What Do I Expect To See from Nikon at Photokina?

This has been a strange year. Cameras announced at the start of the year still haven’t shipped. Others that were supposedly ready to launch haven’t even been announced. Coupled with the sensor shortage caused by the quake in Japan earlier this year, all the camera makers are scrambling to figure out when they can launch their newest products, as well as how to keep their existing ones in stock. 

But let’s put that behind us for a moment and consider a different question: considering the current Nikon product line—including the announcements made earlier this year and the D5/D500 combo that launched in the first half—what do we expect to see Nikon launch at (or around) Photokina?

Let’s start by listing the cameras that are due for updates:

  • D610 (overdue)
  • D750 (not quite due yet)
  • D810 (due)
  • D3500 (overdue)
  • Nikon 1, all models (overdue)
  • Coolpix P several models (overdue)

There’s no way Nikon does a big, multiple camera launch at Photokina. Beyond the sensor supply problem, there’s the fact that Nikon tends to have troubles executing on multiple, major launches simultaneously. Thus, for the most part they’ve avoided them. Two cameras at a time seems to be their max (other than low-end Coolpix).

Let’s also list the cameras that we’d expect to be updated in 2017:

  • Df (already hinted there will be an anniversary model)
  • D5500 (due)
  • D7200 (due)

I’m 99.9% sure that the first and third on that list won’t show up in 2016, and I don’t see how a D5500 would get moved up, either. So we can dismiss those for Photokina. 

If you look at the list that’s due for update this year, you come to some interesting conclusions:

  • There’s nothing particularly wrong with the current D610 or D750 models and they’re still competitive at their current prices; any update of them is likely to be centered around SnapBridge and perhaps a couple of other D5 generation features (e.g. radio-controlled flash support). Such a minor update would be easy enough to do. 
  • The D810 is now starting to look like the lowest resolution of the full frame high resolution models, plus the D5/D500 autofocus system really needs to be in any update of the camera. So this camera needs a complete sensor and internals overhaul to bring it into the D5 generation. This is a big, tough, lots-of-engineering update and is also sensor-timing sensitive. Look at how hard the D500 was to pull off simultaneously with the D5.
  • The D3300 is another camera that’s remarkably competitive still. Moreover, we’re all puzzling over what Nikon could change on it other than perhaps upgrading the autofocus system a notch upwards and adding SnapBridge. Remember, this camera is the low-cost leader in the lineup. It’s not likely to get anything new or fancy that we haven’t already seen for awhile.
  • Nikon 1 is seemingly dead. It’s certainly dead in the water. Nikon is completely off their upgrade cycles for all the models in this lineup, the cameras haven’t sold well other than at fire sale prices, and they’re generally regarded as uncompetitive (other than their focus performance). The new compact camera DLs—whenever they ship—on paper are better than the Nikon 1 models, and easily so. Which means that Nikon 1 needs a 100% rethink. Rumors have Nikon moving to a larger sensor but not necessarily to a larger lens mount. But that just puts them into the “need a new sensor” conundrum they have with a lot of their models at the moment. Multiples of new sensors don’t tend to show up simultaneously ;~). Plus we still need new lenses. Other rumors have Nikon finally producing a DX or FX mirrorless option of some sort, but I don’t buy those rumors as being anything we’re likely to see in the short term. Nikon needs a viable mirrorless option today, but that option has to co-exist with DX and FX DSLRs or else it doesn’t help Nikon at all. 
  • The Coolpix P series seems to have transitioned to DLs. The notion of a professional level compact camera now seems clearly in the DL marketing message, though Nikon has jumped and jumbled such messages before (remember the “DX Flagship”?). Frankly, though, the 1” sensor of the DL makes for a conditional “professional” camera. Yes, you can get results similar to 10-year old DSLRs in bright light (which is to say quite good), but lower light levels start exposing the sensor size for what it is: compromised. Personally, I believe Nikon still needs a compact camera or two more like the much maligned and too expensive Coolpix A, but better designed, marketed, and priced. But that is a huge project to get right. 

Bottom line is that Nikon needs a few new sensors. In FX, the 24mp sensors need some updating, but that will be on Sony’s schedule. The 36mp sensor needs more pixels to be competitive, and that’s likely to be a Nikon/Sony joint initiative. The eventual Df2 and D5s can live off the current 20mp sensor, I believe, though I really think the Df2 should use something else. 

Let me put that last statement into context. Nikon needs another body for the 20mp D5 sensor in order to keep sensor costs reasonable. The Df used the D4 sensor for that reason. A Df2 in 2017 could use the D5 sensor the same way. Or…Nikon could do what everyone has asked for in like forever: build the true D700 replacement. I have to wonder, for example, what D750 users would think if Nikon made its replacement with the 20mp sensor. Certainly would bump up frames per second capabilities, but would D750 users step backwards from 24mp to 20mp? 

Then we need a new sensor for mirrorless. 

At the moment DX doesn’t need any new sensors. Nikon is already at 24mp—which is right at the balance edge of current lenses and diffraction constraints—and got there before everyone else. Nikon already had high dynamic range and good low light performance in DX before pretty much everyone else. I suspect that they can ride for awhile on small, incremental sensor improvements as Sony moves to copper wiring and other changes. In fact, here’s the only thing Nikon’s DX sensors actually need: on-sensor PDAF support for better Live View focus performance. That’s it (I’d expect that in the D5500 or D7200 replacement in 2017, by the way). 

As usual I’m winding a long path towards my goal: what do I expect at Photokina? Okay, here goes:

  1. The DLs shipping. They may not be shipping in large quantities, but I believe that Nikon has to ship these prior to Photokina and then re-trumpet them at the show. You have to wonder if iOS SnapBridge will be ready by then, but I don’t think Nikon has any choice but to get some DLs out the door, iOS-ready or not.
  2. Lenses. Wait, what? Yeah, I pulled a fast one on you. Wrote about cameras and then suddenly pull lenses out of my keyboard. But yes, I think that some of Photokina for Nikon this year has to be about lenses. Why? Because we’re still in sensor shortages and you can’t get too pushy about selling cameras, since you might not have enough of them to sell. We know that there are several Nikkors sitting in the queue to be launched at the moment, and I believe that they’ll get announced either late this month or in August and promoted at the show. 
  3. The D3300 update. Likely to be announced significantly prior to the show because it’s not the “big” splash Nikon wants to make. But technically we’re entering the pre-Photokina launch period already, so it’s a Photokina product if it gets announced between now and September 20th.
  4. One of the following: D610 or D810 update. I’ve heard competing stories out of Japan. There’s little doubt that Nikon is updating both cameras. The question is which one makes it to Photokina. I’d bet D610. Nikon really needs to shore up the lower levels in its model lines; the higher end is competitive and holding its own at the moment (D7200, D500, D750, D810, D5), though the D5 sales are now over the rush-to-upgrade stampede and down at the sells-a-handful-a-month level that the top pro bodies usually run at. At a big consumer-attended show such as Photokina, I’d guess that Nikon will stick to introducing more consumer-oriented products. I’d expect the D810 replacement early next year, say at CES if Nikon still wants to waste money going to that show.

The wildcard: mirrorless. If Nikon doesn’t show up with new Nikon 1 gear or launch a “new” mirrorless system, I’m tempted to tell everyone reading this that’s attending Photokina to go up to any Nikon employee they see at the show and ask “what’s happening with Nikon 1?” It’s time for Nikon’s top executives to get out of their recliners and tell the world what they’re going to do about mirrorless. The options are: (1) resurrect Nikon 1 with new products with the right features at the right prices; (2) launch a new mirrorless system of some sort, which could use the CX mount with a larger sensor; or (3) go nuclear on the “DSLRs are what we do, and they’re better choices” option. Of course, to do #3, Nikon’s going to have to work more on size/weight, more on DX lens options (buzz, buzz), more on Live View performance, and just get like 1000% better at marketing and staying on message ;~). 

I see no evidence they’re doing #1. I don’t think they’re fully capable of doing #3 (they’d miss on DX lenses and better marketing). Which leaves us #2, which is exactly what the best rumors out of Tokyo have us believing. That means two key times to launch and make enough consumer noise: Photokina in September or CES in January. I’m betting CES in January.

So, here are my current short-term predictions:

July/August: D3500, two lenses, DL ship announcement
September: D650, two lenses, KeyMission relaunch (Photokina)
January: Nikon 2 (;!) launch, D850 (CES)
February: D7300, lenses, maybe DF2 (CP+)

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