The D810 Replacement Conjecture

While we continue to wait for it, it is still pretty easy to conjure up what the D810 replacement will be, with one critical exception, which takes a leap of faith on one or another path. 

Here are the easy things to figure out:

  • It will have the D5/D500 autofocus system. That includes the less-than-perfect Automatic AF Fine Tune capability, so let’s hope they improve that. You should get a thumbstick for moving the focus point, too.
  • It will have the D5/D500 exposure system. New metering sensor with more data, and all that means. The D5/D500 metering is set to better preserve highlights in raw, and I’d expect that to come along, as well.
  • It will have the D5/D500 touchscreen. It will probably be tilting.
  • It will have an ISO button wedged in behind the shutter release. Otherwise, we’d be starting on yet another moving of the cheese, uh, buttons.
  • It will have the extra Fn2 button that’s so far mostly useless. Again, let’s hope Nikon opens that up to be more useful.
  • It will have the IPTC data entry capabilities. There’s no real reason to leave this off.
  • It will move the same menu options to new menus as we have seen on other recent cameras (e.g. Auto Image Rotation to the PLAYBACK menu, Slot Empty Release Lock to the SETUP menu, etc.). Hopefully they’ll move a few more and get the cheese-moving completely done with, such as File Number Sequence, which shouldn’t be in the banks-oriented CSM menu.
  • It will likely use XQD cards. The second slot might be CompactFlash or SD, but most of us would want it to be XQD, which is unfortunately only a slim possibility.
  • Because of XQD and the usual internal bandwidth improvements, it will have a larger raw buffer. This is one of those “comes for free” types of things. Faster sensor readout necessary for more pixels and faster EXPEED means even with the same physical memory size, you’ll almost certainly get more images in and out faster. Plus, XQD is faster than anything else on the “out” part. 
  • It will have 4K video of some kind. And probably the Electronic VR capability. It still won’t look like a reasonable video camera. 
  • It will be set up to use the SB-5000. That likely also means no internal flash, ala the D5/D500. It means the continued use of the WR-R10 in the 10-pin connector. It means some recent flashes won’t be fully supported again, ala the D5/D500. Ugh.
  • It might have SnapBridge built in, meaning Bluetooth and Wi-Fi ala the D500. This is the only real maybe in my list. Nikon didn’t get the love from SnapBridge it thought it would, and it’s entirely possible that they will use that as an excuse to cut costs in the camera and just leave it out, requiring you to use a WT-6 like the D810 and D5. 

Where things get vague about the D810 replacement are the things that all pertain to the image sensor: megapixel count, frame rates, ISO capabilities, and so on. Most of you would take the above list with just about any improvement at the image sensor. Some of you would take the above without any change at sensor (same pixel count, ISO abilities, frame rates). So Nikon has some flexibility here. They aren’t in a position where they have to do something dramatic to preserve the user base on this update. 

So what are the sensor options? At this point I pretty sure it narrowed to two distinct paths (and I’ll tell you which one I suspect in a moment):

  1. Scale the D500 sensor. This gives you 46mp or so (depends on masking) in a state-of-the-art front-side illuminated sensor. The biggest implications on picking this route are scaled frame rates (more data to move) and a non-full frame 4K video. There’s no dynamic range gain from BSI, no big speed bump from Stacked. This is a “business as usual” decision.
  2. Use the existing Sony 42mp sensor. While this doesn’t move the bar much from the existing D810 sensor, it does have some potential gain, just not anything that’s likely to generate excitement from the Nikon crowd. 

At one point, there were—I believe—three other sensor paths that were considered, one being just iterate the current 36mp sensor, one being a new sensor in the 50mp+ range, plus another new sensor substantively higher than that. Sticking with the current sensor has the problem of how to get 4K video: you’d need to do some re-engineering to accomplish this, so it isn’t a cost-free decision. Higher costs alone would have made those other two choices tough ways to choose moving forward on the D810. Nikon no longer has the volume to push many multiple sensor approaches in their lineup. The highest megapixel option probably would have put the need for R&D cost recovery high enough to distort the D810 followup’s pricing, but I’m guessing there. 

So, if I had to guess today, we’re going to get a scaled D500 sensor (#1, above). It makes the most economic and research sense for Nikon, I believe. It creates smaller engineering challenges to deal with than the big one of trying to pioneer another new sensor design. 

What we really want but probably aren’t getting is:

  • A version of this body with the D5 sensor.
  • On-sensor phase detect autofocus to improve Live View focus performance.
  • A full swivel LCD. 
  • The ability to change the entire camera settings at once (i.e. the tying together of the banks system into something like C1, C2).
  • Any new technologies. The D5 pioneered this round of Nikon technologies. The only place a D810 followup will be different is in the image sensor.
  • Any significant size or weight reduction.
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