The Canon/Nikon "Solution"

Canon and Nikon have both taken an interesting approach to creating mirrorless models while still putting out DSLRs. Simply put, mirrorless models don't exactly line up with DSLRs.

I'll start with Nikon, because I'm most familiar with their cameras. Here's the way it works, from top to bottom of their full frame lineup at the moment:

  • D5 (DSLR)
  • D850 (DSLR)
  • Z7 (Mirrorless)
  • Z6 (Mirrorless)
  • D750 (DSLR)
  • D610 (DSLR)

I'm not including the Df here, as it's an old model that never really had a clear fit in the lineup. Given that it doesn't have video, it's more of a specialty camera.

Note how Nikon snuck the two mirrorless models (so far) between the top pro DSLRs and the lower consumer/prosumer DSLRs. The Z7 is clearly derived from the D850, but has several missing features/settings. The Z6 uses the same feature base as the Z7, which puts it above the aging D750. 

Nikon didn't immediately obsolete any DSLRs by doing things this way. As I continue to write, the D850 is still the best all-around interchangeable lens camera you can buy. It really reaches well into professional use of all types; as I've shown, it's even quite competent at sports, though not quite as good as the D5.  

It's a little early to fully make this call as I don't have a Z50 yet, but so far I'm thinking the Nikon DX lineup looks very similar to the full frame lineup from top to bottom:

  • D500 (DSLR)
  • D7500 (DSLR)
  • Z50 (Mirrorless)
  • D5600 (DSLR)
  • D3500 (DSLR)

One thing comes across: Nikon is starting in the "middle" with mirrorless. Middle for Nikon tends to mean serious enthusiast/prosumer. So far, Nikon has stuck mirrorless in the middle of their DSLR lineup without exactly duplicating a DSLR in specs, performance, features, and controls.

The US$60,000 question, of course, is where does Nikon go from here?  

Well, we know one piece: the D6 is coming next at the top of Nikon's ILC offerings. This seems to suggest that Nikon believes that the top two tiers of their full frame lineup will remain DSLRs for the time being. The question has been whether or not Nikon will put the 60mp sensor in the Z7 body. I suspect not. I'm guessing we'll see it appear in a D850 update first. 

The other end is more interesting, though, as it's where the volume is. I've already noted that Nikon could simply take the Z50 body and stick a full frame sensor in it and come up with a more consumer entry for full frame mirrorless. That would punch in exactly between the current D610 and D750 given the known Z50 design and specs. I'm more and more convinced this will happen, and Canon's aggressiveness at the bottom of full frame is one reason why.

So let's put this all together into a "future Nikon lineup":

  • D6 (FX DSLR)
  • D860 (FX DSLR)
  • Z7 (FX Mirrorless)
  • Z6 (FX Mirrorless)
  • Z5 (FX Mirrorless)
  • D500 (DX DSLR)
  • Z70 (DX Mirrorless) — straddles D500/D7500
  • Z50 (DX Mirrorless)
  • Z30 (DX Mirrorless) — true entry, replaces D3600 directly

Yep. I'm predicting that the lower end DSLRs go away quickly, but the top ones remain for the time being. That D500 sitting there between the FX and DX lines is the most interesting and unpredictable point. I'd argue it should be a Z90. Nikon might (a) offer a Z90, (b) just drop that position; or (c) offer a lame D500 update.

Of course, things being what they are in the industry right now, we'll have older models still lingering in inventory until they're all sold off, which makes the positioning more difficult, but I think the nine models listed above pretty much describe where Nikon wants to be short term.

How about Canon? Oh boy, don't get me started...

Currently, things look like this in full frame:

  • 1DX m2 (DSLR)
  • 5DS (DSLR)
  • 5D m4 (DSLR)
  • R (Mirrorless)
  • 6D m2 (DSLR)
  • RP (Mirrorless)

The distinction between the 5Dm4 and R or the 6Dm2 and RP are tough to deduce, as the sensor re-use and base features are near identical. It's really in the ergonomics and UI that I distinguish those models at all. Canon has placed their full frame mirrorless entries closer to their DSLRs than Nikon did. The primary difference is that Canon appears to be starting from the bottom of their full frame lineup, not the middle.

Curiously, we have three widely-leaked future full frame cameras from Canon running around the rumor mills. There's a mirrorless R-something that looks like it's to the 5DS what the R was to the 5Dm4. There's a 5D Mark V and a 1DX Mark III also being talked about.

Again, that looks like continuing to work from the bottom of the lineup upwards. Essentially saying the top of the Canon ILC lineup will remain populated with DSLRs, while mirrorless slowly (mostly) duplicates the lineup moving upwards over time. 

APS-C is a serious mess at Canon. Canon's still selling a lot of four and five year old cameras in the crop sensor market. I'm going to arbitrarily limit myself to 2017-2019 models to try to make a little better sense of things. Again, from top to bottom we have:

  • 90D (DSLR)
  • 77D (DSLR)
  • SL3 (DSLR)
  • T7i (DSLR)
  • T7 (DSLR)
  • M6 m2 (Mirrorless)
  • M50 (Mirrorless)
  • 4000D (DSLR)
  • M200 (Mirrorless)

I'm not sure I have that perfectly aligned, and there are significant models that fall off because of my three year limit (e.g. M5 and 7Dm2), but again note that mirrorless is starting from the bottom at Canon. 

With APS-C in particular, I believe Canon has another issue: the crop sensor mirrorless gear just isn't compatible with full frame mirrorless gear. I suspect that Canon will continue to have two crop sensor mounts in the future for mirrorless: M and RF. In other words, their lineup would be EF, RF, M, with EF-S going away. A 7Dm3 type camera would have to become an RF crop sensor mirrorless camera in such a scheme, I'd think, which clouds things up considerably.

As I wrote, Canon's APS-C lineup is a mess. As I wrote this, B&H currently lists 18 current Canon APS-C cameras for sale, in a mind-boggling nearly 200 kits (update: that got pruned down some by the time I edited this article). But then overlapping the full frame DSLRs with very similar mirrorless models seems to just create even more confusion. Canon clearly is not picking a lane. 

I'm not sure I can predict a future Canon lineup because they haven't rationalized their product offerings very well. But a wild guess would be:

  • 1DX m3 (FF DSLR)
  • 5DS m2 (FF DSLR)
  • RS (FF Mirrorless)
  • 5D m5 (FF DSLR)
  • R (FF Mirrorless)
  • 6D m2 (FF DSLR)
  • RP (FF Mirrorless)
  • 90D (APS-C DSLR)
  • 77D (APS-C DSLR)
  • SL3 (APS-C DSLR)
  • T7i (APS-C DSLR)
  • M6 m2 (APS-C Mirrorless)
  • M60 (APS-C Mirrorless)
  • M200 (APS-C Mirrorless)

Look at the mount situation if I'm right: M at the bottom, EF-S next up the ladder, then a pairing of EF/RF bodies above that. That makes no sense to me, as it confuses everyone as to what the future upgrade path is. 

And that's important. Nikon's been slowly plugging their sales leakage to other mounts. The Z50 introduced another plug in the dam (though I must say, LENSES!!!, buzz buzz). Canon, meanwhile, is still leaking quite a bit, mostly to Sony given that the EF lenses adapt to the FE mount reasonably well. I can't see where Canon's possible future lineups stop that. Okay, maybe the high quality RF lenses help a bit at the top of the full frame market, but there's not a body out yet that really makes those lenses fully shine. So the RF lenses seem to be more of a promise from Canon that "we'll get there." 

Of course, if you're reading this article (and got this far), you're probably one of those wondering about whether DSLR or mirrorless is in your future. 

Canon and Nikon are both quick to say that they will support both. At least for the near term, I believe that to be mostly true, particularly at the tops of their lineups. 

Realistically, a lot of you reading this are Gen X or Baby Boomers or older. In other words, you've probably been using a DSLR for awhile and you may have even made the SLR to DSLR transition, too. The question is "what should you do today?"

Frankly, every full frame camera you can buy today is quite good. If you're not one of those "must have every iteration" folk, I think you buy on what you know, what you use, and most importantly price. Any of the full frame cameras currently offered could be your Last Camera Syndrome purchase and you'd be (mostly ;~) happy with it. Like having a viewfinder that works when the camera is turned off and batteries that last forever? Stick with DSLRs. Like having the viewfinder show what the image will actually look like and don't mind charging batteries? Go mirrorless. 

It's difficult to go far wrong with a full frame camera decision. Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make excellent full frame cameras, and offer a range of options. 

Unfortunately, it's APS-C/DX that's the area that's most confusing. Of course, it's also an area with some extraordinary bargains. A refurbished D7500 is US$600 at B&H, and that's just an unbelievable price for such a highly competent and well featured camera. And we haven't even gotten to the holiday bargains that are going to crop up (pardon the pun). 

You're going to see some Canon and Nikon APS-C/DX offerings dip below US$400. And frankly, that, too, is amazing. The Nikon D3500 may be a simplified and stripped down camera, but in terms of the images it can produce, even with the kit lens, the sky is almost the limit. That 24mp sensor inside the D3500 is quite good. Nikon pros know that if they've got a remote camera position that will put the camera in harm's way, the D3500 is an inexpensive choice to get the shot. 

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