Dream Nikon DSLR Lineup


Hey, last time I only had one dream DSLR in my list and pretty much got it, so here goes nothing...

Original 9/27/04
Updated 10/3/04: Voting now closed.
Updated 11/1/04: Latest reports say name is D80, not D90
Updated 1/28/05: Updated D50, D200, D3h (see section in red)

I've always tried to provoke thinking about Nikon cameras by imagining what the next model should be like, providing what I've called a "wish list." In the past, that's been for a single camera. I think it's time to design the perfect Nikon DSLR lineup, not just an individual model. Because I like to keep this in the realm of possible (or even likely), I'm not going to go to the extremes I'm doing in the 7th issue of my Nikon DSLR Report, where I really tackle my dream DSLR. Instead, I'll simply say the following table is what I'd like to see Nikon's DSLR lineup look like at the end of 2005.

Apparently, my list isn't very far off. One of Nikon's general managers gave an interview to a Japanese photographic press company (Impress) at Photokina that had a few nuggets of future information in it. Specifically, Nikon will have five lines of DSLR cameras. Three are absolutely known (the D70, the D100 replacement, and the D2h/D2x line). The two unknown ones bracket the D70 and D100 replacement, so one is likely to be a bit like the D50 I list here. The D80 I show below is likely to be the D100 replacement. That leaves an unknown line between the D80 and D2h. Another comment in the interview is that a full frame DSLR would be possible now, but would cost ~1m yen (~US$10,000). Nikon doesn't seem to think there's enough market at that price point to justify producing it; APS sensor size will be in the lineup from bottom to top for the time being, with the D2x being the top. Another comment seemed to indicate that a revised LBCAST sensor (four channel readout) has been produced, most likely for a revision of the D2h, though nothing was said about resolution. So, other than the FM3D and D3 columns here, there's a pretty good chance that the first five cameras will be in Nikon's 2005 lineup (though there may be some specification differences compared to what I list here).

As the update note above says, voting on these DSLR models is now closed (for those of you arriving late, I had the ability to vote for the cameras you'd have in your kit at the end of 2005 if they arrived as specified below; I set myself an arbitrary vote limit of 500 in order to have the results in time for my next newsletter, but it went well above that before I closed it off). I'll have a full discussion of the votes in the next issue of my Nikon DSLR Report newsletter. The short answer is that Nikon would probably be shocked at the results, as they don't match up well with their (assumed) priorities. Just to give you an example, the upcoming D2x only beat out the D50, D70, and D2h (barely) in my poll. Yes, that means that the D80 (nee D90), D3, and FM3D all received more votes. Thanks to all of you who voted.

Some of the dream lineup has appeared. Others are still in process. I've left the chart pretty much intact from the way I originally proposed and guessed. Let's look at how things turned out for the models one by one:

The D50 turned out remarkably as I expected. My price is a little low (though it's getting close), and I missed the SD card and faster USB port, but most of the rest was accurate.

The D80 turned out to be the D200. My primary mistake was in the sensor, as the original rumors were centered around 8mp CMOS and I also thought that was all it would take to be competitive ( it turned out to be a 10mp CCD). I guessed at a better AF sensor (the CAM1300) than the other consumer Nikons, and batted .500 on that (yes, a better AF sensor; but no, not the CAM1300). Again, my price was low, though in the right range.

The D2hMkII will actually likely to turn out to be the D3h, which I expect to be introduced at Photokina 2006. I've made a couple of small changes (in red) from the original chart (originally I hypothesized 8mp).

The D2x was pretty much dead on, other than the price, on which, again I was low.

The FM3D rumors still persist and prototypes exist, but with the shutdown of FM3a manufacturing, I now wonder whether it will ever appear.

The D3 in the chart below is an unspecified model number in Nikon's future plan. I'm not sure whether it will be called the D3x or something else. I expect a HS Crop that gives the 1.5x size as a secondary frame size choice.

  D50 D70 D80 D2h Mark II D2x FM3D D3 Comments
Sensor Size 23.7x15.6mm ~1.52x 23.7x15.6mm ~1.52x 23.7x15.6mm  ~1.52x  23.3x15.5mm ~1.54x 23.7x15.7mm ~1.53x 23.7x15.6mm ~1.52x 36x24mm
1x
The DX sensor size is fine except for the top-of-the-line model, which should finally take us back to full frame.
Sensor Pixels 6.1mp 6.1mp 8mp  10mp 12.2mp full, 6.8mp @2x crop 6.1mp  16mp full, 8mp crop @1.5x I'm not asking for a lot in terms of megapixels. 16mp is enough for now, as noise and DR are important, too.
Sensor Manufacturer Sony Sony Nikon designed  Nikon designed Nikon designed Sony Nikon designed Nikon needs to be in control of its sensors for the big boy models.
Sensor Technology CCD CCD CMOS CMOS CMOS CCD CMOS CMOS is the future due to cost control. Since the D2x gets us there, let's stay there.
Sensor Filtration RGB, antialias, microlens RGB, antialias, microlens RGB, antialias, microlens RGB, antialias, microlens RGB, antialias, microlens microlens RGB, antialias, microlens Yep, that FM3D is a black and white only camera, just the way I want my lightweight, manual focus body to be.
Max Image Size 3008x2000 3008x2000 3500x2300  ~3800x2600 4288 x 2848 3008x2000 ~4900x3200 Again, nothing overly aggressive here--all easily doable with current technologies. Remember, for it to be available at the end of 2005, it already has to be developed.
Other Image Sizes 2240x1488, 1504x1000 2240x1488, 1504x1000 1750x1150 HS Crop 3216 x 2136, 2144 x 1424 or
3216 x 2136, 2400 x 1600, 1600 x 1064
2240x1488
1504x1000
3500x2300 2450x1600
 
ADC Bit Depth 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 12 bit 14 bit 16 bit We want more bit depth on the flagship (and more dynamic range out of the sensor). With the black and white body, we want beautiful, to-die-for tonal ramps.
Raw File Formats Compressed NEF only Compressed NEF only NEF, Compressed NEF NEF, Compressed NEF NEF, Compressed NEF NEF NEF, Compressed NEF  
Other File Formats JPEG JPEG JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF JPEG, TIFF  
Auto Rotation Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Color Spaces sRGB sRGB, Adobe RGB, sRGB+ sRGB, AdobeRGB, sRGB+ sRGB, Adobe RGB, sRGB+ sRGB, Adobe RGB, sRGB+, sYCC Zone System sRGB, Adobe RGB, sRGB+, sYCC Yes, I said Zone System as a color space. Need to get some licensing rights there, but I want to know my Zone IX is at Zone IX.
Storage CF Type I or II CF Type I or II CF Type I or II CF Type I or II CF Type I or II CF Type I or II CF Type I or II, dual storage; tethered hard drive The flagship spits out huge files, so it needs more space, including a tethered hard drive capability.
Max Write Speed >4000 Kbps ~5500 Kbps >5200 KBps   >5200 KBps  >5200 KBps? >4000 KBps >6000KBps  
Max Buffer Size 8 JPEG, 2 RAW 14 JPEG, 4 RAW 20 JPEG, 6 RAW 40 JPEG, 20 RAW  15 RAW @ 12.4mp, 26 RAW @ 6.8mp 10 JPEG, 3 RAW >15 RAW If the D50 has the D70's dynamic buffering, then it doesn't need a big buffer, since it is a slower advance in the first place (1.5 fps). In fact, it might not need a buffer. Ditto the FM3D, though I've given it one here.
Connectivity (see note at bottom) USB 2.0 FULL USB 2.0 FULL USB 2.0 HIGH USB 2.0 HIGH USB 2.0 HIGH USB 2.0 HIGH USB 2.0 HIGH, Firewire  
TV Support none NTSC and PAL NTSC and PAL NTSC and PAL NTSC and PAL none modular option? Not every camera needs video out. Why are manufacturers wasting money on this when so few people use it?
Lens Support (metering) all AF, AI-P all AF, AI-P all, AF, AI-P, AI and AI-S all, AF, AI-P, AI and AI-S all AF, AI-P, AI and AI-S all AF, AI-P, AI and AI-S all AF, AI-P, AI and AI-S No excuses on the high end now, is there? Ironically, the FM3a gets the compatibility for free.
Autofocus Module CAM900 (5 sensor) CAM900 (5 sensor) CAM1300 (5 sensor) CAM2000 (11 sensor) CAM2000 (11 sensor) not applicable, MF body CAM2400 (15 sensor) Another new sensor? Yep. The number in the CAM part numbers indicates the number of pixels in the sensor components. CAM 2400 implies a 3 x 5 arrangement, with all having cross arrangements.
Autofocus Modes Single, Dynamic, CSP Single, Dynamic, CSP Single, Dynamic, CSP   Single, Dynamic, Group Dynamic, CSP  Single, Dynamic, Group Dynamic, CSP  not applicable, MF body Single, Dynamic, Group Dynamic, CSP The extra sensors in the D3 give us some more possibilities; does Nikon have time to engineer them? In particular, I'd like left-to-right, right-to-left follow focus amongst other new ideas.
AF Assist Yes (white lamp) Yes (white lamp) Yes (flash only) (flash only)  no (flash only) I suppose you could get creative and add an active AF supplement to the system. I don't see any need to reach here, though.
Metering Color matrix, centerweight (variable) Color matrix, centerweight (variable), spot Color matrix, centerweight (variable), spot Color matrix, centerweight (variable), spot Color matrix, centerweight (variable), spot Matrix, centerweight, spot Color matrix, centerweight (variable), spot
Exposure Modes PSAM + 7 Scene PSAM + 7 Scene PSAM PSAM PSAM AM PSAM One thing: let's actually make the Scene modes usable for a change.
Exposure Compensation +/- 5 stops, 1/3 or 1/2 stop +/- 5 stops, 1/3 or 1/2 stop +/- 5 stops, 1/3, 1/2, 1 stop  +/- 5 stops, 1/3, 1/2, 1 stop  +/- 5 stops, 1/3, 1/2, 1 stop none +/- 5 stops, 1/3, 1/2, 1 stop  
Exposure Bracketing Yes, 2 or 3 frames Yes, 2 or 3 frames Yes, 2 or 3 frames Yes, 2-9 frames  Yes, 2-9 frames no Yes, 2 or 3 frames  
ISO 200-1600, AUTO 200-1600, AUTO 100-800, AUTO, HI1, HI2 100-800, AUTO, HI1, HI2 100-800, HI1, HI2, AUTO 400-3200, AUTO 100-800, HI1, HI2, AUTO   Noiselessness is more important than anything else. Note the FM3D, which benefits from having all the "gunk" in front of the sensor removed.
White Balance Auto, bracketed, custom, 6 predefined with fine tuning Auto, bracketed, custom, 6 predefined with fine tuning Auto, custom, 6 predefined with fine tuning  Auto, bracketed, custom (3), 6 predefined with fine tuning, direct Kelvin  Auto, bracketed, custom (5), 6 predefined with fine tuning, direct Kelvin not applicable Auto, bracketed, custom (5), 6 predefined with fine tuning, direct Kelvin  
Image Settings Sharpening, Tone, Color, Hue Sharpening, Tone, Color, Hue Sharpening, Tone, Hue  Sharpening, Tone, Hue  Sharpening, Tone, Hue Sharpening, Color, Tone, BW filter Sharpening, Color, Tone, Hue, film simulations, dynamic range  
Color LCD 1.8", 130,000 pixels 1.8", 130,000 pixels 2", 130,000 pixel  2.5", 235,000 pixel 2.5", 235,000 pixel B&W LCD 3", 400,000 pixel Keep the FM3D light, rugged by putting something like the F6 LCD on it and giving it a histogram function but no image review. Make the LCD on the D3 worth reviewing images on.
Image Review Histogram, Highlights Histogram, Highlights Histogram (RGB), Highlights Histogram (RGB), Highlights Histogram (RGB), Highlights Histogram (with Zone System markers) Histogram (RGB), Highlights  
Continuous Shooting Speed 1.5fps 3 fps 4-5 fps  8 fps @ 10mp, 12 fps @ 6mp 5fps @ 12.4mp, 8fps @ 6.8mp 1 fps   8 fps? I get a little unsure here, as I don't often press the frame advance limits of my cameras.
Shutter Speeds 30s to 1/4000, bulb 30s to 1/8000, bulb 30s to 1/8000, bulb 30s to 1/8000, bulb 30s to 1/8000, bulb 30s to 1/4000, bulb 30s to 1/8000, bulb  
Mirror Lockup No No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Ought to be yes to all, but you have to be careful to build a "line" of DSLRs, not a bunch that all have the exact same feature set. What's important to Customer A isn't to Customer B.
Flash Sync Speed 1/500 1/500 1/500 1/250 1/250 1/250 1/500  
Flash Type I-TTL I-TTL I-TTL I-TTL I-TTL TTL I-TTL Not sure how the FM3D is going to do TTL. Can we make the reflectance of the sensor right?
Internal Flash Yes GN 15m Yes GN 15m Yes GN 15m No No No No Pro bodies no, amateur yes.
PC Sync No (via optional AS-15) No (via optional AS-15) Yes Yes Yes No (via optional AS-15) Yes And pro bodies yes, amateur no.
Flash Compensation -3 to +1EV -3 to +1EV -3 to +1EV on flash only on flash only on flash only on flash only  
Flash Options Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, Flash Lock Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, Flash Lock Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, Flash Lock Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, Flash Lock Slow Sync, Rear Sync Red Eye, Slow Sync, Rear Sync, Flash Lock, in camera flash metering Build a Minolta Flash Meter-like capability into the D3 and a way to trigger external lights to get the reading. And hey, another benefit of a B&W camera: no red eye!
DOF Preview No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes  
Remote Control ML-L3 IR (optional) ML-L3 IR (optional) Threaded cable, 10-pin on vertical grip 10-pin 10-pin Threaded cable Threaded cable, 10-pin  
Size Smaller than D70 5.5 x 4.4 x 3.1" (140x111x 78mm) D70 or slightly larger size 6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4" (157.5x149.5x 85.5mm)  6.2 x 5.9 x 3.4" (157.5x149.5x 85.5mm)  FM3a size  Modular body    
Weight 18 ounces 21 ounces (595g) 24 ounces 38 ounces (1070g)  38 ounces (1070g) 14 ounces ?  
Battery EN-EL3 EN-EL3 EN-EL3  EN-EL4 EN-EL4 EN-EL3 new Let's stay as consistent as possible and keep new batteries from leaking into the lineup. Indeed, how about a flash powered from an EN-EL3 Nikon?
Other significant ML-L3 infrared remote control, PictBridge  ML-L3 infrared remote control, PictBridge  Optional vertical grip ala D100 (adds multiple battery, voice annotation, 10-pin), PictBridge Vertical release, Wireless transfer option, High Speed Flash Sync, voice annotation, AI lenses, GPS support, multiple exposure, layered images, PictBridge Vertical release, Wireless transfer option, High Speed Flash Sync, voice annotation, AI lenses, GPS support, multiple exposure, layered images, PictBridge   Vertical release, PictBridge, Live Image display, upgradeable sensor, Wireless transfer option Here's where I could use some help. What else is missing on the new models? Add your idea.
Price (end of 2005) $599 $899 $1399 $2899 $3999 $999 $4999 These prices may be a bit aggressive, but they are where I'd like to see them at the end of 2005 (especially since I'll have to buy one of each...). We've got a bit of a gap between the top of the amateur line and bottom of the pro line (US$1500 to be exact), so there's room for another camera in there.
Final Comments Basically strip down a D70 and get the price as low as possible while not compromising image quality. Nothing wrong with this product in the 2005 timeframe. Needs to add features the D70 stripped from the D100, plus add better image size and quality. Needs to achieve 1DMkII parity in pixels, otherwise perfectly fine as is. Hits a nice sweet spot in price performance. Every pro used to carry a backup body loaded with B&W film; at this price why not have a digital equivalent? The flagship restored. While featurewise it doesn't seem much different than a D2x, it's the modular nature of the design that gives it long term staying power. I think this lineup has a little bit of something for everyone. You want full frame? Get a D3. You want best price/performance? Get a D2x. Shooting action and cost is an issue? Get a D2hII. An amatuer looking for a DSLR? Get the D50, D70, or D90 depending upon your needs. Love manual focus and black and white? The FM3D is a no brainer. But you're about to tell me if I'm right, so read on.
Site Visitor Suggestions     Gridlines in viewfinder, number of people want 10/12mp instead of 8mp 1/500 flash sync, 200-1600 ISO   Mirror prerelease, 1/500 flash sync, keep the wind lever! (cocks shutter without battery power, recharges battery?), add exposure comp 3" LCD, tilt/shift sensor, sensor cooler, bigger bracketing range (9 frames) Many models: self-cleaning sensor. Bring back Nikon View. Higher magnification viewfinders. Black and white review plus channel review with channel histogram. Multiple spot metering. Camera level in viewfinder.

   

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