What the Nikon DSLR User Doesn't Want to Give Up

In the previous article I outlined the things that might make you a DSLR user over a mirrorless user. But there's a sub-component to that: things that the DSLR user simply doesn't want to give up. 

I'm going to do this for the Nikon DSLR as it's what I'm most familiar with, but a similar but different list can be made for Canon.

Here's my take from my discussions from dedicated Nikon DSLR users. They don't want to give up:

  • The D500. For a smallish group—mostly wildlife and sports photographers—there's simply no mirrorless crop sensor camera that can substitute for a D500. Even some mirrorless traits, such as focus across nearly the entire frame, are present on the D500, thus mirrorless doesn't have much of a grab on the D500 user. The only two faults of a D500? It hasn't been upgraded in five+ years, and it doesn't have an extensive set of DX lenses (buzz, buzz). A D580 with a 32mp DX sensor and mirrorless Live View is the thing that these users want. Give it to them and they'll never change.
  • The PF lenses. Yes, I know you can put these lenses on the FTZ adapter, but it isn't quite the same thing. Autofocus performance drops a bit on large focus changes, and you have another mount to worry about. These lenses just "feel right" on a DSLR.
  • Optical viewfinders. This is a more subtle and extended desire than just "see real time view."  As a lot of studio photographers have discovered, mirrorless has some liabilities in a low-ambient light environment where studio lights are being triggered for the shot. 
  • Flash autofocus. Event photographers have come to rely upon the AF Assist lamp of the Speedlight flashes, something that doesn't work at all on the mirrorless bodies. 

I'm sure there are more things to add to this list, but those are the big four I keep hearing over and over. So, what would Nikon have to do to win over this group?

  • A D500 equivalent mirrorless, call it the Z90. Same premise as the D5/D500 combo: the Z9/Z90 would be a full statement of everything possible, with the Z90 mirroring that as much as possible with a crop sensor. We know the Z9 is coming, we don't know that a Z90 is.
  • Z PF lenses. If Nikon were smart, it would bracket the existing PF lenses when they make the first Z versions. In other words, a 400mm f/4 and a 600mm f/8. Simply duplicating the 300mm f/4 and 500mm f/5.6 in the Z mount wouldn't actually entice a DSLR user to switch to mirrorless, as they already have that lens and don't want to pay for it again. 
  • Fix flash. The last two items in the above bullet list have a common element to them: using a mirrorless camera is more of a pain when using external light sources like strobes and flashes. Nikon would need to completely fix all aspects of that pain point. That won't completely satisfy the optical viewfinder lovers, but it might be enough to entice a few more of them to move to mirrorless.

What is it that you don't want to give up that's keeping you a DSLR user?                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

You're a DSLR User For Life if...

Personally, I'm liking mirrorless the more I use it, though it obviously takes some adjusting to. A lot of dedicated DSLR users don't want to do any adjusting. The typical DSLR user is older and set in their ways, so it is probably a good idea to set down some of the reasons why these folk don't (won't) want to move to a mirrorless camera:

  • Optical viewfinder — The usual complaint about EVFs is that they lag the actual scene being depicted (though they've gotten far better in recent years). But other aspects of an optical view also come into play for some. In particular, not seeing the view at an artificial brightness (happens at dawn and dusk and in other low light situations, where an EVF generally is brighter than the scene being looked at). This has implications on holding onto night vision for some. Other issues some have are due to EVF frame rates and poor presentation with continuous frame rates (though again, this has gotten better in high-end mirrorless offerings lately). Plus then there's the "viewfinder is always ready" thing that DSLR cameras have over mirrorless.
  • No adapters — While Canon, Nikon, and Sony all have excellent adapters to make most DSLR lenses work on their mirrorless systems, using adapters introduces issues. With autofocus lenses, it may mean that you have to fine-tune the lens because focus motor speeds/accuracy aren't quite the same with the extension of communication signals. Nikon made the mistake of not supporting screw-mount lenses, of which their dedicated DSLR customer probably has more than one. But the big issue is having multiple mounts in the first place. This makes for a weak point in the lens/camera handling, and the more mounts involved, the more likely that there are mount alignment issues. 
  • No conversion cost — Most long-term DSLR users have a full system; multiple bodies and many lenses. The cost of replacing perfectly good gear with "different" gear doesn't justify the potential gains in a dedicated DSLR user's mind. Nikon, in particular, needs to pay attention here: these folk would opt for a new D500 or D850 body upgrade in a heartbeat, but not for the full cost of moving to mirrorless. Moreover, there's a sizable group of these folk who are one or two items away from having a complete DSLR system (e.g. missing a lens or flash or two), and buying a couple of new items is far cheaper than changing entirely to another system.
  • Longer battery life — While generally true that DSLRs sip from the battery while mirrorless cameras suck from it, things have gotten better in the mirrorless world with many higher-end models lately. Still, there's no mirrorless camera that can be used for a week on safari on only one battery charge (I've done just that with a Nikon D5). 
  • No missing features — Yes, mirrorless does gain some features, such as IBIS, that DSLRs don't currently have. But Nikon, in particular, made a mistake by not bringing over all the D750/D850 features/controls to the Z6/Z7. In particular, buttons and customization options are missing in the Z System at the moment. Once you start to rely upon controls and customizations, going back seems like a bigger step backwards than it actually is.
  • Right size — This one is contentious, but a real issue for many: they simply don't want smaller/lighter cameras, and the lenses they use with their DSLRs make for what they feel is a good balance (particularly true for birders and sports photographers). Quite a few folk who've moved to mirrorless all comment about pinkies falling off the bottom of the grip, restrictive space for big fingers/hands around the mount, and other size-related issues. 
  • Won't deteriorate your photography — The camera companies don't get this one, and never have, frankly. Still photography is about a moment in time. You have hundreds of decisions you have to quickly make to get the best possible image. Once you've learned how to use your tool (camera/lens/flash/, forcing you to relearn a new system does deteriorate your photography, at least until you fully master the new tool (and it has all the things you need; see "no missing features," above). Who wants to go backwards in their work? No one, really. Some of us tolerate it from time to time when we realize a step backwards might eventually take us two steps forward. But the died-in-the-wool DSLR crowd isn't interested in that. 

As I was preparing this article, one thing I started to put in the above list was "No missing lenses." Unfortunately, just a few moments of thinking about that (buzz, buzz) made me realize that we still have plenty of missing lenses in the EF and F mounts. And quite a few lenses that are in need of updates. Oops. 

Other things that some think should be in the above list no longer belong there. In particular, one that keeps coming up is "Best autofocus" (in DSLRs). Nope. That ship has sailed, and will continue to sail more briskly in the future. The Sony A1 now matches my Nikon D6 in focus consistency and accuracy and control, but can do so across the entire frame, not just the central section. (Oh, and you folk using the long telephoto lenses on DSLRs realize that you're often limited to an even smaller central area, right?) Even the Nikon Z6 II and Z7 II are underrated in this respect, mostly because people aren't taking the time to learn how the new autofocus system differs from the one they've been using (see "Won't deteriorate your photography", above). 

I'm still a strong advocate for some limited DSLR upgrades in the future. By limited, I mean you can write off the consumer DSLR users who value price and convenience, so no new Rebels/Kisses/D3xxx/D5xxx). But Canon and Nikon would be well advised not to try to push too hard on dedicated DSLR users in the upper product range by ignoring all DSLR updates and just saying "move to mirrorless." Canon should create a 5D Mark V, and Nikon should create a D580 and D880 for the customers that feel strongly about the bullet list above. No, these models won't be best sellers in the future, but they'll be consistent, profitable products for several (if not many) years if made correctly. 

So. Are you a DSLR user for life, or did something in the above text make you start to rethink that position? 

What the DSLR Companies Failed to Do

Since it’s looking as if Canon and Nikon are winding down DSLRs, it’s probably a good time to consider what the companies managed to accomplish and what they failed to do. Every company should do a post-analysis of what did and didn’t work, so that they learn from their product past. 

I’m going to be tough in my analysis here. Very tough. Because I see a lot of things that weren’t done well and caused both companies to execute poorly at times. Certainly less than optimally. Which means that money was left on the table. That's actually one of the worst sins a company can commit (leaving money on the table), as ROI/ROE impacts what they can do in the future.

Let’s start with some positives:

  • Both Canon and Nikon quickly recognized how fast and how much that DSLRs would take over from film SLRs. Nikon moved more quickly and more organized initially, but Canon quickly caught up. The Nikon D100, D1h, and D1x was a rock solid introduction that offered some clear choices for the first DSLR purchasers. 
  • Canon pushed to full frame early. The number one question in the 00's was "what's this crop factor thing?" and by simply making the image sensor the size of 35mm film, that stumbling point went away. Nikon didn't get to a full frame emphasis until about 2009, when they went full in (full range of products from D600 to D4 within three years). So Nikon thus made a committed and organized attempt at transitioning as many people as possible to FX in the second decade of DSLR, starting with the D600. 
  • Nikon continued to support film SLR users for a long time during the transition, even to the point of introducing a top end film SLR with their second generation of their DSLRs.

But the negatives are a longer list:

  • The missing Nikon D400 totally lost all the momentum that the D100, D200, and D300 progression made. A lame D300s update didn’t help. By the time the D500 rolled out, many of the people who would have been in line to upgrade had gone elsewhere. Couple that with a very short term marketing effort on the D500, and the D500 underperformed in sales despite—to this day—being arguably the best crop-sensor camera on the market. 
  • Neither company did much with crop sensor lenses in the last decade, despite the fact that crop-sensor DSLRs were the bulk of their sales. Nikon, in particular, seemed to stubbornly emphasize FX lenses because they wanted to sell FX cameras. This, too, didn’t help the D500. 
  • Canon’s Rebel/Kiss lineup got 100% confusing. I couldn’t tell you the difference between any two cameras with those names without consulting a chart, particularly once we started getting deep generational overlap. This couldn’t have been efficient, particularly once peak DSLR was hit. But it continues to this day.
  • Speaking of peak DSLR, it seems that neither Canon nor Nikon correctly anticipated there being a peak, let alone when it would occur. Remember, I predicted peak DSLR with an accuracy of within six months almost a full decade before it happened. That wasn’t a random guess on my part. It was based upon both historical data and examination of household penetration potential, using a methodology I developed in my PhD work. Both companies were late with a strategy to thrive post-peak. Some might say they still don't have one.
  • Both companies have apparently punted on making further DSLR sales by updating bodies, and simply are concentrating on forcing customers to transition to mirrorless. When you do that, you’ll always lose some customers. I’m not suggesting that Canon or Nikon should continue making full DSLR model lines, but by not telling customers what will continue onward and some idea of how long, that is basically the same as telling them that nothing will carry on. I know plenty of folk that want a D500, D850, or 5D update, for instance. The minute you hint that there won’t be one, they lose confidence in their chosen brand and feel free to consider all competitors. That alone will change the duopoly from Canon/Nikon to Sony/Canon. 
  • So let’s consider what updates haven't happened in DSLRs that should have. Until the D780, no one made a DSLR whose Live View was as absolutely as good as the mirrorless choice. Pentax is the only one that’s put sensor-based IS into a DSLR. Pentax is the only one that’s put pixel-shift shooting into a DSLR. The list goes on and on of things we never got in a Canon/Nikon DSLR, and now probably never will. 
  • Removing DSLR lenses from the lineup while still trying to sell DSLRs is a really bad signal to customers, and counter productive to selling off DSLR inventories. Moreover, failing to talk about that discontinuation strategy is even worse. "Shun me now, shun me later" is what that customer is thinking. They'll go elsewhere instead of migrating with you.
  • Ironically, the parts shortages and other issues caused by the pandemic make the inventory of DSLRs more viable, but the camera companies haven't picked up on that, let alone done any marketing to adjust their sales balance. After all, that would be counter to the "transition to mirrorless" strategy they've been pursuing with customers. Unfortunately, it's difficult to sell DSLRs when the message you're sending (see above) is "no more DSLRs or DSLR lenses coming."
  • Nikon NX Field is a good example of "well, we finally got around to it for the few of you still using your top-end DSLR." Only works with a D5 or D6. Was needed five years ago when the D5 was launched. Worse still, I'm an NPS member and still don't know exactly what it will cost me, let alone when I could start using it. Terrible execution.
  • Do we have any Ambassadors or Explorers left who aren't shilling for mirrorless now? It was inevitable that once the companies decided to transition from DSLRs that they'd enlist their closest pros to help them with that. But they neglected to leave a few "Hey DSLR users I'm still here and here's why" spokespeople around. (This also points to the previous bullet: had NX Field been introduced and touted as a top DSLR improvement at the time of the Z mirrorless launches, the lack of an A9 competitor wouldn't have been so painful. In other words "pros we're still helping you with your top-end DSLRs, but you in the middle without such high needs might want to transition to a new experience.")                                                                                                                            

Yearly Site Cleanup

I've just finished my yearly site maintenance for, including a fair bit of site cleanup. Here are a few of the main tasks I did this year:

  • Removed the sidebar from all pages. This will clean up some responsive Web site issues for mobile users.
  • Since search was in the sidebar, a search form was added to the home page (also in About).
  • I'll also be adding "buy the book" buttons on reviews and data pages for cameras on which I have a book.

Because I removed the sidebar, that removed the B&H presence on each page. To compensate for that, I've added a B&H banner ad at the bottom of each page. I really do appreciate you using that (or the other B&H links on data pages) to start any shopping you do at B&H, as it helps support this Web site. I'm trying to keep site clutter to a minimum, but if this B&H ad move changes this site's buying traffic to B&H I might have to re-consider. 

Nikon's NX Field System

Nikon has partly announced something they call the NX Field System. Why do I say "partly announced"? Because there are costs and back-to-Nikon firmware updates involved that haven't been disclosed yet. Nor is it clear that the system is truly available today, even though the NX Field System user manual is publicly available. (Update: Nikon now says it will be available starting June 17th for the D5 and D6.)

But D5 and D6 users should soon be able to use this new triggering and remote software system.

Let's start with triggering: the NX Field System connects up to 11 cameras via either Ethernet (LAN) or Wi-Fi (WT-5 or WT-6 only). Ethernet is preferred (and that's repeated several times in the manual, which means that Nikon really means it ;~). You can trigger multiple cameras via either a Master camera or via a mobile device (iPhone or iPad only at present). 

Moving on, we also have automatic uploading (via FTP) to servers, synchronization of camera clocks, setting adjustments for remote cameras, previewing of remote cameras, reviewing images stored on remote cameras, and defining groups of cameras, with more capabilities likely in the future.

Nikon seems to be initially promoting the NX Field System through NPS (Nikon Professional Services), and that's likely due to the complexity of setup. If you haven't configured an FTP server or wired networks before, you may need some handholding to get through all the possible complexities. Things like NAT Traversal add additional layers of complexity that might limit what you can do, too.

While Nikon demonstrated NX Field System with several sports examples (both indoor and outdoor), it obviously is a system that could be used for events, weddings, and more. That said, if you don't have real venue access—e.g. the ability to set up and wire LAN connections to your cameras—you might find that NX Field System isn't the right solution for you in the short term. 

Commentary: can't say that the roll-out of NX Field System has been exactly confidence building. It seems like the cart is before the horse here, as details slowly leak out for something that was already announced. I suspect this is another of those things that was being readied for the Tokyo Olympics that Nikon felt they had to announce before people discovered it was available to use there. 

Are We Looking at this Wrong?

Lately I've been hearing a lot of comments that go along the lines of "I don't want to abandon DSLRs, but Nikon's making me do so." 

Well they're certainly encouraging you to move to mirrorless ;~).

But the complaints about no D850 replacement in sight and feeling abandoned by Nikon probably are over-wrought. See if you can follow my logic here.

The D850 is, to this day, still #2 on my best-all-around-camera-you-can-buy list. It's a dang good camera, and it is still more well-rounded than that Z7 II Nikon wants you to buy. 

If you had to buy a D850 today—or continue to use the one you already have—it's going to last you easily five years as a go-to camera. Yes, we all would like a new D880 that's designed along the lines of what Nikon did with the D780 (e.g., the Live View capabilities of the Z7 model along with some other modernizations of features). But we don't really need it yet. 

Meanwhile, all the folk that rushed to the Z mount from the F mount have been rapidly disposing of F mount lenses (disclaimer: including me, though only of some select lenses I don't feel I need duplication of on the F-mount side). That's depressed the used lens prices far enough that it's a buyer's market for F-mount lenses in excellent condition right now, particularly for best-selling lenses for which there's an abundant supply. 

Nikon's reverted the D850 price back to US$3000 again, but for awhile there you could pick up a new D850 at a nice discount, and then dip into the excellent used market and pick up some key lenses for it at really nice prices, too. Sounds good to me. What DSLR death? 

Meanwhile, the D780 is at US$2000, which is about the right price point for that very good DSLR.

In other words, there's nothing terribly wrong with the Nikon full frame DSLR lineup at the moment (well, Nikon could discount the D6 considering the upcoming Z9). Even the D610 is still available at US$1000, and the D750 at US$1500. That's still arguably the best full frame DSLR lineup we've ever had from anyone, and most of those cameras are competitive today and into the future. 

Do I wish we had a D880 replacement out? Absolutely. It would send the message that high-end DSLR will stick around for awhile if you want it. And Nikon would be the only company sending that message, thus would have the new top-end DSLR market to itself.

Of course, D500 users might be thinking a little differently. But even there, I'm not so sure. What APS-C camera is better than a D500 today? I can't think of one. Moreover, the D500 is currently US$1500, which is less than a Fujifilm X-T4 by US$200. 

Unlike the FX DSLR users, the DX users haven't quite made the same large, quick dump of DX lenses to water down used prices. First of all, Nikon didn't make all that many DX lenses (buzz, buzz). And second, many of the dedicated D500 users were photographing mostly with FX exotics. 

Still, I guess the conclusion I keep coming to is this: the D500 and D850 (and D780 and D6) are still all long-haul cameras that can provide usefulness and enjoyment for some time to come. And they're not breaking your bank right now should you choose to hop on (okay, the D6 might drain you account ;~). 

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