[Opinion] The Future of Nikon’s Pro DSLR Line-Up
Nikon shocked everyone when they released a whopping 36-megapixel, SLOW D800. No one can call this a ‘replacement’ for a D700. It’s not as fast and has three times the number of pixels. And at only $3000, they destroyed their D3x line.
So What Was Nikon Thinking?
First, Nikon realized that, while most don’t exactly need a 36MP body, it doesn’t hurt. Landscape and fashion photographers get their fill, and it’s never a ‘bad’ thing to be able to get a good 8×10 or even 13×19 headshot from cropping in on a group shot of 10+ people. In fact, that’s pretty neat. And if that isn’t ever a goal or something you might wish for in a shot every now and then, you can at least still edit the hell out of your image without any visual effects that would be noticed on a 13×19 or even 17×22 print. Crank that still-fairly-high ISO up to it’s ‘Hi’ settings and you can still get a great-looking 8×10. So more than anything, no one’s left wanting anything more in image quality…maybe a little more dynamic range, but that’s an entirely different issue present in all modern digital cameras.
Nikon learned from its last mistakes. It had to separate the D4 from the D800 in some drastic way. So naturally, the D4 became the dedicated sports camera. And I have to give them some credit. If they had compromised in either way (i.e. a single 7fps 24mp body), they wouldn’t have a camera that’s great for sports/events and one that’s great for landscape/fashion. It would simply be mediocre for both. And in any tech, that’s a bad move. Sure, Canon is expected to do this any day now (stay tuned for those updates likely to happen next week), but they’re more in it for the video with the 5D line. And Nikon is lacking on that front — again, an entirely different issue, however.
Now, Nikon could likely have given the D800 a faster processor, but it would have probably overheated without some serious venting that would take away its absolutely necessary weather-proofing. In short, we’re just not there yet on a mass-production, consumer level.
Modern Tech…Where Is It?
If anything else could be lacking, it’s compatibility and modern tech. Neither of Nikon’s recently released pro cameras had built-in wifi. When the technology was there for the D3 line, I think the bulk of us knew it could at least be possible with this line — and should be. Again, however, you have to give Nikon some benefit of the doubt. They have great engineers that know what they’re doing. And they likely could have found a way to fit a wireless antenna into these bodies…
But then we’d have several issues. The antenna would be small, so the range would suffer. And we’d have all complained about that. It would have sucked up a great deal of power, and we would have all complained about that, too. And finally, it would probably be a lower-power antenna so as to still consume as little power as possible, and we’d have all complained that it was barely faster than an Eye-Fi card.
So then Nikon gives us a WT-5 that costs almost $900 and is only compatible with the D4? Okay, here’s where they went wrong…sort of. The fact that it only works with one body is ridiculous, to say the least. It should work with any new pro/prosumer body they release between now and the next wireless adapter release. Why it doesn’t, I’m not entirely sure. It could be as simple as the fact that they couldn’t fit the plug on the side of the D800.
As for the price, Nikon’s smart. And they have stockholders to please. They realized that the people who really need this accessory can afford to pay that price. And if they’d priced it at more reasonable $300, not many more would have bought-in (because not many of us need wireless. And perhaps this is why we have an SD card slot…which bring us to the next issue.
Dual but Single?
With the D800, Nikon finally introduced dual card slots. But they’re different. Coming from a body format that previously only had one slot, I don’t see how many can complain. They likely had space issues trying to fit a second CF card slot in there, and I, for one, would have been pissed if they opted to leave out CF entirely. So the straight-up addition of an SD card slot doesn’t concern me. For those that want wireless, we can now use an Eye-Fi card without an adapter. If we need to be extremely portable, we can slide the SD card into our card readers on our Macs (Apple fans, anyone? I am…) and transfer files that way. And if you’re coming from a consumer-level DSLR, you don’t need to buy all-new memory cards. So it has its benefits.
The D4 is a different story. For one, I don’t like small cards. I like cards that I can feel between my fingers. And that leaves everything smaller than CF out. And why introduce a card ruled by a single manufacturer? Comparing speed and pricing to CF cards, the XQD slot is slightly cheaper. But it’s weird. Nikon didn’t want to alienate those not willing to switch entirely to a new card format, and so, a single CF slot was kept. In my opinion, this was a mistake.
On the bright side, it leaves room for Nikon to go back to dual CF slots in their next release if the XQD doesn’t work out (it doesn’t look like it’ll hold currently, with Lexar and Sandisk both choosing not to support the format for now…). But I think Nikon chickened out. If they wanted to be newer and better than everyone, they should have done two XQD slots. No, this wouldn’t have made me happy, exactly; but they would have stood by their decision. They really shouldn’t have changed formats. There’s nothing wrong with CF. And it has the greatest backing of any format.
Nikon may do away entirely with their ‘x’ and ‘s’ line of pro DSLRs, or maybe keep only one iteration around. If they do bring them back, they will be small updates at significantly lower cost premiums to simply ‘refresh’ the current product line. In my opinion, they’d be better off releasing a new pro camera (D5, D6, etc.) every two years. It’ll be easier to market and differentiate as time goes on and as, hopefully, they might start introducing more video-focused DSLRs as Canon is currently doing. Maybe those will become the new ‘s’ or ‘x’ lines.
Of course, this is all speculation. It’s both what I think and hope Nikon will do. Yes, eventually, they should have built-in wireless. GPS, though it’s more of a gimmick, should also be an option in the future. And we should hope to have 1080p at 60fps in the next line-up. That’s not asking too much. What I’d like most is to be able to have a wireless hard drive of some sort in my backpack that the camera can shoot directly to or at least transfer to during standby when the card starts to get full. But that may be a bit farther off…
In all, I’ll refer back to the two-year refresh. Camera tech takes the longest time to refresh out of any other tech in the world. Laptops refresh twice yearly, cameras more often, and I can’t think of the last time I waited more than a month for an app to be updated. It’s all on a scale, and camera tech lags because it’s perhaps the most niche. But in the end, I do hope we’ll see new lines every two years. It makes sense. We all waited quite some time before the D3 and D700 were replaced. Let’s hope for more updates. On my radar: A ‘sports line’ (like the D4), a ‘landscape/fashion line’ (like the D800), and a yet-to-be released, created or rumored ‘video line’ (Canon is and always has been more about this, unfortunately for us Nikon shooters). Here’s to hoping…