On Wednesday, many international newspapers reported the news that the famous Japanese camera brand Nikon will stop producing single-lens reflex cameras, the ones that for decades have made the company a vanguard in professional photography and beyond. The news was given by the reliable Japanese newspaper Nikkei, but a few hours later Nikon published a hasty denial, according to which the company “is continuing the production, sale and service of digital SLRs”. A phrase that does not contain reassurances on the development of new models, and which therefore could literally mean that the company will only produce and sell the old ones.
It is not clear what will happen, but the reasons why Nikon may have made or want to make such a choice are there and are not negligible. One of these is the spread of mirrorless camera models, that is, without the internal mirror that shows what is framed by the lens in the reflex viewfinder. They have a more practical and lighter structure and give results now comparable to those of reflex cameras, at least of the non-high-end ones, but Nikon has never managed to establish itself in this segment like other companies.
The other reason, and perhaps even more inexorable, is the sharp downsizing of the camera market due to the now widespread use of smartphones with increasingly sophisticated cameras.
Nikon began producing cameras after World War II and in 1959 released the Nikon F, which was not the first SLR in history but was considered the most sophisticated and innovative. Nikon’s first digital SLR arrived decades later, in 1999: compared to film cameras, digital ones were easier to produce and Nikon was able to intercept the potential of this technology, so much so that Nikon’s digital models had an enormous diffusion in the early 2000s. Today, the company effectively shares a large part of the digital SLR market with Canon.
In 2009 Olympus released the EP-1, the first mirrorless digital camera in history. Mirrorless cameras do not have a mirror like reflex cameras: the image is collected by the lens and shown directly on the display and, without the mirror, also in the viewfinder, which can be optical or electronic. This reduces the size of the camera and shutter speeds, and increases accuracy and durability.
In the transition from SLR to mirrorless Nikon was not as fast as it had been with the transition to digital and was anticipated by brands like Sony. Nikkei explains that the reason Nikon lagged behind was that mirrorless cameras needed an adapter to be compatible with the lenses Nikon had sold for SLRs up to that point: the company feared that this step would not be appreciated by the consumers and for this reason it took a long time to invest in this new technology.
More recently, this has been joined by a general crisis in the non-professional photography market due to the spread of smartphones with increasingly sophisticated cameras. Phones have in fact replaced compact digital cameras, products that in the early 2000s made up about 80 percent of the industry’s value. But not only: with the spread of social networks, the quality of the images has become less important in the common perception than the possibility of publishing photos instantly.
In recent years Nikon has scaled down its beginner catalog, focusing on the market for products for professionals and enthusiasts. But he still had big losses: in 2019 he had to close two factories in Japan and lay off staff in foreign branches and in 2020 he closed the fiscal year in negative.
2020 was also the year in which the sale of mirrorless cameras surpassed that of SLRs and in which Nikon unveiled its latest model of SLR, the D6 which, if what Nikkei says is true, will be the last. of its history.