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.”

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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.

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com


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