Mirrorless cameras have evolved — but the category has grown up largely without much help from some of the industry’s biggest players. Afraid to cannibalize DSLR sales, Nikon and Canon’s early mirrorless efforts were focused on the entry-level photographer and perhaps the enthusiast at most. Meanwhile, mirrorless cameras from Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, and Panasonic have all matured out of their awkward teenage years, offering performance that rivals — and sometimes exceeds — that of professional DSLRs.
With the mirrorless category’s coming of age, the biggest brands may finally be ready to give it a serious shot.
What once seemed like a pipe dream, Nikon’s long-rumored full-frame mirrorless camera has now been confirmed, with the brand counting down to an August 23 reveal. But while details on the new system are slim, expectations are anything but. Nikon’s entry into the professional-level mirrorless segment (and re-entry into mirrorless overall, after the discontinuation Nikon 1 series) has been bloated with anticipation from years of speculation as the industry shifted. After five teasers, the company continues offering glimpses of the camera leading up to that launch date, including a touchscreen.
Nikon is in its final year of restructuring, a process that, with the help of the full-frame D850 DSLR, has helped the company reverse a trend toward falling sales and increasing profit by focusing on high-end cameras. The upcoming full-frame camera could have a big impact on the company, as well as on the industry as a whole. Only Nikon knows exactly what the new mirrorless will bring — but that hasn’t stopped industry analysts and Nikon fans from dreaming of the possibilities.
What we know so far
Nikon hasn’t even shared a name for the new camera, but the company did reveal one big detail: It will have a new lens mount but will be compatible with existing Nikkor F-mount lenses via an adapter. Switching to a mirrorless camera typically means starting over with new lenses in order to maximize the space-savings potential of the format, so this is really no surprise. If the F-mount adapter performs well, DSLR shooters could be more willing to make the switch, as they won’t have to throw out their existing glass.
Nikon also said the camera will launch with new lenses, plural. The announcement also stresses that photographers will have two “industry-leading camera systems to choose from,” so the company isn’t planning on ditching the DSLR.
The new mount was the focus of the painfully brief second teaser (above), which also gave us a silhouetted look at the face of the camera. As with the full-frame Sony E mount cameras, the mount dominates the front, suggesting this Nikon will have a similar overall size to the likes of the Sony A7 series. The grip looks to be particularly big, while the viewfinder is nudged to one side, which could make room for a large top LCD display. What looks to be a mode dial is located just on the other side of the viewfinder.
In the third teaser, Nikon focuses on the body of the new mirrorless with an evolution through the company’s history. “All the expertise Nikon has acquired over the past 100 years has been poured into this camera,” the video says. Combined with the language of the announcement where Nikon confirmed the existence of the mirrorless system, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the camera borrow from the company’s DSLRs. A backlit glimpse of the body at the end suggests a DSLR-like grip with that characteristic red swoosh at the side.
Mixing the upcoming camera with cameras from the company’s past also makes it tough to distinguish which glimpses are part of the new camera and which are part of the company’s past and current cameras. The company takes the same approach to the fourth teaser — mixing old lenses with a vague shot of a new lens at the end. The 58mm in the video appears to be a Noct lens from the 1970s.
The fifth teaser reveals the most information about the upcoming mirrorless yet by divulging insight from the photographers beta testing the system. One says it feels like a DSLR but is much lighter — supporting guesses from earlier teasers that the camera has a larger DSLR-like grip. Other photographers say the camera is reliable and sharp. The video also shows the most we’ve seen of the camera yet, including a touchscreen and a glimpse of an electronic viewfinder and mode dial.
Nikon has one more spot for a teaser listed as “coming soon,” so we’ll likely get more (probably obscure) glimpses before the official launch.
Outside the details on the lens mount and the lenses and the teasers, the company hasn’t shared other concrete details on what to expect from the new camera. The language of the company’s announcement, however, includes both phrases like “next-generation” and “new dimension” alongside statements on the company’s legacy like “proven reliability” and “trusted performance.” This is all vague marketing-speak, but it’s all we have for now.
What a new pro mirrorless camera should offer
Photographers likely won’t know much more until after August 23 — but the current camera industry and Nikon’s past tendencies could offer some clues. Industry analysts Scott Peterson and Darrick Suen, with GAP Intelligence, expect a price range between $1,800 and $2,700 based on a translated press release from the company’s headquarters in Japan. That wide price range suggests that the August 23 announcement could be just the first in a series. Peterson says he wouldn’t be surprised to see Nikon offer “mama bear” and “papa bear” models down the road.
While Peterson anticipates a competitive price range, he doesn’t forecast any major industry firsts. His reasoning? The teaser for the camera is all about light, optics, and Nikon’s tradition. When the company launched the D850, the DSLR’s 8K time-lapse mode wasn’t saved for the official launch and was touted in early teasers.
While he doesn’t expect any industry-firsts, launching a mirrorless camera that is only a baby version of an existing DSLR isn’t the right move for the company, Peterson says. The level of innovation in the new full-frame mirrorless segment will show photographers how serious Nikon is about the format. He’s hoping for a sensor in the 40-megapixel range with pro-oriented lenses, not a basic kit lens.
Suen has an upgraded processor on his wishlist for the new camera, which could mean faster shooting speeds, higher bitrate video, and more. Nikon’s current high-end processor is the Expeed 5. The company is no stranger to high-speed mirrorless cameras, though: One of the biggest features that came out of the Nikon 1 system was a 20 fps burst speed. Part of that speed was smaller file sizes from a lower resolution sensor, but without needing to lift a mirror up and down between exposures, mirrorless cameras do have the potential for speed advantages over DSLRs.
What Nikon’s entry into mirrorless means for the industry
The reveal won’t just be big for Nikon. Sony currently holds all the cards for full-frame mirrorless (well, other than the Leica SL, but it’s an entirely different beast at nearly $6,000). Adding another player into the mix could shake things up and spur competition and innovation even beyond its current breakneck pace.
“We look at the interchangeable camera market from an overall perspective and think that more of the discussions should be around how to grow the overall market versus the current discussion of DSLR versus mirrorless,” says Ed Lee, an analyst and group director for the imaging division at Keypoint Intelligence. “Nevertheless, the current reality is that there is a DSLR versus mirrorless conversation still happening. DSLRs still account for the majority of sales in the US but mirrorless cameras continue to gain share. We anticipate that as more mirrorless camera models are introduced by all camera vendors that their adoption and market share will increase.”
Nikon’s entry into the professional mirrorless arena will bring more competition for the existing players, particularly if the Nikon arrives at a similar price point with Sony’s lineup. Sony’s original full-frame mirrorless is now in its third generation, which means Nikon is pitting a first-generation product against a mature competitor. It will have to offer equal or better features, image quality, and reliability — or perhaps, though it’s unlikely, a lower price point — if it hopes to compete.
“Sony has established a lot of clout and the big reason why is they had nothing to lose,” Peterson said. “They didn’t have noteworthy SLRs to drain from so they’ve been shooting for the moon, better, higher, faster.”
Canon is also rumored to be developing a full-frame mirrorless camera, and while the company hasn’t confirmed the development, Nikon’s launch could encourage the longtime rival to bring its own full-frame mirrorless to market. The rumor sites are calling for Canon’s mirrorless before the end of 2018 — but such sites also had Nikon’s announcement pegged sooner than when it actually arrived.
Arriving this late in the game, there are high hopes — and expectations — for a Nikon full-frame mirrorless camera. For now, we’ll have to be patient and tear away the days until August 23, when we’ll finally see if Nikon is able to meet those hopes and expectations. Of course, an announcement date is hardly the same thing as a launch date. It’s not uncommon for cameras to be announced months before they go on sale, but with any luck, we’ll be holding a Nikon full-frame mirrorless camera in our hands before the year is done.
Updated on August 20: Added the latest official teasers.
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