higher-end lenses and bodies (and even some not-so-high-end gear), though rarely at levels designed to withstand immersion.
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