Why There Should be a Nikon D700 Followup

(commentary)

A month before the D500 was announced, I wrote an article about why Nikon absolutely needed a followup to the D300. (Not that I hadn’t written about that before ;~). Even before then—and especially now that the D5/D500 combo has been launched—I was getting emails from people who insist that there needs to be a followup to the D700, too.

The case for a D700 followup isn’t quite as clear as the need for a D300 followup. Moreover, Nikon made some moves in the FX space that seem to suggest that they aren’t interested in making a D700 followup.

First, let’s go back to the D3 era. The D3 and D300 were announced simultaneously and were fairly close to being an FX flagship with a DX clone. Much like the D5/D500 relationship today. The D700 came a year later and basically was the small body (D300 type) with the large sensor (D3 type). The D3x eventually appeared, rounding out a quartet of very satisfying bodies, though the D3x was strangely priced very, very high.

Because the introduction of FX with three models in fairly rapid succession was something big for Nikon, I closely tracked sales of these models via a number of sources, but public and private. Three of the four cameras were big “wins” for Nikon (D3, D300, D700) and altered the Canon/Nikon market share relationship for pro and enthusiast cameras in Nikon’s favor for several years. Even the D3x did well enough to destabilize Canon’s reputation (via the 1Ds) of highest resolution full frame body. 

But here’s the catch: what I saw was that the D700 hurt D3 sales. Indeed, it wasn’t until the D3s—with a new, better sensor—came along a year after the D700 that the big pro body picked back up and countered some of that cannibalization. 

As I’ve written before, Nikon is cannibalization-phobic. They’re very, very careful about introducing something that might undercut one of their successful products, so much so that we sometimes get weird product feature inclusions that don’t make it to multiple bodies, such as the swivel LCDs of the D5xxx and D750 (and now D500). Nikon is playing the old Japanese CES product line game right down to the letter. Introduce high, then create a line underneath that with arbitrary feature/performance reductions to hit particular, lower price points.

Which brings me to why I don’t think Nikon will take the D5 sensor and put it in a D500/D810 type body: where would it slot in price? We already have a log jam from US$2000 to US$3300 (D500 to D810) that also includes the D610, D750, and Df, all three of which need updates. Introducing a D700 followup with the D5 sensor into that pricing arena is almost out of the question, as it would simply steal sales from other existing cameras in addition to stealing D5 sales. So I don’t think Nikon will make such a beast.

That said, I’ll continue to advocate for a more rational product lineup, and that includes a D700 followup. In order to work, such a product has to be at or above the D810 price point, though, and it will probably require that a D5s that has some substantive additions to it when it comes a year later. So here’s how I would have slotted the pro/enthusiast cameras (and this list is probably in order of increasing cost):

  • D500 — Sole DX variation, basically a scaled down D5
  • D850x — 50mp upgrade to the D810
  • D850h — 20mp upgrade to the D810 using D5 sensor for speed camera
  • D5/D5s — Flagship, with significant additions in its mid-term update
  • D5x — 50mp sensor in D5 body

This would allow the serious Nikon shooter to choose their poison: 

  • D5/D500 gives you a very nice large sensor/small sensor combo with very few differences as you switch. You use the D5 for lower light, the D500 for more reach. Both can back up the other in a pinch.  Different batteries and accessories.
  • D850x/D850h gives you two identical smaller bodies with different photographic traits: pixels or speed. Same batteries and accessories.
  • D5/D850x gives you two differently-sized bodies and with different photographic traits: small with pixels, big with speed. Different batteries and accessories.
  • D5/D5x gives you two identical large bodies with different photographic traits: pixels or speed. Same batteries and accessories.
  • D5/D500/D850x is the “one of each” approach. You’re covered on pixels, speed, reach. Different batteries and accessories.

Personally, I’d find that a very strong and compelling lineup. In essence, Nikon would tend to own the serious still photographer seeking a DSLR with a lineup like this, much as they started to do with the D3/D3x/D300/D700 quartet. Why Nikon let three of those four strong cameras go fallow is a story that needs to be discovered and told some day, I think. The D4 era really tried to sell those same photographers a different line, and frankly, the D4 sold poorly, there were no D400 sales, and the only thing that really worked was making a cheaper D3x in the D700 body (e.g. D800/D800E). 

So, yes, I believe that Nikon should make a D700 followup (state of the art FX speed sensor in smaller body). But I’d be surprised if they do it. Nikon sells too many D750’s these days, and that makes the “market room” for such a followup camera narrower and tougher to get right. As I note above, it really would have to live at the D8xx level and price, minimum. 

Still, having D850x/D850h and a D5/D5x twins really is something that would appeal to every serious Nikon shooter. Indeed, look at Sony with the A7s, A7, and A7r lines: same body, different sensor/performance tuning, take your choice. The fact that I can pick an A7s/A7r combo and have two very different capabilities in exactly the same body with exactly the same accessories definitely simplifies my Sony bag. But I can’t really do that with Nikon DSLRs. Nikon is unnecessarily complicating our bags, and that’s after producing perfectly uncomplicated ones for a full pro generation. It’s time we got back to that. 

So, Nikon, if you’re listening: I know you folks in Tokyo have seen my survey numbers on the D300 followup and now know that they were right: the D500 is going to sell quite well. But did you see my survey numbers on a D700 followup? They predict the same thing from the same audience ;~). Simple solution: when you update the D810, split it into pixel and speed twins. 

 

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