What Do I Want From Nikon in 2021?

bythom 2021 calendar

Note that I'm not including Canon in this article, as they've already indicated that they're not likely to do much with DSLRs in the future unless demand changes their mind (which hasn't happened).

Nikon really wants to keep at least part of their DSLR lineup going for the foreseeable future, mainly because they've been killing it with at least a couple of models.

Yes, D3500 and D5600 sales have dried up, and yes D7500 and D500 sales are a fraction of what they once were, but in the full frame lineup Nikon's DSLRs are still making them money, and plenty of high end enthusiasts and pros aren't currently interested in switching to mirrorless. The D850 is holding its own against all comers, though now at a reduced price.

So I'm going to start my comments with a single, overriding one: what I (and you should) want from Nikon in 2021 is clarity. You want to know as much as possible about what Nikon's plans are for DSLRs, and you don't want that equivocated. 

One reason for that is simple: we all expect a D850 replacement in early 2021. Basically the D780 type thing where Nikon adds in the mirrorless goodies for Live View, plus adds a few other refinements from their current collection (a real CFe slot, for one). 

If Nikon is just going to drop an easy-to-create D880 on the market in early 2021 and then abandon it quickly, that puts a "use by" date on an expensive camera. We don't need Nikon to say that they're going to make D880's forever, but we do need to believe that it will have a full product cycle (at least two years) and Nikon's full support for the full necessary repair period (again, seven years after last build). 

Likewise, if the D3500 and D5600 (or all of DX) are end of life, it's time Nikon just said that and hold the final sales on them. 

Put another way, if Nikon is going to put new DSLR products on the market in 2021, we need to understand that they are as committed to DSLR life extension as the customer they want to sell it to probably hopes for. But we don't need that for consumer DSLRs, as their time has come and gone.

That isn't an easy thing to do. While we don't need guarantees about the higher end DSLRs, we do need clarity on Nikon's intentions here. There's a difference between trying to take one last milk run at the market and trying to keep a contracting market supplied and active. So, we're all going to be watching Nikon's messaging very carefully for clues as they do anything with the DSLR lineup in 2021.

Okay, that out of the way, let's get to some specifics. Here's what I personally want from Nikon in terms of DSLRs in 2021:

  • A D880. This already incredibly good camera is still near the top of the heap. Adding the Z7 goodies to Live View and video, plus adding a true CFe slot and a few of the D6 generation type changes is enough to keep it at the top. Anything beyond that is gravy, and I like gravy.
  • A D580. This really should be low-hanging fruit, just as the D780 was and the likely D880 would be. Bonus points for moving the D6 focus system over to this seminal DX body. Super bonus points for a new image sensor (not likely, but it's where I would have headed).  

What do I predict we'll get from Nikon? 

A D860, which is really just my D880 definition with a different number. Why the change in number? Because for some reason Nikon doesn't seem to like two 8's next to another in a name any more. (As with all my year-start articles, my predictions are underlined so that they can be assessed later.)

It's also possible that if Nikon decides to upgrade a DX DSLR, it would be the D7500 instead of the D500. It's really the same process: use the Z50 image sensor and bring over the mirrorless components to the DSLR Live View and video processes.

Why would Nikon upgrade the D7500 and not the D500? FOP (fear of pricing). Realistically, any D500 update should be re-priced back to US$2000, which puts it competition with the Z6 II. Of course any D7500 update would end up priced about at the Z5 level, so the same problem would exist there. 

My recommendation: Nikon should create the D580 update and not worry about pricing conflict with the Z6 II. The D500 is now a specialty camera—partly due to lack of DX lenses, buzz buzz—and those specialists aren't going to replace their D500 with a Z6 II. They might be tempted to replace their D500 with the right "new" features/performance.

That said, I haven't heard of any 2021 DSLR body that's coming other than a D850 update. 

Nikon executives have almost outright said that there will be new F-mount lenses released in 2021. Lenses, as in plural. That surprises me, but it would be consistent with trying to keep high-end DSLRs alive. 

The real problem is trying to figure out what those lenses might be. We do have some lenses that should have existed that never did: a 200mm f/2E FL, 200mm f/4E Micro-Nikkor, 300mm f/2.8E FL, and 14-24mm f/2.8E, for example. We also have a small handful of lenses that many would really like an update for, such as a 24-120mm f/4E FL or 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6E. And no matter how good the 300mm f/4E and 500mm f/5.6E PF lenses are, there are strong demands for 400mm and 600mm versions. 

While it hasn't yet showed up in NikonUSA product listings, Nikon corporate has retired quite a few F-mount lenses this past year (many of them DX). "Out of production" is now a phrase that is true for probably two dozen of the 105 lenses NikonUSA lists for sale. Plus we're down to only a handful of Coolpix models. Thus, Nikon probably has the capacity to build more new Nikkors (both F-mount and Z-mount). 

I can't really make a prediction about F-mount lenses coming in 2021, though. I'm not hearing any hints of new lenses, which generally means that they are low-volume, specialty lenses, as that operation is silent running and pretty leak tight. So I'll make a vague prediction: one specialty/exotic lens in first half of 2021 and possibly a second F-mount lens later in the year. 

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