News and commentary about the Nikon DSLR world and photography in general. This page automatically updates with links for each new news/views story and is a good place to bookmark if you want to see the traditional bythom "front page" type of story. 

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Canon Discounting Older Full Frame DSLRs

Canon has finally joined the fray, placing substantive discounts on older generation models that we haven't seen before. 

  • 5D Mark III [advertiser link]— The basic body of this 22mp full frame DSLR is now US$1999, a US$800 savings. But this site's exclusive advertiser will throw in a free 12-month subscription (or addition to your subscription) for Adobe Create Cloud Photographer's bundle. There are additional bundles available: 24-70mm, and 24-105mm lenses, a printer bundle, or a video production bundle. The 5DM3 is still a solid performer, though it's missing things like 4K video.
  • 6D [advertiser link] — The original 6D is a 20mp full frame DSLR, and at US$999 (a US$700 discount), the first Canon full frame camera I've seen pop below the US$1000 mark. As with the 5D Mark III, there are a bunch of bundle choices to consider, though the US$999 with 12 months of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography plan really puts the body price down to an effective US$879, which is just difficult to turn down.

My sense is that everyone has extra older generation gear in their inventories, and as DSLR sales are continuing downward, we're going to see more of this type of discounting, though perhaps not at this extreme a level.

An Intriguing Analysis

One thing about time: data tends to collect. Sometimes you can gain insights into patterns or trends by analyzing that data. 

Which is exactly what Emmett Rad did with years of photonstophotos data captured by Bill Claff: Multivariate Analysis on Image Sensor Classification and Variability. That paper uses a data set of nine different sensor variables that have been measured at base ISO. 

bythom rad figure8

I won't repeat all of Rad's results or commentary. Read his fascinating paper if you want that. But I was intrigued by a couple of things that seem clear:

  1. The progression on APS-C crop cameras seems extremely clear, at least for the Sony/Nikon cameras. What started as Read Noise restricted sensors has progressed fairly clearly towards the opposite quadrant, where photographic DR, Quantum Efficiency, and Low Light EV live. Clearly, that was an intentional goal of the Sony/Nikon efforts, and one that was also clearly realized. Rad predicts that the next Sony/Nikon sensor will move less towards QE and more towards DR. That's a reasonable prediction given the progression, though it will be interesting to see what happens if Nikon really does break off from Sony sensors and starts using their own designs fabbed at TowerJazz, as rumors seem to suggest.
  2. Look at the four quadrants in terms of time progression (Figure 8). Just as with the previous point, there's a clear pattern towards which variables are being pushed over time. The most recent cameras (2017) all tend to be lower and to the right of earlier cameras, and often grouped near the high DR, Low Light EV factors. Earlier cameras of any kind will tend to be above and to the left of the most recent ones. 

This isn't rocket science. It's simply use of statistical analysis to reveal that the predicted patterns many of us have been talking and writing about indeed seem to be realized in the data. Sensor makers, again particularly Sony/Nikon where the trend is crystal clear, seem to have specific goals they've been pursuing as they try to make sensors better. 

Sweet and Sour

Looking at the numbers, I shot far more in 2017 than in previous years, and for a broader range of uses across a broader range of cameras.

That much shooting with gear found me pondering something as I started this year: which gear did I continue to find "sweet" for my uses, and which did I "sour" on? 

I'm going to keep this article to just Nikon DSLRs and F-mount lenses. I'll try to do a similar article over on about mirrorless cameras and lenses soon.

So, to get us going, here are three categories and my definitions:

  • Sweet. Love this stuff. Every time I shoot with things in this category I'm happy with both the experience and the results.
  • Solid. Have no real issues with these items. They perform about the way I'd expect, and they don't introduce anything that gives me clear pause on the experience side.
  • Sour. No longer loving this gear. Something about the experience or the performance just doesn't make me happy. 

The Nikon DSLRs that fall into the Sweet category are few, and they're related:

  • D5 — This started the new generation of Nikon DSLRs, and it's a joy to use on sports with the big lenses. Yes, it's a big, heavy camera, and my back aches when I'm carrying two of these with heavy lenses for an afternoon, but in terms of light gathering, focus, exposure, and all the shooting experience things, I'm very happy with where the latest generation of pro Nikons has ended up. Favorite combo: D5 and the 400mm f/2.8 or the new 70-200mm f/2.8. Nothing better (focus or sharpness).
  • D500 — The mini-D5 takes away the big, heavy aspect, with the penalty mostly being that it just isn't the low light king that the D5 is. Almost everything else is the same when all is said and done. Favorite combo: the D500 and the 300mm f/4E, which has got to be the most capable handheld 450mm equivalent combo you can find.
  • D850 — And now we have more pixels than ever before, yet somehow they still seem to be incredibly clean, and all in a body that's a blend of the D5 and D500 niceness. What more could I ask for? Well, one thing: I'm not sure there's a lens combo that simply makes the D850 stand out from the crowd. I'm still looking for my favorite combo here. Maybe the 19mm f/4E?

In terms of lenses, I'm going to be a little tough on Nikon here and only pick a few lenses that I feel really stand out from the crowd:

  • 14-24mm f/2.8G — I'm surprised I'm still sweet on this lens. It's been out a long time while pixel densities have gone up, it doesn't take filters, and it has some field curvature. Yet I still smile when I see the results, even on the D850. 
  • 19mm f/4E PC — Don't have a lot of experience with this yet, so I'm early smitten with it. And a far better PC-E experience than the previous lenses, that has to count for something.
  • 58mm f/1.4G — This is the lens that started the current regime of redesigns, and a lot of controversy on the net. Sure, point it at a test chart at somewhat close distances—which is what all the tests you see on the Internet do—and the numbers don't seem very great. Put it on a camera and point it at a subject. Well, I'm still very sweet on that. This is a great portrait lens on a D500.
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E — Someone was on top of their game designing the optics for this lens. Night and day difference over the older lenses, particularly on the high pixel count bodies. Since you can still get the 70-200mm f/2.8G, is this new one worth the extra US$700? Absolutely, positively yes.
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P — This one surprises me every time I put it on a body. Either I have an exceptional sample, or Nikon just managed to considerably improve a lens we pretty much all had in our kits at some point and basically liked. It also helps that it's not an expensive lens, which makes it sweeter.
  • 105mm f/1.4 — This lens is not perfect, until it is. There's some focus shift, the corners can get a little problematic wide open, you need to beware the longitudinal chromatic aberration. And yet...if I need 105mm this is the very first lens I reach for. Heck, I reach for it when I need 85mm or 135mm.  Like the 58mm f/1.4, above, there's something magical about the way this lens renders when used well.
  • 300mm f/4E — You can't help but be sweet on this lens. It's sharp, but it's incredible small and light. It takes the TC-14E about as well as any lens. Just don't shoot small light sources in the background with this lens.
  • 400mm f/2.8 — But really, any of what I call the exotics (200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, 500mm f/4, 600mm f/4, 800mm f/5.6) are going to be on this list. I'm just pointing out my favorite, the one I'm sweetest on. Now some of that will have to do with the types of shooting I do, but I'd still say the 400mm is either the first or second sharpest of the bunch. Not that there's a lot of difference in this group.

Nikon doesn't make a lot of junk, so you're going to find quite a bit of their product line sitting in this category.

  • D3400 — Okay, the real reason this sits in the solid category is the price. US$500 for a camera and lens this good? Can't be topped by anything. 
  • D7500 — All the things that Nikon trimmed in the D7200 to D7500 upgrade seemed to doom it on the Internet. But you know what? It's a solid camera. Really solid. Of course, had Nikon not messed with the details, it would be a sweet camera, for sure.
  • D750 — I've had a little bit of a love/hate relationship with my D750, which survived two trips to Nikon to fix problems it originally came with. But when it's in my hands and shooting, it's fine. A really solid camera at the current prices.

Because there are so many lenses that fit this category, I'm going to do this in groups:

  • Wide angle zooms: 8-15mm f/3.5E
  • Midrange zooms: 16-80mm f/2.8-4E DX, 17-55mm f/2.8D DX, 24-70mm f/2.8E, 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G
  • Telephoto zooms: 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G DX, 70-200mm f/4G, 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G, 200-500mm f/5.6E
  • Wide angle primes: 10.5mm f/2.8G DX, 20mm f/1.8G, 24mm f/1.4G, 24mm f/1.8G, 28mm f/1.4G, 35mm f/1.4G, 35mm f/1.8G, 
  • Normal primes: 35mm f/1.8G DX
  • Telephoto primes: 85mm f/1.4G, 85mm f/1.8G, 180mm f/2.8D
  • Macro lenses: pretty much all of them, though I still think the 40mm focal length is too short for DX and the 60mm focal length is too short for FX: no working distance to speak of as you approach 1:1.

Okay, here's where I put on my flak jacket, helmet, and duck. Wait, no, I don't put on the duck...

  • D5600 — Sorry, but I'm completely sour on this camera these days. First of all, I'm seeing low level amp noise in the recent D5xxx models at fairly low ISO values. That just destroys the ability to pull up shadows. Reminds me a lot of the D80 fiasco. But I just don't understand what it is I'm supposed to like about this camera. For an extra US$150 I get a swivel LCD? Yes, I know there are a few other things different, like more autofocus sensors. But in the end, frankly, I'd rather just shoot with the D3400 and put the money towards a better DX lens (buzz, buzz). The D5600 is right where Nikon's feature addition/removal between models just doesn't grab me. I want more, not less. And I certainly don't want that amp noise, which I didn't find in the D3400.
  • Df — I really wanted to like this camera. But the dials lie to me sometimes, the viewfinder needs to be better for manual focus, and the grafted-onto-a-D600 nature of the design just never recedes. The idea was right, the execution was wrong. Here's the thing: if I want to use a camera like this I'll pick the Fujifilm X-T2 over the Df every day. The Fujifilm retro design is better, there's no Frankencamera aspect to it, and Fujifilm now has all the primes the Df really cries out for, with better manual focus support. All for less money. Ouch.

I'm not going to go through all the remaining Nikkors, but I'm pretty sure there are a few that you want me to write about as to why I've gone sour on them:

  • 16-35mm f/4G — Just too much linear distortion to deal with. You can't frame with a DSLR when the corrections are going to be that severe. Moreover, that mushes up corners when you do correct them later. Not the lens I want on my D850. Maybe a mirrorless camera (linear distortions would at least be corrected in the viewfinder so you could frame more clearly ;~).
  • 24-120mm f/4G — First of all, too much sample variation. I've tried almost a dozen now, and there were one or two that were acceptable, one or two that were clearly unacceptable, the rest in between. But even the acceptable ones just don't give me a good starting point for pixels on the high resolution bodies. I find that I always want to run Piccure+ on 24-120mm images, and even then probably want to throw in some more sharpening to crisper up the images. There's just no pop in the pixels when all is said and done. I sold mine and bought a 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5, which I find better in the same range (though again, I've seen sample variation in that lens, too; I happen to have a good sample).
  • 50mm anything — Sorry, Nikon, but your efforts here are incredibly poor compared to your other 21st century primes or anyone else's 50mm lenses. Did someone forget to put these lenses on the upgrade list?
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G — Just try the new AF-P version. You'll know immediately why the old version is now sour. Very sour. 
  • 200-400mm f/4G — Brilliant lens at 25m or less. Far cheaper stuff beats it at longer distances. I can't live with that kind of personality. 

Who's Number 1 This Month?

The marketing departments of Sony and Nikon seem to be studying Trump too much. They both now seem to demand a lot of validation on very little information. 

Last year it was Sony trumpeting that they had the most sales. Of full frame ILC cameras. By value. In the US. In a few very carefully selected months that happened to not have Canon or Nikon sales going on.

Yesterday it was Nikon trumpeting that they had the most sales. Of full frame ILC cameras. By units and value. In the US. In the month of December. (They also identified the D850 and D750 as the best two selling cameras during that month, meaning that likely the Sony A7R3 or Canon 6D2 was third.)

What's really curious about Nikon's claim is that the D850 was first shipped in September, the Sony A7R3  in November. So really, Nikon, what happened in November? ;~) In particular, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Quite obviously Nikon wasn't number one in that period, which is probably the highest volume week of the year. 

These types of claims are mostly meaningless. They're like most early morning tweets, and should mostly be ignored. 

Did we learn anything from Nikon's press release?

Yes, two things stood out: first, full frame ILC camera sales were 69% higher in units and 59% higher in dollars in December 2017 than they were in December 2016. That's for all vendors. Nikon's units were up 81% and dollars 88% for that same comparison period, so better than the average uptake. But full frame definitely has been on the rise. At least for a short, specific, though important period.

It's worth looking at the full frame ILC cameras that appeared after December 2016, therefore: Canon 6D2, Leica M10, Nikon D850, Sony A9, and Sony A7R3. The 6D2 was selling at near list price against the deeply discounted D750. The Leica wasn't available in big numbers. Thus, the new full frame cameras that likely did most of the sales work in the US were the D850, A9, and A7R3, and I suspect the A9 didn't contribute all that much as the shine is definitely off that high-end camera now that the A7R3 is out.

Second, Nikon threw a lot of shade at Sony's use of the January to March numbers with the "full frame unit sales for the month of December 2017 were almost equal to unit sales from January through March of 2017." Burn.

Of course, the full year numbers for 2017 are available from NPD. No one seems to be trumpeting those at the moment, which should tell you something. 

What's Still Hot?

Here we are post holiday shopping and waiting for the next round of new and exciting camera products to drop. This is the perfect time to discuss what's still hot, and what has cooled considerably. And then discuss what "hot" actually means.

No doubt, there are two cameras that are still red hot: the Nikon D850 and the Sony A7R3. The Nikon is six months old, the Sony three, so they're relatively new cameras, both are still high in demand at stores, both still get plenty of Internet chatter about how good they are, and I can attest that both are cameras at or near the top of the game. Any game. 

Beyond those models, though, things are much more mixed. The Nikon D500 certainly still gets a fair amount of buzz, as a really competent action shooter at often bargain prices should. The D7500 doesn't get much mention anywhere, probably because in price and features it just doesn't make for a logical sell down point from the D500. Too high a price with too much feature reduction.

Sony can still claim some buzz happening around the RX10 Mark IV and A9 models, though the former is a very niche product and the latter had a lot of its hotness clipped by the A7R3 (disclosure: I decided to return the A9 and keep the A7R3). The RX0 certainly gets lots of talk, but no one seems to know what it is or what it's really for. 

Fujifilm is still getting hot buzz from the GFX 50S, if not sales, and the X100F still gets a lot of solid talk after a year on the market (compare that the more recent Canon G1 X Mark III, below, which has the same size sensor). The rest of their lineup seems to have tamed considerably in terms of attraction to the gear-consumed Internet poster not already a Fujifilm convert. (That's not to say that the Fujifilm faithful still aren't touting their choices; it's that new adherents and recently converted are harder to find, a sign of things going more lukewarm than hot.) 

Canon doesn't have any "Internet Hot" cameras, though they have plenty that are selling decently. The closest they had to a truly "hot" camera in 2017 was the G1 X Mark III, which brought their excellent 24mp APS-C sensor to a compact camera body and lens (24-72mm equivalent f/2.8-5.6). Closer examination shows that the lens is a little slow and weak, there's no 4K video, and the battery life is as minimal as it gets. Those disappointments make the US$1300 price untenable for most, and thus the camera fell rapidly off most people's hot list.

Leica had a good year (CL, TL2, M10), but it's difficult to claim that anything from that high-end brand really heats up the Internet since it is so pricey. New models certainly heat up the Leica Lovers, though. Within that small, self-selecting crowd, I'd say that Leica has made themselves as hot as they dare get. Too many new expensive, desirable cameras and they could bankrupt the more affluent citizens of small countries, after all.

Is the Olympus E-M1 Mark II still hot? Did the E-M10 Mark III achieve hotness? I'd say no to both. Like Fujifilm, Olympus seems to be in a lukewarm category for the moment. Olympus fans are happy, but I don't see the fervent proselytizing chatter from them trying to convert the non m4/3 users that I used to. The "E-M1 Mark II is better than a D500" chatter is now non-existent (and it was always on the false side).

Panasonic pulled a quick one. They took a hot (mostly video-oriented) camera (GH5) and made a hotter variation of it (GH5S). Nice job. The debate is so hot that they've even got recent GH5 purchasers and considerers actively arguing about whether they should really be opting for the GH5S. That's almost the definition of "hot" on the Internet. 

Sadly, the very excellent G9 has already lost all but the m4/3 user's interest, despite its near GH5-ness and its should-be-hot 80mp multishot capability. 

Okay, you may or may not agree with me on all that. Your definition of "hot" probably is a bit different than mine, but I'll stick by my basic rankings (from hot to not):

  1. D850, A7R3III, GH5/S
  2. D500, A9, GFX 50S, X100F
  3. RX10M4, maybe G1X M3, the Leica stuff
  4. Most anything else Fujifilm, E-M1 M2, G9
  5. Everything else

More important questions to ask are these: (1) how does something get "hot"?; and (2) how does something stay hot?

You may note that "hot" cameras tend to be more the top end products these days. Either really top end (D850, A7R3III, A9, etc.) or top end of a category (X100F, RX10M4, etc.). To be "hot" you need to be defining the category, and you need a clear marketable aspect that stands out against the competition.

Look at the Nikon D7500: not hot. It doesn't really define the category (Nikon's own D500 out defines it), nor is there any clear marketable aspect to the camera other than to say "same sensor as the industry-leading D500, but a lot of stuff removed." Oops. Really tough to get someone to come into a store and say "I want the camera with a bunch of good stuff removed." Even if that removes US$600 worth of price (but not always, the D500 goes on sale a lot). 

In terms of staying hot, you really need the user base to continue talking about those defining features (or performance), and for as long as possible after they've begun using those cameras. 

That's where things get interesting. Sony spends a lot of time and money trying to drive that continuing conversation via the mainstream press. 

You may have noticed this past few weeks that all the auto magazines and Web sites have been writing about the new Jeep Wrangler. And for some reason all the images are of those new Jeep Wranglers are in New Zealand. That's because Jeep had what we in the media call a press junket: invite all the key press influencers on a free trip to New Zealand where they get to try out the new vehicle and talk to key execs and engineers about it in a marketing-controlled environment. 

Sony uses variations on press junkets for all its important camera announcements. While free trips aren't always involved, there's almost always free access to a special sponsored event—such as the fake track and field meet with the A9 launch—and under a marketing controlled environment. Lots of gear to play with. Lots of execs and engineers to talk with about it. Lots of marketing messages deployed, which then tend to be repeated by the junketeers. 

The reason I mention this is that the big CP+ show in Japan is coming up on March 1st, and we'll have plenty of Japanese camera companies using that opportunity to corral the visiting photography press into some mini-junkets (factory tours, HQ exec interview sessions, and more), because they're going to be introducing some important products they want to go hot. 

Personally, camera products are "hot" to me because they perform. Period. 

Actually, they out perform. The reason why I still write that the D850 is the best all-around high-end camera you can buy is because it is. The pixels from it when used with the best lenses and with good shot discipline are spectacular, and into what we used to consider solely medium format territory. Nikon has taken a camera model that has been hot since 2012—the D800—iterated it twice and kept it hot. The D800 had the best pixel-level data in an ILC (other than true medium format) in 2012. The D810 managed to up the ante some in 2014, and the D850 did it again in 2017. Meanwhile the metering and focus systems have improved visibly, too, and are at the top of the game. That's a true "hot." 

I have to say that I'm impressed with Sony, too. They seem to be on the same page as Nikon is with their best efforts: build the best darned product, iterate it to keep it hot, not just to iterate it into something they can call new. The A7R line has been doing a close imitation of the D8xx line almost in lockstep with Nikon. Bravo. The A7R3 is what I'd call the second best all-around high-end camera you can buy, and again, because after using it extensively, it lives up to that in terms of performance. Again, "true hot."

Within the next month or so we're going to hear about new products. They'll be plenty of "Internet hot" chatter as the marketing engines all engage. The real interesting thing will be whether any of those temporarily hot products stay hot after users get their hands on them and start talking about how good (or not) they are.

Cheap Cameras, More Shipments

You may have noticed some interesting pricing as you ate your turkey and other special meals at the end of 2017. Refurbished Canon Rebel 6’s under US$300, new D3400’s selling at US$349. New Sony A7 bodies going for US$799.

Because the Japanese control virtually all of the dedicated camera market—Hasselblad, Leica, and Phase One are almost a rounding error in camera volume—and because the Japanese tend to mimic one another, we had an interesting 2017.

The first thing the Japanese decided was that they’d make more cameras than they forecast selling. Early each year the Japanese camera industry standards group CIPA makes a prognosis about the coming year based upon everyone’s anonymous forecast. Well, guess what, those numbers were clearly wrong. 

I don’t think this was anyone trying to game the system (e.g. forecast low, ship high). I think it was companies shipping what they could as sensor supplies recovered from the earthquake and the cameras that used those then sold quickly. Up the forecasts, boys! And sales still held up well for awhile. Up ‘em again, fellas!

Of course, this didn’t go perfectly smoothly for anyone. Nikon’s a good case in point. While the D500 and D750 sold decently, the D3400 and D5600 not so much. The D850 came in like gangbusters (at least it would have had Nikon been able to ship to demand), the D7500 much more mildly. Same thing with Sony. The A9 didn’t sell in the initial quantities I think Sony expected, but the A7R Mark III orders were above their expectations. 

Plus, don’t forget the “hangover” cameras. Thing is, you commit to a certain number of sensors early in the development process. If you sell fewer than you expect, you still are going to produce those cameras. You just have to figure out how to move them.

Which brings us back to those curious prices we saw during the Christmas buying season. 

What I saw seems to be a hybrid approach. Yes, most of the camera companies would love to sell you their high-end latest and greatest, and they pretty much all had fairly new ones to dangle in front of their user base: 5D Mark IV, D500, D850, E-M1 Mark II, GH5/G9, A9, A7R Mark III. Those cameras all seemed to do quite well, well enough that the companies that make them should be pleased with their sales.

But everyone had the odd duckling that wasn’t doing so well, plus all those hangover cameras that still needed to be sold.

Analyzing things more carefully (caution, we don't have any numbers for December 2017 shipments yet), the news is still pretty grim other than perhaps mirrorless cameras, though. Here are the Jan-Nov shipments for 2012 to 2017:

bythom ytdcipailc

Without the mirrorless surge in 2017, the news would have been very bad, indeed. In five years ILC sales have dropped to 58% of their former self and DSLR sales have dropped by more than half. These drops are ongoing and not likely reversing any time soon. If you look at the trailing year numbers (e.g. December to November), things look even worse for DSLRs:

bythom cipatrailingyr

Mirrorless went from a quarter of DSLR sales to more than half in four years. 

Simply put, this is why Nikon must have a mirrorless answer in 2018. There's no choice for them now but to get in the scrum in the smaller pond with all the others. 

But there's a bigger question hidden in the numbers here: was 2017 really the bottom for ILC overall? Basically we hit a flattening somewhere in the 11-12m units/year range. But remember, these numbers reflect the Japanese companies' thinking more than the consumer's actual purchasing. There's still plenty of hangover inventory sitting around, and how fast it turns will really be the determinant as to whether we're at bottom.

So I’m curious. Obviously, we have companies now taking lower margins to move some of their older boxes. That can still be quite profitable, though not at the high margin levels that companies like Canon and Nikon really want. So what’s going to happen by the end of February, when the camera companies again produce their consolidated forecasts for the coming year and have new models coming to market? Are we going to see optimism or pessimism?

I’m betting optimism from the camera makers. I'm betting pessimism from the camera buyers. In other words, I'm expecting many more sales of any older camera that's not moving at better-than-forecast volume. 

Overall, I think we can expect DSLR volume to continue to decline, and maybe even accelerate faster downward. Indeed, what new DSLRs can we expect in 2018 that would drive new volume? If I'm right, we have modest iterations from Canon and nothing or next to nothing from Nikon in the coming year in terms of DSLRs. That would slam virtually all of the ILC competition into the currently smaller mirrorless market, where things are going to get dramatically more complicated for everyone in 2018. 

Nikon's 2018

Last week I described what I expect from Canon in 2018, it's time to do the same for Nikon. Whereas Canon's year should be mostly iteration with one big new reveal, Nikon's should be the opposite. There might not be an iteration at all for Nikon this year; just big reveals.

Before we move on, Canon Rumors says they don't think a 7D Mark III will appear in 2018. I do, but it's going to be late in the year, I think. Canon has other birds in the nest they need to get flying first, and the 7D Mark III will need a new sensor, I think, to stay competitive, which lengthens the development cycle.

Here's Nikon's dilemma in a nutshell: they need to get people to stop buying m4/3, Fujifilm X, and Sony E/FE lenses. As long as that continues to happen—and worse if the trend grows any more than it has—then Nikon is failing in interchangeable lens cameras. Simple as that. 

For the time being, Nikon needs to take its eyes a bit off of Canon and look more closely at the Seven Dwarves, and the answer Nikon produces has to be strong enough to topple the Dwarves again. 

Nikon is an optics company. Says so right on their site ("Grounded in the latest opto-electronics..." and "pioneer of optical technologies to the world."). That means that they should be a leader in lenses, right? ;~)

And there's the rub. In the last 16 years Nikon has introduced an average of 6 lenses a year. That sounds like a lot until you realize that those are split over CX, DX, and FX; that many of those are iterations of earlier lenses; that many are reworks of low-end kit lenses; and that some are just splits of VR and non-VR versions. 

So Nikon can make 6 lenses a year (their peak was 11, but that year included a lens where only the band was changed in color [Special Edition!], and two were AW versions of existing lenses). So let's call their real peak 9, their average 6. 

Why am I talking about lenses in an article purporting to predict what Nikon's camera plans for the year are? Because it's important. Indeed, it's the more important thing than the cameras when it all comes down to it. How many lenses will Nikon introduce this year, and for what models?

As it turns out, it appears that Nikon themselves are asking that question. Back when a new mirrorless launch was going to be rushed into a very late 2017 launch (or at least CES 2018, which is now over), that question apparently stopped management in their tracks. The answer for that particular camera at the time was 2, with another to appear later in the year. 

Clearly, a new mirrorless camera with only 2 lenses was not going to stop people buying m4/3, Fujifilm X, and Sony E/FE lenses. Olympus/Panasonic have 61 m4/3 lenses, Fujifilm has 25 X lenses, and Sony 41 E/FE lenses. Two against dozens. Not going to work in stemming the leaks in the DSLR dike. And we're not even counting third party lenses for those other mounts. 

I've written before that the Nikon plan was still nebulous. They had both F and new mount versions of mirrorless cameras in both DX and FX sensor sizes that had been developed to some level. Some time in 2017 they had to make a decision on what to actually produce in 2018. And lenses almost certainly became the center of discussion right up front in trying to make that decision. 

I believe that the decision finally reached was "new mount." Solely new mount. And, of course, an F-mount adapter for that new mount. So Nikon's 2018 just became a lot more complicated. 

Let me back up for a moment. 

Using history as a guide, here's what would have normally been expected in Nikon's 2018 schedule:

  • D5s (modest update to D5)
  • D760 (full update to D750)
  • D500s (modest update to D500)
  • D3500 (full update to D3400)

We can argue about the D610 and Df. These are the oldest cameras in Nikon's lineup (approximately five years and counting). Really long iteration delays in Nikon's history tell us that they have issues with those cameras and are changing their minds about something. In the case of the Df, we know that it sold less than expected, especially after the initial surge of prosumer enthusiasm. Management has been clearly rethinking those two FX models. 

So let me first describe why 2018 probably won't be an iteration year for Nikon. 

The time for a D5s iteration has already come and gone. It needed to be at the Winter Olympics to have any energy, and thus should have been announced at CES if it was coming. It's difficult to come up with things Nikon could have done to add to or enhance that camera. Particularly after the A9 came out and upped the game for performance cameras in terms of silence and frame rate. That implies completely new design, so is likely to wait until the D6 in 2020.

A D500s update is easier to imagine, particularly since the D500 doesn't yet have D9 or the HL/VL group autofocus capabilities or D850 focus stacking, plus still seems to have small glitches in the power/card system that could use a good flushing out. Just clean that camera up to give it a longer life. But the engineers that are likely to be able to do that seem to be working on other things already, so that probably won't happen, either. 

Don't get me wrong. Both the D5 and D500 should get updates. I've outlined my reasons why before. I don't care if they're modest updates and things I wouldn't sell my current D5/D500 to get, Nikon needs those DSLR models to have as long a life as possible, because it's going to be awhile before they have enough mirrorless lenses. Yep, we're back to that, again. 

The D3400 and D750 updates have a different issue: I believe these model levels is where Nikon was targeting their mirrorless thrusts. An entry DX type mirrorless system, and a serious but not over-the-top FX mirrorless system. A Canon EOS M5 competitor and a Sony A7 (not R) competitor. 

Goto-san in his widely quoted comments was lobbying for that A7-like competitor to be more traditional and Df like (for self-serving reasons). But he's not part of the decision chain any more.  

So there we have Nikon's 2018: two mirrorless systems. One launched soon (late February, likely for CP+), the other launched in the Photokina window (late summer to early fall). 

My only problem? I don't truly know which launches when. Until not too long ago, neither did Nikon, apparently. 

Frankly, the least risky strategy for Nikon, especially given the lens situation, would have been to launch a DX mirrorless first. The lens situation is less complicated for a consumer-level product. You can launch with a handful of lenses and a Road Map and get away with that. Say, 18-55mm kit, 55-200mm kit, a couple of really compact primes (23mm, 35mm). Those plus a decent F-mount adapter would work. (Some will say "what, no wide angle zoom?" But the latest AF-P wide angle zoom is small enough that it can hold the fort for awhile with a good adapter.)

I know Nikon had the 18-55mm and 35mm prime for that DX mirrorless camera ready enough for a CES launch. So they weren't far from where they needed to be. So maybe what we will see first is the DX mirrorless launch. That's what I would do. One source says yes, it will be launched at CP+ at the start of March. Curiously, another source says that Nikon has multiple DX mirrorless sensors in the development queue. 24mp and up. Now that would be interesting to push DX mirrorless above 24mp. 

But I keep hearing conflicting information and that the FX mirrorless launch is currently being considered more important by Nikon management and they'd really like to move it up (after all, the consumer buying season the DX version would cater to is over until June/July). As I noted elsewhere, we already have two FX mirrorless producers (Leica and Sony), and I expect five by the end of the year (Canon, Leica, Nikon, Pentax, and Sony, with Pentax still being a bit iffy). Getting early into that group is better than being last.

But now we're back to the lens problem. 

Nikon has a lot of known patents in this area, the most interesting of which are:

  • 24mm f/1.8
  • 36mm f/1.2
  • 52mm f/0.9
  • 24-70mm f/2.8-4

Those are serious lenses that speak to a highly capable FX mirrorless and more expensive product, not a D6xx-type entry camera. Indeed, those patents all say "low light camera," which is sort of where Goto-san was trying to push Nikon. 

So why did I say that this was not an iterative year for Nikon? Well, add everything up on the mirrorless side I've mentioned so far:

  • DX non EVF camera (late in year)
  • DX EVF camera
  • 18-55mm DX kit lens
  • 35mm DX prime
  • FX camera
  • 24mm f/1.8
  • 35mm f/1.2
  • 50mm f/1
  • 24-70mm f/2.8-4

That's about an average year for Nikon: three camera bodies, six lenses. 

You can see how Nikon is a bit boxed in. If they just produce the average number of new goodies they produce in a year and they're all mirrorless, there's no room for anything else. Yet, even in that scenario Nikon DX mirrorless isn't yet fully competitive with Canon EOS M (fewer cameras, fewer lenses) nor even close to Sony FE (one-quarter the cameras, one-sixth the lenses). 

So even if those are all of Nikon's offerings for 2018—and there's a good chance they aren't, that there's been continuous drift and change in the actual product specifications as management debates what to do—Nikon still has a lot to produce to get those two new mirrorless systems fully up to speed, and virtually no time for DSLR iterations at all. Nikon is mostly pathetic about marketing lots of stuff simultaneously, so any DSLR iteration in the midst of all that mirrorless gear is going to get lost. Probably not worth doing.

So here's what I'm actually predicting from Nikon in 2018:

  1. A new DX mirrorless system, with consumer-oriented lenses and a price point that fits near the D3400-D5600 range. Likely to launch at CP+ or by the graduation/vacation time period (late Spring, early Summer).
  2. A new FX mirrorless system that's at least D750-level in terms of sophistication and feature set, and a set of primes and one or more zooms that complement it. This may be a US$3000 camera and US$2000 lenses, but highly capable. I don't expect it to approach the D8xx pixel count. Launched no later than Photokina, but expect it far sooner if it can be pulled off.
  3. (Likely) Surprise! Perhaps two F-mount lenses that have been lingering in that three-year development window that Nikon typically uses, likely iterations of existing lenses. This will be random announcements in between the major launches.
  4. Second (Potential, but Not Likely) Surprise! A full frame compact with a curved sensor. Everyone's been developing in this space. It's a bragging rights problem, as get the sensor/lens combo right and you'll have edge to edge image quality like you've never seen before. 

If that's all we get and it's all good, Nikon will have a good year. If Nikon can put another F-mount lens, DX lens, and maybe a simple DSLR body iteration in there, they'll have a great year. 

But a warning to Nikon: don't try a year full of mirrorless intros without issuing at least a short-term lens road map and making those cameras fully F-mount compatible with adapter. Don't even try. You'll be more than a couple of dozen lenses behind Sony, which is not a stationary target. You've got to give users a strong idea of where you're going with lenses. 

Some want more details on the mirrorless systems Nikon is likely to introduce. It's in the details that I'm hearing lots of conflicting information. Dates, specs, features, sensors, pricing. Thus, I'm simply not going to go there. What I'm 100% comfortable with predicting at this point is that Nikon is readying two mirrorless variations to ship in 2018, one crop sensor, one full frame. 

Update: There's a post on dpreview that claims I wrote "[Nikon is] effectively killing all FX DSLRs below the D850." Not exactly. Nikon simply won't do much to update the FX line below the D850 this year is my best guess. They'll use sale pricing on the D750 to keep it moving through stores as needed. I'd be surprised if the D750 updated this year in any significant way. A better choice for Nikon is get the mirrorless cameras established and then update the D750 to the current DSLR technologies (e.g. autofocus system). 

As I've outlined over and over, Nikon put themselves into a tough position. They effectively only had two choices: (1) launch mirrorless at the expense of some DSLRs, thus sending a signal about those DSLRs; or (2) update DSLRs fully and thus send a signal about not transitioning to mirrorless. I don't believe Nikon is capable of doing both simultaneously and succeeding with marketing messages. Moreover such a high R&D/launch budget would fly against all their cost-cutting initiatives. #1 appears to be what they're now committed to doing. #2 seems out of the question when you look at recent actual camera sales numbers.

My point remains: Nikon has to stop the shrinkage. If they don't, then they'll be doing a lot more than closing the China plant in the near future. Nikon needs ILC volume, and the only place to get that is consumer DX and FX. As much of a success that you think the D850 might be, I'll bet that it accounts for only around 100k of Nikon's 2.6m units in this fiscal year. Nikon needs a US$1000 (or less) hit, and a US$2000 (or less) hit. That would be a Canon EOS M5 competitive camera and a Sony A7 Mark II competitive camera. Preferably with some advantage over those products. 

And that just brings me back to lenses: lenses are Nikon's clear potential point of failure. The new cameras need to be good, but Nikon also needs a lens story for the future. 

Nikon Says Consumers Buy US$12400 Lenses

Nikon used the Consumer Electronics Show to launch the new AF-S 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR lens. Wow, that's US$2000 an acronym, nearly a record for a consumer product ;~).  

At this point everyone probably knows my opinion of the 200-400mm f/4 Nikkor that this new lens now competes with: the old 200-400mm was wicked good on close subjects, but decidedly poor with long distance subjects. Many of us were originally sold on the versatility of such a lens, but eventually grew disillusioned with it. When Canon came out with their 200-400mm f/4 and it had a built-in 1.4x teleconverter that could be flipped in, those of us who able to shoot with it against the Nikkor found what we really wanted. The Canon didn't have the Nikkor's reach flaw, and it had even more versatility. I sold my 200-400mm.

Now Nikon has matched Canon, while giving us an extra 20mm. 

The 180-400mm f/4 is virtually the same size as the older 200-400mm f/4, and only slightly more heavy (123.4 ounces instead of 118.5 ounces, probably due to the addition of the extra lens elements and mechanism for switching in the built-in TC-14x). The formula is much more complex, essentially being 35 elements in 24 groups when the TC is in place (the old lens was 24 and 17). 

The built-in TC means that you can use the lens as a 180-400mm f/4 lens, or as a 252-560mm f/5.6 lens by flicking a switch. Hope you're right handed, because the activation mechanism is near the lens mount on the right side of the lens as you're using it. Interestingly, you can mount a regular TC-14EIII on the lens, giving you a 252-560mm f/5.6 that can flip to a 353-784mm f/8. So there's some versatility in this new lens.

But the big change is price. Instead of US$7000, the new lens is US$12,400. Yep, an optical update with a free teleconverter is going to cost your US$5400. Not exactly the type of product you'd expect to be promoted at a consumer electronics show. 

Indeed, the 180-400mm f/4 is now the second most expensive lens in Nikon's lineup, only outpaced by the mammoth 800mm f/5.6. Oh, you do get a redesigned tripod collar that Nikon claims is smaller, lighter, and more comfortable and which has ball-bearing smoothness, when what we want is a one that transfers absolutely no jitter on mirror slap and which has a built-in Arca-swiss plate. Really Right Stuff and Kirk Enterprises will be happy to know that they still will be making accessories to fix Nikon's negligence. Okay, the new tripod collar handle has some rubber on it where you carry it, a new touch that's welcome.

Also not fixed is Nikon's silly lens cap and lens hood system. We still have the same fabric "lens cap" and prone-to-break, bolt-on lens hood. There are better third-party solutions available for both, but of course, that just adds to the expense of acquiring this lens. Of course, if you can afford US$12,400, what's another couple hundred dollars to fix Nikon's design issues? And why would we even expect Nikon to fix small little nagging issues like this when they only raise the price by US$5400?

Curiously, the 180-400mm f/4 is going to change one aspect of the focus system. Typically slower lenses start to disable outer focus areas on DSLRs. Apparently the D500, D850, and D5 are going to get a firmware update in March that will enable the use of the outer cross sensors with this lens, even with the TC in place. 

Yes, I'm being tough on Nikon with this new lens. I've looked at some test shots and Nikon's published (and theoretical) MTFs, and indeed they look very good. But when you go "up scale" and start pricing at this level, you really need to drill down on the details and get all those right, too. I expect better than a fabric lens cap that is cumbersome in use, a lens hood whose single point of constriction is prone to breaking, plus a handle that doesn't have Arca-Swiss mount built in.

I've written it for decades now, but it's becoming more apparent with each passing year: Nikon simply isn't really in touch with their customers. They don't seem to notice that we all replace the cap, hood, and collar on our exotic telephotos. That they've not noticed this in 30 years says a lot about how much they talk to the folk that really shoot with their gear for a living. I'm happy to give you more money Nikon, but you're going to have to start showing that you are listening to your user base and fixing the small things when you demand such high prices.

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WWTD? (What Would Thom Do)

I’ve now written for over a decade about what I would have been doing to keep cameras relevant to modern times. If you haven’t read my original diatribe (or updated versions of the original 2007 post) about needing Communicating, Programmable, and Modular cameras (CPM), it would probably be wise to do so. 

While we talk (and write) about mirrorless versus DSLR, more megapixels versus better megapixels, sensor size, frame rates, and a host of other features and performance aspects of cameras, the reason why we’re doing that is because that’s really the only choice the Japanese camera makers have given us. 

Technically, mirrorless is to DSLR the same thing that everyone has always admired about Japanese engineering: incremental improvement coupled with miniaturization and component simplification. The “innovation” word gets used too broadly and vaguely for my taste. Mirrorless was not a user innovation, it was an engineered improvement that reduced body parts, simplified alignment and manufacturing, and provided the camera companies high cost reduction for basically the same product (e.g., something that had an imaging sensor in it on which you could mount a lens, 

Kodak was really the original digital camera pioneer, particularly with “DSLRs”. So much of what we associate with the transition from film to digital was actually “innovated”—there’s that word again—by Kodak. Unfortunately, that company's management wanted to run the old coal plant rather than transition to solar (oops, wrong essay, but actually a point that’s 100% on point if you allow me to force the metaphor). 

This is not to dismiss the engineering miracles of modern cameras, or Japanese engineering. Even though a DSLR—and even mirrorless cameras—is recognizably similar to the old film SLRs and is often controlled about the same, what’s inside has iterated so many times that the work inside is unrecognizable. If Henry Ford were brought back from the dead and told to examine a Telsa, he’d easily recognize it as a car, but he might be in shock after he tried looking for the engine. Something similar would be true of someone like George Eastman looking at cameras.

The “change” that occurred with photography that’s not been acknowledged by our camera designs (or by much of our software, for that matter) has to do with workflow and viewflow. We’re still taking the film out of our cameras (cards out of cameras), driving to our local film processor (taking the card and bringing it to our office computer’s card reader), waiting for the machine to spool in the film and process it (software ingest and demosaic), examining it (image browser on the computer screen) [loop back to shooting from here, if needed], possibly coming up with directions and crop information for the lab to do (fiddling with Photoshop), waiting for that to happen (hourglass cursor), [loop back from here, if needed], having the lab print (exporting to the right size/format), framing the final print and hanging it up for others to look at (post our image in our social media).

Don’t get me wrong. I much prefer the same workflow in digital as opposed to chemical, as I’m fully in control over every step of the process, not some minimum wage worker that has no idea what’s in those bottles they’re feeding the machines. But it’s the same workflow. If anything, I spend more time doing it than I used to because I’m doing all the work now. That’s fun for about two weeks ;~). Or until you retire and need a hobby.

Still, you’d think that the workflow would have changed by now. Computers were supposed to improve productivity, after all. Oh, wait, workflow has improved. But really only for smartphone users. Seriously, it’s been more than a decade now since the iPhone appeared, has no one in Tokyo actually noticed?

That’s workflow. But viewflow has changed (and not changed), too.

I think we take photos to show others. At least I think that. When I’m using my iPhone that seems to be the usual result of using the camera app. But when I’m using my dedicated camera? Hmm.

Viewflow used to work in one of four basic ways: (1) small prints circulated by hand or mail; (2) prints on walls; (3) images used in publication; and (4) getting stuck on someone’s couch after dinner watching three hours worth of boring, unedited slides while hearing stories you aren’t interested in.

Some serious snark snuck in there. My apologies. Snark is one of the ways I demonstrate my dissatisfaction with something.

Still, how has viewflow changed for digital cameras? #2, 3, and 4 are exactly as they were in the film era, and #1 has really only changed in that we can’t do that very easy with our digital cameras, because #1 was replaced by Facebook, In order for us to do #1 we have more workflow to do. And in order to do #2, #3, and #4 we pretty much are stuck with old workflow methods just made slightly more modern. Actually, hardly anyone does #4 any more, because that’s what three hours of shaky 4K video is for now.

Sorry, snarky again.

You’d think that viewflow would have changed by now. Oh, wait, it has. But only for smartphone users. Seriously, it’s been more than a decade now since that change occurred, has no one in Tokyo actually noticed?

I’m pretty sure Tokyo’s noticed. 

The problem is that they are mostly waiting for someone else to solve the problem. (Who that would be is unknown.) Then they’ll refine that approach, iterate it, and make it smaller. 

In the meantime, they wonder why camera sales are down (or Yay! They’re Now Only Flattish!) and that most images are made with a smartphone these days. Simple answer: casual photographers had problems. Smartphones solved them. Cameras don’t.

If you’re not solving a user problem with your products, then you damn well better entertain your customers. At least Sony has a game company, movie studio, and record label ;~). 

I’m sorry, but I’m not entertained by small buttons in the wrong places, overly complex menus that are only partially touch sensitive, or minute changes in specifications. Just as I wasn’t entertained by red, pink, yellow, blue, purple, camoflauged, and other-colored cameras. (You may remember I called that trend correctly: short-lived and desperate.) I’m not entertained by new features that need new—but unfortunately flawed—software, or which have nuance to them that is not even remotely documented. I’m not entertained by companies keeping everything so proprietary and secret that those of us who might be able to do something about the deficiencies simply have no place to start (and would probably be sued for doing so). 

I see lots of engineering and accounting successes in Tokyo. I see very few management and overall product design successes. Actually, I see a lot of product management folk beating around the bush. Unfortunately, it’s the wrong bush.

So WWTD? (What Would Thom Do?)

It’s simple, really. First, you have to keep doing the thing that you’re good at (incremental and miniaturization engineering, plus counting beans). I’m not at all advocating that any Japanese company put a stop to the things that they’re good at. 

What I am advocating—and have been for more than a decade—is that cameras get brought fully into the 21st century and designed to solve the new user problems that have arisen. And to shorten and automate as much of the workflow and viewflow as possible.

That means that, at a minimum, cameras have to communicate with the rest of the world, and not using inexpensive 10-year old parts that will slow down your network or computer. Apple gets this. That’s why the darned computer I’m typing this on has Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1, even though for my typing I really don’t need either. Of course, the minute I press “post,” I’m going to appreciate that my computer is not running at a slow Wi-Fi speed. 

So, Big Job Number One: cameras need to be really great communicators. Moreover, they should be adaptable to communicate via my mode of choice (minimum: USB 3.1, 802.11ac 5Ghz, LTE). You know, I don’t even care if the camera only comes with a really good USB 3.1 and I would have to buy options to do fast Wi-Fi, Ethernet, LTE, or any other communiction protocol I end up needing (the Apple "dongle approach"). That was sort of the point to my “modular” desire back in 2007, though modular image sensors and card/storage options would be nice, too.

However, being a great communicator also requires that we know how to communicate with you. Cameras speak “proprietary.” Ever tried to tether a camera? Yeah, it might work. The problem is that most of that tethering is done by a software vendor licensing an Software Development Kit (SDK) that’s really not much of an SDK: it’s really a poorly documented set of calls you can make to a proprietary black box that isn’t documented at all. 

Which is Big Job Number Two: an open and programmatic interface that isn’t a minimal set of proprietary black box calls. So we can make Job One do what we need Job One to actually do.

The funny thing is that WWTD hasn’t really changed in 10 years. Had a camera company given me a full engineering team and authority, we would have been done seven years ago. Just before dedicated camera sales peaked and started their plummet. My claim has been—and continues to be—that if the Japanese camera makers had built it, we would have all come. A camera that takes nice images but has old-school workflow and viewflow would have been uncompetitive with a camera that takes nice images but helps you make them look the way you want and get to where they need to go with minimal interaction. We would have all had to update to a communicating, programmable camera. Smartphones would be a nice convenience still, but not really competitive with what you could do with a dedicated CPM camera.

What I’m describing is a management failure. Not just by one company, but by all of them. That’s somewhat unprecedented in tech history, though it has happened before where an entire industry goes haywire. 

There’s too much “we know what you want” in Tokyo that’s not backed up by the evidence. Sony probably comes the closest to understanding what I’m writing about here, but still: there's way too much “we know what you want” without truly understanding what we want. 

We wanted it a decade ago, we still haven’t gotten it.

Now for a point that you might not have noticed. I sit writing this in an emerging country far from home where my US-based mobile phone service is fully operative. Fully operative, as in I’m getting 4G data speeds on my iPhone, my iPad, and my Mac, all while using my existing data plan. But you guessed it: not from any camera I know about, let alone the one that I am carrying. 

When I started contemplating my original CPM article in 2007, I was sitting on the side of Kilimanjaro reading the New York Times on my iPhone, and able to send photos to any email account. But only photos from my iPhone. Not from my Nikon DSLR. 

You’d think that cameras would have changed by now. Oh, wait, they have. But only for smartphone users. Seriously, it’s been more than a decade now, has no one in Tokyo actually noticed?

Canon’s 2018

Canon and Nikon are probably the most predictable of the camera companies. At least in DSLRs. Both have long-established patterns of updating products and launching new products. 

In looking at Canon’s digital past, you can see a number of interesting things.

First, the Kiss/Rebel and most of the other APS-C cameras were on a pretty annual update pattern from 2004 to 2012. Since then, the cycles have been two years. The biggest exception has been the 7D, which really only has two data points so far. Still, even that’s predictive given how Canon has been in the past. 

So let’s go through the APS-C lineup for a moment, starting at the top:

  • The 7D Mark III should venture its way into the market in 2018. This camera has had one four-year update cycle, and 2018 is the next four year mark. Moreover, Canon really can’t let Nikon have all the excitement with the D500 the 7D is competing with. Canon must and will update the 7D Mark III in 2018.
  • The 80D would be due for its update in 2018 if we look at the 60D to 80D schedules (prior to that, this line was also on a nearly annual update schedule). Nikon didn’t make a big splash with the D7500, so it’s possible that Canon will see that as a reason to back off on the 90D, essentially pushing out the upgrade cycle for this camera another year. But I’d have to bet that Canon will stick to its schedule and produce a 90D in 2018.
  • The T7i and 800D aren’t going to get an update in 2018. They’re on a two-year update cycle at the moment, and that would predict 2019. 
  • Below that things get muddled. Canon appears to have been moving slightly upscale with the APS-C line, so the low end Rebel/Kiss have now morphed a bit. We’ve still got the 77D in the lineup, and we still have the basic entry models in there. The SL just got an update and isn’t likely to get another soon. I’m betting that Canon probably wants to remove some of the DSLR APS-C models at this point. Even though a 1400D would be predicted in 2018, I’m not thinking that it's in the queue for updates. Technically, Canon has eight “models” in the APS-C DSLR line, plus three in the APS-C mirrorless line (and a fourth to be added soon). My guess is that we’ll see more action in the mirrorless side now and we’ll get another longer break in the low-end DSLR update cycles, if some of those models continue iterating at all.
  • Finally, it’s a good question as to what the established upgrade cycle is for the EOS M models. I’m betting that the M5 waits until 2019 to iterate, and that the other models will follow that in a trickle down pattern. We do have a known low-end model about to appear (M50), which gives us a staggered release pattern from M5 to M6 to M100 to M50 with each stripping things down some. So the big question is that M5 and when it iterates. Again, given everything else that’s going on and Canon going to fill out the M line in 2018 with that M50, I’ll bet an M5 Mark II in 2019.

In the full frame side, things are actually much harder to predict. First, Canon has lost a model along the way (1D) and split another model (5D). Meanwhile, the top end camera seems to be on a really long cycle. But here goes:

  • The 1DX Mark III won’t come until just before the Tokyo Olympics. Whether that’s the year-earlier point as we used to get (2019) or the just-in-time schedule that we’re seeming to get now (early 2020) is difficult to predict. But I just don’t see Canon changing the 1Dx in 2018.
  • The 5D line is a mixed bag. I’ll bet you that Canon really wanted to move on four year boundaries with this line. Given that we’re only 18 months into the 5D Mark IV, we won’t be getting an upgrade of that for awhile. But the 5Ds/r started feeling pretty anemic even before it hit the three year mark. Nikon and Sony have launched new high-end pixel counting cameras, and frankly, my experience is I’d rather have the A7R3 or D850 pixels than the extra pixels from the 5Ds cameras. Canon has to know that. 2018 will see a new 5Ds, probably one model without AA to try to keep up with their Tokyo competitors.
  • The 6D just got its update. Don’t expect another in the coming three years unless something radically changes.
  • There’s currently no mirrorless full frame. But rumors out of Japan says that will change by Photokina time. This is the best place for Canon to make a splash, as it won’t be an iterative product, but something new that can reveal new and potentially exciting Canon technology. 

Note that when I write about “annual” or “two year” or “four year” update cycles, this is the goal point for the camera companies. Sometimes everything goes smoothly and the teams easily make those goals. Sometimes something slows them down a bit. So “year” can stretch into 14, 16, or 18 months depending upon how big those hurdles are. This gets tricky because each company has preferred launch points during the year. This year, early March and late September are two critical targets (CP+ and Photokina, respectively), as those big shows give launches press leverage. 

Nikon's likely 2018 will be dealt with next week.

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