Back in the day, there were two primary camera brands — Canon and Nikon. If you walked into any camera shop, Canon and Nikon were the main brands you saw. The companies moved the photography industry forward year after year, from film cameras to DSLRs.

Even today, if you walk into a camera shop, those two brands take up some pretty big shelf space.

But now that the mirrorless revolution is in full swing, offering photographers smaller and lighter gear that rival DSLR technology, the market is shifting. Companies like Olympus and Panasonic jumped in first, with Sony following. Canon and Nikon were a bit more cautious, but did eventually release cameras and lenses in 2018.

While Canon has started to thrive with the recent releases of the EOS R5 and R6 cameras, Nikon is, well, a bit left behind. Nikon has started to embrace mirrorless with their Z series of cameras, but they have not been well received thus far. Looking at the Amazon top sellers for mirrorless photography should tell you this — the Nikon Z 50 is the first camera by the company listed, and comes in at #19 as of this writing.

With the news breaking recently that Nikon had shut down their Japan manufacturing plant, many are starting to question Nikon’s future. Sure, we’ve heard this before. But until now, there were no big steps at the company to signify their eventual demise.

It’s clear Nikon is skating on thin ice. In order for Nikon to be taken seriously as a player in the mirrorless game, they have to adapt. And fast. So what does Nikon need to do to push the envelope and truly embark on their mirrorless journey?

Focus on unique technologies

When you look at Olympus, which just completed the sale of their camera division to Japan Industrial Partners, they actually did a lot of things right when it came to development of the technologies they put in their cameras.

Features like Live Composite — still not found on any other camera brand — let you take long exposures without the worry of overexposing your image. Pixel shift technology allowed the company to produce high-resolution images, while state-of-the-art image stabilization and weather sealing meant that Olympus cameras could literally be taken anywhere.

Groundbreaking creative features like Live Composite would help Nikon gain ground. Photo by Bryan Esler.

Nikon should invest in some unique features like this. The image stabilization found in Canon’s new cameras is second to none, and Nikon absolutely has to compete here. At the same time, the company should develop fun features (like Live Composite) for their users. After all, isn’t using a camera supposed to be fun?

Another “new” technology that Nikon desperately needs to develop is their own sensor technology. With Sony supplying Nikon’s sensors, there’s very little that Nikon can do to differentiate itself. Sensor technology is a backbone of any camera manufacturer. Sony has it, Canon has it and Fujifilm has it. Nikon doesn’t and that’s not good for the brand’s long-term survival.

The big trend with Nikon is that they don’t develop, and that they waste time in development of gear that doesn’t sell. They also often look to third parties for their technology — not only with their sensors, but with their post-processing software. Nikon needs to bring this in-house and focus their time on developing products that will sell with the mass market.

Keep improving video

The video autofocus on Nikon’s Z series of cameras is certainly a massive improvement over what they had to offer on their DSLRs. But in order to catch Sony and Canon, they still have a long way to go.

Invest in top-notch image stabilization, and keep improving autofocus. While the Z 6II and Z 7II brought a lot of pro-oriented video features, Nikon should add features for the vlogging audience, too — specifically with the Z 5.

Develop a true pro body

While the Z 6II and Z 7II might be great cameras, Nikon is missing one thing — a true mirrorless pro body. Canon’s missing it too, but it got a lot closer with the R5.

Give pros a camera that outputs a high frame rate and that’s super durable. Give them something that’s great in low light. Consider adding a built-in grip for pros.

Basically, take the D6 and adapt it to the mirrorless market. Sure, it won’t be Nikon’s bestselling camera. But it’ll show they’re serious and in it for the long haul.

Speed up lens development for pros

This is by far the biggest weakness when it comes to Nikon’s Z system. When the company launched its Z mount lenses, it came out with slower, smaller lenses like the 24-70mm f/4. While that may be great for casual photographers, pros rely on f/2.8 and faster lenses.

With smartphones encroaching more and more each year on casual cameras, Nikon should have focused more on the pro market with their lenses. They made strides on this in 2020, but they need to continue to do so.

The fact that there are only two Z-mount lenses that are faster than f/1.8 is really a shame. They need to develop 85mm and 35mm f/1.4 lenses pronto.

Additionally, it would serve them well to team up with third-party lens manufacturers like Sigma and Tamron. Not everyone can afford native glass, and not everyone wants to bother with an adapter. When Sony authorized third-party lenses, that system sped forward like a speeding bullet. It’s about time Nikon does the same.

Nikon’s not going away … for now

We were all shocked when Olympus sold off its camera division. Could a similar fate be on the way for Nikon?

By no means do we pretend to be stock analysts, but what we’re seeing is troubling. Nikon stock is at half its value from five years ago, and the company’s net profit margin is down 400 percent. Nikon lost over $80 billion last year alone.

At the rate they’re going, Nikon will be out of business in 4-5 years unless something changes. They need to move quickly and fully embrace mirrorless technology, and start developing features that make for a unique selling point for photographers. Otherwise, Nikon will go in the way of other camera brands and be a thing of the past.

We aren’t willing to say that they’re done yet. But they need to move quickly and realize that mirrorless is the future. Otherwise, Nikon will go in the way of other camera brands and be a thing of the past.