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Nikon Drops Some DSLR Rebates

NikonUSA is now (starting Monday May 30th) promoting a number of key DSLR lenses at strong discounts:

  • 200-500mm f/5.6E — US$340 instant rebate reduces the price to US$1059. This is the budget zoom telephoto to own. Competent at all focal lengths, hand-holdable, and at this price, a bargain.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8E — US$500 instant rebate reduces the price to US$1599. This was the best of the mid-range zooms Nikon made, though a little on the "big" side. At this price, everyone would have bought one when it first came out. 
  • 70-200mm f/2.8E — US$450 instant rebate reduces the price to US$1899. Sensing a theme? Nikon's put some of their best recent F-mount optics up with substantive discounts. If you're a DSLR user and don't have an f/2.8 telephoto, now's the time to pick one up.
  • 500mm f/5.6E — US$300 instant rebate reduces the price to US$3299. This is a solid lens that, due to its fresnel lens, is short and light for the focal length. Very hand holdable. Both DSLR and mirrorless users have this lens in their kit for good reason: it's the best way to get to 500mm with high quality without breaking the bank (or your back). 
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G — US$400 instant rebate reduces the price to US$1399. This is a workhorse wide angle zoom that, once you get past the field curvature, can net you great wide angle images in low light. 

Before people start hypothesizing that this is the end of the line for these lenses, consider that the yen/dollar relationship has tilted dramatically in the dollar's favor recently. That, coupled with the fact that Nikon probably would like to clear out some F-mount inventory they've been building up probably explains these deep discounts. Oh, and Nikon controls most of the parts in these lenses, and thus likely doesn't have the supply chain problems they have with some of their camera offerings. 

Other than perhaps the 200-500mm, I don't expect these lenses to go away any time soon. The three f/2.8 lenses, for instance, really need to stick around to sell the FX DSLRs out through 2026 as Nikon expects. And the 500mm f/5.6E fills a role in both the F-mount and on an FTZ adapter on the Z-mount. 

So, sales like this are a way of taking advantage of Nikon's short-term tactical shifts. 

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First "Hard" Information on Nikon DSLR Life

bythom nikon dslr

Updated: it appears someone got their dates wrong in the above chart: FY21 should be FY22, and FY25 should probably be FY26. I've adjusted my dating below.

There you have it (from Nikon's Investor Relations Event on May 26, 2022). 

You probably need some help parsing this chart, so let me try. 

FY21 actually refers to the year ended March 31, 2022. In that year, the F-mount cameras and lenses accounted for about 30% of Nikon Imaging's sales, or something close to 53b yen.

FY25 actually refers to the year ending March 31, 2026. By that point, F-mount cameras and lenses will account for just less than 5% of Nikon Imaging's sales, or something below 10b yen. 

Put another way, in the next four years Nikon will be phasing out DSLR sales, though not discontinuing them completely. Given Nikon's stated " high value-added products", it would suggest that the three current FX DSLRs (D780, D850, and D6) and the primary, best-selling side of the FX lens set are likely to be the products that remain in the lineup through 2026. 

Some of you will take this as "bad news." I actually take it as "good news." The fear has been that Nikon would just summarily discontinue DSLR products at some point in the near future. While that seems likely for DX, the fact that there's a clear tail of sales out for another three years indicates that the FX side will likely just be allowed to taper naturally. Put another way: Nikon's DSLR future is actually up to you, the customers. Keep buying and Nikon just might encourage that tail to continue past 2026. Stop buying, and Nikon will see that as a message to close the DSLR shop. 

The "Available" List Dwindles

Let's look at the Nikon DSLR lineup as of today:

  • D3500 — readily available
  • D5600 — body only is drifting in and out of inventory, but body+lens kits readily available
  • D7500 — body only is drifting in and out of inventory, but body+lens kits readily available
  • D500 — limps in and out of inventory; seems to be built in low quantity at the moment
  • D780 — readily available
  • D850 — has a big discount at the moment; but has been in and out of inventory for months
  • D6 — seems to be readily available

Essentially the full current body lineup is available. In the recent past we've seen the Df, D610, D750, and D5 leave the scene. Rumors keep popping up about another DSLR body going out of production, but looking at Nikon's latest financial numbers, they're still selling quite a few DSLRs. The problem for Nikon is that in order to remove a model, they'd need stronger mirrorless offerings at that same or higher position. Realistically, only the D6 has that (Z9), but there's no way the D6 is going away soon. It's a low volume flagship that is likely to be one of the last to leave the building.

That said, Nikon doesn't have much "old model still available" happening in the DSLR lineup anymore. At one point, we had three generations of DSLRs being sold at the same time. Today, it's just the current generation, with the D780 and D850 bodies being the only ones with any instant rebate. I expect that to be a similar story through the rest of this year.

Many F-mount (DSLR) lenses are still available, with NikonUSA showing 90 such lenses still being sold. That list is a little deceptive, though. A number of those are duplicate DX lenses (four 18-55mm!). Some are lenses we've seen discontinued in other countries. The Japanese Web site is probably a better indicator of "still available", and it's listing 83 lenses, though some of those also appear in the "archive" list, which tends to mean production has been stopped even though sales might continue for a short period. 

My best guess is that about 50 F-mount lenses remain in active production at the moment. Old technologies are clearly being slowly removed (e.g. D-type lenses), as are some poor selling G-type lenses. The lenses that seem to be relatively immune from discontinuation are recent E-type lenses. That actually makes some sense, as they're also the ones that work best on the mirrorless bodies (electronic aperture control, not physical). 

The problem, of course, is that "interchangeable lens camera" is a chicken-and-egg proposition: no bodies means that lens sales tank. No lenses means that body sales tank. Nikon seems to be carefully and slowing cleaning the cupboards of their older gear, trying to leave a viable set of body/lens choices that are trimmed down, but not so much winnowed that no one wants to buy into DSLRs at all. 

I don't think 2023 is going to be kind to Nikon DSLRs, at all. Nikon has said that they are now at the point where they can make their desired profit on only 150b yen worth of sales. That's the level of sales Nikon did in their previous fiscal year (April 2020 thru March 2021). In the fiscal year just ended (March 2022), Nikon Imaging was at 178.2b yen in sales. So I think one of the factors with Nikon DSLR continuation is how fast the mirrorless part of the imaging business grows to be close to that 150b mark. They're clearly not there at the moment, and the parts procurement problems prevent them from moving faster on that front, so I suspect we're going to see the DSLR line just continue to slowly winnow for the next three years before we reach the point where Nikon will say "time to close it down." (More on that at the end of the article.)

The tricky part is that D780, D850, and D6 sales compete with the stronger side of the mirrorless line (FX from Z5 to Z9). Nikon's DX DSLR line is actually stronger than their mirrorless DX line, both in bodies and lenses, and that's where a lot of the unit volume is still happening. I believe that about a third of Nikon's ILC body volume is probably in the D3500 to D500 DSLR lineup still. Until Nikon shows a more concerted Z DX effort, I'm not sure how Nikon can transition away from DSLRs. The Z5 to Z9 lineup won't produce that 150b yen sales level on its own, methinks. 

Canon is more difficult to figure, as they have a real scattergun approach to interchangeable lens anything (still or video) as I write this (though that may change with RF S models about to appear, and the recent appearance of cinema RF). Here in the US the Canon DSLR line now seems to be:

  • SL3
  • T7
  • T8i
  • 90D
  • 6D Mark II
  • 5DS R
  • 5D Mark IV
  • 1D-X Mark III

That's one more model than Nikon is serving, but a lot of those Canon DSLRs are truly limping along in sales at the moment, and I wouldn't expect that many DSLR models by the end of the year still being actively sold in the US. 

Like Nikon, Canon has been cutting out a number of older DSLR lenses. I count 76 EF lenses still being promoted, but only about 50-60 of those seem to be still in serious production. 

Thing is, for the first three months of 2022, it seems that only 56% of the interchangeable lens cameras (ILC) shipped by the Japanese companies were mirrorless, meaning that nearly 44% of the ILC shipped were Canon and Nikon DSLRs. Of course, the average selling price of the mirrorless cameras was well over 4x higher than for those DSLRs. That is the real dilemma for both Canon and Nikon: they're still selling a lot of APS-C (DX) DSLRs, but neither company has a huge mirrorless unit volume going yet. Frankly, no one does. It's why Nikon is pushing Z9's so hard: low volume but high sales price and high profit margin. Sure, they'll only sell 40-50k units in the first year, but those all have a nice markup on them. 50k units also gets Nikon almost 10% of the way to their 150b yen minimum sales need. 

FWIW, Nikon's just published forward estimate of camera sales for the coming fiscal year is basically flat in terms of unit volume (700k ILC, 1.25m lenses), but predicts an 18% increase in revenue and 16% increase in profit. This implies that the mix of cameras and lenses sold will go further upscale from where it currently is. The Z9 is only part of that. It appears that Nikon thinks that at least another model (or models) will pick up their average sales price. Short answer: fewer DX DSLRs, more FX mirrorless.

Will Demand or Supply Determine the End?

This just in and relevant to the discussion: Nikon noted for the first time that mirrorless unit sales of both bodies and lenses exceeded DSLR unit sales as they reported their 3rd quarter financials (Oct-Dec 2021). And revenue and profit were both up, even though unit volume overall was down.

Two ways exist to get to the end of the DSLR era: (1) customer demand falls below sustainable levels; and (2) product supply falls below expectations. 

#1 is easy to understand: people just stop buying DSLRs. To a large degree, that's what has happened at the consumer end of DSLRs. People aren't seeing the value in paying US$500-1000 for a big camera, often with arbitrary performance and feature cuts, when their mobile phones are getting better at doing the same basic function and, if they want an interchangeable lens camera, the mirrorless versions are more compact, light, and just as functional at the same prices. 

To put that into context, it's difficult to recommend a Nikon D5600 with the 18-55mm lens for US$800 (current price) when the Nikon Z50 with the 16-50mm lens has been at US$900 at times (currently US$1000). 

But that brings us to #2: the camera makers are in control of supply and pricing, so they can game the results as they see fit. When the supply chain was functioning better, the Z50 was often on sale, while the D5600 began to stop being included in sales. Clearly Nikon wanted to get more people choosing the Z50 over the D5600 at that point. However, as the supply chain started making it more difficult to manufacture new cameras at the volumes the camera makers wanted, you may have noted that pricing tended to ratchet back up to list price. So now the Z50 sits significantly higher in price than the D5600, of which apparently Nikon has plenty of in the pipeline. 

The naive consumer walking into a camera store shopping for a basic interchangeable lens camera now sees that the D5600 is the less expensive choice, has a few more pixels, an articulating LCD, and a few other odds and ends that make it look better than the more expensive Z50. Though the Z50 does 4K video, and is smaller and lighter, so maybe that extra US$200 is worth it?

For years the camera makers have been micromanaging their unit volumes of various products. Partly by price, partly by keeping them available long after the expected end of life (also by price), and by careful feature manipulation. There's no surprise, for instance, that the Z50 didn't have a fully articulating LCD when it came out. That's because the camera it most resembled in terms of performance was the D5600. If you put out an exact clone (e.g. a Z50 with 24mp, articulating LCD, real 3D-tracking, Special Effects modes, and so on), what you're saying is that the new thing (mirrorless) replaces the old thing (DSLR). By gaming products into gaps, Nikon essentially forced customers to make tough choices. 

Let's go higher up the lineup: the Z7 came in below the D850 in terms of performance and features. It's really a 5.5 fps camera (usefully) versus a 7 fps one (9 fps with the right battery and grip). I suspect the odd and kludgey Subject tracking choice instead of a separate 3D-tracking focus mode was another intentional compromise to provide some model separation. 

We can infer from what Nikon did originally with the Z system versus the DSLRs that Nikon thought they wanted to continue with both. The question now is this: is that still true? (My own personal assessment is that I think it is with some cameras, such as the D850, but not with the full DSLR line, particularly at the lower end.)

Which brings us back to #2: if a manufacturer wants to end the DSLR era, they can simply stop making them. You don't announce that you're going to do that, but one can start to see all kinds of hints of this in the market. For instance, when Sony stopped iterating Alpha DSLRs/SLTs, you could see inventory slowly disappear and then not get replenished quickly. Someone interested in the Sony solution started to find that the Alpha mirrorless cameras actually were providing performance and features that extended beyond the DSLRs/SLTs. Coupled with lower availability over time, this was essentially Sony forcing supply to have customers favor mirrorless. Sony's marketing of mirrorless ratcheted up considerably, too, as it was a trait with benefits that Canon and Nikon at first didn't match. Indeed, the full frame A7 and A7R were launched in 2013. Canon's R appeared in 2018, as did Nikon's first Z's. Sony had a long time to force the issue.

Canon and Nikon both now face the opposite problem: do they have any time to make the mirrorless lines their primary focus? The answer to that is no. The R3, R5, and R6 sealed it for Canon, the Z6 II, Z7 II, and particularly the Z9 did the same for Nikon. 

I think Canon has already taken approach #2 and is choking anything further happening in DSLRs. I'll bet that we see them choose to put parts in mirrorless cameras and their DSLRs start to fall more and more into Out of Stock or Back-ordered status in 2022. 

Nikon had already hit that juncture, partly because of their further choice to downsize and consolidate all manufacturing in Thailand. Not only did they start having parts restraints, but I think they also had some trouble juggling all the things they now wanted the plant to produce (it's still unclear if the D6 manufacturing moved out of Sendai to Thailand, for instance). 

So, in essence, as dealers sell their remaining DSLR boxes, I'm finding that they're not getting restocked as fast. At least one dealer has told me that DSLRs are now "special order" for him. He'll sell one to a customer if they want one, but he won't stock them. 

Which means that #2 is starting to be more and more the case. As that happens, you get an expected outcome: people can't buy a DSLR so they don't buy a DSLR ;~). Because people aren't buying DSLRs, manufacturers decide they can stop making them.

Many of you, on the other hand, have an entirely different viewpoint, as the emails triggered by my initial Change begets Change article continue to pour in. So here's some more of them with my responses:

"Re: straddlers. Before the Z9, it was very easy to see complimentary combos of D850/Z6 II or D500/Z7 II.  Now that the Z9 is out, the combination with the DSLR is more difficult."

True. I've been dealing with this with a number of pro sports photographers, who end up with some angst, too. The only DSLR/mirrorless straddle that makes sense to me with a Z9 is the Z9 and the D6, and even that's a bit questionable, and starts to bring up the issue of lenses. I've had to keep my 70-200mm f/2.8E, for instance, because the Z-mount lens can't be used on the DSLR. But I like the Z-mount lens on my Z9 because it gets rid of the extra mount needed by the FTZ adapter (and the adapter itself, of course). I really don't want to keep both lenses, as that seems like an expensive redundancy.

And the 400mm f/2.8? Boy do I want that lighter lens with the built-in TC, but it wouldn't work on my D6, so, again a problem. 

Of course, Nikon wants this to steer users towards rebuying everything in the Z form, but that's quite costly to do, so a lot of folk end up in a straddle position and not feeling comfortable about it.

"[D500 discontinuation is] Bad news. Oh well. I waited a LONG time to upgrade from D200 to D500, so I guess I will hang on to the D500. I was hoping to update my D810 one more time though. The D850 is not a sufficient jump IMO, I was hoping for an update. What are the chances? But that means I will not be investing in Nikon mirrorless. I have too much glass to switch, too expensive. But I don't really want to carry the weight around anymore. Around the city I mostly use m4/3 nowadays."

First off, the D850 is actually a pretty significant update from the D810, which itself was a more significant update of the D800 than most seem to realize. Nikon pushed the bar quite quickly in the D8xx line. Which, of course, would make it disappointing if we don't get another push, as it would produce a stellar DSLR.

The weight comment is the trickier one. The mirrorless options do tend to produce lighter equivalent gear, but as you note, there are other options, such as m4/3. This puts Z DX in an awkward position, too, though I personally find the Z50 and the right lens(es) make for a great walk around camera. But a Z50 isn't going to replace your D500 and D810, as it's not in the same league. 

"For me, the biggest impact of the discontinuance of the D500if that's what it is—is that it makes me rethink all Nikon purchases as I wait for the other shoe to drop. I'm not ready to go mirrorless and had been looking at a couple of lenses and another body and the long winter nights are when I read blogs like yours, dpreview, LensRentals blog etc. and that's when I start getting DSLR GAS while thinking about spring shooting. But if Nikon is discontinuing such a highly regarded body maybe the DSLR days are over at Nikon and the last thing I want is to put $$$ into lenses that have to use an FTZ when my 810 dies."

This is one reason why I said Nikon needed to be more forthcoming about future bodies—both mirrorless and DSLR—with some sort of (even vague) Road Map. What's happening is that Nikon's few moves coupled with radio silence are putting quite a few people into a "no buy" zone. So what we end up with is a pre-gone conclusion: we won't tell you what we're up to, so you stop buying, but since you stopped buying, we won't make that

Nikon has a long history of shooting themselves in the foot like this. They've over-extended and been late to the game with certain new tech (autofocus, IS, mirrorless, etc.) many times before. What happens is that they jettison all the low-end stuff, retrench, and come out with lower volume at the other end. The only real exception to this was DSLR, where they were first mover, and moved fairly fast at the consumer level as well as quite fast at the pro level. (Same thing can be said for the Precision division, where abandonment and retrenchment seems to be a constant struggle, but has resulted in Nikon losing leadership in steppers.) 

It's always fascinated me that Nikon can manage to make the numbers work with this constant back-pedaling approach. Full credit to the bean counters. However, at some point, this could very well come to a different conclusion. Imaging and Precision are the majority of what Nikon does, despite attempts at diversification, so if the bean counters ever can't make this back-pedaling work, it's game over. 

"It was not long ago Nikon’s message (at least it seemed to be) was "we are going to support our users with both DSLR & Z". Since then it appears F-mount lenses are being dropped left and right and no new DLSR announced or even credibly rumored, while existing “current” models basically are not available. I understand there are issues with supply chain and market uncertainty, but Nikon needs to at least provide minimal guidance to its user base about F-mount and DSLR—even a firm clear "really do not know at this time" is better than what is happening."

Agreed. Consumer-facing companies actually have to face the consumers ;~). You go on:

"Yes Nikon needs and wants to move the user base to Z, but the fastest and best way to get to that goal is to keep those existing users. Particularly for those users that will not or at least not quickly move to Z they need those users to stay connected and better yet continue to purchase products. They will reduce leakage and retain more sales from the existing user base if they would be clearer on future of F-mount in general and DLSR in particular. If F-mount lens production/inventory being liquidated and DLSR is at end of the road then say so and more importantly be clear about how you will help users to make the transition."

I'd guess that Nikon thinks they're being clear: "use the FTZ". That's not as clear a solution as Nikon thinks it is. As we're all starting to discover—thanks partly to the Z9—the FTZ is almost exactly the solution, but on a Z9. On the other models, the performance isn't quite the same, particularly in initial focus acquisition. Moreover, there's the AI and screw-drive lens issues, still. Ironically, the Z9 seems to have pulled some film SLR users from out of the closet, trading in their F's for Z's. But it's really the large base of DSLR users that Nikon needs to be careful with. The D# and D### users, in particular, have to be moved to mirrorless for the Z-mount to totally succeed, and Nikon's been equivocating with this group, sending mixed messages.

"I have the D780 and Z6 II with lenses for both mounts. I have used both in parallel for over a year for all types of photography. Despite the advantages related to sensor stabilization, electronic viewfinder and lighter setup, the Z6 II falls behind the D780 in nearly every single aspect—especially in terms of usability. That's why I overall prefer using the D780 and why I've decided to not further invest in Z-mount lenses."

The D780 is a very underestimated camera. It's not the right choice for me, but it very well can be for a lot of folk. But this brings up the question (again), of what Nikon thinks is going to happen with the Nikon DSLR users who think this way. This way of thinking definitely happens with the D500 and D850 crowd, as well, though given the Z9 not so much with the D5/D6 crowd these days. (This reader's further comments went into specifics. All of those specifics could be addressed in the Z line, but currently are not. Does Nikon even know what those things are?)

"The D500 is good enough that I can afford to wait for mirrorless—which essentially (to me) caught up with DSLR performance only this past year—to become enough better to be worth the price of switching. It's not there yet. It will be. Good now. Better later. Not sure if/where Nikon fits in that future."

The tricky part here is that you're probably expecting a Z70 (or Z90) type of camera on the mirrorless side. What happens if Nikon doesn't produce a high-end DX mirrorless body? We know they can't ignore high end in FX (and the Z9 proves that Nikon knows that). But DX DSLR users represent a huge crowd that still needs to be moved to mirrorless. Saying "buy FX" doubles the "need to buy new lenses" thought for those people, which simply opens up the buyer's decision making process to Canon and Sony options (or Fujifilm if they want to stay APS-C). 

Note to Nikon executives: you're now running at 13% market share and in a weak third place. You're not building a huge consumer base in DX mirrorless with the Z50 and Zfc models. The risk is that you're minimizing your potential market in the future to be even smaller if the prosumers and pros you target perceive that it's FX only for you. 

"I am a retired owner of a D850, D500 and Z50. Each camera has a specific space to fill for my photographic efforts. The D850 is my all-around go to camera, it’s my landscape first choice and it’s my macro first choice. My skills do not exceed the D850’s performance so it’s hard to justify a swap out for something else at this time. The D500 is my go to wildlife camera. The DX crop factor and frames per second advantages are very helpful for wildlife shooting. The Z50 is my convenience and travel camera.   Small, lightweight, good lenses and with a UI that shares the Nikon DNA.  I have previously owned Sony and Fuji APC cameras which were excellent cameras, but the menus are just different enough and just quirky enough to mean that my fingers don’t know where to go.

For the time being, it doesn’t seem like there is a big win in switching to full frame mirrorless Z cameras—all have good reviews, all are well thought out—but swapping out functional FX lenses for marginally better Z lens equivalents feels like a small win for a lot of cash. There is a part of me that says watch the used FX lens market for bargains on exotics; when the shift from FX to Z gets on in full swing there will be opportunities to fill in a few holes in my lens sets and to retire some older FX lenses for better behaved versions that are compatible with the pixel count of the D850.

Nikon has a bunch of choices to make and should consider how to move some of their core customers—owners of high end DSLR’s —over to full frame mirrorless. As they say in Southwest Texas: 'ya gott’a dance with the one that brung ya!'"

We'll leave today's installment with this last email, since it tends to summarize my thoughts fairly well (i.e., I agree with it). That last phrase really sums things up. Nikon has spent over 50 years building up a loyal, enthusiastic base. Those folk are the ones Nikon has to please to stay relevant in photography, and my In Box says that way more of you are displeased at the moment than should be, which is a problem. 

What Made the D500 So Good?

With the Nikon Japan site now listing the D500 as "Old product" we have the beginning of the end for the venerable camera. 

bythom nikon d500

On its back and struggling to get up.

While some sites are reporting the D500 as "discontinued," that's not actually how things work at Nikon. Each subsidiary runs independently when it comes to end-of-life for products. Nikon Japan, the home market, tends to be fairly quick to pull the plug on things, and product with the 20##### serial numbers stops being produced. We've also long had DX lenses that are no longer available to order by a dealer in Japan that still are available from NikonUSA, for instance. 

This is partly due to that non-global attribute of Nikon's system I've been complaining about for decades (yes, decades). By serializing product at the factory to individual markets, this creates all sorts of side frictions, including gray market and differing end-of-life points. To some degree, this is Nikon bean counters continually micromanaging things, thinking they're saving pennies (yen) when they probably aren't. They're just bolstering the old-IBM-like upper management promotion mechanisms as subsidiary CEOs jockey to show they can do better than one another. 

What I take the Nikon Japan reclassification of the D500 to mean is this: production is down to remaining parts supply, and Nikon corporate will produce the remaining bodies that can be made to the subsidiaries where they'll fetch the biggest profit margins from. Long term, though, the D500 is winding down.

Two things need to be talked about. The first is the headline question. The second is what's next for high-end DX from Nikon?

The D500 stood out for a number of reasons. It looked a lot like a baby D5, for one thing: 20mp like papa, same focus sensors as papa, mostly same controls and functions as papa. A bit fewer fps, sure, but also a couple of more consumer-side conveniences (SnapBridge and tilting LCD). 

For sports and wildlife photographers who were already cropping in FX because they didn't have enough lens, the D500 actually was a clear improvement over buying a D5: more pixels on subject and lower price. That's not to say that the D5 didn't have advantages, but that many didn't view those advantages as worth the extra price. 

One problem with the D500 was that there was no D400. Nikon went way too long between the lame D300s upgrade and the D500 introduction, and during that period Nikon was pushing everyone to FX (partly by denying a full DX lens set, buzz, buzz). Most D300 purchasers who wanted to upgrade had long ago made the decision to go D8xx, or worse, something else (m4/3 was an early choice, Fujifilm X is the more recent choice). Thus, D500 sales never really took off the way the D300 sales did. 

I suspect that Nikon felt that the D500 was a disappointment in terms of volume, particularly recently. OMG! I'd argue long and hard that the lack of volume is Nikon's own fault, not customer lack of interest. As I keep pointing out, the D500 is to this day still the best performing APS-C (DX) camera you can buy. Excellent image quality, top performance in virtually every arena, particularly focus. Do you hear Nikon marketing telling you that? No, not really. 

Nikon's marketing has no long game (and sometimes no early game, either). They put almost all their effort into selling whatever was just released, and never manage to do followup or ongoing marketing. The tag line and short summary on the Nikon corporate site for the D500, for instance, is still the same as it's been for five years. NikonUSA still points to the dpreview initial impressions trip. Neither points out that the five-year-old D500 still tops any APS-C (DX) camera you can purchase. 

So here we have the best APS-C camera being discontinued, which can only mean there's a better one coming, right? 

Yes, probably from Fujifilm (X-H2 in May). Fujifilm's problem will be that they don't have the lens set that the D500 user would really want (e.g. lack of telephoto choices, particularly fast ones or light ones). Does lack of lenses sound like a familiar problem? ;~) 

I'm not getting the sense that Nikon wants to put out another US$2000 DX camera. At least not any time soon. Maybe never. For a bit over a decade Nikon has been on a "push FX" craze, and since that now encompasses US$1000 to US$5500 bodies in the mirrorless lineup, that's what they really want to sell you.

Indeed, you can sort of see it in the lens lineup. The reason why we'll get a 400mm PF and 800mm PF lens in mirrorless? Because you need longer versions if you're not making a DX camera to use them. 400mm on FX is not far off the 450mm equivalent of the 300mm f/4 PF on DX, and 800mm on FX is actually a bit better than the 750mm equivalent of the 500mm f/5.6 PF on DX. Seems like a clear signal to me. 

Of course, for that to work, Nikon is going to have to radically improve the autofocus on the Z5 II, Z6 III, and Z7 III. 3D-tracking and Group-area AF was pretty darned good on the D500, after all. 

So, it's a sad day for D500 users thinking about upgrading. The D850 gives them more pixels in FX, but is pretty much a D500 in DX crop. The Z7 II ditto, but not as good at tracking focus of erratic motion. The Z9 also ditto, but at a much more expensive price. 

Here's hoping that I'm wrong and that Nikon does have a reasonable DX future for the prosumer/pro user. Of course, there's this: the D500 is still today the best APS-C (DX) camera you can buy. So if you have one, you can still claim to be state-of-the-art, congratulations. 

How to Look at DSLRs Today

With high tech, there's always a set of critical deflection points you need to be aware of. The two most critical ones are:

  • The beginning of the new
  • The end of the old

The D1 in 1999 could be arguably called the beginning of the new for DSLRs. Previous to that, we had multi-party experimentation (Kodak/Canon, Kodak/Nikon, Nikon/Fujifilm) that produced cameras we could probably call DSLRs. But the D1 represented one of the major camera makers producing something new they wanted to go mainstream and was what I would regard as the true beginning of DSLR. Likewise, the Panasonic G1 in 2008 probably is the camera we should regard as the beginning of mirrorless. 

Identifying the "beginning" is always easier (especially in post-mortem) than identifying the end. 

The debate going on in my email Inbox these days seems to center around whether we are at the end of the old with the current DSLRs or not. 

In terms of sales, particularly of the D850, it doesn't seem like we are. This is the tricky part that keeps Canon and Nikon making a number of their DSLR models: there's a reasonable demand for them, again, particularly the Nikon D850. The reason I've been centering most of this discussion on Nikon and avoiding writing about Canon is that if you look closely, Nikon has three DSLRs that are seminal that are still selling:

  • D500 — To this day, still the best APS-C camera you can buy, mirrorless or DSLR.
  • D850 — To this day, still arguably one of the top few all-around cameras you can buy, mirrorless or DSLR.
  • D6 — As good as the Z9 is, the D6 still has plenty going for it, particularly for the sports crowd.

You can't really say the same for Canon, where only the 1DX Mark III might make the cut.

So the question that keeps getting asked is this: are those Nikon DSLRs the last of the breed, or might Nikon attempt to extend the DSLR lifespan by producing a new model (or two)? 

I don't know the answer to that question. Only Nikon knows, and I'm pretty sure they don't know for sure themselves at the moment because they're still in the midst of their yearly management priority-setting meetings at the moment. I'm not sure consensus has been reached on the DSLR status moving forward.

It is clear that Nikon is prioritizing manufacturing of mirrorless cameras that are selling well (e.g. Z6 II, Z7 II, Z9) over DSLRs, as DSLR production slowed to a trickle as the parts shortages started to impact Nikon. The key mirrorless cameras are staying in stock or getting re-stocked faster than the key DSLR ones. Which is why is you see "more on the way" for the D500, D850, and D6 quite often at the big dealers, such as B&H. With the mirrorless cameras, we're tending to see shorter periods where that's the case, and often a body+lens kit is available if the body only is out of stock temporarily.

I do think the Z9 dislodged a number of pros that had been considering themselves "DSLR into the future" owners. I know quite a few that sampled the Z9 only to decide maybe the time had come for them to transition to mirrorless. That's despite some things that the Z9 still needs work on. Personally, I'm one of those folk. The Z9 answers enough of my mirrorless hesitancy to have supplanted my D850. 

My questioning of where we are regarding the "end of the old" lies more than in personal interest, though. As a key supporter of Nikon interchangeable lens products—via my books and Web sites—for almost 25 years, I'm trying to figure out the audience, much like Nikon is. How many of you are going to stay DSLR, how many will move on, how many will come to a split decision?

Thus, I've encouraged an on-going dialog via email, and have some more reader comments to post:

"The [pricing] on the 400mm f2.8 makes the case for final F-mount camera bodies. No reason to think the Z 600mm or even the 800mm PF lenses on roadmap will not be priced similarly. Assume at some point will eventually have Z-mount lenses equal to 120-300mm f/2.8 and 180-400mm f/4 (given the long Nikon history in 500mm f/4 versions, that also is possible) and those will be priced in same range as the DSLR lenses. There will be a reasonable number of people who have the F-mount exotics of all types (even some high end lenses not “exotic”) that simply are not going to spend that kind of money to upgrade to Z versions."

Yes, many of us have discovered the F-mount exotics on the FTZ adapter mounted on a Z9 basically give us a bit more focus precision with sometimes even faster speed than the DSLRs have (particularly with teleconverters involved). On the one hand, I dislike all the mounts you can end up with doing this (lens, teleconverter, FTZ), but I'm enjoying the performance. So do I (or you) really want to give up our F-mount exotics? We pay a big cost penalty for dumping an F-mount one and picking up a (eventual in some cases) Z-mount one. 

Personally, I've decided to sell my 500mm f/4G, but am undecided at the moment about my 400mm f/2.8G. But it's really only cost factors that are coming into play for me, not whether or not Nikon might make another DSLR body.

"Since the introduction of the Z System, I went from four FX DSLRs (all bought used) to a D850, Z6 and Zfc all bought new (and in that order). My intention was to be a dual mount user, i.e. to straddle across F and Z. For some time, I've been contemplating trading in my D850 for a Z7 or Z7ii, because the weight and size reduction is more useful to me than what I consider to be the better ergonomics of the D850. Since the introduction of the Z9 (a camera I can't see myself buying), that feeling of 'maybe I should make the leap to Z' completely has got bigger. But, I actually find it hard to pin down exactly why I feel so hesitant making that leap. For me, there is an appeal related to owning and using the D850 that is hard to put my finger on. I still enjoy using it. I can't see myself ever wanting to upgrade to a D880 or D900, and see any future upgrades to be on the Z side for me. So, I guess I'll be more likely to trade my Z6 for a Z7 or Z7ii in the future than ever departing with the D850....and that means having some of my F mount lenses around...which probably means I won't be adding as many Z lenses as Nikon would like."

I'm seeing more and more Straddlers with similar thoughts to you, typically always centered on a D500 or D850 body on the DSLR side (though not always). From Nikon's point of view, Straddlers are actually their worst problem, as they buy minimal new mirrorless gear and aren't likely to buy a new DSLR, either (as in your case). At least they tend to buy Nikon, I guess. 

Too many Straddlers would slow down the Z System camera sales from where I think Nikon wants them to be. The only way to minimize straddling, though, is to introduce more seminal products such as the Z9, which I don't think is going to happen short term. I see the 2022 Z future more centered on producing a decent Z6 III and Z7 III, and maybe one other camera. If I'm right, we'll still be having this discussion into 2023 ;~(.

"I am a D500 + Z7 user (in that order). I got the Z because I wanted to do video more easily, it is manageable with the D500, if plenty of preparation is done in advance. I did not go full mirrorless because frankly, I like the form factor of cameras like the D500 and D850 a lot better than the Z cameras."  

Another Straddler, but note the reason. This reader is not alone, I noted a half dozen similar points made in the last week about form factor.

So what's that mean? I'm not entirely sure, and I suspect Nikon isn't, either. I don't think it's the smaller size of the Z bodies, but something else. Could it be the Mode Dial and U# positions? Button positions? We know that the lack of a true vertical grip was one of the items in this category with the original Z6 and Z7. But what are the other form factor issues that are putting people off?

Continuing on with the same emailer:

"The Z9 appeared… I preordered, then pulled out to wait for your review! I am mightily tempted, but I am holding back because well, I am only an enthusiast at the end of the day. That, and the fact that I cannot figure out how I could combine the Z9 with my D500 in a complementary way that makes sense."

This echoes my own feelings towards straddling: I can't come up with a DSLR/mirrorless combo that makes a lot of sense. And as the Z-mount lens lineup expands, the straddling position gets harder to figure out. No doubt Nikon has been subtle in trying to make that more difficult for people, as they don't want Straddlers, they want mirrorless adopters! 

"I want to pass along my thoughts regarding my hesitation to switch to mirrorless.  I share some of the same sentiments as many of your readers, but my hesitation to make the switch includes a nuanced point that I haven’t seen expressed. The D850 was (and still is) the one-camera solution with minimal compromise for many of us. I would bet that most D850 owners do not feel as if they made a significant compromise, relative to other DSLRs, in any of the following areas: user interface and features (top notch), resolution (top notch), low-light performance (so close to the D750), and autofocus performance (just slightly below, but comparable to D500 and D5 (never held a D6)). What’s more, with the D850 we have the option of going small relative to the D5/6 by leaving the grip at home, or benefitting from the bump in frame rate and handling for portrait orientation by adding the grip.  Like I said, there was very little in the way of compromise relative to any other DSLR in any way. Perhaps the D850 has spoiled me, but when I make the switch to mirrorless, which involves shelling out a lot of money for a new lens lineup, I expect to be able to continue with a one-camera solution while gaining what I see as the major benefits of mirrorless over DSLR. Those benefits include full sensor coverage of autofocus points, blackout free shooting, and a smaller form factor but with the option of a vertical grip. I do not feel as if any of the current Z cameras fit my definition of a one-camera solution with minimal compromise in a mirrorless world."

Well put, though with the Z9 I think Nikon may have (most of) the answer for you, though at a higher price point than you paid for the D850. 

Couple your thoughts with whether or not a D880-type successor would cause anyone still with a DSLR to buy into it and you have the horns of Nikon's dilemma. I think it could be done, but it would take the A Team to do it right. I suspect the A Team has other priorities at the moment.

"I'll admit that I don't want all that much more out of a D500 successor, with the chief thing being a few more megapixels (it's a persistent itch for me). So I'd pay $2000-2500 for a modestly improved D510. But if Nikon did come out with a really cool D580 instead, I'd be willing to splurge and pay $3000+ for that."

As an aside, Fujifilm is hoping you'll come look at what they have later this year (stacked sensor X-H2). Personally, I've always thought that not enough people gave full credit to just how good a camera the D500 was. I know that Nikon was somewhat disappointed with its sales, but I'd also point out that the huge wait for it from the D300 was part of the problem. When it looks like the thing you want might never appear (the mythical D400), you start looking elsewhere. The good news for Nikon was some of those looking found FX Nikon DSLRs. The bad news for Nikon is that the rest found Fujifilm and Olympus mirrorless cameras. 

One reason why I'm spending some time with this discussion over the course of several weeks is this: if Nikon pulls the same trick—long delay before some new DSLR appears—they're going to end up with the same result: lower sales than expected. My guess is that by the time 2023 is over, everyone with a Nikon DSLR will have made their commitment, whether that be to just ride out what they've got or to turn to something else (which may not be Nikon). Thus, if Nikon isn't already trying to figure out when to start production of a new DSLR they've designed and prototyped, it's probably going to be too late for it to have any meaningful impact financially. 

And then we have the customer that Nikon loves:

"I started with 35mm film when I was about seven years old and got my first SLR when I graduated high school in (I hate to admit it) 1969. So here's my take on changing. At this point, I'm transitioning from DX DSLR (D7200's) to FX mirrorless. I bought the Z6 package with the 24-70 f/4 and the FTZ the year before last when the price dropped. I wanted to get the feel for the Z system to see if I liked it. I loved it. Then last year I added the 14-30 f/4 and I just bought a refurbed Z7. I already owned the 70-300 AF-P and the 80-400 and both of those seem to work well with the FTZ, so I have the focal length range I need.  Along the way, I also snagged the Z50 two-lens kit, also refurbed. I've got that for when I want to minimize size and weight.  

I've been finding the transition to be relatively easy because, as you've pointed out, Nikon has managed to keep the "Nikon-ness" in the interface. The fact that the Z6 and Z7 work identically makes it even easier. Yes, there are new features to learn and a new AF system that I'm working on mastering, but I can do that, maybe because I'm a tech nerd by nature. So for me, Nikon doesn't need to iterate DSLRs because I'm pretty much done with them. To tell you the truth, I never thought I would say that, but here I am.

No doubt you're not alone. Not even close to alone. From the mirrorless site I get plenty of folk who have a story very much like yours, and are now committed to mirrorless.

It's those holding onto DSLRs or straddling that are provoking all this discussion, and judging from how many emails flooded my In Box—biggest volume for any specific topic for almost two years—there's a significant number of these folk out there trying to figure out their camera futures. I'd judge that about half those are going to stay DSLR holdouts (mostly due to age), and the other half will figure out some straddle position they're comfortable with.

Change Begets Change Begets Change

A number of readers had comments about last week's DSLR articles. I thought it worthy to republish some of those with additional commentary.

"I’m a 78 year old retired engineer. I’ve been photographing since junior high school. Been processing my own B&W, and thought I’d gone to heaven when Cibachrome came along. I’ve had five different digital cameras over the years and am currently using a D850. I think it will be my last camera as it has taken a lot of learning to get to my level of proficiency. I’ve still got a long way to go. At my age I don’t think I can go through the learning curve for a new system, still climbing the hill on this one."

This is part of the problem with DSLRs that often goes unstated: the audience that embraced them is aging, with a large majority now retired. While they often have the disposable income to buy new product, there's a reluctance to do so, particularly if it involves relearning anything. Among this group, most seem to have a D850, which, of course, is still one of the best cameras you can buy today. 

The question Nikon has to be asking themselves is this: would there be any DSLR they could sell this group, and if so, what would that camera look like? Because of their age, my guess is that sensor-VR would be the trigger to an upgrade more than anything else.

"I voted for not transitioning although I know that transition is just a matter of time. I currently have the D850 and am on my second D500 (gave the first one to my son after about 175,000 pictures). I am just a hobbyist, but I really enjoy my time with the cameras. I have been very happy with the pictures that I get but was thinking about getting the D6 for what I hear is better focus, but it your suggestion of a next gen final DSLR comes about I would definitely jump at that. I use Zess Otus lenses on the D850 for landscapes, and am not interested in replacing them with a new mount."

Lenses keep coming up in many of the responses, particularly "I don't want to replace lenses I like." Many of you also seem to not be a fan of adapters (like me). 

"Nikon needs a new, clear message on screw-drive lenses.  Either discontinue all but two of them (the DC-NIKKORs, which have nothing like a manual-focus or AF-S equivalent), or provide a screw-drive FTZ adapter. (Quite frankly, the screw-drive lenses should have been discontinued a decade ago, quickly after the D40 came out, but it's too late for that.)

With a screw-drive FTZ I would be in the "supplement DSLR with mirrorless" group, but instead I'm in the "move to mirrorless" group, with Sony FE instead of Nikon Z.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who has switched systems due to Nikon's refusal to provide an upgrade path to mirrorless for screw-drive lenses."

A whole bunch to parse in this response. Nikon's marketing keeps saying "move to mirrorless, it's seamless" (due to the FTZ adapter), but in so doing leaves out anyone that has certain types of lenses (screw-drive autofocus and AI lenses). By doing so, if someone with Nikon screw-drive lenses does decide to go to mirrorless, Nikon leaves them open to switching to Sony. Why? Because those folk are going to replace a large number of lenses, and Sony FE mount has a wider choice of lenses that is more likely to match up with what they're giving up. Sony FE mount has more affordable choices, too.

Couple this with the Internet myth that Nikon Z autofocus is not as good as Sony FE autofocus, and Nikon's reluctance to embrace their own customer simply makes it more likely that they'll lose the customer.

You are right that Nikon should have fully embraced AF-S earlier and just put screw-drive autofocus to pasture. But so many people protested when the screw-drive disappeared from the consumer DSLRs that Nikon seems to have backed off from where they were originally intending to go. That decision hasn't served them well. 

"It seems like Nikon has two choices to try and keep their existing screw-drive customers: Either maintain a small group of DSLRs to support the users with screw-drive lenses, probably a D780 and one or two other cameras, or provide an upgrade path for screw-drive lens users and provide a single uber-camera for the DSLR holdouts.  Making a screw-drive FTZ is better for Nikon AND its users, but Nikon refuses to make one."

It seems Nikon's choice is the former so far (keep some reasonable DSLRs in the lineup). But that doesn't hold serve for long if the perception is that no new DSLRs are coming and the ones being made will end up discontinued. At least one correspondent is arguing that they believe Nikon is intentionally withholding a screw-drive adapter until the time they stop making DSLRs, which is crazy logic, if true. 

Realistically, cameras have a seven-year life after manufacturing discontinuation due to required parts and service commitments. That sounds like a long time, but I'm betting that a number of "still current" DSLRs aren't actually still being made and have already started their countdown to final repairs. Thus, many DSLRs' repairability end date is likely sooner than 2028. 

"I have a lot of F-mount glass (perhaps too much) and the thought of replacing it all at my stage of life was uncomfortable. That was much of the reason behind my purchase of a D850 earlier this year when they were available for $2500. If I had thought of an FTZ with screw-drive capability, it would not have changed my answer. I have just one lens left in current use that would need it - an old 20mm f2.8 D lens - and frankly I should have replaced it years ago."

And then there's the combo of the above: age making it likely to make a complete shift, but not reliant on screw-drive lenses and thus within Nikon's current target for mirrorless conversion. As you can probably start to see, Nikon's choices are tricky. They can fail to hold onto a customer in multiple ways:

  1. Customer never buys again, enters Last Camera Syndrome (either because of age or reluctance to give up old glass).
  2. Customer switches to mirrorless, but possibly not Nikon. 

I still say that holding onto a customer any way you can is the right approach, particularly since with the market now sized so small, your chance of picking up a new customer to replace them is low. I argue that delaying any adapter with screw-drive focus capability would have been a mistake by Nikon. Both cases I note above would have a better result for Nikon with a screw-drive adapter available.

"For someone who has a major investment in FX F-mount lenses a D900 could make a lot of sense and its design and manufacturing tooling costs could survive the Nikon bean counter mentality similar to the F6 finale.  For a professional this could make economic sense as they could transition to the Z system over time while still benefiting from the latest technology. For someone like myself who still uses a D50 and a couple of kit lenses, I’d rather make the jump to a Z9 (or possibly a Z7 III) since I do not change gear often, especially since I am now a somewhat senior citizen. I do not have a major investment in lenses to consider when I do jump."

This illustrates another problem (and opportunity) for Nikon: while this reader is likely to make the DSLR-to-mirrorless switch, that change is not driven by an accumulated lens set, there isn't an urgent need for change, and they are still not sure where in the lineup they'll end up. Marketing is never "done," you have lots of little bits and pieces you need to work through to pick up all the possible customers. Is a D50 to Z7 III (or higher) switch the right one? How do you market that? ;~)

"1) Nikon has supported the F-mount for decades, less so in lenses recently (G and E variants), but certainly in camera bodies. If one has a collection of quality F-mount lenses (regardless of age) it stands to reason that a digital F-mount camera has continued viability. I own some of Nikon’s classic lenses and made some great images with them.

2) if one is using film and digital imaging methods, the F-mount is quite useful for supporting both formats, again with quality optics. I photograph with both systems.

3) I’ve had a number of mirrorless cameras (Sony DSC R-1, Nikon 1) and now a Z50 and they are great as a convenience daily carry camera. The newer high end Nikon mirrorless camera are even more exceptional and have matching lenses to compliment them. Keep up the development efforts and product launches. That said, I’ve used some F-mount adapters, and while they get the job done they handle like a work around, not a solution. I anticipate using my DSLR and quality F-mount optics for the foreseeable future. I’m an advanced amateur, not a pro."

Ah, film. As I can attest from on-going film book sales, there definitely is a modest sub-set of the market that still enjoys using film SLRs. And if you enjoy that, the DSLR is the better digital companion because of the F-mount lens set applies to both. Not the notion of the FTZ as a "work-around." Not only is the FTZ a work-around solution, but it's also not a complete solution! I've heard from multiple sources that Nikon has a more complete adapter designed. I simply can't understand their reluctance to produce it, if true.

"What is the photography market for dedicated cameras and lenses in 2022? Hobbyist (collector, advanced amateur), parents (family), small businesses (weddings and grads), artists (fine art), pros (sports and journalism), industrial (product, documentation), internet websites (reviews, training)? This is end user stuff, irrespective of the sales/distribution channel or international markets. It seems each segment might have completely different motivations and needs. Camera marketing must be a nightmare…I suspect like the parable of the blind men and the elephant."

Exactly. It used to be that the market was always growing, so the camera makers simply just made something for everyone. Product lines multiplied and makers built up multiple models in each line. Anyone who walked into a camera store (or big box camera section) could be pointed to something appropriate. 

That laissez faire approach to product line management is gone, both because the volume collapsed down to a handful of buyers, but also because photography became fully entangled with social media and now requires a near instant satisfaction to succeed. The camera makers are well behind the times in figuring out who their market actually is these days, and the SLR/DSLR user is starting to become a retired dinosaur that most won't be buying much longer. 

I don't see any camera maker "ahead of the game" when it comes to understanding what the young will want in imaging systems (other than their phones). Nikon's naive sense—shared by all the other camera makers—is that it will be mirrorless, not DSLR in the future, but that's not solving the actual user problem. The camera makers need more users, so how do they attract them? A mirrorless camera is no less complex and not really different to a new-to-market user than a DSLR, so "mirrorless" is not the answer by itself.

"I have a D850 and a Z7, used for different purposes (the latter primarily for travel).  I would consider upgrading to a revised  D850 (D880, or whatever), since I have a nice collection of F-mount lenses, but I’m already sometimes using a Z — so there isn’t actually a choice in the survey that accurately reflects my position. I suspect some other enthusiasts like me also have more than one body straddling both systems."

Yet another thing to consider: will people continue to straddle? I know I did for some time, but I'm mostly through straddling now that the Z9 and more appropriate lenses to my needs are starting to appear. The operative question that no one seems to be able to answer is this: why are so many D850 users reluctant to move on? This reader mentions F-mount lenses, but I'm not sure that's the real reason we have so many Nikon DSLR-clingers still. Optical viewfinder comes up, as do some other things, but this is actually a very important thing to understand: if there's something tangible in a D850 that has the Clingers clinging, an iteration of that camera could very well be successful. But if you don't really know what's keeping these users in DSLR, how can you design something that will keep them buying a new model?

"D880 and no Z8: I would upgrade my D850 to a D880 (presuming the upgrade ticks my boxes).

Z8 and no D880: I would go to the Z8.

Z8 and a D880: that would be a tough decision. I would likely wait for both of your reviews and go from there."

I think you just directly expressed Nikon marketing's dilemma. There will be a Z8 (and a Z7 III). But maybe not soon. Nor would there likely be a D880 soon. So we end up with your third choice as something Nikon has to consider, and it's not just a tough choice for you to decide which way you'd go, it's a tougher choice for Nikon to decide whether to enable your tough choice! 

Which brings me to this: it's more likely Nikon won't put you in that dilemma (more on my updated thoughts at the end of this article, which is another way out for Nikon). They'll simply give you your second option, as it most aligns with where Nikon wants to go.

"I've just voted in your poll because I do use a D850 and if I buy a new full frame camera it will be mirrorless. However I would upgrade my D500 to a better DSLR APS-C if it was made. A Z90 (Z9 features in a smaller lighter APS-C body) would be my preferred option."

Oh dear, another complication, and a completely different potential "straddle." I'll just say this: the only company that's going to make another APS-C DSLR is Pentax, and even that's not certain. The reason has to do with costs. To keep APS-C from essentially selling for as much as a full frame camera, you need to remove costs, even if you're making a high-end APS-C camera. The Z9 is US$5500. You can't really be pricing a D580 at US$3000+. But that's where it would likely end up if you tried to do much of an update as a DSLR. 

A Z90 with a stacked image sensor removes the mirror box, separate autofocus sensors, the shutter, the prism, and completely simplifies the manufacturing, alignment, and repair issues. So the question becomes how much does the stacked image sensor add to the cost, and is that significantly less than all the costs you just took out? A Z90 probably would have to slot in the US$2000-2500 space to fully succeed because of the image sensor and EXPEED7 costs. A D580 in that space wouldn't be much more than the current D500.

"Just to say I disagree slightly with your conclusion regarding Nikon's DSLR future. They should make TWO seminal DSLRs.  One high res and one lower, both with IBIS.  That would be in keeping with pretty much all manufacturers' options at the moment, whether DSLR/mirrorless or not."

This email came in after I had already changed my mind about my Change Begets Change article conclusion. After discussing things with several friends, my new conclusion about future Nikon DSLRs is this: Nikon should make a D6h and D6x as their final DSLR offerings. Yes, it would be great if they added sensor-VR as part of these models, but a totally cleaned up D6 coupled with a twin with the 45mp image sensor is probably the correct final answer. 

First, these are mostly hand-built cameras with lower volumes, which doesn't really disrupt anything else Nikon is trying to do, and thus is more suitable for a last DSLR statement. Second, both would be seminal, state-of-the-art DSLRs that could clearly be seen as best of breed (and thus deserving of on-going support).

Nikon DSLR Future?

I've spent some time recently communicating with several contacts in and around Nikon. 

My sense of things is that Nikon themselves haven't fully agreed upon a strategy moving forward for what to do about DSLRs. Some of the company, mostly rooted in development, want to continue with a few DSLR developments, while others, mostly rooted in marketing or sales management, don't. 

Unfortunately, the parts supply, shipping costs, and travel restrictions may be making the decision inevitable.

One thing I note is that the D3500 availability is rapidly going down while the pricing is basically back to list. This is a sure sign that Nikon is dealing with final quantities of that camera. Nikon discounts to reduce the inventory stocks, then raises the price back up for the last remaining ones. That's been their modus operandi basically forever. The D5600 seems to be in better supply than the D3500, but it, too, is staying at list price, the indication that Nikon isn't in any hurry to sell off remaining bodies (therefore inventory must be low). The only discounts you see these days are on the two-lens sets, and I believe that's really just Nikon unloading the 70-300mm lenses as fast as they can.

Aside: image sensors and lens elements are pesky parts. You commit to some volume of them, and you really want to use the last of those parts before moving on, otherwise you end up having to take readjustments on your financials. Both image sensors and lens elements are things that take some time to create (three to twelve months), so market decline can put you in a position where you have oversupply you need to use up. Thus Nikon's approach: sales to draw inventories down, list price for the few remaining.

Given that these two consumer DSLRs were the driver of Nikon's "volume strategy" and we know that Nikon has abandoned that strategy, I expect 2022 is the end of the line for those two models, and probably far sooner than you expect. Indeed, the discontinuation of so many DX lenses (primarily in Japan, but slowly spreading through the subsidiaries), seems to seal that deal.

Unfortunately, I believe that also seals the fate on the D7500 and D500, too. Nikon appears to have moved on from F-mount DX. I'm hearing no development rumors and plenty of DX shutdown rumors.

Which brings me to F-mount FX. Amazingly, we still have D610, D780, D850, and D6 readily available, with D750 and even D810 models still floating around in inventories. The Df seems to have quietly died off (NikonUSA still lists it, but "out of stock"). So between four and seven F-mount FX DSLRs still hanging around, depending upon how you define "hanging." 

My guess is that we'll see that list winnow in 2022, as well, with the D610, D750, D810, and Df likely gone at some point in the year. Which leaves the D780, D850, and D6. 

You may have noted the poll I posted yesterday (thanks to all of you who filled it out and responded via email with additional details). That came about because of a message I received from an intermediary who claimed something about Nikon's thinking. That didn't agree with my sense of the tens of thousands of DSLR users I correspond with that have bought my DSLR books. 

Here's the results (I closed the poll less than 12 hours after starting it; generally I do that when the ongoing results just continue to run at the same values):

  1. Will likely upgrade a DSLR: 14%
  2. Will likely move to mirrorless: 46%
  3. Will supplement DSLR with mirrorless: 25%
  4. Current DSLR is last Nikon they'll buy: 16%

Nikon's whole strategy seems to be predicated on #2. But that only picks up half their huge DSLR base. Another 25% will supplement (or already are), but the fact that they're keeping their DSLR doesn't bode well for discontinuing DSLRs.

My contention has been, and continues to be, that within the enthusiast group that is most essential to Nikon's long-term success, there's still massive resistance to mirrorless, and thus Nikon risks downsizing simply because they don't cater to their current customers. It's as if Nikon is intentionally saying "goodbye" to as much as a third of their customer base. 

One of the sticking points one emailer says is part of Nikon's thinking is the so-called Screw-Mount FTZ. The claim is that this part has been designed, but is the carrot that will be dangled when the DSLR lineup is discontinued (or decimated). But note group #3 in my poll isn't exactly small. They'd be much more likely to supplement sooner if such an adapter existed. Such an adapter's existence isn't likely to change group #1's or #4's response. So why hold it off the market?

The emails I received in conjunction with someone filling out the survey were even more illustrative. I'll save commentary on those for another day. However, some of you pointed out things that Nikon needs to hear. 

I keep looking at group #1, though: what DSLR are they going to buy if Nikon stops making most of them in 2022? 14% is a very large segment of your customer base to ignore. That's particularly true given that the folk that visit my sites aren't generally consumers, but high-practicing enthusiasts and pros. That's exactly the group that Nikon keeps saying they're going to target everything they do a financial presentation these days. Okay, so Nikon's targeting 70% or 80% of that group, not 100% of it? Doesn't sound efficient to me. 

Again, Canon doesn't have the same customer dynamics that Nikon does. It's really only Nikon at this point that can continue any DSLR development and profit/benefit from it. (Okay, Pentax is a statistical footnote that is doing the opposite: only pursuing DSLR and avoiding mirrorless.)

I'll stick by my guns on this one (for now ;~): Nikon should develop one last seminal DSLR. It will sell if it is done right. It won't be Nikon's biggest seller, but it should be profitable.


I should point out that Nikon's strategy with DSLRs isn't just something I report on, it's specifically of interest to my business, as well. Even without a steady stream of new cameras and lenses, it takes time and energy to keep dslrbodies current and useful to the DSLR faithful. I'm seriously late in updating a few critical books, but it's tough to spend any time doing that for no new revenue. 

I suppose if I were rich I could start a hobby business of taking old D500 and D850 bodies and putting new tech in them to keep them up-to-date and enabled. Call them the Resurrection 500 and 850 ;~). But I'm not, and it's an idea fraught with peril (where do you get parts long-term? Mechanical shutter makers are going to become dinosaurs soon). 

Change begets Change

Let me start with an observation: one thing that I get hammered on constantly on Web fora is that my views change with time and new information. I fail to see why that's a weakness, and why it isn't a strength. Indeed, I'm highly skeptical of viewpoints that never change, no matter what information comes to light. 

It's my science upbringing, basically. Science is our best attempt to describe the world we live in, and how it works. Science isn't perfect at that. We learn new things every day—generally through the scientific method of hypothesis and test—that give us a better understanding than we had. From that better understanding we have to reevaluate. Failure to do so is a failure to adapt, and we all know what Darwin says about that. Oh, wait, some of those criticizing me don't believe in or understand evolution. 

Which brings me to today's subject: where are DSLRs going?

As I noted in an article on, the camera world changed with the introduction of the Nikon Z9. dpreview and others keep writing that the Z9 is a D3-like moment, but I disagree. The Z9 is a D1 like moment. It's a fundamental change in product technology that has deeper implications than just changing the size of the image sensor (which Canon had already done prior to the D3 appearing). The Sony A1 could have been the camera that made the change implied by the Z9, as its refresh speed is close enough to a mechanical shutter so that Sony could have made the critical move first, but Sony didn't. But make no mistake: dropping a mechanical device for a silicon version of it is a huge change: mechanical shutters are going to go away, and sooner than you might think. You can mass reproduce silicon cheaper than you can iterate elaborate mechanicals, and in quantity you save substantial money in doing so. 

Moreover, the Z9 has a second technology that is equally as important: the dual-feed nature of the image sensor. Having a real time EVF that is blackout free and not lagged is essentially the final death knoll of the DSLR mirror flip, the mechanical portion of a camera that’s been in the process of dying off for the last decade.

About two years ago I started writing that Nikon should update the D500 and D850, at least with mirrorless-type improvements (which would significantly improve Live View and video on these cameras). The D780 came out shortly thereafter, and proved my point, though it was the wrong camera for Nikon to make that change with (the D500 would have been the better choice, but then the Z50 image sensor that would be needed probably wasn't in production soon enough for that to happen).

I've repeated my “Nikon should iterate the D500 and D850 with the mirrorless changes” comment since my original post on the subject. 

Today I believe I need to change that.

Again, I’m changing my position because new information and new understanding of where we are and where we're likely to go requires that I reassess my position. Indeed, that's exactly what happens in Product Marketing departments all over the world. I have the disadvantage of not knowing what's already in the move-to-production queue at the camera companies, so my observations are a little lagged (I'm trying to install a two-feed system at the camera makers so I see an unlagged live view, but they resist ;~).

Let me state it outright: Nikon is probably in the process of shutting down their DSLR line now. The success of the Z system, the launch of the Z9, and ongoing parts shortages are likely contributors to that. If I’m correct that Nikon is shutting down DSLRs, I believe that they should do so the way they did the film SLR line: with one, better-than-anything previous camera that might satisfy those that just want to continue with DSLRs.

That would be a D900. Not a D580 or a D880.

And yes, such a camera might even be shutterless. It can't be mirrorless because of the way a DSLR focus system functions with an optical viewfinder—a pellicle mirror would steal too much light for any top end Final Statement Model—but you'd want to steal as many advantages of the mirrorless progression as you could. That would include 8K video, a Live View that's really Live View, and much, much more. Essentially take the Z9 image sensor, processor, and dual viewing stream, and move it into a D850-like DSLR body. 

The problem, of course, is that this wouldn't be another US$3000 DSLR. It would almost certainly be a US$5500 DSLR. Which has strong implications on whether it would be worth making, or not. My thought? Yes, it would. Indeed, the best-possible-but-final-DSLR probably ought to have a high price tag. You really want people buying your mirrorless lineup, but don’t want to 100% abandon your faithful high-end DSLR user and leave them without any option in the future. 

Nikon did what I'm suggesting here with the F6 film SLR. That camera came as a final film SLR statement alongside the D2 generation DSLR cameras. It was priced high, and Nikon never got into a discounting mode with it, they just allowed people to buy it if they wanted it, and the F6 sales slowly coasted down to the point where Nikon finally shut down the line over a decade later. In doing things this way, film SLR loyalists really had no ability to complain: Nikon made them an incredible final film SLR, a camera that's still remarkable today (if you still use film). This solidified Nikon's position as both a legacy and forward-thinking maker.

Which is why I think a High End Swan Song camera is probably worth doing again for DSLRs. Moreover, such a camera probably wouldn't take anything away for Z9 sales, and it's not something Canon is ever likely to consider. 

Now watch, Nikon will make a fool of me by iterating the D500 and D850 ;~).

Those two Nikon DSLRs are still highly viable today, as I've written many times. It really does seem a shame to let them die off by at some point discontinuing them, though if Nikon did make a D900, one could say that the D850 didn’t die off. The D500, however, is still the best all-around, high performance APS-C camera you can buy today, despite now being over five years old. Just imagine how much it could be improved if Nikon really put some of their latest engineering into it. No iteration seems like a missed opportunity to me. Still, it's one of my two remaining DSLRs in the gear closet, and probably will be for awhile yet.

So, while I’d love to see a D500 iteration, I’ve reconsidered my position and I’m now of the belief that any APS-C high performance camera Nikon might consider making is (should be) much more likely to be a Z System camera utilizing some of the Z9 technologies. 

And while I’d like to see a D850 iteration, that, too, is becoming less likely as we move forward. So my other DSLR iteration position evolved some from “Nikon should make a D880 ala the D780 iteration” to “Nikon should make a final DSLR statement camera that replaces the D850.”


Yes, some of my change comes from having now used a Z9, but not as much as you’d expect. More of my change comes from the reactions I’m seeing of high-end Nikon DSLR users to the Z9. In other words, Nikon very well may be as successful at moving late DSLR users to Z9 as they were late film SLR users to D1.

The Holiday Season DSLR Angst Guide

It’s the start of the holiday buying season, and the emails continue to pour in: “I have a [DSLR_model] and wonder if it’s time to move to mirrorless?”

This simplest version is joined by a more angst-driven version: “I have a [DSLR_model] and would consider moving to mirrorless, but I can’t see what advantages I’d get and it seems costly to do this.”

So let me try to settle you down a little bit. 

First, there will be a time when you decide you want/need a new camera and the right choice will be to move from DSLR to mirrorless. For many of you, that time is not now. 

Note: Pentax users have no option for moving from DSLR to mirrorless without leaving the brand, so I’m not going to discuss them here.

In full frame, I consider the following cameras to be perfectly fine today and for the immediate future: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 1DX Mark III, Nikon D780, Nikon D850, plus the Nikon D5 and D6. And I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning here. Deciding to move on from DSLRs if you’re using one of those cameras is not going to give you a lot of bang for the buck. It’s not an economic decision to do so at present for most people. 

So what the heck is the feature/benefit of making a change from these full frame DSLRs to mirrorless? You tell me. If you can tell me (and justify that economically), you’re good to go, you don’t need my help. Buy the mirrorless camera of your choice and don’t look back. If you can’t tell me, warning flares were just shot into the sky. You’re in FOMO mode.

With crop sensor DSLRs, my list of similar cameras—assuming you would stick with crop sensor in any mirrorless move—would include the Canon SL3, Canon 90D, Nikon D7200, Nikon D7500, and Nikon D500. Again, I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning. To move from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera if you are using one of these, I’d need a clear feature/benefit you’re going to get and that you can justify economically. Don’t have one? You don’t need a new camera.

So let’s deal with some of the sub-themes going on in the DSLR/mirrorless angst realm.

  • No new DSLRs. I suspect that this is the biggest part of the fear running through DSLR users. Canon and Nikon no longer seem to be iterating DSLRs. I’d say that’s likely true for Canon, but I still expect Nikon might do something in the DSLR arena, just as they put out a top-end film SLR in the early DSLR era. Still, no news is being interpreted as bad news. Nope. Doesn’t make your highly capable DSLR any less capable. It was ten years before the last of the film SLR users gave up and went to digital. Same thing will be true in this transition, as well.
  • Investment panic. As many Nikon users have discovered, the equivalent lenses are indeed better in the Z-mount, which means that if they didn’t sell off their F-mount lenses already, they don’t get as much for them today as there’s a bit of a temporary glut on the used market. Of course, savvy DSLR users should see this as an opportunity to pick up some lenses on the used market, as they’re priced as lower than usual. It’s also a good time to move from crop sensor DSLR to full frame DSLR.
  • Gear dictates outcome. No, it doesn’t. This is the existential problem most people get themselves into. Technically, it’s “New” gear dictates outcome. Still not always true. Yes, sometimes a new product comes along with a new ability or a new level of performance that changes the game, but the current DSLR/mirrorless top end products are both quite good. There’s less “outcome dictating difference” than almost anyone seems to think, though if you haven’t bothered to learn how your autofocus system actually works, the all-auto mode on some—note that I didn’t write all—mirrorless models might produce better results. So might a smartphone. 
  • Toe-dipping temptation. I see a variation of this line in a lot of emails: “I think it might be time for me to sample mirrorless and assess the benefits directly.” Nikon’s about to sell the very competent Z5 for US$1000 again for a couple of weeks (starts on November 19). That’s a really good price for what’s essentially a slightly better full frame camera than the seminal D750. So it’s awful tempting to bite the Z apple and see what happens. And for some of you, that might be the right approach. Still, temptation is just that, temptation. And we all know what happens when you bite the apple...

Finally, let’s note that Canon and Nikon are being somewhat disingenuous. Both need to sell a lot of mirrorless cameras in order to maintain or regain market share. Both want to get you to move from DSLR to mirrorless, because it helps them achieve their goals. Indeed, if they can convince you to migrate before you’re ready, they do better with their sales issue than if they just let you migrate at your own speed. 

While I’m seeing a lot of DSLR angst this year, I suspect it will be nothing like what we'll see in the 2022 holiday season. I would expect Canon and Nikon to both have moved to “trade in your DSLR” programs by then, as they’ll have hoovered up the easy pickings and would now be starting to prod the remaining DSLR herd. And yet, even then, a Nikon D850 would still be an incredibly good camera capable of state-of-the-art results.  

So what is it you’re really worried about? Is it (a) your camera gear is no longer capable of state-of-the-art results? Or (b) you can’t claim to have the latest and greatest? (a) is unlikely if you have one of the current top DSLRs. (b) is what is causing all the DSLR angst. 

Relax. Chillax. Certain types of pills might help. You’re not in a hurry. You can make the DSLR/mirrorless migration decision any time you’d like, and the right decision can still go either way today. Camera makers will get more aggressive about trying to change your mind, so some modest discounts this holiday shouldn’t sway you. 

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