News/Views

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

Latest News/Views stories (top is most recent):

Even More Reader Thoughts and Questions

"Nikon is now all-in and developing all their development to mirrorless. What's that mean for DSLRs?"

Unfortunately we have to currently take Nikon's statements mostly at face value. They claim that they will continue to develop DSLRs as well as mirrorless. The implication in their statements so far is that they consider the two types of cameras equally important to their future. 

We all know this to be some form of exaggeration. How much exaggeration is the question. There are just too many advantages to Nikon to get people to convert from DSLR to mirrorless, so Nikon's public statements are a bit disingenuous. But it's also probably true that they don't know for sure themselves. 

I'm currently predicting that overall mirrorless sales equal DSLR sales (in volume) sometime in 2021. That could happen slightly faster if Canon and Nikon de-emphasize DSLRs and emphasize mirrorless. It could happen slightly slower if Canon and Nikon actually did full DSLR/mirrorless development in tandem. 

The proof will really be in the pudding. Nikon currently has five DSLRs that are "out of cycle" in terms of iteration based upon past turns (D5600, D610, D500, D750, and D5). Nikon's FX lens releases were down to three last year, and DX down to one. This year, it appears like it will be two FX and no DX lenses. The Z lens road map suggests to me that new FX/DX lens introductions will continue to be sparse in the next few years.

So I have some further very critical questions whose answers will determine the real answer to your question:

  • Do we get a DSLR D6 for the 2020 Olympics? If we do, does that camera really move DSLRs forward?
  • Will the D850 iterate again in 2020 as the current D8xx cycles predict? If not, why not?
  • What will the next 300mm f/2.8 be? Will it be a 300mm f/2.8E FL ala the other other FX mount iterations, or will it be a 300mm f/2.8 S for mirrorless? Ditto the 200mm f/2. 
  • Particularly critical: where's the D750 update (that camera is now four years old)? And will that be another lukewarm (e.g. D3500, D7500) update or a real one?
  • What the heck will happen with crop sensor DSLRs? Totally mailed in updates and no DX lens line fill mean that DX is considered dead by Nikon. We're nearly at that point now (e.g. D3500, D7500, 10-20mm AF-P being the only lens in a year-and-a-half, and it really is a lower-cost replacement, not something new). (And by the way, if DX dies, that would be two lens mounts that Nikon didn't carry forward without much warning, CX being the other one. To those of you in Tokyo HQ: that does not send the right signal about legacy support, which used to be Nikon's strength.)

If I had to guess, Nikon will just milk DX by price moves and very little iteration while they figure out which of the crop-sensor mirrorless plans they're moving forward with.  But I'd also guess that Nikon needs a D760, D860, and D6 in their future DSLR plans, and perhaps a couple of lenses. If not, then they're taking a huge risk with their established customer base.

So watch for those last things (D760, D860, D6, new FX lenses) for hints. The longer the quiet period and the fewer of those things we get, the more you can tell that Nikon didn't mean it when they said they'd develop DSLR and mirrorless simultaneously. 

"I thought I’d add to your arsenal of why people are abandoning Nikon with my little (and probably very typical) story and what I would really like from Nikon now.

I started out a long time ago with the coolpix 990, an absolutely amazing and revolutionary camera for it’s time. I had extra lenses and various accessories and despite being ‘coolpix’, it was what I expected from a camera “system" from Nikon.

Then it was time to get my first DSLR, the D200. Again, another solid and amazing performer, it felt just as good to hold as the 990 and, although I’m just an amateur photographer, it made me feel special, it had that certain je ne sais quoi! I even did a wedding shoot for a friend with that and another D200 I borrowed, rock solid. I was then asked to do another wedding for that friends friend a few years later and I thought it was time to upgrade. I had been patiently waiting for the D400 but as that did seem to be appearing I went for the newly announced D800. This was way more camera than I really wanted, but I got a stupidly good deal and picked up a 24-70 f2.8 really cheap and thought I’d go for it.

It never really felt as good as the D200 in the hand. I can’t say why, it just didn’t. It was heavier, bulkier more expensive to buy lenses for but it did give me some awesome images, so I persevered. Also, it was (I thought) pretty much the last camera I might want to buy given more mp than I really needed and an investment in lenses.

So time rolls by, I get a little older and I watch Nikon slowly shoot itself in the foot, not once but numerous times. I start to wonder what will happen if I wanted to replace my D800, after all it probably won’t keep going forever, will I be able to afford something of that quality, with a professional feel to it?

Then I go on a holiday and end up doing more walking than I expected. I vowed, after my return, that I needed to downsize my kit and get something smaller and lighter. By this time the D500 had come out, but it was hardly smaller or lighter than the D800, maybe a little but not enough to justify the loss of pixels and the cost of the move. No if I was going to change it had to be a serious move to a system I could rely on and felt good in the hand, like my old D200.

So I did something I never thought I would, I jumped ship. Within a week I went m4/3. Specifically Olympus OMD-D EM-5ii. Why that? Well I had to trade the D800 and the 24-70 and that didn’t stretch to the EM-1ii which I lusted after but couldn’t justify the cost of. However, I knew that at some point there’ll be a 5iii or the EM-1s would drop in cost, so I saw a future. With Nikon I just saw a huge black hole eating my money in lenses and maybe, eventually a camera, or maybe even worse a dead end if they fold, which frankly expect them to.

I now have a fully fledged holy trinity plus macro lens system from Olympus (a brand I always coveted when I was younger and still doing film) and I can see a future, an upgrade path. If I want a D200 style camera I even have the choice of the Panasonic G9 (I do miss the top display). Yes, I only have 16mp, but guess what? I’m putting up prints against my D200 and D800 and they’re just as good as each other. The loss of pixels was a worry and a gamble, but for me, it has paid off. With the extra grip I have something that feels solid and gorgeous, in a size and weight that I can have with me all the time, even with a 24-80 (equiv) f2.8 pro glass lens attached!"

Your email actually brings up a good point that some people are missing. You are mostly comparing a newer 16mp m4/3 mirrorless against your older 8mp DSLR. Because of the constant sensor improvements, the newer m4/3 camera will come off looking quite positive against the older DSLR. Meanwhile, the size/weight look positive against your newer D800+24-70mm. You're sort of conflating those two things together to be totally positive about your switch, but I understand that. Nikon does not seem to understand that.

That said, be careful. It does not currently appear Olympus will have an E-M5m3. Certainly no time soon. Olympus is going through much of the same soul-searching as Nikon is as to what models to produce and why. They really can't afford to keep making five significant variations on the same basic design given their low (and not growing) volume. If I had to guess, I'd bet that Olympus will try something very different: reduce the m4/3 model line and introduce a full frame model.

Thing is, I can find problems at all the camera companies as they try to rationalize their offerings into what looks like a tough future. The bad news (for Nikon) is exactly your experience: people are voting with their dollars, and that means leaving Nikon for some easily justifiable reason. The good news is that these migrations across mounts are not likely permanent. 

"I've been tinkering a bit with video (yes, I'm sort of learning to be a videot) but I'm still a fan of the dslr, so I went for a Canon 5D4 to make use of the DPAF and the nice looking 1080p video files. The thing is—I can't help it—I prefer using Nikon for stills: nice ergonomics for me, I prefer most of the equivalent lenses in terms of weight distribution and feel. Try as I might, I just don't enjoy using Canon for stills. So I'm thinking of picking up a D750 again, but I can't keep both Canon and Nikon systems. I might, be able to swing a Sony A73 or similar with a couple of primes just for video.

Which got me thinking. What would you recommend as a relatively cheap but useful video set up to go with a Nikon for stills? I'm not talking full on feature films, just some short video clips to either make into longer segments to share on my website or perhaps cut into a slideshow type film of when I've been away to somewhere like Kenya. Again, I'm not talking full on documentary, but the ability to use a decent length telephoto would be nice and decent video af has proved useful."

Would you believe your smartphone? Seriously. 

1080P is a very low bar. The smartphones get above it just fine. Now that we have smartphones with multiple lenses (e.g. iPhone X) you've already got a wide and normal prime available. The one thing I'd also do is get a low-cost gimbal (decent ones start at about US$100 now). For telephoto, just use the D750 (make sure you have the 70-300mm AF-P lens for that).

But, that said, the upcoming Nikon Z6 must appeal to you a lot. I think it answers all your needs in one product. Nikon made big strides in autofocus in video.

"I am planning to purchase a 70-200 Lens. But I am confused by the Nikon Line up: (1) 70-200mm VR II F/2.8G; (2) 70-200mm f/4G; and (3)  70-200mm f/2.8E FL. Please Advise."

The 70-200mm f/2.8 has gone through three revisions, of which you list two (#1 and #3 in your list). For DSLR FX shooters the choice is very clear: get the 70-200mm f/2.8E FL if you need the faster aperture. It doesn't focal length breath as you focus (at least not much, unlike the 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II, which has massive breathing and becomes something more like a 135mm lens at close in focus distances). But that new E FL version also is the sharpest 70/80-200mm I've seen from any maker. If you're a DX shooter, the original 70-200mm f/2.8 (not the VR II) is the f/2.8 version you probably want. At DX crop, it's really good; most of its optical issues are seen only on FX bodies. 

That leaves the f/4 lens. It's a compromise. Fixed aperture to keep you from having the dreaded f/5.6 aperture at the long end, as you often get with kit and lower cost telephoto zooms. But f/4 to keep the lens smaller, lighter, and also less expensive. It is not optically as good as #3 in your list, but I'd argue it's better than #1 on FX bodies. You buy this lens if you don't need f/2.8. Your other choice would be the excellent 70-300mm f/4-5.6E AF-P, but it's a variable aperture lens, and some people don't like that. 

"Why don't you put the place name in the photos you publish? I really liked <name-a-photo-here> and would like to go there."

Back when I was editor of Backpacker magazine we had an ongoing debate about when we should or shouldn't disclose place names. We could actually measure how much the crowds increased on a trail or at a location after we published an article that ID'd it, and often got feedback from the National Park Service or other venue shepherds about that increase in visitation.  

Personally, I'm not an advocate of "copying," and that is often the reason stated when someone asks me for a photograph's location. They want that same image for their own personal files. We have far too much of that going on, even in the pro ranks. I believe photography is both a craft and an art, and while copying might help you with the first of those (craft), it is actually a detriment to the latter one (art).

Amazingly, the reach of my Web site is actually far greater than it was for that well-known national publication I worked for. The impact of putting place names on everything could thus be intolerably large in terms of impact if I'm not careful. I have no problem identifying place when it is a tightly regulated one, such as the workshop locations I use in the Galapagos or Botswana. But when it comes to the unregulated spaces and off-trail locations, I'm reluctant to ID places (and I don't use or embed GPS in my images for that reason; I know where I was ;~). 

I advocate that you find your own unique photographic experience, which means wandering in search of interesting places and things to photograph. Use others' imagery as inspiration, not for mimicry. 

All that said, when someone takes the time to email me and ask about location, I generally will reply with a place name if it is in a trail-accessible point within public lands. 

Should You Still Buy F-mount and EF-mount Lenses?

The headline is the question that's been popping into my In Box more and more frequently since the big Canon and Nikon mirrorless announcements. As people study the current options and consider what the future options for lenses might be, there's a decidedly chilling effect going on. People are suddenly concerned about putting money into a new lens with an old mount.

The problem, of course, is that you need to both have some idea of where you're going with the camera transition that's currently happening, plus you need to read the minds of the inscrutable Japanese companies who have proprietary locks on their mounts. That last bit means that you also have to guess at how fast reverse engineering happens at the third party makers, and whether those makers will hedge their bets by just doing a quick and dirty "adapter type" change—witness the Sigma Art lenses for the FE mount—or actually design something that takes advantage of the short flange distance with a big throat that the new RF and Z mounts have.

Nikon did the right thing and Canon the wrong thing for a change (role reversal): Nikon gave you a specific plan for new lenses. So we know what Z lenses are coming in the next 18 months or so (20mm f/1.8, 24mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.2, 58mm f/0.95, 85mm f/1.8 for primes, and 14-24mm f2.8, 14-30mm f/4, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8 for zooms).

So let's start with Nikon and those zooms, because there the answer is a little more clear: if you think you're moving to the Z system in the next couple of years and you were thinking about buying the 14-24mm f/2.8G, 16-35mm f/4G, 24-70mm f/2.8E, or 70-200mm f/2.8E in the F-mount, well, you probably ought to just delay your plans on purchasing those lenses. The expectation is that Nikon will deliver better Z versions than F versions, even though the F versions are already D850-worthy and quite good. 

I'd tend to say the same thing about the primes that we know are coming, particularly the 50mm (the current F-mount 20mm, 24mm, and 85mm f/1.8 lenses are all quite good, the current 50mm lenses, not so much). 

From there, things get very fuzzy very fast. It's clear that recent E and AF-P lenses seem to work just fine on the Z cameras, and there's no telephoto beyond the 70-200mm on Nikon's road map. Thus, things like the 70-300mm AF-P, the 300mm/500mm PF, and even the exotics are lenses I'd not be worried about picking up right now. Moreover, the folks that shoot these kinds of lenses probably shouldn't be abandoning DSLR for mirrorless in a rush: the DSLRs still have better continuous focus options and far deeper buffers than any Z, so I'd say there's a high likelihood that on safari I might be doing something like putting a Z-mount 70-200mm on my Z7 and an F-mount 400/500mm on my D850. Ditto for sports.

So the true D500, D850, and D5 shooter shouldn't be having much in the way of qualms about picking up new F-mount lenses that they need, particularly for recent lenses and telephoto ones.

Which brings me to another point: opportunity cost. If you delay your decision and then don't take certain types of pictures (or use less optimal gear) until such time as Nikon finally delivers the lens you need for Z cameras, well, you don't get the photo. Certainly not the photo you envisioned. 

One of those asking me the headline question was specifically an astro photography shooter. Okay, so what astronomical events might occur between now and the time a Z lens you might prefer comes along? We've got a couple of upcoming eclipses, plenty of meteor showers, and all kinds of moon/landscape alignments you might want to shoot. What are you going to shoot them with? The Z lens you're still waiting for? ;~)

Canon shooters have a bigger problem: lack of future information to plan with. Basically Canon has said "we'll do more RF lenses in the future," but the signals about the future of EF-M and EF-S mounts are mixed, for sure, and there's little guidance on basic EF, which just makes the lack of information even more problematic for some shooters. Heck, do you even buy an EOS M camera now as part of your transition from DSLR to mirrorless? 

The bigger the information gap, the larger the chilling effect. 

The good news on the Canon side is that they've been designing EF lenses fully electronically for some time, and almost certainly have been designing recent EF lenses for use with dual pixel focus on the sensor, which the EOS R also has. The initial news on the Nikon FTZ adapter has been that existing lenses work fine with it for most uses, and I'd expect that we'll have even more confirmation from the Canon side soon that EF lenses also work fine with the adapters (there's three adapter choices). 

I've always advocated that you purchase using these criteria in order: (1) need; (2) capability/quality; and (3) price. 

So, if you have a need, I wouldn't be reluctant to purchase an F-mount lens. Indeed, I ended up ordering a 500mm f/5.6E PF (F-mount) at the same time as my Z7 order. 

Capability/quality is still a slight unknown. You probably need more confirmation that the adapters work fine. A perfect adapter would make it less likely that I'd pick up the Z series 70-200mm f/2.8, for instance, as the current 70-200mm f/2.8E is superb. I really only need to confirm and compare autofocus performance to be certain, but I'm already 70% there.

Price is going to be the interesting factor. 

I noted that a lot of people were writing silly things like "US$600 for a 50mm f/1.8 lens, what is Nikon thinking?" They're thinking you might want a really good 50mm after suffering from mostly poor ones during the DSLR era, that's what. Still, the US$220 F-mount version isn't completely terrible, and Nikon is asking 3x the price for the new Z version, so you can see that a lot of folk are going to wonder if there's an economy way to go mirrorless with Nikon (you need to spread the US$150 cost of the FTZ adapter over the number of lenses you'll do this with to get the price leveled correctly, though). 

This is where Nikon Z and Canon RF gets interesting. Both companies are making broad, sweeping, and strong claims about a new era of optical performance coming because the new mounts lift previous design restrictions. Both companies have emphasized quality in their initial lens offerings for the new mount. Quality above and beyond what their DSLR lenses attain, even though that is already quite high in many cases.

Companies don't offer high quality at low price (e.g. the 50mm price differential). But then there's that adapter which does allow the consumer to trade off some quality and use older less expensive lenses on the new quality-targeted cameras.

My suspicion is that we'll see far more Canon R purchasers opt to mostly use lenses via adapter than Nikon Z purchasers. But this is just a thesis based upon the generalized profiles of the typical Canon and Nikon DSLR purchaser. 

Getting back to the headline question, the answer, I think, is deceptively simple: concentrate on the known knowns. If you know you need/want a certain lens and you know that a mirrorless version is coming in a time period you can tolerate, then sure, wait. But if you're trying to manage the known unknowns in your decision, I'd say you're in analysis paralysis. Trying to guess what lens will come when at what price with what level of quality is a parlor game, not something you should be making decisions about. 

I See Dead Mounts

There's not a perfect place to put this article on my sites, as what I'm going to write about today spans both DSLR and mirrorless. With all of the recent announcements, it's time to talk about lens mounts. 

No, not in the sense of which is better—Nikon seems to have gone from most restrictive to least restrictive for lens designs—but rather in what the proliferating mounts mean for the photography community. 

Before we get started, let's deal with the elephant in the room: sensor size. People seem to get frenzied in their passion for sensor sizes, making what tend to be overstated rationales. m4/3, APS-C, full frame, and small medium format are all about one stop apart in two photographic ways (dynamic range and focus depth options), all else equal. The real question people need to ask themselves is: do they need that stop (or more)? 

This is not a lot different from choosing between a sub-compact auto, a compact auto, a full-size auto, or even a minivan. You should really choose the one that's right for your needs. Someone who drives by themselves and just needs basic transportation who is also rational about expense is going to pick the sub-compact. You have a big family you need to haul around, you're headed towards a minivan. 

My premise is this: we need a range of choices, but choices that actually fulfill their promise. When an APS-C camera becomes as expensive and as large as a full frame one, that doesn't make sense. Likewise, when you start trying to populate a smaller sensor system with larger lenses (to make up for that stop loss), you're in the same problem area. 

Which brings us to the current state of full frame mirrorless: it's reasonably small. Basically Canon, Nikon, and Sony have made full frame mirrorless cameras that are about the size of many APS-C DSLRs. If you apply my premise, you can see the problem that immediately causes: what's the future of APS-C? Which brings us to the beginning of our mount discussion:

Most of the market at the end of the film era consisted of users in one of four legacy mounts: Canon EF, Minolta A, Nikon F, and Pentax K. Sure, there were some others out there, most notably Leica M, but in terms of the buying public, virtually all cameras the day the Nikon D1 appeared had one of those aforementioned four rings sitting out front. 

Some strange-ish things happened next: Fujifilm glommed onto the Nikon F mount for their DSLRs, Minolta became KonicaMinolta which was sold to Sony. The primary early mount proliferation in digital was the 4/3 mount from Olympus. 

But think about today. If you went into a perfectly stocked camera shop you'd find:

  • Canon EF
  • Canon EF-S
  • Canon EF-M
  • Canon RF
  • Fujifilm X
  • Fujifilm GX
  • Hasselblad 1D
  • Leica M
  • Leica TL
  • Leica SL
  • Nikon F-FX
  • Nikon F-DX 
  • Nikon Z
  • m4/3
  • Pentax K
  • Pentax Q
  • Sigma SA
  • Sony A
  • Sony E
  • Sony FE

Plus the folk behind the counter would be talking about rumors of even more new mounts (e.g. Panasonic full frame). If you're really lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of some lingering inventory of a truly dead mount (Olympus 4/3 or Nikon CX).

So at a time when interchangeable lens camera sales have contracted considerably and appear to be continuing to contract, mounts are proliferating. I'll just state the obvious: they won't all survive. 

Indeed, I've already seen statements appearing on the Internet along the lines of "Canon's new RF mount tells us that EF-S is dead." Just substitute camera maker and lens mount for whatever you think is most vulnerable in that previous sentence, and you'd find some variation of that in a Google search (e.g. Canon EF-S mount dead, Sony A mount dead, etc.).

Put yourself in the shoes of a third-party lens company: who do you design for? Well, you want to grow and thrive, so you look at the mount health first and your competition—or partners, Tamron is partly owned by Sony—second.

Short answer for those third party companies? Design for Sony FE and adapt to Canon RF and Nikon Z (because they would mostly be just a slight barrel extension, not an optical rework). If you design for Canon RF you can only really adapt to Nikon Z; if you truly design for Nikon Z you can't adapt to Canon RF or Sony FE.

So let's separate the mounts into three groups, shall we? Group one will be Growth Potential, group two will be Lingering Potential, and group three will be Languishing Potential.

  1. Growth Potential: Canon RF, Nikon Z, and Sony FE for sure. Remember, these makers control 90% of the ILC market, and these are their latest children and getting lots of love. You can make a reasonable argument for Fujifilm X and GX or Hasselblad 1D to be here, too, but these are much smaller in potential at the moment. 
  2. Lingering Potential: Canon EF, Nikon FX for sure. DSLRs still have their place and those lens lines are wide, deep, and actually help DSLRs stay alive, which the duopoly wants to happen for as long as possible. At a low volume, Leica M just chugs along among the 1%. 
  3. Languishing Potential: I'd have to put the Pentax K mount here, but only because Pentax seems to keep getting slower at every change in the market and there's now not much in the way of camera volume from them to drive sales. The K mount really should be in the Lingering category, but the slow, slightly-behind-the-rest iteration coupled with less market presence in dealers has just driven all momentum out of the K mount. It's not the OK mount any more, it's the 0K mount (fonts being what they are on the Internet, that last one is a zero, not a capital oh ;~). Likewise, Sigma's SA mount has the same problem; I've only seen a Sigma sd Quattro body in captivity, not at all in the wild. (Likewise, the Pentax Q is only sighted in Japan these days.) Sony A mount goes in this category, despite lip service from the GameBoy Masters that it isn't dead. 

That leaves us some mounts where it isn't clear right now what category they're in: Canon EF-M and EF-S, Leica TL and SL, Nikon DX, Sony E, and the physically smallest of the species (outside of the Q's in Japan): m4/3. 

Note how many of those are crop sensor mounts, and what I said above about proper product scaling (e.g. sub-compact, compact, full).

I don't know what Canon was thinking. Four mounts? Sure, adapters work for some of the combinations. But four mounts? No, this is wrong, and something is going to give. Why would you spread incompatibility within your own customer base? The Cinema cameras Canon makes are currently EF—though one wonders if they'll eventually switch to RF—so the two outcasts of the four mounts are the EF-M and EF-S variants. Because of the RF mount dimensions—RF's 20mm flange distance versus EF-M's 18mm seems to preclude an adapter—Canon can't have the same EF-M to RF relationship that they had with EF-S and EF. We don't expect an EF-M to RF mount adapter (or vice versa) therefore, and that seems really strange: Canon has broken their own feeder mechanism. 

Curiously, Canon introduced a new EF-M lens with the RF announcement, so what kind of signal is that? It seems that one or both of the Canon crop sensor mounts is likely to be phased out, most probably EF-S first, but EF-M's life support seems tentative to me, too. (Hold that thought, I have to discuss this again with Sony E and Nikon DX.)

Sony E is in a slightly better position in that many of their professional video cameras are Super35 sensors, which is very close to APS-C, and thus they can use the E mount variation, not FE. I think we'll continue to see some E activity, though mostly to support the video realm or true consumer use (e.g. superzooms). Of course, if full frame sensors ever become the "norm" for pro video, all bets would be off. 

Nikon DX is a huge question mark, as I've written several times in recent months. It's entirely unclear what Nikon will do for crop sensor products moving forward. The timelines now seem to suggest they'll eventually go Z for crop sensor mirrorless, but those timelines also suggest that wouldn't be for 18 months or more. So DX limps along until it gets caught in a trap (buzz, buzz, bzzt). 

You might note that all three of the big players are in a crop sensor mount bind. Canon with EF-M and EF-S, Nikon with DX, and even Sony with E. It's exactly in the crop sensor arena where sales are contracting most for ILC. Nikon's extremely tepid D3xxx updates recently are sending a warning signal of one sort. Sony's not updating the A5xxx models sends another warning signal. Canon's EF-M/RF mount decision leads you scratching your head.

There were rumors that Nikon prototyped a D500-type replacement with the Z mount (call it the Z5). If that were really the direction Nikon was to go (all in on Z for mirrorless), it has implications for the rest of the makers. This would be consistent with Nikon's expressed interest in moving everything up-market and concentrating on high-end gear. But it would also mean the loss of a true lower cost feeder system. 

One thing to remember about APS-C/DX: the installed base is absolutely huge. Canon and Nikon have sold tens of millions of such units, and continue to sell them in the millions/year currently. Consumer closets are filled with APS-C/DX cameras. The real question you should be asking yourself is this: what do Canon and Nikon want to sell that customer as an upgrade in two years, five years, ten years? The further you go out in time frame, the more the answer starts to get very interesting and points away from the current crop sensor lens mounts.

Finally, we get to m4/3. The irony is that this is a mount that has a truly full lens set, and a broad array of providers. Ten years on the market will do that for you. The operative question here is not whether the mount will live, it's whether there's going to be an ongoing viability of new cameras using the mount. Olympus never really got much past the 500k/annual market and is still plateaued at 500k. Many of Olympus' sales are just upgrades to those fewer existing customers. Panasonic started strong, particularly in Asian markets, and lost volume over time. Their real winner in m4/3 is really a video camera (GH5). That rumor of Panasonic having a full frame entry for 2019 that will be introduced at Photokina later this month has already had a chilling effect on some m4/3 users. 

That said, having m4/3 and full frame would be a reasonable combination of product to produce, as they're two stops apart (all else equal) and as much as 12x apart in sensor price (volume impacts this, unfortunately, and I'm not sure the m4/3 cameras have enough volume to get the full cost benefits). But given how small the recent full frame cameras are (Sony A7 series, Nikon Z), you really don't want to be making m4/3 cameras that same size. The E-M10 size camera seems much more appropriate for the smaller sensor than the big G9 body, for example. 

I see some potential for m4/3 to keep being an alternative player that gobbles up half or more of the 10% market share that's available to them, but it's going to take some careful product placement as the Big Three elephants stomp around the camera shop with their new models and Fujifilm looks for growth.

Still, all the mounts I've mentioned can't productively move forward. Yet, by all appearances they will for awhile because of inertia. So don't get confused by that. I see camera inventory in the channels that is two and sometimes three years old still. It takes at least two years to get something new going from scratch, and even then it isn't near complete (e.g. Nikon Z with two cameras and three lenses, Canon R with one camera and four lenses, were both started a couple of years ago in development, and will need a couple more years to get a strong lens set). 

So we're in a market transition when it comes to mounts, and this means that it looks like a plethora of choices to the user. Sony users can partially rejoice, because they've just completed most of their transition (still not sure about the crop sensor, though). Canon and Nikon full frame users can rest comfortably knowing that the full frame EF/F lenses cross over well to the R/Z systems for the time being. 

It's everyone else that needs to be careful, and that's the majority of the market volume in camera units: crop sensor mounts and not-top-three mounts are riskier places to put your hard-earned money today than they were. 

What's Up With DX, Redux

I'll just say right up front, I don't have the answers you're looking for. 

Here in the US, the D3400 is Nikon's best selling ILC, by far. It also tends to produce the most sales dollars overall from any model. Thus, it's an important product. And today Nikon "updated" it to the D3500, to be sold at the same price as the D3400 was (US$499 with kit lens).

bythom nikon 3500

Updated is in quotes because it appears that Nikon has simply de-contented the D3xxx model once again. The flash button moves to the back of the camera, the Fn button is gone, the front IR receiver is gone. On the back of the camera, the buttons and controls all move, and Live View goes back to being a lever up top.

The basic specs of the camera don't change, though. It's the same sensor with the same properties, and virtually no specification changes (Nikon did add the Flat Picture Control, and the CIPA battery rating goes up to 1550 shots from 1200). The body uses D5600-style construction techniques now, which simplify assembly and take a small bit of size and weight away. 

So why these changes? 

Bean counters designed this new camera. 

It really isn't a new camera. It's the third generation of the D3300 parts, but with increased emphasis on how to build it more cheaply. You'll notice that the buttons cluster now along the top back, and down a panel on the back: simpler interconnects during assembly. Apparently the D3500 designers only got part of the design fax from the Z6/Z7 designers: we get the four-button cluster at the bottom, but it's not ordered the same, and there are other button changes, as well. 

I've said for a long time that you want a feeder system when you build lower end cameras at the D3xxx/D5xxx price point. If someone learns the Drive Mode button is top right of a four button cluster, then moves to a higher end camera where it's the lower right, that's cognitive dissonance designed into your products. Silly. 

More important, though, is the signaling that Nikon is doing. 

By burying the D3500 press release launch right after the big Z6/Z7 launch parties, Nikon has sent a strong signal to the market that they're not near ready to disclose how they'll handle crop sensor mirrorless. 

So let's examine two things.

First, the Z lens road map. That road map has 11 undefined slots on it, three in 2020 and eight in 2021. We know from talks with Nikon executives that some of those undefined lenses will be a new lower cost lineup of Z lenses, including pancakes. It's entirely possible that crop sensor Z lenses might be in the pipeline, but wouldn't appear before 2020.

Second, the prototype parade. As I've outlined before, Nikon worked through three different mirrorless crop sensor choices. I'll add a bit more specificity here: (1) a small and slightly different (more bulbous) design for EOS M like cameras with a new mount; (2) a smaller variation on the D3xxx, using the existing DX mount and more AF-P lenses; and (3) a high-end DX model (e.g. D500-level) with the Z mount.

The full frame Zs' final design presents a bit of a problem. Because the Z6/Z7 bodies are already down at the D7500 size and weight, the market expectations would be that any crop sensor mirrorless Nikon comes out downsized even more. That suggests #1 as the most likely choice. But look at Nikon's lens situation: the Z lenses, coupled with what we know about a few more F-mount lenses working their way to production, pretty much maxes out what Nikon can do with lens releases in a year. We're talking eight a year now, which is above their historical average in the DSLR era, and as much as anyone seems capable of doing; because lens design to release takes about three years, it implies 24 lenses are in some stage of development at any given time. Sure, you can speed that up some, but remember, Nikon and all the other camera companies are working in an environment with declining volume, so you don't want to just throw more resources at the problem.

Personally, I think we'll get some form of #1 and #3. A Z5 could be a D500-like camera, possibly coupled in release with a Z9 that's a D5-like camera. But we wouldn't see that until 2020 at the earliest, I think. Meanwhile, the D3500 gives the low-end a DSLR to hold serve for another year, with more cost flexibility if they have to brute force the market by price. That gives Nikon some breathing room to make a more considered and well thought out crop sensor mirrorless launch.

Unfortunately, that doesn't make DX any better than it already is (and has been for some time), nor does it present us with any new DX lenses to help bolster the cameras. Nikon has been slow-rolling DX pretty much since 2011, when the quake and floods disrupted a lot of their plans. It looks like that slow rolling will continue for the foreseeable future. 

 

DSLRs: Dead, In Transition, or Forever?

For many years now I've been writing that it is inevitable that ILC (interchangeable lens cameras) will transition to mirrorless. Ten years ago ILC was basically 100% DSLR, ten years from now ILC will basically be 100% mirrorless. I may be off by a bit on the future date, though, as transitions are always difficult to predict.

Sony has already made their bet (E/FE). Nikon is making theirs (Z). Canon and Pentax we don't yet know about, though Canon has started their bet at crop sensor (EF-M). 

The reason mirrorless is inevitable actually shows up in some of the interviews Nikon executives have been giving. The automation used for the D5 production in the Sendai factory is quoted as being about 55%, while the automation for the Z7 production in the same factory is given as 76%. There are fewer parts and fewer alignment steps in a mirrorless camera, and once we get global shutters on the sensor, that will be emphasized some more. 

From a cost of production standpoint, mirrorless is a win for the camera companies. It keeps their manufacturing costs down and their needed just in time parts supplies lower. If you don't understand why those trends are important, you're probably President of the United States (sorry, but this is not so much a political statement as it is a statement of fact: our President does not seem to understand how manufacturing has changed in the past several decades and that this change is continuous and inevitable; even steel mills are getting automated; we produce more with fewer employees). 

That said, I'm getting lots of "what about DSLRs?" type questions, and Nikon executives have been making some statements about the same. 

Look at the headline. DSLRs are no longer "forever." They're in transition. It's a pretty great transition, actually. The D850 is arguably a better camera than the Z7 or the Sony A7Rm3. I've been writing that since last August (at least the Sony comparison). Nothing has changed there. If you want the best all around camera you can get, it's the Nikon D850, and that's a DSLR.

I can now easily imagine a future D760 that is better than the Z6: just take the Z6 sensor and EXPEED6 and the D5 generation bits and iterate the D750 with that. Voila. Same as the D850 versus Z7: a better DSLR than mirrorless by a modest margin. 

The operative question is how long this transition will last. I think we'll have our answer by the Tokyo Olympics in 2020. Sony will certainly be there with an A9m2. Ikegami-san has already been quoted as saying there will be a Nikon D5-like model in the Z line (see my comments on sansmirror about how the S-line lens road map predicts that). Canon will probably be there, too. 

I think at that point—where the top pro models all have strong mirrorless equivalents—is the point where DSLRs start to no longer be the choice moving forward. Unless, of course, you want to just keep using the lenses you have (e.g. Last Camera Syndrome folk). 

Ikegami-san also said—as have a few Nikon folk privately to me—that Nikon will continue releasing new DSLR products. Those are almost certainly going to be in the higher-end range (e.g. D7500 and up). And that may continue for a period after the Tokyo Olympics.

So to answer the headline's question: DSLRs are not dead. Not at all. They're in their heyday. There is a transition from DSLR to mirrorless going on. For Sony folk it's already happened. For Nikon shooters it's beginning. For Canon users, stay tuned.

It's also clear DSLRs are not forever, just as film SLRs were not forever. However, note that Nikon still sells the F6 film SLR, a very capable camera. Indeed, perhaps the most capable of any film SLR. We're 19 years post D1 and Nikon is still selling a high-end film camera. That's very likely what's going to happen with DSLRs, as well. During the transition period we're going to see continued DSLR iterations. By the "end" of the transition period, Nikon will have likely winnowed things down to one or two well-provisioned DSLRs they'll continue in the lineup.

If I had to make a wild guess:

  • Today through 2020: No real changes to the high-end DSLR formula; they'll iterate about the same as they have. Some low-end DSLRs will soon not iterate and be replaced by mirrorless.
  • 2020 through 2024: High-end DSLR iterations will wind down and mirrorless iterations ramp up.
  • 2024 forward: We might have one or two DSLRs that continue in the lineup.

No promises, and I don't know how accurate my dating is. But I'm pretty convinced that will be the shape of things to come: dual choice for awhile, stronger transition to mirrorless, end game for DSLRs, in that order. 

So my final answer is that DSLRs are likely forever, in transition, and to many, eventually dead. How's that for equivocating? ;~)

Reader Questions About DSLR versus Z

I've been doing a series of reader email questions and answers. On Thursday, as you might expect, came a slew of questions that dealt with the DSLR versus mirrorless future. So I'll tackle them here so you can all see my responses:

"At 57, a lifelong Nikon owner with over 25 Nikkor/Nikon lenses accumulated, I am concerned that in about 10 years, Nikon will no longer make F monmunt bodies, forcing me to upgrade my entire system . Since some of my lenses lack full functionality even with an adapter, and most of my lenses probably are not suited for sensors greater than 24mp, I purchased my third D700 body recently, and anticipate buying two used D750's over the next year, thus protecting my investment in glass, for the rest of my life. Are others thinking this way?"

I'm sure others are thinking this way. But those same people were thinking similarly when the D1 was introduced ;~). 

We're still early in the ILC evolution from DSLR to mirrorless. There's no real penalty for remaining in DSLR, though, as there was with film. The benefit of moving to mirrorless is lower than it was in moving to DSLR, too. So I expect this to be a fairly orderly transition.

"What will Nikon do IF there will be a successor of the D750 , D5(s)? They could insert a Z6 sensor and introduce live view AF in their DSLRs. Might this be happening next summer? The same applies for the eventual D850 update."

Quite a few readers are thinking the opposite: that there will be no new DSLRs. But remember the F6, which took all the DSLR-learned advances and applied them to film even after we were well into the digital era. I suspect Nikon will do something similar with DSLRs, so your idea is not at all far-fetched. Adding on-sensor PD for Live View to the DSLRs would be a clear advance over our current DSLRs. If you could also add in a hybrid viewfinder, that would be very advanced and keep DSLR sales going a bit longer.

I suspect that Nikon is thinking along these lines. However, the question is for which cameras, because they're not going to do it for the entire lineup of DSLRs. The D850 makes the most sense in this case, but the D750 would be the next best choice.

"With an F-mount lens attached to a new Z camera via the FTZ adapter, does the focal length of the F lens change? I would think so, being the lens would sit further forward by several millimeters."

No it does not. The focal length, close focus distance, and aperture would remain the same with the FTZ adapter for any F-mount lens. That's because the lens is in the same position relative to the sensor as it was on a DSLR.

"When looking at the performance of the cards and people's actual use of the slots the reaction to the Z specs could be irrational. I myself have the D500 and 600 and only use both slots for rare "important" occasions. However a similar reaction is limiting D7500 sales.  Does Nikon really expect this camera to drive sales or is the actual goal to try and exploit a new mount to invent better lenses?"

In retrospect, it does now seem odd that the D7500 doesn't have two card slots. In terms of the DSLR versus mirrorless equation, one of the ways the DSLRs at the top (e.g. D850) distinguish themselves from the new Z mirrorless series (e.g. Z7) is in slot configuration. There are other ways in which the DSLR/mirrorless boundary seems to be defined at the moment by Nikon, but the number of people complaining about slots, first on the D7500, now on the Z models, makes me think that Nikon didn't quite anticipate this right. I'll answer your actual question on sansmirror, but I thought your comment was relevant to the DSLR discussion that's ongoing and now having to take into account Nikon's mirrorless cameras. Simply put, the D7500 should have had two card slots. Any DSLR Nikon introduces at that level or above in the future needs two card slots. You don't establish a norm (D7200, D500, D750, D850, D4, D5, etc.) and then take that away at a time when you want to pick up some last DSLR upgraders.

After almost ten years of photographing with my D700, I've decide to move to a new body.

"My D700 serves me well for people, travelling, low light and a lot of situations that made me feel confortable with this body. I print photos and make big to normal size blurb books—particularly in landscapes—I'm not happy with the results. I'd like to improve resolution/acuity and it's not due to por shooting discipline.

So i think about changing my nikon body in the next few months and have several options. That is the reason for writing to you:

1.- D750 (4 years old) Or wait to see if there's other DSLR 24 MP DSLR?

2.- D850 My heart says go for it! Bit afraid of diffraction problem over f8 and lenses that you say are no so good for it. Plus I'd need a new machine to process those really big files.

3.- Z7: same than 3, and only F lenses? or trading 24-70 and get the combo with new S24-70 + F to S lenses adaptor.

4- Z6: less resolución than 36mp, of course more than D700 12 MP, and back to number 3. 

I completely agree with you that Z7/Z6 are for enthusiasts. Maybe me?

Maybe. I'm seeing a lot of these kinds of emails where the DSLR/mirrorless decision is somewhat problematic given the age of the D750 and the newness of the Z series. 

But so far I'm not backing off my comment that the D850 is the best all-around camera you can buy. The Z7 clearly doesn't exceed the D850, and actually trails it in many ways. The D750/Z6 level seems closer, but mostly because the D750 is four years old.

Thing is, there's a price differential you have to consider, too (at least here in the US). We've got D750's going for US$1500 with extra goodies right now, and that camera works directly with all your lenses. So your cost is US$1500. The Z6+FT6 puts you at US$2150. So you'd be paying a premium for "new".

The landscape comment, though, would tend to indicate that you should go D850. While the Z7 is the same pixel count, the lens situation for landscapes would be completely "via FTZ adapter." I'm not convinced that the Z7 has an advantage over the D850 for landscape work other than it being smaller and lighter overall.  

What's Up with DX?

First some history:

  • Last D3xxx update: August 2016, after a slightly over two year interval, and with very little difference to show for it.
  • Last D5xxx update: November 2016, on about a one-and-a-half year interval, but again with very little difference.
  • Last D7xxx update: April 2017, pretty much on the expected two year interval and with substantive differences.
  • Last Dxxx update: January 2016, after an eight-year delay, complete with dramatic differences.

Up through 2010, DX was pretty much on a very predictable and regular schedule: D3xxx type bodies every year, D7xxx and Dxxx type bodies every two years. The D5xxx snuck in there and started with some fast iteration—three bodies in four years—then went to an every two year refresh. Eventually the D3xxx went to two year intervals, too.

Which means, here in 2018 a new D3500 and D5700 should show up, and if the Dxxx bodies had returned to a "normal" schedule, we'd probably get a D510, too. 

Here in the US, the D3400 is Nikon's best selling body, and by far. That's true whether you measure by sales dollars or units. The second-highest in dollars is the D850, the second-highest in units is the D5600. 

For several years I've had "mirrorless" listed as the likely low-end DX successor on my Nikon Products Page. Indeed, before I had to update the page to include the D3400 and D5600, I had "mirrorless" marked in both those slots.

Given the success of the EOS M models, particularly in the Asian markets, one would think that Nikon would be in that same space by now. The curious thing that happened in the past year is that Nikon has tested, retested, shuffled, and reshuffled plans for DX interchangeable lens cameras several times. 

I know, for instance, that Nikon tested three different approaches to DX mirrorless: (1) current DX mount; (2) new mirrorless mount (same as new FX mirrorless); and (3) new mirrorless mount (different than new FX mirrorless). #3 seems to have been rejected at some point. #2 seems problematic given how big that mount is (has implications on lens size versus competitors, plus dictates a "tall" camera due to the opening size). 

Which leaves #1, which has its own problems because it would have a mount snout the other mirrorless competitors don't. 

So let's look at recent Nikkor lens releases for a moment. In the past three years, here's the sum total DX lens introductions:

  • AF-P 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6G VR
  • AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR and non-VR
  • AF-P 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G VR and non-VR

Notice a trend? 

Yep, it's the consumer zoom trio updated to lens motors that would work well with mirrorless. The implication of moving to AF-P this way is that Nikon might have selected #1 (current DX mount) as the mirrorless choice for DX. (They'd also need to do a Canon SL-like downsizing of the body to pull this off, though. Note that the DX AF-P lenses are all very lightweight, another attribute you'd want for an entry mirrorless system. So the D3xxx body needs to downsize, too, if Nikon takes this approach.)

And yet I hear from trusted sources (note the plural) that Nikon also was working on prototyping a D500-level DX mirrorless body, too (which implies #2 or #3; probably #2 if Nikon was going to stay with the DX/FX pro combo idea that they've been so successful with). This corresponds better with Nikon's urge to go up-scale and high-end to preserve margins. Plus it would have allowed them to echo the two-camera punch they've done in the past (D1/D100, D2/D200, D3/D300, D5/D500). 

Interestingly, the D7xxx level camera is probably the most important one in the DX lineup. Yes, the D3xxx vastly outsells it, but it's the D7xxx user that's the most loyal and the most likely one Nikon will trigger an update from. The history of that line goes back to the seminal D70 and D90. The problem is this: the consumer cameras at that level have (mostly) been exceedingly good, and there's a lot of Last Camera Syndrome that occurs with purchasers of the D7xxx models.

I'm still seeing a lot of D7000 and D7100 users out there, who haven't been convinced that there's a true reason to update their camera body (they pretty much would all love for a couple of new DX lenses that complement their set, though, buzz buzz). Megapixels and video—ironic considering this line pioneered modern DSLR video—aren't compelling enough to make them upgrade. And Nikon's taking features out of the D7500 didn't help one iota, even though it's a great camera.

If DX is going to survive into the mirrorless age, Nikon needs a D70-type of camera that brings the DSLR-faithful across the river Mirrorless. Serious capability, reasonable price, excellent ergonomics/feature choices. Nikon must get those sitting on older D7xxx level bodies to upgrade, and it's not going to be full frame cameras that cost twice as much or more: they've already captured those folk with the D6xx, D750, and D8xx. There's still a very large body of shooters with D70, D80, D90, D7000, D7100, and D7200 cameras in their closet. That is truly the "core enthusiast" user that has been much of Nikon's long-term success.

Still, Nikon also needs an entry ILC point, whether it's mirrorless, DSLR, or both. The D7xxx and D500 level is not really "entry." Giving up the D3xxx/D5xxx space to "go high end" would mean further serious sales contractions and no feeder system for the future. 

With the Nikon 1 now buried in the landfill, no DLs managing to get out of HQ, and potentially nothing in the future between the Coolpix P1000 and the D7500, Nikon would be dramatically smaller. 

No this does not mean they would go out of business; but it would mean they were in a very narrow and expensive niche business and willing to give their market share to competitors. 

It would have buying implications for customers, too. Without volume products that bring in customers, dealers carrying Nikon cameras would decline dramatically. Fujifilm's recent frenzy of consumer cameras seems targeted at trying to get into Nikon's previously locked up shelf space. Fujifilm seems to be playing Nikon to continue to withdraw from the true consumer space.

Nikon's going to need an answer about what happens with DX soon (no later than March 2019, I'd say). Otherwise, inaction gets perceived as a form of action. 

A final note: back in 2003 I wrote that I thought APS-C and DX would top out at around 24mp. This was driven by some complex predictive calculations centered around cost, perceived image quality, lens resolution, diffraction, and a host of other factors. Technically, more sampling—e.g. greater than 24mp—is always better than less sampling, all else equal. The problem is that the gains become minimal and probably invisible to most customers past a certain point unless you can somehow make a massive move forward in one of the factors. There's nothing stopping you from producing a 36mp DX camera, but the real question is what would be the tangible gain in doing so? 

This isn't just a Nikon problem, it's an industry problem. Samsung opted for 28mp APS-C at one point, but that didn't produce a visible image quality change. It mostly became a specification difference that had some minor marketing impact. 

What DX (and APS-C) need now is something tangible that moves the crop sensor world forward in a way that users can easily see. The 6% luminance gain of the Fujifilm X-Trans sensor isn't it, though a total mirrorless approach and plentiful lenses are what has helped Fujifilm gain some success in the crop sensor market. The difference if it comes at the sensor needs to be more dramatic than X-Trans. The problem is, of course, that the decline in volume in ILC products comes mostly in the APS-C/DX realm, which means that you have less payback for your sensor R&D. 

And so we're in a bit of a stall in terms of APS-C and DX: no one seems to have a complete answer to how to push the crop sensor cameras forward enough to regain volume. And yes, it's time for me to jump on my soapbox and proclaim that it is workflow that's keeping those cameras mostly in the closet and not updated. 

Imagine a D4000 that has a perfectly designed communications capability—e.g. significant SnapBridge update and improvement—that really lets you post where you want to directly from the camera. Suddenly there'd be a reason to take the DSLR camera out of the closet and trade it for a new one. Indeed, it wouldn't be relegated to the closet as much, either.

I wrote about transformational last week. That's what APS-C and DX now need: something that's transformational. Otherwise, we've gone as far as we need to go.

Nikon 2018 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2017:


Nikon 2017 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2017:

Nikon 2016 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2016:



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