This Will Be Interesting

(commentary)

With Canon’s announcement of the 1Dx Mark II today, for the first time we actually have a fairly apples versus apples set of products from Canon and Nikon. 

Both the 1DxII and the D5 are 20mp. We’re going to see some very direct sensor comparisons, and someone is going to lose. 

Both cameras have new AF systems, with Canon sticking to 61-point and Nikon going to 151 point (you can only select from 53 though). Both systems have a lot of cross point sensors and both have new tracking and accuracy capabilities. We’re going to see some very direct focus comparisons, and someone is going to lose.

Canon has chosen CFast for fast storage, Nikon has chosen XQD. Someone is likely to lose in direct comparisons of buffer performance. Specs say Canon 170 shots raw, Nikon 200 shots raw, but the more interesting scenario will be buffer clearing time.

This is a bit unusual. We’ve never had two top cameras from the duopoly that are so aligned in specifications and capabilities. Generally there was always something different at the base of the performance aspects of the Canon and Nikon offerings that made absolute head-to-head comparisons not just tricky, but fairly unreliable. We were always testing apples versus oranges, it seems, and we often couldn’t agree on what kind of apple or what variety of orange.

In video, the Canon 1DxII offers some things the Nikon D5 doesn’t, so how you view the two pro cameras might depend upon on how much you value video capabilities.

We’ve also got the 7D Mark II and the Nikon D500 aligned in much the same way. Both are 20mp crop sensor cameras, and both use the pro autofocus systems of their bigger brothers. Canon stuck with CF/SD for the 7DII, Nikon went with XQD/SD for the D500. Again, we’re going to get very direct comparisons of apples versus apples and there’s likely to be a winner and loser. 

Canon skipped over 36mp for their other pro body (5Ds/r variations) and went to 50mp. My guess is that Nikon will be right at the same spot with the D810 followup, so again we’d have a fairly direct comparison between the DSLR duopoly.

This is going to be an interesting year. 

Personally, I don’t think Nikon has a lot to lose here. The somewhat lame D4 and the non-existent D400 have Nikon the underdog going into this round of Battle of the Pro DSLRs. Canon, on the other hand, does have something to lose. The 7DII isn’t going to hold ground against the D500 is my bet, just based on using a 7DII against a D7200 (the D500 has to be better than a D7200, right?). The real question is whether the 1DxII will hold ground against the D5. 

Any perception that there’s more low light ability or faster, more precise autofocus is going to tilt the market shares, I think. 

I came across my pro camera sales tracking data from 2007-2009 as I was researching this article: basically, almost immediately after launch, the Nikon D3 was the top selling pro camera in the US, and basically equalled the total sales of the Canon 1DsIII and 1DIII combined. When the D3x appeared in late 2008, the disjoint between brands got larger. Alas, Nikon didn’t hold serve during the next pro iteration. So I’m very curious to see what happens this time around.

The other interesting aspect is that Canon seems to have done a lot in the serious-compact-through-mirrorless range compared to Nikon lately. We have an interesting potential shift going on here, with Canon shoring up their lower end and just iterating the high end, while Nikon seems to be backing a bit off the low end and going all in at the high end. 

Let the games begin.


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