Should Nikon Release Another Flaghip DSLR Camera?

Nikon dropped the price of its legendary D850 by almost 15 percent last week, and retailers have rapidly run out of stock as a result. Given the demand for a DSLR that’s more than three years old, is the idea of a D850 successor looking like a smart move for the Japanese manufacturer?

Nikon slashed the price of the D850 less than two weeks ago, bringing it to $2,496.95 — a massive $500 discount on its longstanding price of $2,996.95. When launched in 2017, the D850 had a price tag of $3,299.

The discount seems to have proven popular, as Nikon Rumors spotted that three of the biggest retailers —B&H Photo, Adorama, and Amazon — are all reporting that they are now awaiting stock. You can still place an order for a discounted D850, but you will have to wait up to a month for it to be shipped. Customers were certainly excited when news of the discount arrived, but it’s hard to judge the significance of the retailers’ empty shelves, as we don’t know how many that had sitting around in the first place.

The Nikon D850. One of the best cameras ever made?
You don’t have to look far to find a photographer who says that the D850 is the best camera that they’ve ever owned. Is this camera so good that Nikon is now a victim of its own success? If uptake of Nikon’s new mirrorless full frame cameras has been slow, it might in part be thanks to the fact that too many hardened Nikon shooters have already got the perfect camera and don’t see any reason to give it up for something else. Some could even wait for a third-generation Z 7 before finally making the move over to mirrorless.

Nikon is slated to release a D880 (D860? D900? All guesses welcome) in the first couple of months of next year. Will this D850 successor feature a 60-megapixel sensor (courtesy of Sony), or will it be closer in line with the recently announced Z 7 II (due to ship in December), allowing Nikon more overlap in terms of components?

The Nikon Z 7 II. $2,996.95 and expected to ship in December.
There are good arguments for making another DSLR: the research and development is already largely in place, and given that demand seems to be there, Nikon would be foolish not to capitalize on a design that was probably already well advanced long before the Nikon’s first mirrorless camera came to market. Given its financial challenges, Nikon needs to sell cameras, and a final flagship DSLR would be giving customers what they want and bringing in some much-needed revenue. I’d argue that Nikon has far fewer hybrid shooters waiting for headline-grabbing video specs and far more stills-only shooters who love the all-round performance of the D850.

All of this speculation comes as we wait to see what Nikon has in store with the mooted Z 8 and Z 9 cameras. According to Nikon Rumors, we could be as much as a year away from seeing a mirrorless equivalent to the Nikon D6, and a high-resolution equivalent of the D850 is also subject to plenty of rumor-mongering. The speculation all seems to overlap confusingly, but it would make sense to me for Nikon to try to have the D6 equivalent ready at least for testing during next summer's Olympics (fingers crossed). 46 megapixels, 20 frames per second, 8K 30p, and blackout-free shooting are all being discussed, and Nikon fans will hope that the Japanese manufacturer continues its recent progress when it comes to autofocus.

What do you think? Will a final flagship DSLR give Nikon some valuable sales? Or does it risk impacting its own mirrorless sales? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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28 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Short answer - YES (I still believe there is demand for DSLRs)

I'd be looking at an updated flagship APS-C DSLR. The D500 is an outstanding camera but wouldn't mind a refresh for wildlife photography.

Ziggy Stardust's picture

Nikon has given up on DX lenses and has never offered a DX supertelephoto. It's two years behind in delivering the promised D500 firmware upgrade. That tells us what it thinks of the future of APS-C.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm not much interested in DX lenses rather an APS-C body. There's enough other lenses to compliment a new body.

Arjo Kleinhuis's picture

My guess is that Nikon will bring out a D950. Why shouldn’t they? Lots of people including me are having F-mount lenses, and when it comes to zoomlenses, they will find out that they are a little less sharp on a Z-mount. I would buy it. And if not a D950, i will buy the D850 anytime.

Richard Richard's picture

What would it offer that the 850 doesn't?

Arjo Kleinhuis's picture

That’s a good question. Probably an AF videomode? Would you buy a D850 today?

john horwell's picture

I'm hoping faster, I'm not interested in 60MP or video but I would like to see a D880 (or whatever they decided to call it) have a minimum of 11fps

Rob Sheppard's picture

yeah, D6x please

Mark Alameel's picture

I do not believe this is telling of a higher demand of DSLRs but of quality cameras with a cheaper price that just happen to be a DSLR. I'd also venture to say that the Canon R5 would be selling even more if it had a $500 discount but it wouldn't mean that mirrorless has taken over yet.

Further, there are a lot of people that feel the upgrade to the final DSLR flagship is a cheaper option that still greatly improves their equipment.

The price drop made the difference, that's all.

Kurt Hummel's picture

There is definitely a market for DSLRs still, especially at the right price. Last month Canon lowered the price of its 5dsr from around $3800 to $1400 to clear out inventory and lots of people picked it up.

I’m not sure that Nikon or Canon could release a new dslr today in the 3-4K price range and sell big numbers.

Richard Richard's picture

If they added some of the benefits of mirrorless like IBIS it might do okay, but the cost of production might outweigh sales. Better to focus on MILC and the Z mount and lenses. And the 850 is widely regarded as the best DSLR ever made and is 3 years old. Not sure a successor is called for, it simply wouldn't be that popular.

J Cortes's picture

IBIS doesn’t have to be exclusive to mirrorless . The Pentax K1 has had IBIS since its first version . However , I agree Nikon should focus on its Z system . Still the a D850 with IBIS and better video specs ala D780 sounds tempting .

Paul Scharff's picture

I can't imagine a FF camera that does more than the D850.

Graham Rogers's picture

I bought the D850 as soon as it was available here and have loved using it for my photography. However I have almost never used the video features. I am confident I am not alone here. If these were stripped out a less expensive camera might be possible. And like others, I firmly believe there is still a market for the DSLR.

Michael Krueger's picture

Mirrorless is the future but I still use DSLR and have nothing against buying another.

Michael Krueger's picture

It's pretty obvious the direction technology is moving, like it or not.

Billy Paul's picture

Seems appropriate and worth repeating when commenting on an article about should Nikon develop a new DSLR .

As for the article question Nikon should release another flagship DSLR if they think the return on development and manufacturing investment will be higher than the same investment in their new mirrorless range. I very much doubt they think that.

Easy enough for them to churn out some more D850s if they can still make a profit selling them cheap, however, it may not be wise to compete on price with themselves.

Doug Birling's picture

James you're not alone, I'm not sure why everyone wants to buy a new camera AND a whole new set of lenses, talk about getting screwed and liking it. Sony was outselling Canon not because the camera was mirrorless, but because if had way better technology. The little I would save in camera size with a mirrorless is nothing compared to all the flash and grip gear I lug around on a shoot.

Kurt Hummel's picture

You certainly don't have to buy a new set of lenses. I picked up the R5 a few weeks ago and only use EF lenses on it and don't have any plans on buying RF lenses anytime soon. I won't be buying anymore EF lenses though.

John Nixon's picture

Of course there’s still a demand for DSLRs, that’s why they still sell. My D850 is a great camera - once there’s a mirrorless equivalent that can exceed the AF performance, start-up time and battery life of the D850, I’ll consider it. If a D880 came along first I’d consider that too but it would need more benefits than just more megapixels - the D850 has quite enough for my needs.

fred lefeuvre's picture

Am I the only one who don't like mirrorless ? I hope Nikon will keep on making awesome DSLRs

Douglas Turney's picture

You aren't the only one. Well at least the mirrorless ones I've tried. Not impressed enough to make the jump yet.

Mark Harris's picture

I think month-long queues for a 3-year-old D850 suggests that there might still be a demand for DSLRs...

Ziggy Stardust's picture

We're several years down the track with Nikon FF mirrorless and they still haven't released a pro version. They're fiddling at the margins with the Z6 and Z7 mark IIs. Is it anything to crow about to wait for two years to get workable eye AF? Only in Nikonia.
So anyone wanting the best mirrorless has changed to Canon or Sony. Nikon is into cost cutting so it will be fiddling at the margins of DSLR as well. When was the last time it lead the market with a technical innovation?

Robert Lype's picture

For shooters who stick with a camera body set it to suit their needs and develop at style then wear the camera out and buy the same body used this is a bonus. Working here in Fairbanks where working out in the cold is a norm for me the mirrorless would be nice but from expirence over the past two weeks have seen to many issues with the new technology,
I love to see an upgrade on DSLR's once you develop a style with a system that works why would I want to change at 59 years old its hard to convince us old guys that newer is better

A M's picture

As the author mentioned, Nikon does have to build its sales of cameras. No matter how great your product, if it's priced beyond the reach of the broader market, youre going to watch competitors chipping away at your market share. The D850 was indeed a big hit as a challenger to the 5D. I did wonder at the time if Nikon should have been a bit more 'incremental' with the 850 innovations & design and left some room for a replacement in a shorter time frame. I did read a few stories about Nikon lifers taking their 850 purchases back because they felt the money didn't justify replacing their earleir 800 series gems. It's refreshing to know there are people who prefer to maximize the potential of what they already have.

There is still a place for more DSLR innovation - especially in the weight reduction category. It's getting to the point where many photographers require a camera 'caddy'.

Kurt Hummel's picture

Pentax has had IBIS in their DSLRs for ten years maybe, even their entry level bodies come with it.

L Powell's picture

I upgraded from a Nikon D610 to a D780 last spring and it's been such a great move. In every way it's a Z6 with a Nikon F-mount and a traditional DSLR viewfinder. The new sensor has over a stop more dynamic range than the D610 with no perceptible noise at ISO 12800. I also shoot 4K HDR video with the D780 HDMI output to a Ninja V and it performs flawlessly (though it does lack the Z6's IBIS stabilization). For shooters like me with a broad collection of F-mount lenses, I see no compelling reason to switch to a full-frame mirrorless camera.