Should You Buy The Previous Model?

We've got the holiday season coming up, and this question tends to always come up, as camera makers use this selling opportunity to push older model inventory as well as new.

In the DSLR world, this has been going on for some time, starting when Nikon overproduced and was essentially forced into having multiple generations of products on the market at the same time (at one point, three generations of some products). What Nikon generally did was to use older models to put new price points between newer models. One holiday season, we had a plethora of Nikon DX models almost exactly US$50 apart from about US$600 to US$1100. 

Nikon's a lot less in that position today, at B&H today only the D5300 still lingers as an "old" new possibility, though there are a few refurbished choices of other older models still available. Even the D7200 now seems to have gone to discontinued land (though we might see some refurbished units pop back up). 

In Nikon FX, only the D810 still lingers as a previous model, with a US$2000 price.

So, in the Nikon lineup would I recommend buying a previous generation model new/refurbished this year? 

Probably not, with two exceptions. I still need to see the full set of NikonUSA discounting that will be active through the end of the year as that could potentially affect the answer, but the current D3500, D5600, D7500, D500, D610, D750, and D850 models are going to be at appropriate pricing and are arguably a strong lineup of DSLRs.

The two exceptions are the D810 and D5. The D5 isn't quite yet a previous model, but we have a D6 already pre-announced, so it's definitely going to act like one this holiday. The D5 is a great camera, so I don't think you'll go far wrong picking one up at this late point in its life. I'd just try to bargain that dealer a little harder for some extras, because US$1000 off isn't quite enough, IMO. 

The D810 is a little tougher call, but you know, I shot briefly with it again recently, liked it, and for many of you, the D810 is way more than enough camera. If you're coming from an older <24mp or DX body, you can make a strong case that it's a Last Camera Syndrome purchase, given the US$2000 price. 

Anything else that's older, especially refurbished due to the reduced warranty, and I'd say that you probably are better off buying the new model. Of course, price could alter that, so pay attention to what I write around Thanksgiving, as there may be an option or two there that defy that logic.

Canon's a mess. They're currently where Nikon was: still offering multiple generations of many cameras simultaneously. We've got the 80D/90D, the SL2/SL3, and the Rebel 6*/7* models all cropping up (oh the puns) this holiday. That makes EF-S look amazingly broad, what with 18mp, 20mp, 24mp, and 32mp cameras in the mix. But that's a false sense of broadness. What we really have is older models and new models. 

Canon's already been doing a lot of discounting in the crop-sensor DSLR world, and it's going to get bigger soon, I think. Moreover, we already have some creative conundrums Canon conceived: SL2 with a lens, or SL3 body? They're the same price. This is marketing at its most manipulative. Canon really needs to move boxes, stat. Like Nikon, they'd like to get to their future sooner, but they can't unless they get rid of the deadwood inventory of older models.

Yeah, I knew you'd ask: what future is that? A modest number of high-end DSLRs and lenses iterate as usual, but most of the effort shifts to new mirrorless offerings. I have more to say in today's other article.

Thing is, with Canon's crop sensor DSLRs, I'm starting to think that there's only one that's a sensible choice at the moment, and that would be the 90D. Given Canon's sensor re-use, a model like the EOS M5 looks like a better choice to me than opting for one of the many aging low-end DSLRs in their lineup. 

Canon's full frame lineup is clean, though. Only new models now still stand in the big dealers like B&H: 6Dm2, 5DS, 5Dm4, and 1DXm2. Like Nikon, I expect that top pro model to iterate soon (before the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo), so maybe we should consider the 1DXm2 much like the D5 at this point.

So you see what's happening, right? 

For DSLRs, both Canon and Nikon have relatively clean lineups at the moment in full frame. The lower ends of those lineups will just wither away to mirrorless (e.g. 6Dm2 to RP, D610 to Z5?). The top two models will likely do full upgrades soonish (e.g. 5Dm4 to 5Dm5, D850 to D860, plus 1DXm2 to m3 and D5 to D6). Both companies are already well poised to make that happen. 

With crop sensor, things are still a mess. It's in the <US$1500 part of the market where camera buying has collapsed the most, and that's where crop sensor lives. Yet there are still plenty of new DSLRs sitting in that rapidly depleting pond. What that means is that the fire sales have just begun. While Nikon is in better shape here, both companies need to clean house with the low-end DSLRs and transition that market to mirrorless. 

Which brings me to my usual comment about Canon: EOS M, their crop sensor mirrorless mount, is a dead-end. Yes, it can adapt EF/EF-S lenses, but those are going away in the future for RF. Nikon, meanwhile, can say that Z DX is the same as DSLR DX: it's the same mount as with full frame, and the adapter makes the new mount remarkably able to use virtually all Nikon's existing legacy lenses. Nikon has a cleaner, simpler transition message: still works with our past, lives in our future. Canon's message: still works with our past, but we have diverging futures, so pick carefully. 

All that said, there's nothing wrong with current DSLRs. We've got amazing cameras that cost as little as US$450. And they'll continue taking great photos for a long time into the future. I'd just suggest that you be careful about buying too far back in the DSLR lineups. The D850 is an exceptional camera, and still arguably the best all-around interchangeable lens camera you can buy today. The D610? Yeah, takes very nice images, but uses outdated technologies and is cut down in features. It would take a really great price to make you want to buy one a D610 (or any of the oldest DSLRs still available).

So. Be prepared for bargains, but think through your DSLR buying strategy carefully. If you're into DSLRs for the long haul, you probably want to look more towards the tops of the lineups. If you just want a competent camera, shop carefully on price as the holiday sales start.

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