No Time Like The PreseNT
WHAT ArE we to take from Nikon’s recent confession that it’s working on a new mirrorless camera system? The implication, clearly, is that it’s not another 1 Nikon model based on that system’s tiny sensor. And besides, it looks to be the end of the road for 1 Nikon, at least as we’ve known it.
So… there’s the timing for starters and, specifically, the arrival of Sony’s A9. Sony is making no bones about the fact that it’s gunning for both Canon’s and Nikon’s top-end D-SLRs with this model, and the A9 story is just about compelling enough to initiate a substantial number of defections. Then there are also the seductions of Fujifilm’s GFX 50S with its bigger sensor, but even the ‘APS-C’ X-T2 is already making inroads into D-SLR territory, as is Olympus’s OM-D E-M1 II and Panasonic’s GH5. Presumably an ultra-high-res A9R isn’t too far away and, if you were Nikon, you’d have to a bit apprehensive about what the next-gen X-T3 or GH6 might look like. Nikon’s announcement may just be enough to stop brand devotees from jumping ship, but it’s going to have to come up with a bit more detail for this strategem to be effective for very long.
There’s another aspect to the timing too… Nikon simply doesn’t have too much time left if it’s to remain a key player in the interchangeable lens camera (ILC) market. Anybody who has already switched to Sony or Fujifilm isn’t going back and, perhaps more importantly, buyers who might have happily bought a competitive Nikon mirrorless camera right now are going elsewhere. Canon is arguably in the same boat here as the EOS M5 doesn’t really tick all the necessary enthusiast camera boxes, but you get the sense that there’s more of a plan here.
Of course, Nikon has the huge reputation of its brand to buy it time and, don’t forget, it has turned the camera world upside down once before… backing the unproven 35mm SLR against the more popular rangefinders and TLRs of the late 1950s. Even if you aren’t a Nikon D-SLR user or still uncommitted to a mirrorless system, you’d be tempted to wait and see what it’s going to come up with in mirrorless, especially as it’s promising “…the ultimate optics performance, imageprocessing technologies, strength and durability, and operation”.
So how long will we have to wait? Nikon has dropped teasers before and then almost immediately followed them with a real product announcement, but this doesn’t really feel like one of these occasions, mainly because of the timing. That said, it would a big deal to launch such a significant new camera during the 100th anniversary year, echoing the triumph of the F, but then there’s not much time left for that, is there? Next year is a Photokina year (well, actually every year will be, from now on), but Nikon hasn’t used this show as a launch pad for anything important for decades. CES 2018 then… as per the D5 and D500 in 2016? Maybe, but that would mean the camera is ready to go now, and you really don’t get that impression from what’s been revealed so far… which is basically nothing. However far away it may be, it’s all extra time in the sun shine for Sony et al to continue making hay.
And what can we expect? Who knows, but the basics would have to comprise a full35mm sensor (36 MP will do nicely) with phase-detection AF, sensor shutter capable of 1/32,000 second, 20 fps or faster, 4K video, fully weather-proofed bodyshell, 4.0 megadots or better EVF, touchscreen monitor, dual memory card slots and a battery-grip option. In terms of the essential ingredients then, this looks a lot like an A9, but sprinkling on a bit Nikon magic has the potential to cook up an even tastier dish.