Car advertisers often use their Formula One credentials as a justification for their cars being superior. The implied statement is that they make high-performance Formula One race cars and therefore they make high-performance street cars. The actual implication is slightly different: they know how to make high-performance race cars and therefore they know how to make some parts of high-performance street cars. The important difference lies between the words make and know. The fact that a corporation knows how to do something does not mean they do it. Why don’t they? The answer is mostly a matter of cost.
Lets make a parallel for the digital camera world: Suppose that a company, lets call it BCB for Best Camera Brand, produces a digital camera superior in every way to every other digital camera on the market. To produce that camera, the BCB-1, they put billions into a decade of research. To recover those costs and cover expensive materials, the BCB-1 retails for $500,00 USD. Now, suppose that after selling these cameras to everyone who can afford it, BCB is still at a great loss. At that point, they decide to produce the BCB-10, a lower-cost camera with a price-point under $1000 USD. How good would the BCB-10 be? Would it be superior to every other camera in the market except the BCB-1. It all depends on what corners they cut to bring the price down. The important point is that no one can tell without actually testing the camera and that the superiority of the BCB-1 does not imply the superiority of the BCB-10.
Frequently people ask which is the best brand of digital cameras. There are numerous reasons why this cannot be answered. One of which is that best is subjective and depends on the photographer, his subjects, his medium and practical reasons. Another one comes down to the Formula One Fallacy. Even if a brand had the greatest camera of all, there is no reason to believe they all their cameras are good. So, even if the question had an answer, it would not apply for anything else than buying the best camera of the best brand.
Lets pick on Nikon a little. NIkon is a strong brand with some exceptional products. Many of its cameras, like the Nikon D200 and more recently the D80, have gotten praise for their performance and feature set. Indeed, these are excellent cameras. Price-wise though, Nikon tends to price its cameras above its direct competitors. That is alright for the high-end market where photographers appreciate the subtleties of a camera’s performance. In the low-end market, price is king. To give an attractive pricing to its low-end cameras, Nikon ends up cutting more corners than most of its rivals. Presumably this is done to keep in-line with Nikon’s expected profit margins. The Coolpix range of Nikon digital cameras shows this, specially compared with A-series Powershot cameras which almost all feature full-manual controls, ISO control, manual white-balance and more. The bottom line is not to judge cameras by its brand’s flagship model.