There have been a few articles recently musing on the demise of the Nikon F6 35mm film camera to mark the fact that Nikon has withdrawn it from sale after a 16-year run. In writing this, I wanted to put a product spin on it (I’m a product manager, natch) that I hope is unemotional.
I’ve never owned, seen or been drawn the Nikon F6. I once dreamed of, and then bought (and then sold) an F3 (it drained batteries so was a pain). I own an FM2 that I love and is always with me, though. There, full disclosure. We have an F6 review article right here on 35MMC.
Why the F6 existed
It’s never the role of the customer to further the fortunes of a company by buying its products. The customer might choose to do this for all sorts of altruistic or loyalty reasons, but it’s not their role in life. It’s the role of the company to build products that the customer wants to buy. The customer may not know that it needs them, but it is the role of the company to understand market needs and meet them. Yes, I know, Apple’s customers buy their products not necessarily because they need them, or knowing that a competitors product is more suitable to their needs, but that’s a whole different story. That story is about lifestyle choices and brand loyalty and so on (I’m writing this on a MacBook Air BTW…).
For the sake of this article, I’m going to assume that there was a sound commercial reason, a validated product value proposition, for the Nikon F5 to evolve into the F6. Through this value proposition (who it’s aimed at, what functionality it has, why customers should buy it and so on), Nikon will have identified that there was a market need for a camera with the F6’s capabilities; that the benefits to the group of cameras buyers customers in the target market were tangible; that it was better or in someway differentiated from its predecessor; and that the target customers were willing to pay for it. This is what companies do before defining and developing new products.
Does the market still want it (and is it willing to pay for it)?
In the 16-year period the F6 has been on the market, Nikon will have frequently re-validated the assumptions and market hypotheses that underpinned their reasons for developing it in the first place: to ‘check’ that there was still a market for their flagship 35mm film camera.
The Nikon F6’s value proposition, however, is not just about whether there is a market for the product: that the market wants the capabilities; and the benefits of them are over and above those they can get from other products from other sources – there is also the huge element of “and the market is willing to pay for it“ which very specifically applies to the £3,000 F6 film camera. It may be that the market for (any) new 35mm camera is so small that the market (that’s us photographers of course) is quite happy to use alternative solutions to its needs that are far, far cheaper (secondhand on eBay for example).
Having revisited all their assumptions about the market for new, high-end 35mm cameras (the who, what, how much, and why questions), Nikon will have decided that there is no longer a market for a camera with the attributes and cost of the F6.
A new Nikon 35mm camera?
If, and it’s a big if, their process of looking at the 35mm film camera market uncovered that there is indeed a market for some sort of new 35mm camera we may see a replacement for the F6 that has a completely different set of characteristics and cost. I personally think this is unlikely.
If they believe that there is a potential market out there for a new 35mm camera, they will have looked at our needs, the needs of the 35mm film community, and the cameras that we are buying. Yes, the ones we are buying secondhand on eBay. They will have analysed which cameras we buy, what their characteristics are, and the prices we are willing to pay. That analysis, in a relatively crude way, will define the market need, if any, for new 35mm cameras.
What are we buying?
They will have found, for example, that the Nikon FM2, the Leica M6, the Pentax K1000, the whatever, are the cameras that people are buying. With a lot more research, they would be able to form hypotheses around whether we would be willing to pay a premium for a new camera that had the characteristics of, say, the FM2. An unlikely, but exciting prospect.
This is how product development works. Companies develop the products that their research shows the market needs (and to a lesser degree, wants) and is willing to pay for. There is no altruism in it.
No market need
So, we did not kill it by not buying it. A lack of need killed it, or Nikon’s inability to understand the market need and to meet it. If we want there to be new 35mm cameras for us to buy, we need to let the manufacturers know what our needs are and what we are willing to pay to have those needs met. Granted, it’s not actually our job to go and tell manufacturers what we want, but if they came asking, having done the research, then we might get new film cameras. Cameras that met our needs that we’re willing to buy.
If companies like Nikon sees that sales of film are booming and that it’s a trend that is set to continue for the foreseeable future; and they determine that we want new cameras, not just lovely relics of a bygone age that we buy secondhand, then we may well get new 35mm cameras. If not, we won’t.