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27th Jul 2010

Nikon DSLR’s in 2010, Revisited

A few months ago we published our prediction for Nikon DSLR releases this year (see Nikon DSLR’s in 2010). We are now over half way through the year, Nikon has yet to release a new DSLR, so it’s time for a quick update. Here is what we previously predicted for this year:

1) D3xs to replace the D3x, adding video, and possibly ISO and other improvements.
2) D700 to be replaced by either a D700s/D700x combo or a higher resolution D800 with a new sensor (all options with video).
3) D90 to be replaced with D90s, with an outside chance of a new sensor in a D7000.
4) Remote (?) possibility of an EVIL camera announcement around Photokina in September.

What has changed since then? Lets go through these one by one:

1) Nikon D3Xs:

Nikon updated the Nikon D2X with a D2Xs, they also updated the D3 with a D3s, so it follows that a D3Xs makes sense around the time the D3x turns 2 years old (which is December this year). Does this still hold? Well, lets consider the following that may impact Nikon’s decision:

a) Canon’s current high-res pro body (the 1Ds Mark III) is lower resolution, ISO, and on most levels is inferior to the D3X. So from that perspective, Nikon has no current reason to release a D3Xs upping the ante. However a Canon 1Ds Mark IV is due, rumored to be somewhere around 32 megapixels, which may give the D3X a serious run for the money. Looking at Nikon’s timing over the past couple of years, they announced the spectacular D3s right before the Canon 1D Mark IV release, and the video enabled D90 immediately before Canon’s video enabled 5D Mark II.  If Nikon does have a new, significantly improved D3Xs up their sleeve, announcing it around the time of the impending 1Ds Mark IV release, or even just before, fits their pattern perfectly.

b) The Nikon D4 is widely expected next summer (2011). That implies a high-res D4X would also come at some point after that.  Now the D3x came well over a year after the D3 (rumored to be due to problems getting the sensor performance), so that puts a potential D4X some time around mid to late 2012.  If Canon make a huge step and leapfrog the D3X with the 1Ds Mk IV, then focusing efforts on an earlier release for the D4X and skipping the D3Xs makes a lot more sense. If this is the case, there could be no D3Xs and the  D4X could arrive some time late 2011 or early 2012.

c) Rumors Sony are considering dropping their FX sensors/cameras according to Thom Hogan. The D3X is based on a more highly developed version of the sensor made by Sony and used in their A900 camera. If the rumors are true (with emphasis on the *if*), then the decision hasn’t been made, and almost certainly it’s too late to impact a camera that is fairly advanced and scheduled for release later this year – indeed if Nikon are planning a D3Xs at Photokina or even later this year, chances are test copies are already out there being used by select pro’s. Even if this rumor is true, it’s highly unlikely it will impact a D3Xs if it’s already in process.

Given the above, we are now less confident that a D3Xs will be released this year. There is currently no pressure for Nikon to release it. However if Canon releases a higher spec 1Ds Mark IV (and they are expected too), Nikon has two ways they may respond: (i) Announce a D3Xs about the same time to try and steal some of Canon’s thunder), or (ii) Leave the D3X as is, and try to accelerate the release of a D4X to be closer to the D4 release.

If it does happen, possible announcement dates for a D3Xs are (a) Photokina in September, (b) December around the second anniversary, or (c) about a week before the Canon 1Ds Mark IV.

2) D700 Replacement/Supplement:

There are three potential cameras Nikon can release here:

(a) Nikon D700x to compliment the D700. This would presumably bring the D3X sensor into a smaller D700 body, the same way as the D700 used the D3 sensor.

(b) Nikon D700s updating the D700 with the sensor from the D3s body.

(c) A D800 (or D900) with a new sensor, rumored to be around 16-18mp, as a more general purpose camera trying to fill the demand from both sports shooters and landscape/studio shooters.

Given the above, both (a) and (b) make sense based on Nikon’s history of re-using sensors in lower end bodies (think D200->D80->D40x->D3000, or D300->D90->D5000, or D3->D700). However timing on these is usually about 9 months apart, give or take a couple of months. If a D700X was going to happen, the ideal time would have been fall 2009, so it’s now nearly a year overdue.

A D700s should be due/overdue about now, but the D3s is in very short supply (possibly because Nikon could be using the sensors to build up a D700s inventory, possibly for a host of other reasons/problems, none of which would bode well for a D700s).

A D800 (or D900) camera that offers a new sensor with a compromise on resolution and frame rate would also make sense, making for one less camera to support in the sales channel (compared with fielding both a D700s and D700x), and being closer to Canon’s 5D Mark II offering (presuming it would have advanced video).

The other consideration, is the original Canon 5D was current for over 3 years. Rumors out of Canon claim the 5D Mark II is also expected to have a 3 year life cycle, and various Nikon reps are on record as saying ‘No D700 replacement this year’. The D700 passed its second birthday earlier this month.

So what do we expect here? It’s possible Nikon hasn’t even decided yet, so this is very hard to predict. If a D700X was coming, it should have been here a while ago. A D700s should be here about now. If the next camera is a D800 (or other name), then the 3 year schedule makes sense and it may be next summer before anything is announced. If anything is going to be announced here, we’d expect it to be anytime between now and Photokina in September. If nothing is announced by Photokina, then we suspect the 3 year release cycle claims to be true and chances are we’ll see nothing to replace or update the D700 until around next summer, probably around the time a Canon 5D Mark III is announced.

3) D90 Replacement:

The D90 turns two years old in a couple of weeks, so a replacement is expected between now and Photokina in September. What would the replacement look like? There are two ways we can see this going:

(a) D90s: Based on the same 12 mp sensor, but with a brand new, second generation video implementation from Nikon (1080p). The D90 was Nikon’s first attempt at video on a DSLR, so its replacement is a logical place to debut the next gen video solution. Other evidence that supports this approach is the fact that the D300s re-used the same sensor as the D300 (and D90), so launching a D90 with a significantly better sensor (higher resolution or better ISO) would marginalize the D300s, with the D400 replacement not expected for another year.

(b) D7000: Basically a next generation camera with a brand new sensor. We haven’t heard much about a new sensor out of Nikon, and traditionally in the consumer models Nikon sensors have been based on the Sony designs. If this is released we’d expect a big step forward: perhaps a sensor with more megapixels (probably 14-18mp range), similar or even slightly better high ISO than the current D90 for example, and significantly improved video.

Whatever is released, we still expect it to be this year, to retain or improve on Nikon’s D90 as a still camera, and to become Nikon’s leading DSLR video solution. Ideally Nikon would announce this camera ahead of Photokina in September, so an announcement any time now would make sense. However if information we are hearing from what appears to he a very credible source is true, Nikon are having a lot of problems with video on the ‘new D90′: this both reinforces our belief the D90 replacement will be positioned as Nikon’s leading DSLR video solution, but also means the release may be delayed – by how long we don’t know – the D3X was very late when it finally came out, but it was worth the wait.

4) Some Kind Of EVIL or Similar Camera:

Other than a few patent filings, there has been very little of substance with regard to an Electronic Viewfinder/Interchangeable Lens (EVIL) camera from Nikon. Sony recently launched their solution (NEX Cameras), then also launched a video body that uses the same lenses, revealing their strategy. Canon has recently been very vocal about smaller DSLR’s to compete with Sony, micro 4/3rds etc (note these will not necessarily be EVIL cameras). If Nikon is going to announce anything here, Photokina in September is the most likely place to do it (and if so, most likely an announcement with the cameras being available just before Christmas at the very earliest). However we also wouldn’t be surprised if Nikon doesn’t announce anything here until next year.

5) New Entry Level Nikon:

Earlier this year we thought it unlikely that Nikon would announce a new entry level DSLR, given the D5000 and D3000 last year. However the D3000 sales have been disappointing, and in such a high volume space (D90 and below typically make up around 90% or more of Nikon’s unit volume on DSLR’s), Nikon may have to take action here. According to NikonRumors, they claim a 99% chance a D3100 is coming with a video optimized 10mp CMOS sensor with 1080p video. The current D3000 has an aging 10mp CCD sensor (which first appeared in the D200 in 1996), so if true this is a brand spanking new sensor.

Given the D3000’s dissapointing sales, a new entry level DSLR this year makes sense. However given Canon’s recent launches are 15mp plus, is launching a new 10mp sensor a massive mistake in a mass-market segment where specs sell cameras? The current D3000 doesn’t have video, so would it make sense to launch the strongest Nikon video solution yet on the absolute bottom of the line camera? The specs given a 99% by NikonRumors would also devastate Nikon D5000 sales, unless someone really wanted 12mp over 10mp (but then the video solution on the D5000 wouldn’t hold up in comparison). While a new entry level DSLR from Nikon wouldn’t be a surprise (in fact given D3000 sales it’s almost essential), the rumored D3100 specs being 100% true would surprise us. But then we’ve been surprised before…

In Summary:

We are now much less confident the D3Xs and a D700 update will happen this year. Canon’s plans for the 1Ds Mark IV will have the most significant impact on what Nikon does with regard to a D3Xs, and the D700 may well be on a 3 year release cycle.

D90 replacement we expect any time, with the biggest change being revamped video. If what we are hearing about Nikon having a lot of problems with the new video solution are true, then the announcement could be delayed weeks or even months, but this camera is about due.

Nikon needs to do something with the D3000/entry level lineup. While it’s possible they may be almost ready with an EVIL (like Sony) or ’small DSLR’ (like Canon) camera, Nikon often trails on new technology, especially if it involved a new lens mount. Putting out a D3000 replacement (possibly the rumored D3100 or similar) is a much faster and more likely solution in our opinion.

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