13th Dec 2009
The impressive Nikon D700 turns 2 years old in the Summer of 2010, which is about retirement age for modern DSLR’s. Rumors and speculation are rife as to what will replace it, and earlier this month Nikon sent out a survey to registered D700 owners (myself included) asking questions about what users actually want from their cameras. The survey had a heavy focus on questions about megapixels (one question asked should it be 24mp, stay at 12mp, or in the 18mp range), as well as questions about the importance of autofocus, ISO capabilities, dynamic range etc.
The rumored (speculated?) contenders that have been floating around are the D700x, D700s and D800. Let’s take a look at each:
The Nikon D3x was launched in December 2008. In recent years, Nikon has continually developed and reused sensors, often bring out the same sensor in a lower end body around 9 months later. For example, the D200 sensor (or a derivative thereof) found its way into the D80, then D40x, D60 and is still being utilized in the D3000 today. The sensor from the D300 formed the base for the D90, the D5000 and then D300s. The sensor from the Nikon D3 found its way into the D700 (and then a heavily developed version back into the D3s).
Based on this pattern, it’s an easy jump to predict a D700x – basically the 24mp sensor out of the D3x in a D700 body. This camera would not replace the D700, but rather complement it in the same way the D3x compliments the D3(s) – the D700x with its high megapixel count and slow frame rate would be ideal for the landscape/studio photographer, while the D700 is a better low-light, sports, and general photojournalism camera.
However since the launch of the D3x, we’ve maintained that the D700x is a very difficult camera for Nikon to launch from a business/marketing perspective: The D3x has an M.S.R.P. of $3k over the D3, so would a D700x have to maintain a $3k premium over the D700 making it a $5k-$6k camera? Not if they want to be competitive – Canon gets you 21 megapixels for $2,700 with the 5D Mark II, and Sony gets you to 24 megapixels for under $2k with the A850 – so to compete here the D700x would have to be around or a little above the $3k mark. It’s also widely believed that the launch of the D700 hurt high-margin D3 sales. If a D700x did come out, that would likely have a similar, or even bigger effect on D3x sales due to a wider price differential.
The other question that has to be on Nikon’s mind, is can current market conditions really support that many “pro” quality cameras (D300, D700, D700x, D3s, D3x)? While from an engineering standpoint the D700x makes a lot of sense, from a marketing/business standpoint, it may make sense for the D3x sensor to stay in just the D3x (just as the D2x sensor was never reused).
Given the recent D3s, if Nikon does what it did with the D3, we should expect the D700s some time in the first half of 2010 – basically an updated D700 with the revised sensor and video functionality out of the D3s. From an engineering standpoint and maximizing your return on sensor development, that makes a lot of sense. However, that will likely hurt high margin D3s sales in the same way the D700 hurt D3 sales. The D700 is undoubtedly a success for Nikon as a camera in its own right, but whether a D700s emerges depends on how Nikon’s upper management saw the bigger picture after factoring in the cameras impact on the D3.
The rumored D800 is a brand new camera, and if real, will replace the D700 in Nikon’s lineup. If the rumors are true this camera will have a brand new sensor, somewhere around the 18mp mark. Pure speculation, but Nikon have shown what they can do with the sensor in the D3s, so having an 18mp body with similar ISO characteristics to the current D700 should be very doable, with a similar, or perhaps a very modest drop in frame rate (more data to process per image, but then the processing power should increase over the D700 too).
From a business perspective this makes a lot more sense. If you want the absolute highest megapixel count, you have the D3x. For low light/high speed work, the D3s is it. Then the D800 becomes a much more rounded camera, capable of bringing the fight to Canon and Sony in the $3k or less prosumer FX market. An ~18 megapixel, 6-8 f.p.s. body with ISO 25,600 at a competitive price point could be used for studio, landscape, sports, photojournalism and so forth and make a lot of people happy (except possibly people that have just bought a D700).
Nikon basically has two approaches here – (1) continue their recent trend, and release a D700x soon and a D700s next summer, making a “mini D3x” and “mini D3s”. They then have to support two cameras in the marketplace. Or option (2) release a single do-it-all (but-not-as-well-as-the-pro-bodies) D800, with more megapixels, and at least similar ISO and frame rates as the D700 it will replace.
The first option is easy to do, but Nikon’s management have to look at how badly the D700 hurt the D3’s sales, will the market support yet another $3k+ camera in their lineup, and the costs of supporting an extra body in their manufacturing, distribution and support chains. The second option goes some way to protect sales of their pro bodies, simplifies the model lineup (and the customers decision process – do I need the D700s or D700x?), and means they only have to support one body in that space.
It’s tough to call, but if we had to bet, an ~18 megapixel D800 in summer 2010 makes a lot of sense and solves some problems for them, despite the costs of developing a new sensor. Given this months survey, it appears Nikon may not have finalized the decision yet, so for now, enjoy the amazing Nikon D700: