As of writing this, Nikon's prosumer offering consist of the excellent D700 and the aging D300s. The D700 is well past its second birthday, which makes it about 107 in camera years, and the D300s was a very modest update to the D300 (especially if you are not interested in video), which dates back to 2007.
Canon's prosumer offerings currently include the popular 5D Mark II and the much newer 7D.
With the exception of the 7D, the three other cameras in this segment, while all excellent performers, are almost certainly going to be updated before the end of 2011. Let's start with Nikon:
Nikon Prosumer DSLR's:
By the summer of 2011, it will be 4 years since the launce of the D300, so the D400 is certainly due. In many areas, the newer, and cheaper, Nikon D7000 outperforms the D300s already. Given Nikon's history of reusing sensors, it is highly likely that the Nikon D400 will use the same (or an improved version of) the 16mp sensor from the D7000. So what else should a D400 bring?
Since the D7000 has some weather-sealing, and previously the amount of weather-sealing was one of the differentiators between the "prosumer" and "advanced consumer" bodies, it's highly likely that a D400 would be even more weather-proof than either the D7000 or D300s. Whether or not it will weather sealed like to pro bodies remains to be seen.
The D400 needs to beat the D7000 in frame rate, so at least 7 f.p.s. ungripped is likely. Predicting a well spec'd 1080p video is also a safe bet.
It will have a new autofocus system, which needs to be better than the D7000 due to its place in Nikons line-up. Looking at Nikons prior releases, with a new Nikon D4 expected, there is a very good chance the D400 and D4 will share the same AF system (which will work faster in the D4, since it will have more processing power behind it).
Altogether this should make for a very interesting camera, possibly even the first real 'pro' DX body since the D2 series, and almost a must-have for bird and wildlife shooters that can really benefit from the pixel density with their longest lenses.
The Nikon D700 on the other hand is simply one of the best cameras ever made, with its combination of size, speed and low light abilities, there is very little the camera can't do already. As such, what replaces the D700 has been subject of intense speculation and debate, pretty much since its launch in 2008. Because the D700 is basically a D3 sensor in a D300 style body, the early speculation was on Nikon releasing 2 cameras: a high-res D700X with the sensor from the D3X, along with a D700S with the sensor out of the D3S. However as time goes by, that scenario is looking less and less likely, especially since it is widely believed that the D700 cannibalized highly profitable D3 sales. A single new Nikon D800 launched some time around summer 2011 seems to be the safer call, timed possibly to be near the replacement for the Canon 5D Mark III. So what would a D800 look like?
Let's start with the sensor. It will almost certainly be full frame. The camera is likely to be a compromise between speed and resolution, so somewhere between 18 and 24mp with similar or slightly better ISO abilities than the D700 (Nikon got at least a full stop better ISO performance with the D3S over the D3, meaning they are working with half the light – so surely that means they can use the same approach to half the pixel size instead and keep the same ISO ability, right?).
As for frame rate, at least 5 f.p.s. ungripped (i.e. at least as good as the D700). Full 1080p video is a given.
A new autofocus system is also very likely. The D700 shares the same AF system with the D3 and D300 cameras. Since we are expecting a new AF system to be introduced with the D4, does this mean a D800 might be launched at the same time, or some time after the D4 launch? Or will Nikon start using a different AF system on the prosumer bodies?
Overall, imagine a D700, add video, double the resolution, and make modest improvements in all other areas (AF, ISO, frame rate, buffer size etc), and you've got one hell of a camera…
Canon Prosumer DSLR's:
As we've stated already, we expect a Canon 5D Mark III to be announced before the end of 2011. Where as Nikon's D700 is primarily a sports/photojournalists camera, Canon went instead for resolution and video, and created an equally impressive body. Presumably with the Mark III, Canon plans to build upon that success. That means even more impressive video capabilities to maintain their lead, along with more resolution.
The Mark II's weakness compared to the Nikon was primarily its autofocus performance and frame rates, so these are areas Canon may try to address, at least to some extent. Given the 1Ds Mark IV is also expected in the near future, it is possible they may share some technology, although Canon won't want the 5D Mk III to cannibalize 1Ds Mk IV sales.
We expect 2 cameras from Nikon in this segment:
- Nikon D400 – replacing the aging D300 series with (probably) the sensor from the D7000, combined with a new AF system and better weather sealing.
- Nikon D800 – basically a Nikon D700 with full 1080p video and a fairly big bump in resolution (18-24mp range).
Just one camera from Canon:
- Canon 5D Mark III – building on the Mark II's success, but bumping the resolution, expanding the video functionality significantly, and improvements in autofocus and frame rate.
This all makes for a very interesting year ahead indeed for the prosumer segment.
Next Up: Consumer DSLR's….