Looking back on Nikon DSLRs--and trying to look into the future. . .

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by Landrum Kelly, Jun 16, 2017.

  1. I just happened onto this article in DPREVIEW from just a few weeks back:

    Having just read and enjoyed this glimpse back into the past, I am just sitting here wondering which direction Nikon is likely to go in the future. The challenge of Sony's a9 makes me wonder if there is a mirrorless full-frame digital camera in Nikon's future. The only mirrorless that I have used is an Olympus OM-D E-M5 which I picked up for $275 on eBay, I have to say that I am impressed with the ability to literally see what both the exposure and depth of field are really like prior to shooting.

    That said, the real purpose of the post is not to start a discussion about mirrorless, except as that figures into a very general discussion of where Nikon has been and where it is going.

  2. Thom Hogan makes the obvious prediction; that Nikon will get into the DSLR equivalent mirror-less game relatively soon, with their offerings accepting their current lens lineup. The open question is whether their offerings will be FF and/or APS-C.

    Waiting to see what they will offer is yet another reason for me to delay upgrading my current body.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  3. Accepting current lens line up to which point? Would the new camera have the aperture stop down level to use with non E lenses? Would it have motor to use lenses without motor? Would it even has the AI coupling to meter AI lenses?
    Accepting current lens line up is a big compromise. Nikon F mount has quite a long flange distance and thus any mirrorless camera that use these lenses will have large empty space which is useless.
    Nikon lenses use to be better than Canon or Minolta but not any more. Nikon is good at making the mechanical shutter but successful new mirrorless depends on a good electronic shutter. The Sony A9 electronic shutter isn't perfect but is a big improvement. When the camera becomes totally electronic I am not sure Nikon has the advantage any more.
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  4. Nikon's DSLR are way behind Sony in video and live view AF and with the appearance of the A9 in danger of losing the game for stills as well. Black-out free viewing isn't something a DSLR will ever achieve. Nor will a mirror allow much faster frame rates than 15fps. AF area coverage like the one available in the A9 now is also not possible with an AF module but needs to be on sensor. For me personally, any current EVF is not better than the OVF in a DSLR but that may also be just a matter of time.

    And the matter of what mount is a big one for Nikon. Are they going to break with tradition (which would be needed to take full advantage of mirrorless) and maybe have an adapter solution (which isn't working too well for Sony's A-to-E mount adapters).

    I can only hope that Nikon is working on mirrorless, both DX and FX. But if either one of them or both need new lenses, then Nikon will have their work cut out for them. Being years behind Sony now, they can hardly afford to take three or four years to come up with a half-way decent lens line-up and I doubt they have the resources to do 10 or even 20 lenses in a single year.

    Canon at least got onto the mirrorless APS-C bandwagon (which Sony has a bit neglected and Fuji appears to dominate). And Canon, like Sony, is choosing the "new mount" route. Most likely Nikon will do likewise. What that means to G and E AF-S lenses and also for screw-driven AF lenses is anyones' guess. Mine is that E will adapt well, G will need some kind of mechanical aperture control through the adapter, and screw-driven lenses won't AF at all.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  5. It seems to me that manufacturers have everything they need to produce a mirrorless crop or full frame body except a viewfinder. An optical viewfinder, by definition, updates at the speed of light; a mirrorless body would need a viewfinder fast enough to please sports and wildlife shooters to avoid being tagged as a niche camera. Having an electronic viewfinder that has high enough resolution to meet professional and enthusiast wants and that updates fast enough to not handicap the sports/wildlife crowd is a key feature - and doing it at a price people can afford may be the real-world limitation for Nikon. Perhaps the technology exists to build the "pro" mirrorless system today, but not at a price that can compete with DSLRs.

    As for the future of the F-mount, it seems practical for Nikon to design a new mirrorless body with a shorter flange distance and introduce some (a few) lens lenses to go with it, but also introduce an F-mount adapter to allow current owners to use their current glass. That would take pressure off Nikon to build a large assortment of lenses for a new body right away.

    Nikon certainly should have the ability to make such an adapter, one that could have the D3xxx/D5xxx limitation - only works with lenses with an internal motor. Nikon alone has a long history of keeping old lenses usable as new cameras have been introduce. It would be quite consistent for them to do so with a mirrorless system.

    I am encouraged that this could well happened - if Nikon is designing and building a new system that will make F-mount lenses obsolete in the future, I don't see why they would have bothered to introduce the E AF-S lenses.

    There's one other aspect to the EVF development path - it may have been ongoing long enough that Nikon may have also been designing a large set of new lenses for a mirrorless system, including developing manufacturing capability, for a long enough period already that they might just bring out a new body with an impressive assortment of new lenses all at once.

    I think speculation should become an Olympic sport. Perhaps we could call it conclusion jumping.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  6. I believe Nikon is working on a full frame mirrorless system (this has been implied in several interviews) but they won't lauch until the following can be met: 1) it has to be competitive i.e. offers advantages over Sony, 2) market conditions are such that Nikon can expect to sell more of the mirrorless products than the loss of DSLR lens and body sales that results from launch of such a system, and 3) the existing DSLR infrastructure can be made compatible with the system. I think this will take a couple of years.

    Personally I'm not really interested as I by far prefer optical viewfinders and I believe DSLR AF lens compatibility will be poor since to work well mirrorless AF requires a different type of focus motor solution than used in most DSLR lenses.

    However, I think Nikon must sort their live view autofocus out and make something like Canon's dual pixel AF technology. This is because many photographers are now required to shoot video as well as photographs, to make ends meet. Also, many consumers/newcomers are used to holding the camera at arm's length and not to the use of a viewfinder. If Nikon's LV AF doesn't leave a good impression on a potential buyer, they buy something else. A similar solution can be used for DSLR video/live view AF as well as AF on a full frame mirroless camera.

    Nikon have started on this (they did the Nikon 1 series and they are now offering a few AF-P lenses for DSLRs, which seem to autofocus very well in live view of compatible cameras) but they need to produce a breakthrough product in this area as soon as possible. I believe Nikon can successfully compete with both DSLRs and mirrorless products when they sort this out.
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  7. Personally I'm not really interested as I by far prefer optical viewfinders and I believe DSLR AF lens compatibility will be poor since to work well mirrorless AF requires a different type of focus motor solution than used in most DSLR lenses. --Ilkka Nissila
    I understand--and agree, Ilkka. When I read, however, that the body of the new Sony weighs 1.5 pounds, I could not help but feel a bit envious. I had, after all, bought the Olympus E-M5 on eBay because it could (with a rather inexpensive Pananosic 100-300mm zoom) allow me to hike into the mountains with a very light package that would give me effectively 600mm in terms of framing (because of the 2x crop factor). Alas, all of the pics that I have taken with the Olympus have been pleasing enough, but have left me with "I sure wish I had taken that with my D800E."

    So. . . I guess that what is interesting about the Sony is that it is doing what it is doing with a very light full-frame body, and Sony is also looking about for other ways of making the lenses somewhat lighter. This led to my thinking how wonderful it would be if my D800E could weigh 1.5 pounds and be usable with a very light 600mm zoom--not that the Sony can do that. Nobody can. . . yet. Nonetheless, one gets an inkling of what I can only call "miniaturization" might imply about the future.

    Therefore, if Nikon ever does come out with a mirrorless FX camera that is light and also has light lenses. . . you get the idea. I'm asking for the moon. Yet, yet, that might be where we are heading--not to the moon, but to some kind of smaller and lighter system that does everything our present big guns will do. We aren't there yet, and I am not about to dump my Nikon gear as long as I can lug it around. I can see into the future, though, and it isn't only about cameras and lenses. It's also about shoulders and wrists and knees and things that I took for granted the last time I got crazy about going into the mountains--along about the late nineteen sixties. It isn't thus only about the limits of technology. It is also about the limits of the aging human body and the increasing appeals of things lighter and more portable, especially if they can be made to be as fast and as reliable as what we have today. Five to ten miles out into the wilderness, one starts to think about these things as one's personal odometer keeps clicking over yet one more year and associated miles--and as creaking knees and aching shoulders prophesy about things to come.

  8. But, really, why do I keep shooting Nikon? This thread by Matt Laur pretty well sums it up. Sure, it could all have been done with other gear, but. . . it wasn't. Nikon is still magic after all these years.

  9. I like the old Nikons and up still now. If Nikon goes mirrorless which they may have to then I won't be buying Nikon. If all others only offer mirrorless then I won't my new cameras any more. So that's why I keep shooting Nikon now since they didn't change yet.

    So I don't want them to change but they must change to survive.
    Landrum Kelly likes this.
  10. Looking over my collection of camera gear that extends back to 1845, one trend is clear. The gear was becoming smaller up to about the introduction of the Nikon F4. For the past ~30 years it began to get larger/heavier again, at least until mirrorless began catching on. I think people still value compactness and lightness and the past 30 years have been an anomaly. I sometimes only take either my Leica IIIc with tiny Leica 28/50/90mm or my Nikon F3T with small AiS 28/50/105mm on extended outings. They are easy to carry and hassle free on airline trips. This is what Nikon needs to do: come out with updated Nikon S or early F cameras and a set of very compact lenses. Leica does it. Voigtlander/Cosina does it. Contax did it. Canon did it. Nikon did it. A few weeks ago I was climbing Mt. Rainier and carrying the Nikon F3T + light Feisol tripod and having a great time. On the uphill I passed up a couple of guys with what looked like 40 pound camera packs who had stopped to catch their breath and sweat. Was the extra 35 pounds of gear really going to make their photos better than mine? Maybe I should just sell off everything and buy a Sony A7-something and three Leica lenses........

    Kent in SD
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  11. If Nikon goes mirrorless which they may have to then I won't be buying Nikon.
    Maybe it wont be an "either. . . or" thing, Bebu. Maybe Nikon will simply give additional choices.

  12. While it certainly is true that the Sony A7 Series and the A9 are lighter than even the lightest Nikon FX DSLR bodies (Df, D750) - an advantage that can be felt every time the camera is used - at least for the time being, this doesn't translate into a much lighter camera bag when comparable lenses are used.

    My "grab bag for everyday/landscape shooting" contains two D810, 16-35/4, 70-200/4, Sigma 50/1.4 Art. Replacing that with two A7R II, 16-35/4, 70-200/4, Zeiss 50/1.4 saves about a 1 1/2 lbs in weight and leaves a bit more space on account of the smaller and lighter Sony camera bodies. I call it equal on the spare battery side in view of the fact that while I need to carry more Sony batteries, they are also only about 2/3 of the weight of the Nikon ones. Comparing the Zeiss 35/1.4 with the Sigma 35/1.4 Art gives a tie as far as weight is concerned. Replacing the 70-200 in either bag with either the Sony 100-400 or the Nikon 80-400 adds a 1/2 lb penalty to the Nikon bag. So even in the "worst case scenario", the best I could hope for is a weight reduction of less than 2 1/2 lbs. Given that most of that additional weight is in the camera body, it will make itself felt every time I handhold the camera; hence the bag weight probably isn't the best metric here.

    If I were to replace the A7R II with the Leica SL, a mirrorless camera body about the size of the D810, the weight advantage of mirrorless shrinks the same amount as if I replaced the D810 bodies with D750 ones. Of course, an A9 weight substantially less than a Nikon D5 or Canon 1DX II (even if the A9 is equipped with the battery grip) but he question is whether it can withstand the rigors of everyday pro use and abuse.

    To me personally, the small size of the A7/A9 bodies is quite welcome when I use them with small lenses (like the 28/2 or my adapted Voigtlander M-mount lenses) but much less so when something larger like the 70-200/4 is attached. Then I feel the need to attach the external battery grip (welcome anyway since at least the A7 batteries drain very fast; the A9's new higher-capacity battery is certainly welcome) which negates any weight or size advantage of the mirrorless body over the DSLR. I had the same issue with the smaller-size Nikon DX DSLR bodies (like the D7100/D7200) - fine with smaller lenses but attach a 80-400 and the external battery grip became a necessity. In addition, small camera body size usually amounts to rather poor ergonomics.

    Most Sony FE lenses are as big and as heavy as their DLSR counterparts, though with the recently announced Sony 16-35/2.8 and 12-24/4 Sony releases two lenses there appears to be a significant decrease in weight (not necessarily bulk though).

    Another reason why adapted Canon and even A-mount Sony lenses don't do all that well on the Sony mirrorless bodies.

    A bit over 1 kg (or almost 2 1/2 lbs). You'd have to be willing to carry twice as much when going to an APS-C body (like Nikon D7500 or Fuji XT-2) and a 80-400 or 100-400 lens). For FX, a 150-600 would do the trick - but now you are at a minimum of 2 kg for the lens alone.

    Much of the mirrorless vs DSLR debate still seems to be focused on a size and weight advantage. While a weight reduction is undeniable, a size reduction at least in my book is not necessarily an advantage. The A9 now clearly demonstrates what mirrorless has to offer that a DSLR can never match. That's were the true advantages are and that's what I hope Nikon is focusing on.

    The F3T is about the same weight as the D750. And replacing those AiS lenses with comparable AF-S ones isn't going to make the bag much heavier either.

    None of the digital Leica is as small as the screwmount Leicas were. Neither are today's Leica lenses. A Leica bag may be smaller but be still quite heavy.
    Last edited: Jun 18, 2017
  13. Mirrorless is here to stay so it only makes sense for Nikon to ante up. The size debate of mirrorless vs DSLRs has life to it when certain mirrorless lenses come into play. A few Fujinons for X cameras are big, but a big lens on a small camera is still smaller, or smallish.
  14. Not sure why there's such a clamor for Nikon to make an F-mount mirrorless. What, exactly, would Nikon bring to the table that isn't already offered by Fuji, M43 and Sony? I use both EVIL and SLR cameras since both have advantages and I don't plan to give up either. But I'm outside Nikon's demographics, so maybe if photographers under 35 are mainly buying mirrorless cameras if makes sense for Nikon to enter the market. Hopefully a better effort than Canon's M series.
  15. If any Nikon MILC abandons the F mount, then it confirms the company's utter lack connection with its customers and the wider market. A new mount for its MILCs would likely be a tombstone. Though I'm hopeful, I can't help but think Nikon just doesn't get it and can't see past the DSLR. I've been shooting a Fuji X100T since last September and usually opt for it over my D7200.
  16. Using the F mount on the MILC is a disaster.
  17. Using the F mount on the MILC is a disaster.
  18. Really? If Nikon ditches the F mount for its MILC, they're done.
  19. So Nikon is in the catch 22. Using the F mount for a MILC system would make the system worse than any of the competitor.
  20. You don't need an optical finder for a camera when you can land a jet using the heads-up display. 75+ years ago, part of flight training was in a Link simulator with the hood down. Like a modern jet, an EVF displays a lot of information you can use to make intelligent decisions, like an electronic level (aka artificial horizon). Looking at the Nikon D5, what more would you ask of a DSLR (besides an EVF)?

    The future is mirrorless cameras with EVFs and interchangeable lenses (aka MILC). There are fewer moving parts. Autofocusing is based on sensors in the image plane, not the floor of the camera, tucked behind the mirror. The lenses themselves are not required to clear a moving mirror, which means lenses shorter than 90 mm or so can be either simpler and less expensive, or more highly corrected than anything for an SLR.

    It's not that Nikon or Canon don't have the technology, rather the change requires a fundamental change in camera systems from what they have developed over many years. They would also face competition with a 5 year (or more) head start. Most important, every MILC sold would be one less DSLR out the door. That's not the kind of innovation large companies cherish. I suspect boardroom discussions are getting pretty testy, and old-school executives are packing their parachutes.
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