Change begets Change

Let me start with an observation: one thing that I get hammered on constantly on Web fora is that my views change with time and new information. I fail to see why that's a weakness, and why it isn't a strength. Indeed, I'm highly skeptical of viewpoints that never change, no matter what information comes to light. 

It's my science upbringing, basically. Science is our best attempt to describe the world we live in, and how it works. Science isn't perfect at that. We learn new things every day—generally through the scientific method of hypothesis and test—that give us a better understanding than we had. From that better understanding we have to reevaluate. Failure to do so is a failure to adapt, and we all know what Darwin says about that. Oh, wait, some of those criticizing me don't believe in or understand evolution. 

Which brings me to today's subject: where are DSLRs going?

As I noted in an article on, the camera world changed with the introduction of the Nikon Z9. dpreview and others keep writing that the Z9 is a D3-like moment, but I disagree. The Z9 is a D1 like moment. It's a fundamental change in product technology that has deeper implications than just changing the size of the image sensor (which Canon had already done prior to the D3 appearing). The Sony A1 could have been the camera that made the change implied by the Z9, as its refresh speed is close enough to a mechanical shutter so that Sony could have made the critical move first, but Sony didn't. But make no mistake: dropping a mechanical device for a silicon version of it is a huge change: mechanical shutters are going to go away, and sooner than you might think. You can mass reproduce silicon cheaper than you can iterate elaborate mechanicals, and in quantity you save substantial money in doing so. 

Moreover, the Z9 has a second technology that is equally as important: the dual-feed nature of the image sensor. Having a real time EVF that is blackout free and not lagged is essentially the final death knoll of the DSLR mirror flip, the mechanical portion of a camera that’s been in the process of dying off for the last decade.

About two years ago I started writing that Nikon should update the D500 and D850, at least with mirrorless-type improvements (which would significantly improve Live View and video on these cameras). The D780 came out shortly thereafter, and proved my point, though it was the wrong camera for Nikon to make that change with (the D500 would have been the better choice, but then the Z50 image sensor that would be needed probably wasn't in production soon enough for that to happen).

I've repeated my “Nikon should iterate the D500 and D850 with the mirrorless changes” comment since my original post on the subject. 

Today I believe I need to change that.

Again, I’m changing my position because new information and new understanding of where we are and where we're likely to go requires that I reassess my position. Indeed, that's exactly what happens in Product Marketing departments all over the world. I have the disadvantage of not knowing what's already in the move-to-production queue at the camera companies, so my observations are a little lagged (I'm trying to install a two-feed system at the camera makers so I see an unlagged live view, but they resist ;~).

Let me state it outright: Nikon is probably in the process of shutting down their DSLR line now. The success of the Z system, the launch of the Z9, and ongoing parts shortages are likely contributors to that. If I’m correct that Nikon is shutting down DSLRs, I believe that they should do so the way they did the film SLR line: with one, better-than-anything previous camera that might satisfy those that just want to continue with DSLRs.

That would be a D900. Not a D580 or a D880.

And yes, such a camera might even be shutterless. It can't be mirrorless because of the way a DSLR focus system functions with an optical viewfinder—a pellicle mirror would steal too much light for any top end Final Statement Model—but you'd want to steal as many advantages of the mirrorless progression as you could. That would include 8K video, a Live View that's really Live View, and much, much more. Essentially take the Z9 image sensor, processor, and dual viewing stream, and move it into a D850-like DSLR body. 

The problem, of course, is that this wouldn't be another US$3000 DSLR. It would almost certainly be a US$5500 DSLR. Which has strong implications on whether it would be worth making, or not. My thought? Yes, it would. Indeed, the best-possible-but-final-DSLR probably ought to have a high price tag. You really want people buying your mirrorless lineup, but don’t want to 100% abandon your faithful high-end DSLR user and leave them without any option in the future. 

Nikon did what I'm suggesting here with the F6 film SLR. That camera came as a final film SLR statement alongside the D2 generation DSLR cameras. It was priced high, and Nikon never got into a discounting mode with it, they just allowed people to buy it if they wanted it, and the F6 sales slowly coasted down to the point where Nikon finally shut down the line over a decade later. In doing things this way, film SLR loyalists really had no ability to complain: Nikon made them an incredible final film SLR, a camera that's still remarkable today (if you still use film). This solidified Nikon's position as both a legacy and forward-thinking maker.

Which is why I think a High End Swan Song camera is probably worth doing again for DSLRs. Moreover, such a camera probably wouldn't take anything away for Z9 sales, and it's not something Canon is ever likely to consider. 

Now watch, Nikon will make a fool of me by iterating the D500 and D850 ;~).

Those two Nikon DSLRs are still highly viable today, as I've written many times. It really does seem a shame to let them die off by at some point discontinuing them, though if Nikon did make a D900, one could say that the D850 didn’t die off. The D500, however, is still the best all-around, high performance APS-C camera you can buy today, despite now being over five years old. Just imagine how much it could be improved if Nikon really put some of their latest engineering into it. No iteration seems like a missed opportunity to me. Still, it's one of my two remaining DSLRs in the gear closet, and probably will be for awhile yet.

So, while I’d love to see a D500 iteration, I’ve reconsidered my position and I’m now of the belief that any APS-C high performance camera Nikon might consider making is (should be) much more likely to be a Z System camera utilizing some of the Z9 technologies. 

And while I’d like to see a D850 iteration, that, too, is becoming less likely as we move forward. So my other DSLR iteration position evolved some from “Nikon should make a D880 ala the D780 iteration” to “Nikon should make a final DSLR statement camera that replaces the D850.”


Yes, some of my change comes from having now used a Z9, but not as much as you’d expect. More of my change comes from the reactions I’m seeing of high-end Nikon DSLR users to the Z9. In other words, Nikon very well may be as successful at moving late DSLR users to Z9 as they were late film SLR users to D1.

The Holiday Season DSLR Angst Guide

It’s the start of the holiday buying season, and the emails continue to pour in: “I have a [DSLR_model] and wonder if it’s time to move to mirrorless?”

This simplest version is joined by a more angst-driven version: “I have a [DSLR_model] and would consider moving to mirrorless, but I can’t see what advantages I’d get and it seems costly to do this.”

So let me try to settle you down a little bit. 

First, there will be a time when you decide you want/need a new camera and the right choice will be to move from DSLR to mirrorless. For many of you, that time is not now. 

Note: Pentax users have no option for moving from DSLR to mirrorless without leaving the brand, so I’m not going to discuss them here.

In full frame, I consider the following cameras to be perfectly fine today and for the immediate future: Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 1DX Mark III, Nikon D780, Nikon D850, plus the Nikon D5 and D6. And I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning here. Deciding to move on from DSLRs if you’re using one of those cameras is not going to give you a lot of bang for the buck. It’s not an economic decision to do so at present for most people. 

So what the heck is the feature/benefit of making a change from these full frame DSLRs to mirrorless? You tell me. If you can tell me (and justify that economically), you’re good to go, you don’t need my help. Buy the mirrorless camera of your choice and don’t look back. If you can’t tell me, warning flares were just shot into the sky. You’re in FOMO mode.

With crop sensor DSLRs, my list of similar cameras—assuming you would stick with crop sensor in any mirrorless move—would include the Canon SL3, Canon 90D, Nikon D7200, Nikon D7500, and Nikon D500. Again, I’m being pretty ruthless in my pruning. To move from a DSLR to a mirrorless camera if you are using one of these, I’d need a clear feature/benefit you’re going to get and that you can justify economically. Don’t have one? You don’t need a new camera.

So let’s deal with some of the sub-themes going on in the DSLR/mirrorless angst realm.

  • No new DSLRs. I suspect that this is the biggest part of the fear running through DSLR users. Canon and Nikon no longer seem to be iterating DSLRs. I’d say that’s likely true for Canon, but I still expect Nikon might do something in the DSLR arena, just as they put out a top-end film SLR in the early DSLR era. Still, no news is being interpreted as bad news. Nope. Doesn’t make your highly capable DSLR any less capable. It was ten years before the last of the film SLR users gave up and went to digital. Same thing will be true in this transition, as well.
  • Investment panic. As many Nikon users have discovered, the equivalent lenses are indeed better in the Z-mount, which means that if they didn’t sell off their F-mount lenses already, they don’t get as much for them today as there’s a bit of a temporary glut on the used market. Of course, savvy DSLR users should see this as an opportunity to pick up some lenses on the used market, as they’re priced as lower than usual. It’s also a good time to move from crop sensor DSLR to full frame DSLR.
  • Gear dictates outcome. No, it doesn’t. This is the existential problem most people get themselves into. Technically, it’s “New” gear dictates outcome. Still not always true. Yes, sometimes a new product comes along with a new ability or a new level of performance that changes the game, but the current DSLR/mirrorless top end products are both quite good. There’s less “outcome dictating difference” than almost anyone seems to think, though if you haven’t bothered to learn how your autofocus system actually works, the all-auto mode on some—note that I didn’t write all—mirrorless models might produce better results. So might a smartphone. 
  • Toe-dipping temptation. I see a variation of this line in a lot of emails: “I think it might be time for me to sample mirrorless and assess the benefits directly.” Nikon’s about to sell the very competent Z5 for US$1000 again for a couple of weeks (starts on November 19). That’s a really good price for what’s essentially a slightly better full frame camera than the seminal D750. So it’s awful tempting to bite the Z apple and see what happens. And for some of you, that might be the right approach. Still, temptation is just that, temptation. And we all know what happens when you bite the apple...

Finally, let’s note that Canon and Nikon are being somewhat disingenuous. Both need to sell a lot of mirrorless cameras in order to maintain or regain market share. Both want to get you to move from DSLR to mirrorless, because it helps them achieve their goals. Indeed, if they can convince you to migrate before you’re ready, they do better with their sales issue than if they just let you migrate at your own speed. 

While I’m seeing a lot of DSLR angst this year, I suspect it will be nothing like what we'll see in the 2022 holiday season. I would expect Canon and Nikon to both have moved to “trade in your DSLR” programs by then, as they’ll have hoovered up the easy pickings and would now be starting to prod the remaining DSLR herd. And yet, even then, a Nikon D850 would still be an incredibly good camera capable of state-of-the-art results.  

So what is it you’re really worried about? Is it (a) your camera gear is no longer capable of state-of-the-art results? Or (b) you can’t claim to have the latest and greatest? (a) is unlikely if you have one of the current top DSLRs. (b) is what is causing all the DSLR angst. 

Relax. Chillax. Certain types of pills might help. You’re not in a hurry. You can make the DSLR/mirrorless migration decision any time you’d like, and the right decision can still go either way today. Camera makers will get more aggressive about trying to change your mind, so some modest discounts this holiday shouldn’t sway you. 

Nikon DSLR Advice for the End of 2021

The onslaught of "should I transition" questions I've been getting is continuing to swell, which means that Nikon's Z System mirrorless marketing is finally starting to catch people's attention, particularly with the just announced Z9. 

I think it appropriate to put a few of my overall thoughts together in one place and give people a more pragmatic idea of where I think we're at as we close out 2021. 

Let's start with something that doesn't get said enough: virtually every recent Nikon DSLR takes excellent photos and has quite a bit of flexibility. These are complex tools, and need some study to extract everything they're capable of, but that applies to mirrorless cameras, too. Thus, right up front I'd ask this: do you want to augment and complete your DSLR knowledge with your current tool, or do you want to do a great deal of starting over? Your answer to that question alone may determine whether you're better off sticking to the DSLR or starting a transition to mirrorless.

Yes, the Nikon Z-mount cameras are a lot like the Nikon F-mount cameras. So you don't go back to zero by shifting from DSLR to mirrorless and sticking with the Nikon brand, but you will still have quite a bit you have to relearn. That's particularly true of the autofocus system, but it also applies a bit to controls, and sneaks in as nuance all over the place. If you like learning new gear, great. If you hate having to learn something new, not so great.

Every Nikon DSLR that's of the current or previous generation isn't going to suddenly be outclassed by mirrorless in terms of image quality. Indeed, with one possible exception, your image quality isn't going to improve moving from a DSLR to the near equivalent mirrorless body. The exception is focus. You'll see that come up a few times in my individual comments, below. But as some have discovered, your image quality may degrade if you don't master mirrorless autofocus, at least as practiced by Nikon. 

Holding Onto the Past
Let's start with one group: DSLR users that are using 10-year old or older cameras. That puts us back at the D3, D3s, D3x, D700, D300, D90, D60, D40 era (and prior). No doubt these cameras can take fine photos. I see the results from them all the time as I browse through my image library: as I mastered these cameras I got great results that can still stand up today, though perhaps not with as many pixels as I'm used to today.

However, current era DSLRs and the new mirrorless cameras are arguably better in many ways. Focus systems improved. Dynamic range improved. Video features drastically improved (or got added in the first place). Features were added that simplified complex tasks (time-lapse, focus stacking, etc.). Frame rates went up. Options and customizations were added. 

So if you're in the holding-onto-the-past DSLR group, it probably is time to update your gear. You have two easy choices and one more difficult one:

  1. Upgrade to the current version of your DSLR. A D90 user should update to a D7500, for instance. 
  2. Upgrade up a model or line. A DX user might upgrade to an FX camera, for instance. 
  3. Transition to mirrorless. 

You do #1 just to stay on the same playing field, but with better gear. You do #2 to upgrade to a higher league, and again with better gear. 

I'm going to go out on a limb here about #3: if you're into all-automatic use and you struggle with getting your DSLR to focus, this is your best choice.

Focus is a tricky aspect of the transition. Those of you who've mastered DSLR focus and have no significant complaints might find the mirrorless systems a step backward (perhaps not with the Nikon Z9, but I've yet to test that yet). You have to pay more attention to focus on a Z6 II or Z7 II than on a D750 or D850, for instance, or else you can find yourself getting more erratic results. Ironically, someone who's always using AF-A and Auto-area AF on a DSLR would have the opposite reaction to the mirrorless cameras: they'll be less erratic. 

One final thought in this category: these 10-year old cameras are starting to become unrepairable. Nikon doesn't stock parts forever (basically seven years after final manufacturing completes). If your older camera breaks or has an issue, you'll be making one of those three choices I outline, or else giving up interchangeable lens cameras completely.

Next, I'm going to skip over a bunch of models and go straight to three current, critical models. Don't worry, I'll get back to those of you in the middle in a moment.

Have a D5 or D6
These are specialty cameras. You almost certainly bought yours because of high frame rates, excellent focus, and unmatched low light performance. The D6 is indeed a top-of-the-heap camera, with one of the most reliable and remarkable focus systems I've encountered. 

The only camera that might tempt these flagship DSLR users to change is the just-announced Nikon Z9, and I think you should probably wait a bit to see how that camera really performs. The change from 20mp to 45mp is a big one, and not without consequences, and the new focus system is hyped but not yet proven in battle, and you're going to have to spend time learning how it works best. If you think you're going to switch from a D6 to a Z9 and use the same F-mount lenses, I double the caution to just wait for a bit.

Moreover, if you're not getting great results out of a D5 or especially the D6, then you haven't maxed out your current camera yet. That should be a warning signal. If you keep upgrading or iterating or switching systems because "something is missing," what's missing is probably your understanding and mastery of your current equipment. 

That said, if the Z9 is everything Nikon is claiming it is, eventually we'll all move from DSLR to mirrorless. Is there an advantage to being one of the first to do that? Perhaps, but I'd need you to articulate what that might be before I'd give you my approval to transition.

Have a D850
This is an all-around camera. Here, the decision is a little different than it would be for a D6 user, and it will depend upon exactly what it is you're using the camera for.

Let me give you a for instance. If you bought a D850 to take landscape photos, the Z7 II might be a better camera for you. Why? The mirrorless cameras are relentlessly more accurate with focus plane than the DSLRs when you spend lots of time setting them for what you're doing. You can see the DOF easier, you can highlight the actual focus plane easily (Focus Peaking), you can get all vibration out of the exposure more directly, and you can even magnify what you're focusing on in the viewfinder. Image quality wise, a Z7 II and D850 are as near identical as can be. 

But even more interestingly, lenses such as the 14-24mm f/2.8 are better in the Z-mount version than the F-mount one. The net result for a serious landscape photographer is that the Z7 II is a better tool. Not by a lot, but sometimes by enough to push you towards transition.

On the other hand, comparing a D850 and Z7 II for action starts moving the other direction. The Z7 II is really limited to a live view at 5.5 fps, versus the D850's 9 fps (with grip and bigger battery). Controlling the focus system for action has more choices that are more easily accessed on a D850 than a Z7 II. 

Then there's flash. I don't regard the Z7 II as a great camera for flash. That's because some things event photographers rely on, such as AF Assist Lamps, are "broken" on the Z7 II. 

Of course, many of you with D850 bodies are suddenly contemplating a Z9. Again, I haven't yet used a Z9 enough to be able to speak to what it can and can't do better than a D850, but even if the Z9 turns out to be a better all-around camera choice, you'd be moving up a level in terms of camera (from the US$3000 price point to the US$5500 one). So I'd have to ask the question: do you really need a camera that's better than the D850? As I write this with my testing, there's only one camera I believe is better than the D850 for all-around use, and that's the Sony A1. The Nikon Z9 will probably get added to that list, but note that both those choices are more expensive than a D850. 

To be complete, I should probably point out that every Nikon Z-mount version of a lens has so far proven to be better than the equivalent F-mount version of that lens. Sometimes not by much (e.g. 70-200mm f/2.8 versions), but sometimes by a long margin (e.g. 50mm f/1.8 versions). However, note that once again you'd be spending significant money to get better results, and you're only going to get those better results if you have excellent mastery of your cameras in the first place.

So D850 users might or might benefit from a transition to mirrorless.

D500 User
I keep repeating this, but it hasn't seemed to fully register: you can't buy a better APS-C (DX) camera than the Nikon D500, DSLR or mirrorless. 

The question that immediately comes up is this: why are you using a crop sensor camera in the first place? I know of two primary answers to that question: (1) you want the implied reach of the crop sensor; or (2) you wanted a D5 but couldn't afford one. 

If your answer is #2, then my advice is simple: nothing really exists yet in the Nikon mirrorless world that would even begin to entice you at the D500 price point. And again, I don't think the competitor's cameras, DSLR or mirrorless, are as good all around as a D500 in the first place. So you keep using your D500!

If your answer was #1, you probably were tempted by the D850 (and now would be with the Z7 II and Z9). That's because when used at a DX crop, those cameras are 19mp, which is close enough to the D500's 20mp, both in size and in image quality, to be virtually indistinguishable.

But this is a bit like the D850 user contemplating a Z9: you'd be moving up a grade in gear if you leave the D500 in order to get the same basic performance. I just don't see the D500 user needing to (or even wanting to) change cameras right now. They've got state of the art for the size/price point they're at.

Everyone in Between
We've got a ton of DSLR-using Nikonians who aren't covered by one of my categories above. All the D3xxx and D5xxx users, for instance. The D7000, D7100, and D7200 users. D600, D610, D750, D800, and D810 users. D4 and D4s owners. 

This is where the advice gets murky. I'll go out on a limb here and try to simplify these into two groups:

  • D7200, D810, D4 — These are awfully good cameras. Yes, better models were or became available, but boy, these are really good cameras to start with. It's sort of the D5/D6 advice again: if you haven't maxed out the capabilities of these cameras, that's where you should be putting your attention, not on new models. The D7200 might be the second best APS-C (DX) camera made so far—it certainly is in the top tier—the D810 is still producing 36mp images that are incredibly good, and the D4 models really only can be criticized these days because of their 16mp image size, which is now behind the times. Still, if you don't need more pixels, 16mp is just fine, and those are really good-looking pixels to start with.
  • Everything else — Yeah, it's probably time to consider what comes next for you. While it might not seem like an apples-to-apples leap, I'd say the D3xxx/D5xxx users, particularly the earlier models, should seriously consider a Z50 or Zfc, if nothing else than for the far better focus system. But even the kit lenses are better in the Z world. D600/D610 users should contemplate a Z5 or Z6. D750 users a Z6 II. D800 users a Z7 or Z7 II. Or...if you want to stick to DSLRs, then it goes like this: lower end DX users should move up to at least a D7500, maybe a D500. Full frame users should move up a model (e.g. D600 to D780, D750 to D850). 

Final Words
Obviously, this is a simplified version. Every photographer has different goals, aspirations, and needs. Moreover, each has a different budget, both monetarily and for learning/practice time. So your mileage will definitely vary from what I write above. Maybe by only a little, maybe by a lot. Only you would know.

As always, if you can enumerate your needs/wants clearly and are having trouble coming up with the answer for you, my email box is always open. I don't always answer quickly, but I try to answer every reasonable question.

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