[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.

Nikon's Full-Frame 36MP D800

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 8x10 or even 13x19 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 13x19 or even 17x22 print. Crank that still-fairly-high ISO up to it's 'Hi' settings and you can still get a great-looking 8x10. 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.

Nikon D4 with the New WT-5 Wireless Transmitter

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.

The Future…

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...

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RR's picture

Great Article, I also dislike the XQD format (size wise) and I think Nikon left the CF slot just in case they go back, even that little screw on top of the XQD card gives me the idea that the whole slot receiver is removable.. they should have an option via Nikon Service shops to remove the XQD card and provide a 2 CF slot receiver. 

Something gives me an idea that Nikon is going more in to ¨selling¨ than in to contributing to the art of photography, some times I miss the old conservative CEO Nikon had.

I think the D4 address the video issues, but two things will slow its addoption as viable option.

1. Price
2. Canons video lead time in innovation

I do not think that Canon was surprised by anything that Nikon announced due to insiders and analyst forecasting competitors strategies. I do think Canon postponed the 5DM3 announcement to one up Nikon. People will need a very good reason to use Nikon for D4 Video as the new Canon's will match or exceed the new Nikon's in everything (except continuous auto-focus). But I do think that if the 5DM3 is not at lease 25MP, then Nikon will gain market share vs Canon on the mid-level market.

Ultimately, there all just stinking cameras that someone needs to capture/create images. I am getting a D800 next to be a tweener for a MF w/leaf shutters. I wan to be in MF, and I think Nikon saw that market as a potential playing field for growth. Good move by NIkon. 

I also think that the D7000 and the D300s will both be replaced by the same camera...16-24mp D8000 APS-H or C. The success of the D7000 hurt the D300s sales in a big way and Nikon did not include this in their public statements on there business. I am sure that there was a huge drop in sales on the D300s once the D7000 won critical acclaim.

I could be totally off base 'cause I am not an insider, but we shall see in the coming year.

Great article! 

Thanks for the response. I agree on your first two points. But price will come down to be more affordable to prosumers and hobbyists in the future, as that line always does.

As for the 5DM3, I think 22MP will be okay. I'm not entirely clear on this golden ratio for cutting video down, but some have been reporting on the fact that 22MP is particularly good for video as it sizes down to HD quite nicely somehow. Therefore, it may make this ideal.

That is a good part about XQD. And then that's why I wish Nikon would have chosen one or the other... I mean really, though, when will we see any significant leaps toward that theoretical goal that CF cards won't be able to do? We're at least a few years off...

Uh, Nikon put dual card slots in the D7000. Nice research.

And in the D3 line. I just meant in the D700/D800 pro/semi-pro line... But thanks :-)

That may have been what you meant, but that's not what you said. The way you worded it made it seem like it was the first time Nikon has ever done this. :)

also, the d300s

vladimir byazrov's picture

Canon has to introduce eos 3d camera already. I had film one and it was amazing. I simply don't care about Nikon as both Canon and Nikon are almost the same thing, so I chose one of them twenty years ago and stick to it "happily ever after".

The key reason for not building in wireless is because they would have to build different bodies to meet the varying radio frequency regulations in different countries. Now they have one body and various much cheaper to build WT-5's. 

Great point. Then again, this would be a great excuse for them to protect domestic sales as they try to do by only offering warranty service on non-grey-market products... This would really push that message to the consumer...

Dual band antennas already exist and changing betweel multiple frequencies shouldn't be an issue. 2,4Ghz band is open but 5Ghz is also an option with less interferences, though less signal refraction.

Whatever the reason is that Nikon didn't include wireless on their cameras, international regulations shouldn't be the limiting factor.

Patrick Hall's picture

International regulations is the same reason we don't have wireless radio flashes either...

Which makes sense.

HOWEVER, it seems crazy that Nikon hasn't released an adapter that allows for radio based CLS/AWL.

It would be much easier than releasing region-specific bodies, and they would no doubt sell like hotcakes.

I know the PocketWizard flex system allows for this already, but it is still not as straightforward as the RF CLS/AWL system. I would buy the Nikon system in a flash (pun intended).

Of course it would be possible to build in transceivers that would cover all the necessary bands, but the regulations in the various countries do not permit the CAPABILITY to operate on the banned frequencies (those banned frequencies are often reserved for military and government use). It would be costly and inconvenient for Nikon to modify cameras for specific countries, even then I am not sure the cameras would be allowed since they could possibly be modified to work again on those frequencies. 

When Nikon was asked about why they did not build in wireless the above reason was given in addition to the fact that if Wi-Fi standards change or improve, it will be much easier to make quick changes to an external transceiver. 

NIgel King's picture

It will be interesting to see if there is open competition to building the WT-5.

Interesting thing is that while the D800 is a great fashion camera, many would prefer a full body camera for the vertical shutter.  Yes, we can get a battery grip, but it's not entirely the same (with a lot of wasted space where it joins).

"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."
Why or what exactly is nikon lacking on that front?

FullHD uncompressed 4:2:2 output on HDMI, variable audio gain and the possibility to monitor it as well...

If i understood right there is no difference between the D4 and the D800 when it comes to video

Exactly. You can't do that on a Canon.

not for the next few months at least

Daf's picture

Ha - I would have preferred something between the D4 and D800 (your 
7fps 24mp  camera) - I do lots of nightlife photography (nightclubs, DJs, gigs etc) so would like good High ISO performance, and sometimes do studio/portaits - so would like the Mpx. 
(Not full time so can't justify 2 cameras and the D4 is out of my budget anyway)Although there are many specialist photographers out there - I believe there are more who will do whatever work comes their way and so an in-between camera would sell.

A Y R T O N 3 6 0's picture

blah blah blah  Those canon guys are always like that :0(

Michael L's picture

Although a 36 Mpx sensor is impressive and very nice for fashion work and similar I still think that a lot(most?) would have preferred a compromise between speed and resolution.
A resolution of 24-28 Mpx with 8-9 fps would have been able to satisfy most people in both camps.
Having a camera that can shoot 14 fps is getting ridiculous - It's just "spray and pray" shooting.

Getting a good compromise would instead allow us to shoot fashion and similar while also being able to shoot action pictures(Snowboarding etc.) without having to compromise or buy several cameras.
And it doesn't make sense to be able to buy a $3000 for studio/fashion shooting and then having to pay double that to get a second body that can shoot at high fps instead. It's a weird combo that makes no sense.

Give me a fullframe 24 Mpx, 8 fps camera with the video functions and weather-sealing like the D800 and then you will have a hit that even trumps the 5D Mark II.

Your remark about the Nikon being behind in video is misplaced - It's true that Canon was first with the 5D Mark II, but the options given by the D4/D800 is clearly better than the 5D - So Nikon has the lead.

totally and completely agree.   and so do thousands of other pros and enthusiasts who have either owned the fantastic D700 or who have been waiting to make the jump up to such a camera.  We shoot in clubs, in wedding halls, our kids basketball games...you name it-give us a full frame sensor with a few more megapixels than 12, and a some slight ISO improvements on the high end (a stop or two would be fine), and I'm laying down my cash today.  I afford or lug around the D4, and I'm not shooting the landscapes or the fashion runways that would justify gigantic files.  

Yeah... Well, depending on pricing, then Nikon wouldn't be selling as many D4s or D800s. And that's a problem for stockholders....

Leo Hoang's picture

Personally, I think this D800 was created and was supposed to be put into production last year, but then with the natural disasters that occured, it slowed them down from actually putting it out there, and in effect, it would've given Canon a bench mark to just beat. Then Canon would have had a whole year to see what Nikon have done, and just try improve on it. Now with the 5DMK3 and D800 being released within the same year, they've made it more difficult for Canon.

Reasons why I feel the D800 was developed last year is because the lack of XQD Cards. Personally I don't trust the XQD Card, as these cards are expensive and will be dead technology soon. Sony have a bad reputation with releasing Storage Media which do not last (MiniDisc, MemoryStickPro).

But point being is that they developed the camera, spec'd it up in such a way where it would be released without that card type, and then the had to delay it's announcement/release, then the card type came out, and D4 was being developed and then incorporated it into that model instead, and not updated their design for the D800.

In addition, the lack of compatibility with the WT-5... Again, it seems to me they developed the D800, and then closed the books on that design and left the announcement waiting. Then they designed the D4, and WT-5, didn't make the WT-5 Backwards compatible, but with the design for D800 already completed and closed, they just didn't bother with updating it's compatibility with WT-5.

That's my opinion... so I think this camera would be revolutionary and big essential purchase if it was released last year. But this year with it being released against other tech, it looks less attractive.

I personall will still buy it as I cannot afford the D4, and D3s is still out of my reach, and D700 I don't feel is worth stepping up from a D7000.

D800 hopefully will be worth it's AutoFocus System alone... as the D7000 AF is a bit unreliable at times.

I am new to Photography, and I don't claim to be the most informed person, but from what I'm reading, this is what I understand. But from what I'm reading, this is how I understand the situation. What's your thoughts?

Nikon always goes small and moves up.

It hasn't killed the D4x.

The D7000 Killed D300s? lol...

Did the D70 kill the D2h?

Resolution isn't everything, and sooner than we know it, Nikon will be blowing away their D800 with the D4x sometime next year.

(Once they're done selling enough D800s, that is).

The way I see it, both Canon & Nikon seem to be slimming down their lines of cameras.  2 pro bodies with different feature sets.  1 semi pro body, and an array of amateur cameras... for revenue purposes of course.  Although I'm not too savvy on the specs of the 800, I haven't given up on Nikon and know that in another year there will be a camera that I just "have to have".