News/Views

The following are the most recent 10 articles posted on dslrbodies.com. To see older articles from 2021 and later, use the News/Views Archives at the bottom of this page. To see 2013 to 2020 News/View articles, click on this link, which will take you to a deeper archive.

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, but...as 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 bythom.com, 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. 

Nikon DSLR Advice for the End of 2021

The onslaught of "should I transition" questions I've been getting is continuing to swell, which means that Nikon's Z System mirrorless marketing is finally starting to catch people's attention, particularly with the just announced Z9. 

I think it appropriate to put a few of my overall thoughts together in one place and give people a more pragmatic idea of where I think we're at as we close out 2021. 

Let's start with something that doesn't get said enough: virtually every recent Nikon DSLR takes excellent photos and has quite a bit of flexibility. These are complex tools, and need some study to extract everything they're capable of, but that applies to mirrorless cameras, too. Thus, right up front I'd ask this: do you want to augment and complete your DSLR knowledge with your current tool, or do you want to do a great deal of starting over? Your answer to that question alone may determine whether you're better off sticking to the DSLR or starting a transition to mirrorless.

Yes, the Nikon Z-mount cameras are a lot like the Nikon F-mount cameras. So you don't go back to zero by shifting from DSLR to mirrorless and sticking with the Nikon brand, but you will still have quite a bit you have to relearn. That's particularly true of the autofocus system, but it also applies a bit to controls, and sneaks in as nuance all over the place. If you like learning new gear, great. If you hate having to learn something new, not so great.

Every Nikon DSLR that's of the current or previous generation isn't going to suddenly be outclassed by mirrorless in terms of image quality. Indeed, with one possible exception, your image quality isn't going to improve moving from a DSLR to the near equivalent mirrorless body. The exception is focus. You'll see that come up a few times in my individual comments, below. But as some have discovered, your image quality may degrade if you don't master mirrorless autofocus, at least as practiced by Nikon. 

Holding Onto the Past
Let's start with one group: DSLR users that are using 10-year old or older cameras. That puts us back at the D3, D3s, D3x, D700, D300, D90, D60, D40 era (and prior). No doubt these cameras can take fine photos. I see the results from them all the time as I browse through my image library: as I mastered these cameras I got great results that can still stand up today, though perhaps not with as many pixels as I'm used to today.

However, current era DSLRs and the new mirrorless cameras are arguably better in many ways. Focus systems improved. Dynamic range improved. Video features drastically improved (or got added in the first place). Features were added that simplified complex tasks (time-lapse, focus stacking, etc.). Frame rates went up. Options and customizations were added. 

So if you're in the holding-onto-the-past DSLR group, it probably is time to update your gear. You have two easy choices and one more difficult one:

  1. Upgrade to the current version of your DSLR. A D90 user should update to a D7500, for instance. 
  2. Upgrade up a model or line. A DX user might upgrade to an FX camera, for instance. 
  3. Transition to mirrorless. 

You do #1 just to stay on the same playing field, but with better gear. You do #2 to upgrade to a higher league, and again with better gear. 

I'm going to go out on a limb here about #3: if you're into all-automatic use and you struggle with getting your DSLR to focus, this is your best choice.

Focus is a tricky aspect of the transition. Those of you who've mastered DSLR focus and have no significant complaints might find the mirrorless systems a step backward (perhaps not with the Nikon Z9, but I've yet to test that yet). You have to pay more attention to focus on a Z6 II or Z7 II than on a D750 or D850, for instance, or else you can find yourself getting more erratic results. Ironically, someone who's always using AF-A and Auto-area AF on a DSLR would have the opposite reaction to the mirrorless cameras: they'll be less erratic. 

One final thought in this category: these 10-year old cameras are starting to become unrepairable. Nikon doesn't stock parts forever (basically seven years after final manufacturing completes). If your older camera breaks or has an issue, you'll be making one of those three choices I outline, or else giving up interchangeable lens cameras completely.

Next, I'm going to skip over a bunch of models and go straight to three current, critical models. Don't worry, I'll get back to those of you in the middle in a moment.

Have a D5 or D6
These are specialty cameras. You almost certainly bought yours because of high frame rates, excellent focus, and unmatched low light performance. The D6 is indeed a top-of-the-heap camera, with one of the most reliable and remarkable focus systems I've encountered. 

The only camera that might tempt these flagship DSLR users to change is the just-announced Nikon Z9, and I think you should probably wait a bit to see how that camera really performs. The change from 20mp to 45mp is a big one, and not without consequences, and the new focus system is hyped but not yet proven in battle, and you're going to have to spend time learning how it works best. If you think you're going to switch from a D6 to a Z9 and use the same F-mount lenses, I double the caution to just wait for a bit.

Moreover, if you're not getting great results out of a D5 or especially the D6, then you haven't maxed out your current camera yet. That should be a warning signal. If you keep upgrading or iterating or switching systems because "something is missing," what's missing is probably your understanding and mastery of your current equipment. 

That said, if the Z9 is everything Nikon is claiming it is, eventually we'll all move from DSLR to mirrorless. Is there an advantage to being one of the first to do that? Perhaps, but I'd need you to articulate what that might be before I'd give you my approval to transition.

Have a D850
This is an all-around camera. Here, the decision is a little different than it would be for a D6 user, and it will depend upon exactly what it is you're using the camera for.

Let me give you a for instance. If you bought a D850 to take landscape photos, the Z7 II might be a better camera for you. Why? The mirrorless cameras are relentlessly more accurate with focus plane than the DSLRs when you spend lots of time setting them for what you're doing. You can see the DOF easier, you can highlight the actual focus plane easily (Focus Peaking), you can get all vibration out of the exposure more directly, and you can even magnify what you're focusing on in the viewfinder. Image quality wise, a Z7 II and D850 are as near identical as can be. 

But even more interestingly, lenses such as the 14-24mm f/2.8 are better in the Z-mount version than the F-mount one. The net result for a serious landscape photographer is that the Z7 II is a better tool. Not by a lot, but sometimes by enough to push you towards transition.

On the other hand, comparing a D850 and Z7 II for action starts moving the other direction. The Z7 II is really limited to a live view at 5.5 fps, versus the D850's 9 fps (with grip and bigger battery). Controlling the focus system for action has more choices that are more easily accessed on a D850 than a Z7 II. 

Then there's flash. I don't regard the Z7 II as a great camera for flash. That's because some things event photographers rely on, such as AF Assist Lamps, are "broken" on the Z7 II. 

Of course, many of you with D850 bodies are suddenly contemplating a Z9. Again, I haven't yet used a Z9 enough to be able to speak to what it can and can't do better than a D850, but even if the Z9 turns out to be a better all-around camera choice, you'd be moving up a level in terms of camera (from the US$3000 price point to the US$5500 one). So I'd have to ask the question: do you really need a camera that's better than the D850? As I write this with my testing, there's only one camera I believe is better than the D850 for all-around use, and that's the Sony A1. The Nikon Z9 will probably get added to that list, but note that both those choices are more expensive than a D850. 

To be complete, I should probably point out that every Nikon Z-mount version of a lens has so far proven to be better than the equivalent F-mount version of that lens. Sometimes not by much (e.g. 70-200mm f/2.8 versions), but sometimes by a long margin (e.g. 50mm f/1.8 versions). However, note that once again you'd be spending significant money to get better results, and you're only going to get those better results if you have excellent mastery of your cameras in the first place.

So D850 users might or might benefit from a transition to mirrorless.

D500 User
I keep repeating this, but it hasn't seemed to fully register: you can't buy a better APS-C (DX) camera than the Nikon D500, DSLR or mirrorless. 

The question that immediately comes up is this: why are you using a crop sensor camera in the first place? I know of two primary answers to that question: (1) you want the implied reach of the crop sensor; or (2) you wanted a D5 but couldn't afford one. 

If your answer is #2, then my advice is simple: nothing really exists yet in the Nikon mirrorless world that would even begin to entice you at the D500 price point. And again, I don't think the competitor's cameras, DSLR or mirrorless, are as good all around as a D500 in the first place. So you keep using your D500!

If your answer was #1, you probably were tempted by the D850 (and now would be with the Z7 II and Z9). That's because when used at a DX crop, those cameras are 19mp, which is close enough to the D500's 20mp, both in size and in image quality, to be virtually indistinguishable.

But this is a bit like the D850 user contemplating a Z9: you'd be moving up a grade in gear if you leave the D500 in order to get the same basic performance. I just don't see the D500 user needing to (or even wanting to) change cameras right now. They've got state of the art for the size/price point they're at.

Everyone in Between
We've got a ton of DSLR-using Nikonians who aren't covered by one of my categories above. All the D3xxx and D5xxx users, for instance. The D7000, D7100, and D7200 users. D600, D610, D750, D800, and D810 users. D4 and D4s owners. 

This is where the advice gets murky. I'll go out on a limb here and try to simplify these into two groups:

  • D7200, D810, D4 — These are awfully good cameras. Yes, better models were or became available, but boy, these are really good cameras to start with. It's sort of the D5/D6 advice again: if you haven't maxed out the capabilities of these cameras, that's where you should be putting your attention, not on new models. The D7200 might be the second best APS-C (DX) camera made so far—it certainly is in the top tier—the D810 is still producing 36mp images that are incredibly good, and the D4 models really only can be criticized these days because of their 16mp image size, which is now behind the times. Still, if you don't need more pixels, 16mp is just fine, and those are really good-looking pixels to start with.
  • Everything else — Yeah, it's probably time to consider what comes next for you. While it might not seem like an apples-to-apples leap, I'd say the D3xxx/D5xxx users, particularly the earlier models, should seriously consider a Z50 or Zfc, if nothing else than for the far better focus system. But even the kit lenses are better in the Z world. D600/D610 users should contemplate a Z5 or Z6. D750 users a Z6 II. D800 users a Z7 or Z7 II. Or...if you want to stick to DSLRs, then it goes like this: lower end DX users should move up to at least a D7500, maybe a D500. Full frame users should move up a model (e.g. D600 to D780, D750 to D850). 

Final Words
Obviously, this is a simplified version. Every photographer has different goals, aspirations, and needs. Moreover, each has a different budget, both monetarily and for learning/practice time. So your mileage will definitely vary from what I write above. Maybe by only a little, maybe by a lot. Only you would know.

As always, if you can enumerate your needs/wants clearly and are having trouble coming up with the answer for you, my email box is always open. I don't always answer quickly, but I try to answer every reasonable question.

Hindsight is...

One interesting matter for historians to consider will be how Nikon handled the film SLR to DSLR transition versus how they handled the DSLR to mirrorless transition. In both cases, insightful forward-thinkers were clearly able to see that transitions were necessary and inevitable. In the case of the end of film, the user benefits of DSLRs were immediate results, no (obvious) on-going supply and processing costs, and at higher examination levels things like finally having a guaranteed "flat" focal plane (film tended to crinkle or bend). With mirrorless the obvious user benefits were previewed results, fewer parts and complications, somewhat smaller size and weight.

From the manufacturer's viewpoint, the transition from film to DSLR was actually not particularly to their benefit. The only real simplification for them was losing the transport of the film within the camera, but that came at the expense of extraordinary complications in terms of sourcing and dealing with things they didn't need to deal with before (like coming up with an image sensor and all the things that implied in the camera). By contrast, the transition from DSLR to mirrorless was highly in favor of the manufacturers, as it reduced parts count, simplified manufacturing and alignment issues, and allowed for differentiation.

Here's how I looked at it in simplified form:

bythom hindsight

In both transitions, customers get benefits, but that comes with cost, complexity, and re-learning issues. In the film-to-DSLR transition the odds were stacked against the camera makers, but in the DSLR-to-mirrorless one, there was literally no friction for them to move to mirrorless, just lots of benefits.

So, given the above, why was Nikon the first to fully attempt a transition to DSLR but last to move to mirrorless?

Simply put, it's due to top management decision making, and one that is fraught with self-examination angst. Nikon was down to a 25% market share in the 90's with film SLRs, with Canon completely dominating the market with at least double the share. Nikon's pride was hurt. Having entered the camera market prior to Canon and having had initial success with the F bodies, now they were a very distant second. The whole autofocus fiasco—Nikon being asleep at the wheel let Minolta suddenly push Nikon down to the #3 position, at least for awhile—didn't help matters. If Nikon thought that DSLRs were the future—and it was clear to many of us even in the early 90's that they were—they decided that they could pull a Minolta and get there first, and thus upset the market balance in Nikon's favor.

 Which is exactly what happened. Even once Canon fully responded, the market had been reset with Canon in the 40-45% share range typically, and Nikon in the 30-35% share range typically. Indeed, in some particular categories of camera, Nikon tended to be first at times (especially true once full frame appeared at Nikon with the D3). 

The question, of course, is if being first to transition worked once for Minolta (autofocus), once for Nikon (DSLR), why is it that when there was an obvious next transition—remember, I started writing about mirrorless in 2008 and started sansmirror.com shortly thereafter—that Nikon was the last to transition?

That's a good question for future researchers and scholars to answer. Nikon did attempt mirrorless in 2011, using some of their D3 engineering staff, however they seemed to put a dozen handcuffs on them and forced incompatibility with their main lineup, something that runs against Nikon's brand reputation. I suspect that the failure of the consumer-oriented Nikon 1 coupled with the success of the full frame DSLRs and the eventual one-camera/lens success of the D3xxx (which as a single model outsold multiple Canon models) was one distraction. Nikon simply rode their horse too hard and long and it faded on the backstretch.

Canon wasn't particularly better at this, though they did put their toes into the more serious mirrorless waters earlier, at least at the bottom, crop-sensor end. Unlike Nikon, Canon didn't make the mistake of incompatibility.

So why did Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony all transition early to full mirrorless lineups? Look at the above matrix. They had small market shares, so how do you think you establish profitability against a duopoly? Play a different game (again, classic Reis and Trout strategy). And in playing a different game you get cost and manufacturing complexity benefits? What's not to like about that?

It was inevitable that the market for DSLRs would fade. Everyone saw that, some just acted on it earlier than others.

Most DSLRs made in the past decade are highly functioning products. Could I still do great work with a D800 (launched in 2012)? Absolutely. So getting DSLR owners to update/upgrade/iterate has become a tougher and tougher problem. Note that duality in my matrix: use benefits come with cost problems. The primary marketing issue for the camera makers has been and will continue to be that they need to somehow convince potential buyers/upgraders that the use benefits of mirrorless exceed the cost problems for a user. If they don't, no sale. 

That's becoming more and more the DSLR problem: the D800 was a great camera, the D810 was a better camera, and the D850 was a still better camera, but the benefits have been getting tougher to market and the cost hasn't gone down, so sales tend to inevitably go down with each generation. Indeed, it's the D880 update problem in a nutshell: will Nikon change enough to show true user benefit over the previous models and justify customers paying the upgrade cost? (I can't answer that question other than in abstract. Nevertheless, I believe there's still enough lingering upgrade market in that category, as well as at the D500 level, to justify doing. Ironically, Nikon upgraded the D750, and there wasn't enough lingering upgrade market in that category as customers at that level were increasing shifting to mirrorless.)

Neither Canon nor Nikon has said much about their continued support of DSLRs. Canon did update two DSLRs in 2020 and two in 2019. Nikon updated one in 2020 and one in 2019. 

The question that dedicated DSLR owners are all asking themselves is this: have we been abandoned? The matrix, above, would suggest that the camera makers would like to move on, as there are clear benefits to them that accrue by stopping making DSLRs and transitioning fully to mirrorless. 

The only problem with that notion is that we've got over 200 million lenses out there that live best on the two primary DSLR mounts. While these can be used with adapters on the mirrorless models, that's not an optimal solution, just a pragmatic one. 

What many serious users face when we consider the DSLR-to-mirrorless transition is this: during our transition we're likely to be half DSLR, half mirrorless, and that in itself poses issues. We keep our top DSLR as our backup body, use our DSLR lenses on our mirrorless camera to keep costs down short term. Not optimal.

It's becoming clear to me that there are three camps of DSLR users, and neither Canon nor Nikon is catering to any of them. Wow, talk about making your business problems bigger. What are the three camps?

  1. Dump the DSLR. One set of folk are dumping their DSLR and moving to mirrorless. They've determined the benefits of doing so are worth it and they have the disposable income, apparently, to do so. I have noticed that this group tends to be more one-camera, few lenses, though. If the DSLR makers were fully catering to this group you'd see far more DSLR-trade-in offers than we currently do. 
  2. Straddle DSLR/mirrorless. This group is akin to what I used to call Samplers/Leakers, though their intention is now more determined. They're sticking their toes into the mirrorless waters because they've determined they're going to eventually go ahead and get completely wet, they just want to know on which beach. These folk tend to have more gear than Group #1, and they're reluctant to abandon it all at once because of the cost implications of having to replace everything. If the DSLR makers were really catering to this group, you'd see more transitioning offers (free adapters, mount conversions, complete-your-set bundle offers, and trade-ins).
  3. Keep the DSLR. Certainly at one level DSLRs and their lenses are so good that you could ride them right 'til they no longer work and can't be repaired. There's no real cost to the customer to do so, and they don't see a benefit that would trigger them to spend lots of money to transition to something they think is either the same or marginally better. If the DSLR makers were catering to this group, we would have seen (or soon see) a 5D Mark V, D580, and D880 with sensor stabilization, pixel-shift capability, on sensor phase detect for Live View/Video, and more. 

A lack of confidence also played into decision making in Tokyo, though. For example, Nikon's 2020 Annual Report says it right up front: "ongoing market shrinkage projected." Here's a graph derived from the fiscal year information Nikon has published (left axis is units, and note these are fiscal years, not calendar years):

bythom nikon units


Nikon also says "ongoing market shrinkage"? That means that they're making their bets based upon even lower overall unit volume. How low? My guess is 300k ILC units annually is the minimum Nikon would need to sell. I don't see Nikon (or anyone else) surviving profitability long-term below that level. 

Nikon clearly sees that higher-end cameras and attracting upper-level users are necessary to survive on lower volume. That's because you need to sell at a high unit cost to get gross profit margin up high enough to cover fixed costs. Nikon keeps giving that lip-service in almost every executive pronouncement or financial report. And yet then we get a camera such as the Zfc, which is designed for casual use (those are Nikon's words, not mine). Where's the Z90 that competes with a higher-end Fujifilm X-T4? 

The good news is that the next camera from Nikon is the Z9, which is most definitely going to be a display of everything they can do at the very highest end of interchangeable lens cameras. But I'd argue that we're a long way from seeing exactly how Nikon finally navigates the mirrorless transition. Nikon has too many gaps they need to still fill, and it's unclear how they'll fill them. So while we have some hindsight—Nikon transitioned late and didn't sustain the right DSLR models—we don't have complete hindsight yet. 

Update: graph replaced and wording related to graph fixed accordingly.

The DSLR User's Greatest Fear

Petapixel recently had an article entitled "The Camera Industry is Trapped: Demand is There, But Products Aren't." The ongoing supply chain issues are creating quite a problem, from customer to dealer to camera maker.

But what wasn't said in that article is something that DSLR users are starting to fear. Basically, it boils down to this: with parts in short supply, the camera makers have to pick and choose which products they put them in. With Canon and Nikon both trying to transition to mirrorless and match up better against Sony's Alpha lineup, that means that critical parts are headed to mirrorless cameras, not DSLRs.

I suspect this problem has been around for a bit in different guises. The D500 and D850, for instance, have been in short supply for some time. We get small periodic batches of them hitting the shelves in the US, but they don't stay in stock for long. Indeed, B&H has started once again actively selling imported D500's, probably to make up for the lack of supply from NikonUSA. 

Both the D500 and D850 use older versions of image sensors where the mirrorless cameras use newer ones. For example, the Z50 and Zfc use the same 20mp sensor base as the D500, but with enhancements. Thus, if Nikon has a fixed limit to the number of sensors they can get produced in a time frame and the combined Z50/Zfc/D500 volume exceeds that, guess which camera is going to get the short end of the stick? 

This is one reason why I've been advocating for a D580 (and D880). By simplifying down to one image sensor as Nikon did with the Z6/Z6 II/D780, you have more flexibility to pick up some of those dedicated DSLR users who aren't going to switch to mirrorless any time soon. And I remind you (and Nikon): the D500, as it sits today over five years after being introduced, is still the best overall APS-C camera you can buy. Quality images, high performance, top focus system. Why would Nikon ever want to cede this Top Dog spot? Making a better D580 that holds the crown seems like a fairly trivial engineering exercise. The fact that it hasn't happened points to a strategic policy that dismisses the D500 over something that doesn't even exist in Nikon's mirrorless lineup.

Coupled with the on-going supply chain issue, that is what is now driving DSLR users' fear: that the current DSLR products are it. There's not enough parts to make new ones, and by forcing the issue of getting people to transition to mirrorless, Canon and Nikon are driving DSLR demand downward at the same time. At some point, this all becomes self-perpetuating. 

It's not just cameras we're seeing dry up. EF and F-mount lenses are getting the same short shrift. Nikon recently cut production of the 70-300mm AF-P lens (it seems this might be temporary, but that's known for sure). Why? I suspect it's because it uses the same stepper motors that Nikon needs to deliver Z-mount lenses. 

When DSLRs supplanted film cameras, that transition happened fast. Part of that was that DSLRs offered immediate review and didn't require constant media replacement. Customers caught on quite quickly to the advantages. Indeed, film SLR sales had not just peaked, but had dropped down to a lowish plateau in the decade prior to DSLRs appearing. DSLRs generated a whole new wave of buying, and DSLR sales quickly rose to far higher than film SLR sales.

The same thing isn't quite true of the DSLR to mirrorless transition. Not everyone sees clear advantages, and technically it's been eight years of (mostly) Sony trying very hard to get full frame mirrorless to DSLR levels, let alone above them. Moreover, what also doesn't get discussed much is the difference between consumer and prosumer/pro trajectories. Consumer DSLR has been in a nose dive, just like film SLRs made once DSLRs first came along. But the higher-end DSLR has not been in such a nose dive. Down some, yes, but I'd also argue that the camera makers themselves have been partially responsible for some of that downward trend. As in: today you can't buy a D500 off the shelf, so of course sales are down. Duh.

Another background point comes into play, as well: Canon and Nikon would rather stop making DSLRs. Why? Because the manufacturing process is so much more involved and costly. Sure, if we measured it dollars per unit we might still be in the single digits, but have you noticed that Nikon is saving less than pennies wherever they can (no hot shoe cover on the Zfc, for instance)?    

So put all these things together and you get the great fear that dedicated DSLR users have: the camera makers are moving on, leaving the DSLR user behind. To put it into MBA-school terms: they've stopped milking the cow. 

I really hope this isn't true. As you may recall, Nikon surprised the world with the F6 film SLR, which came after (and was based on) the D2h DSLR. For years this was not only the best film SLR you could buy, but it was about the only one. Clearly Nikon made not only money but brand reputation off that camera. I'd argue that they should do the same with a D580 and D880, and point to a DSLR road map that is solely D580, D880, and D6 as long as demand warrants. Last call on everything else, pointing to mirrorless for the rest of your needs.

What Will You Be Using Two Years From Now?

One recent dpreview post included a survey asking the question in the headline about Nikon cameras, but it’s a good overall question for any DSLR user to be asking themselves in general. 

The answer for most of us, of course, is “the camera I currently use.” In fact, you might be able to change the question to four years from now and get the same answer. After all, the cameras introduced in 2016 and 2017 include the Canon 6D Mark II and 5D Mark IV, and the Nikon D5, D500, D7500, and D850. Uh, those are really good cameras even today. You need a new one why? I’m pretty sure that these all have another four productive years of life left in them. Heck, you can't buy a better crop sensor camera than the D500 today, and I still believe you can only buy one better all-around full frame camera than the D850 even today.

I wrote recently on bythom.com that "FODE (Fear of Dead End) is gripping many of you.” 

Even if a camera model comes to a dead end—and I shouldn’t need to remind you that every camera will—your photography doesn’t need to. 

Unfortunately, I can come up with a couple of reasons to be slightly fearful of the future of DSLRs, the primary among them being repair or replacement should you drop yours. Of course, you can drop a mirrorless camera, too ;~). I just had someone send me the Z7 II that they managed to submerge briefly in the ocean so that I could do an autopsy teardown. He was able to get a new copy at considerable expense because the Z7 II is a current camera still. Had this been a Nikon D3 he dropped in the ocean, he would have found that it wouldn’t be true that he could get a new replacement.

However, even that problem can be dealt with, and guess what, it may be a less expensive solution! A D3 in excellent condition goes for about US$800 at the moment, not the US$6000 that the original cost. If you’re using a camera for 13 years (the D3 was introduced in 2007), that was the equivalent of US$500/year in average cost. US$800 to replace it would imply that you need to use it for another two years to level out your costs, which seems perfectly do-able.

So I’m not really fearing dead ends, myself. As a(n infrequently) working pro, I really only fear not being able to do something that my competitors can, and not much else. It’s a rare piece of gear that causes that to happen, though. Very rare. 

So let me talk about the camera pair that comes up the most in my emails at the moment. In particular, D850 users wondering if they need to shift to the Z7 II. 

My answer would be no. In terms of image quality, I’d judge them to be as near identical as possible, subject to sample error. Yes, the 14-24mm f/2.8 S in the Z mount is a better lens than the 14-24mm f/2.8 in the F mount, but not enough for me to start mortgaging the house over. With my 19mm PC-E, the results are essentially the same, and that’s my goto landscape lens for full frame at the moment. 

Are there things that the Z7 II does better than the D850 that make my life simpler and my work faster? Yes. The Z7 II’s Live View EVF allows me to adjust the PC-E faster and more reliably than using Live View on the Rear LCD of the D850. 

Are there things that the D850 does better than the Z7 II that make my life simpler and my work faster? Yes. If I need faster than 5.5 fps, the D850 is just easier to manage and keep focus with. No, this isn’t “focuses faster or follows subjects better”. It’s solely due to the ability to handle the camera better with moving subjects above 5.5 fps (the Z7 II viewfinder changes to a slide show at faster speeds, and you can't keep your focus sensor properly positioned, let alone compose well).

You’re probably already starting to see where I’m going with this: each of these two cameras has a slight edge over the other at one type of work. But if you’re looking for a general purpose camera, I’d say those slight edges just cancel each other out. Simply learn the camera you choose as well as you can. They’re both excellent all-around cameras.

Nikon wisely chose to put out some really excellent lenses for the Z mount. Basically all the S-class lenses outperform the G/E versions in the F mount in some easily observable way. This, of course, tempts the DSLR user to make the switch to mirrorless, this time due to Fear of Missing Excellence (FOME). 

In my experience of watching thousands of photographers over the years, I’m not sure that the majority of them would see the real difference the Z-mount lenses can make over the F-mount ones. After all, the F-mount ones weren’t slouches to start with. What quickly comes into play is how you handle the camera. Handheld? Unstable support system? Poor choice of shutter speed? Missing focus? The list of things you could improve in your handling before you see optical gains at the level we’re now getting in mirrorless goes on and on. Indeed, “always on” stabilization is actually the bigger contributor to the gains many people are seeing, not the lens optics. 

Focus and stabilization are what really have been driving mirrorless sales. Focus as in “I didn’t take the time to really learn the DSLR focus system and master it and thus the all-automatic focus mode on a mirrorless camera achieves better results than I do.” Stabilization as in “not all my DSLR lenses were stabilized, but I didn’t take the time to improve my camera handling, while the mirrorless camera just always stabilizes things so I think I don't have to." 

Okay, I get that. But why are you reading this site? ;~) Buy the best all-automatic camera you can find and enjoy taking photos. Stop obsessing over “latest and greatest.” 

Those of you not taking that advice—which is probably most of you reading this—need to answer the headline question, and specifically be able to illuminate why your answer is what it is. 

Nikon full frame DSLR users probably should always answer the question with “one of the current Nikon full frame DSLRs.” Current, as in Df, D750, D780, D850, D5, or D6. If you have a D810 or D4/D4s, I’d still tend to say just stick with what you’ve got. Canon DSLR users have a more restrictive list: current as in 6D Mark II, 5D Mark IV, or 1DX Mark III. 

Will you eventually move to mirrorless? Maybe. But you shouldn’t be in a hurry. 

___________________________

The camera makers think differently than you, unfortunately. I believe they are thinking incorrectly. Nikon, in particular, has plenty of runway left for DSLR takeoffs. I've stated it before, but Nikon should quickly create D580 and D880 updates, even if that would only bring the Live View components of mirrorless over to the cameras. Both are state-of-the-art cameras today, both still sell in modest quantities, so why would you let them age into irrelevance? Moreover, a D580, D780, D880, and D6 lineup would say to DSLR aficionados that Nikon is there for them. Nikon already dominates that range of DSLR now that Canon has shut down their new offerings, so why not continue to cater to them? It's low-hanging fruit for Nikon, but they're currently not picking.

Canon, though, seems to have taken the approach all the previous camera makers have made: don't let the user decide. Simply drop your DSLR development and go all-in with mirrorless, forcing the customer to follow. That's a risky proposition, as the cost of replacing a DSLR system with a mirrorless one is high enough to allow the customer to consider starting over in a competitor's system. I suspect the reason why we have approximately ten <US$1000 lenses already in the RF lineup has to do with the fact that Canon knows they need to give their user base more affordable migration options, or risk losing them to Sony.

Pentax, of course, stopped marching in the camera parade a long time ago. The few DSLR drummers still beating in the aging heart of Asahi, are working at such a slow, faint beat now that if you're not listening for it, most people don't hear them.

The Number One Question Being Asked...

…is “are DSLRs dead or will we see continued development and sales?” It seems an hour doesn’t pass by without some variation of this question appearing in my email.

I’d say that this question requires a tri-modal answer for the moment, so let me provide that:

  • Consumer, crop-sensor DSLRs are probably dead. The huge drop in DSLR unit volume is mostly in the sub-US$1000 category. While both Canon and Nikon still see some sales in this category, those sales have plummeted faster than any other category of camera and continue to go down. Equivalent cost mirrorless consumer cameras are smaller, lighter, focus better, and in some cases produce better images (not all cases). If you’re waiting for a new Rebel/Kiss model or D3xxx/D5xxx model, or new EF-S or DX lenses, it’s highly unlikely you’ll see them. If you do, it’ll likely be “last of breed.” On top of everything else, the parts supply shortage has forced the camera makers into putting what parts they can get into the cameras they really want to sell. And that isn’t a consumer, crop-sensor DSLR with low margins. I expect a consumer, crop-sensor DSLR sell-off this holiday season as the makers squeeze the last they can out of this segment.
  • Intermediate model DSLRs are dying. Here we have products such as the Canon 90D and Nikon D7500. These models aren’t far above the group I just mentioned, and I suspect that Canikon believe that the disease currently impacting sales of the consumer cameras will soon carry over into this intermediate group, if it hasn’t already. And again, the parts shortage has had the camera makers putting more effort into their favorite on-going products, and these DSLRs don’t tend to be in that list. Still, as long as sales hold up to some reasonable degree—no, I don’t know what that is—I’d think that Canon and Nikon would want to keep these models around for awhile longer because the margins are better than those for the above group. But I’m also not expecting to see any more EF-S or DX lenses, so these models will wither on the vine.
  • Top-end DSLRs are a bit like many of the elderly: assumed to be in bad health, but actually doing just fine. Yes, their years are probably numbered, but that number is not currently up. Canon and Nikon seem to differ a bit here. Canon appears to have given the “we’ve given up on this category” signal and wants you just to buy a mirrorless ILC. I wrote “appears” because I don’t know if that was a real signal or just a few manager’s opinions that got amplified. However, Canon’s on-going full frame DSLR sales were not holding up as well against Nikon’s as the Canon’s crop sensor models were. I suspect that Canon has decided that “if we’re going to tackle one full frame competitor head on, let’s make it Sony in mirrorless, not Nikon in DSLR.” Nikon, meanwhile, has been on an “upgrade to full frame” quest for the last decade, and had excellent success with that. If you think about the models they still have available (Df, D610, D750, D780, D810A, D850, D5, D6), you probably come to the conclusion that Nikon wants to milk this category even as Canon appears to abdicate it. Likewise, in the last three years we received three significant F-mount telephotos (180-400mm f/4, 500mm f/5.6 PF, 120-300mm f/2.8) while >200mm telephoto in the Z System still doesn’t really exist yet. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another F-mount lens or two in the coming years, though the pressure to release Z-mount lenses is considerable within Nikon. I wouldn't be surprised to see another Nikon DSLR, either.

I mention all this because I get a constant stream of questions from people wondering whether or not they should (1) upgrade their older DSLR to a new one, (2) just keep using what they have; or (3) reluctantly give in to mirrorless. (See today's other article.)

For Canon DSLR users, I think the answer probably has now shifted to #3, but only RF mirrorless, not M. I’m just not seeing energy in the DSLR lines from Canon that would indicate #1 is a realistic option. Remember, warranty laws in California basically dictate repairability in the US. Those laws require that a maker has to retain parts for repair for seven years after final production. How many of those Canon DSLRs have seen final production already? We don’t know, as Canon won’t say whether current sales are coming from inventory or new manufacturing. Cameras last a long time, and they’re all highly capable, so you’d really want to know that you can get it repaired for a long time, too.

For Nikon DSLR users, the answer for anyone not currently owning a D500, D850, D5, or D6 would tend to be #1 (for those owning the four mentioned cameras, it’s clearly #2, as those cameras are still all near state of the art). In a few cases not in that select four cameras—the D7500 and D810 come to mind—perhaps #2 is the right answer. But I don’t see any issue with a D800 owner upgrading to a D850 or even a D4 owner upgrading to a D6. That’s a huge change in performance and ability in both cases, and Nikon’s still making those models, so you should be able to get a D6 and D850 repaired for the foreseeable future. 

Of course, none of the above answers questions such as “will Nikon produce a D880?” or “will Nikon produce a D580?” I’m confident that Nikon has explored what new D7xxx, D5xx, D8xx, and even the pro flagship body updates would look like in DSLR trim. I don’t know what their conclusions have been. We’re significantly overdue for a D500 update, slightly overdue for a D850 update. Nikon seems to be in a position of soul searching at the moment (again). at least with DSLRs. They keep giving lip service to the high-end enthusiast and professional as their target customer, which, if they walked the talk would imply future high-end DSLRs, as well as future mirrorless models, because the market is still clearly there for them.

Unfortunately, just concentrating on the top-end user base would mean a far leaner Nikon, and perhaps a slip beyond #3 in unit sals (to Fujifilm, the only candidate currently positioned that could really pick up any further Nikon slippage). Nikon’s pride is hurt. They’ve always coveted getting the #1 position back (though strangely they never went full in on getting it), and they believe that they should be in the #2 position (even though their delays in mirrorless lost that to Sony). So I’m pretty sure that we’re going to see Nikon producing consumer mirrorless cameras. Indeed the recent Zfc seems to confirm that. But those consumer cameras won’t be DSLRs because the volume for consumer ILC is now in mirrorless, and the cost to produce a mirrorless camera is lower. 

Thus, Nikon finds themselves in a challenging position: continue their success in full frame DSLR in addition to doing everything they’re doing in mirrorless, or not? After all, margins on the D500 and D850 are excellent, so if those lines continue selling, why wouldn’t they update them?

The problem is the D780. Nikon did update the D750, one of their best selling higher-end cameras. Unfortunately, that didn’t seem to attract a lot of updaters. While the D780 did pick up the Z6 Live View and video capabilities (good), it didn’t really have much in the “advancing the DSLR” category (bad), so why wouldn’t you just get a Z6 II? Unfortunately, because the D780 didn’t sell as well as Nikon thought it would, I’ll bet this has them rethinking their DSLR strategy moving forward. Personally, I’d argue that the lack of D780 sales was mostly a marketing problem, not a product problem. 

Because Canon and Nikon aren’t sending out any specific “DSLR future” messages, they’re letting customers imagine answers and get paranoid while doing so. Paranoid is never good in a customer base. The problem for both Canon and Nikon is simple: because they were late to serious mirrorless, the minute that a potential customer—return or new—decides that they need to go mirrorless, the cost of switching out of DSLRs suddenly means that those customers can more easily consider Fujifilm, Olympus, Panasonic, and Sony. Fujifilm has a clear and extensive lineup in crop sensor; Sony has a clear and extensive lineup in full frame. So, to compete in mirrorless, Canon and Nikon have to knock one or both those competitors off their pedestal.

The proper message Canon and Nikon should be sending out today is really simple: “We’ve got you covered if you want to stick with serious DSLRs, and we’re ready for you if and when you decide to move to mirrorless.” Then they should do everything they can to deliver on that message. 

At the moment, not only has that message not been delivered, but for whatever reason, everything that needs to be done to deliver on that message is not being done.

______________________

Okay, that didn’t really answer the number one question I get, did it? But that’s my point: the only ones that can answer the question are Canon and Nikon, and by not answering it, they’re leaving their considerable customer bases wondering whether to stay a customer or not. I’d love to have management at both companies explain to me how that’s beneficial to them. 

What I suspect is that both Canon and Nikon are fearful of your response to the actual answer they’d give. In other words, we have camera companies who are paranoid, but in so being, they’re driving their customers towards paranoia! 

It really doesn’t matter what the real answer is, as any answer has the potential to drive off a few customers. If Nikon said, for instance, that they’ll continue to iterate DSLRs, someone who’s decided to go mirrorless might suddenly decide Sony is the better answer (more mirrorless gear already, #1 in that market). If Nikon said instead that there won’t be any more DSLRs, the entire F-mount customer base would be forced into a “ride out the end” or “go to mirrorless,” and they might consider themselves abandoned by their original choice and thus pick another maker for full frame. 

Nikon’s problem (and Canon’s) is that they have to help their customers feel comfortable about both their present and future situations. The only way to do that is through clear, consistent, and constant communication. Yes, the danger is that some customers might peel away and buy a competitor’s product. But the ones that do stay on brand will be thankful and loyal because of the clarity that the company provided. 

Particularly in Nikon’s case, I fear that their decision making has completely turned to dollars and cents (or yen and bhat, if you will). As long as their ROE number is 8% they’ll just end up the size they end up, customer be damned. The problem with this approach is that the brand value goes down with customer dissatisfaction, and purely following the dollars and cents approach generates such dissatisfaction. The brand value going down, however, will ultimately determine how many future customers they can get, which impacts that ROE. The circle is not unbroken. It’s all about getting balance right, and neither Canon nor Nikon are doing so at the moment. 

My advice to my readers remains the same as ever. A Canon 5D Mark IV or Nikon D850 are great cameras capable of most anything you’d like to do. Extensive lens sets are available for either, so there’s really not any kind of photography you can’t attempt with them. Will you miss out on something using those cameras instead of tomorrow’s latest and greatest? Perhaps, but not much, at least not in the foreseeable future. As I’ve written for a long time, spending the time to make sure you’re completely utilizing your current gear is the best bang for the buck in improving your photography, not buying new gear. 


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