Nikon Mirrorless APS-C Camera Line

Nikon Mirrorless APS-C Camera

10/10/19 update

Nikon introduced the Z50 today. They are sticking with their DSLR APS-C strategy so one lens mount will work for full frame and APS-C sensored camera bodies. This allows a user to buy a FF lens and use it on their Dx camera with the focal length being an effective 1.5x that of the listed focal length. This makes sense but still it’s important to note the following:

  1. Nikon is late to the mirrorless APS-C party. Canon launched in 2012 and Sony in 2014 and now own the entire mirrorless APS-C market, so Nikon is 5-7 years behind the competition.
  2. The sensor is 20mp, I doubt many users will be impressed since Sony is at 24mp and Canon has both 24 and 32.5mp bodies available at the same or lower price points.
  3. Why didn’t Nikon use an APS-C sensor in the Nikon 1 line?
  4. Will the Nikon APS-C DSLRs go away?
  5. How many APS-C users actually buy full frame lenses or eventually buy a full frame system?
  6. Speculation since I don’t see sales figures but I doubt APS-C camera body buyers are all that interested in full frame Z lenses. They are expensive.

History: Going back to the 90’s, Nikon had an APS-C camera called the Pronea. I bought one at San Jose Camera in 2000. I used the best Kodak film and used my F mount prime lenses since the IX mount was an F mount so no adaptor necessary. The images were utter crap. I didn’t even have to enlarge them past 4×6 or 5×7 to see the poor resolution and image quality. Fast forward 19 years later and the Z50, the first mirrorless APS-C camera from Nikon. Why use the 20mp sensor when the 24mp is readily available? Why not use a new sensor? I suppose they are constrained since they rely on Sony for their sensors though Nikon supposedly designs the sensors they use and Sony manufactures them. The D500 launched in Jan 2016 and I assume this 20mp APS-C sensor is the same one the Z50 is using. Seems like the Df, using an older sensor when newer sensors with more megapixels were available.

Nikon’s APS-C strategy is

9/21/19 update. It seems as if Nikon will launch an APS-C  Z body with a 20mp sensor soon at least according to Nikon Rumors. I’d guess it uses D500 sensor and is priced as an advanced amateur level camera around the D7000 line? This makes sense since it is the same strategy as Sony and Nikon’s own DSLR line. Four APS-C DSLRs from entry level to pro with a mount compatible with their full frame DSLRs and lenses. I’m betting they do discontinue 5 DSLR lines only keeping the pro lines and have the Z mount for everything else. They should really call it the Z mount and not the S mount which makes no sense at all. Anyways, at 20mp, not sure how consumers will react since Canon is at 24mp and 32.5mp and Sony is at 24mp. It also looks like they won’t have an APS-C line with it’s own body style and or lens mount like the Canon M and Sony A6xxx line.

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I’ve often wondered why Nikon has no mirrorless APS-C camera line like the Sony A6xxx, Canon M, and Fuji XT-x, and XT-xx. This seems to be a gaping hole in their line and as time goes by it appears less and less likely.

Backstory. The Canon M was introduced in 2012. The M6II in 2019. There are currently 4 current M bodies and 8 EF-M mount lenses and with an adaptor dozens of EF and EF-S lenses can be used on an M body. The Sony A6000 was launched in 2014 and the A6600 in 2019. Sony has 7 E mount lenses designed for the APS-C sensor and can use dozens more E mount lenses designed for the full frame A7 series. Both Canon and Sony have found success with a mirrorless APS-C camera and lens line. It’s a mystery why Nikon hasn’t done the same. They discontinued the Nikon 1 and KeyMission lines since both were terrible ideas that didn’t sell, yet a mirrorless APS-C line clearly would sell and can be positioned exactly like the Canon M line, a cheaper, more compact camera line compared to the FF mirrorless but is compatible via an adaptor with all the DSLR lenses. It’s a great gateway into a DSLR or FF mirrorless camera, but can also be a standalone system where a photographer may own just the EF-M system or both an EF-M system and an EF or RF system. Note that this is a different market audience than an mirrorless APS-C sensored Canon R or Nikon Z body. The DSLR equivalent would be a Canon 7D Mark II or Nikon D500.

The Nikon 1 line had 11 bodies and 12 lenses from 2011 to 2015! Those resources can now work on the APS-C mirrorless line.

Chris Nichols at Dpreview said that Nikon will be dropping 5 lines of DSLR at around 6:45 of this video. Sure, we could have guessed that the Df and D610 would be discontinued and perhaps some more, but 5? If this is true, we can guess that it won’t be the D6, D850, D750. So that leaves the Df, D610, D3xxx, D5xxx, and D7xxx. If so, Nikon really needs an affordable mirrorless line to make up for the loss of those lines and price points for their customer base.

According to bcnretail.com,

“Although the market leader has been surrendered to mirrorless single-lens cameras, SLR has a large lineup of interchangeable lenses with many users. It is an annoying problem how to make a sector that still generates more than 30% of sales. New development will be difficult, except for flagship models that can be expected by professionals such as news media and models currently under development. The lens is the same, and it will gradually fade out in the future. The big point for the market is how to further accelerate the SLR-free “mirrorless” SLR. As of March, the majority of sales in the interchangeable-lens digital camera market accounted for 51.2%, with a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera equipped with a sensor of less than full size. This is the largest volume zone for interchangeable lens digital cameras. This lineup enhancement will be extremely important for maintaining the interchangeable lens digital camera market.

Canon, which is performing well even with a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, absorbs the needs of the volume zone with the EOS M100 and EOS Kiss M, which are popular with the EF-M mount. It continues to run the top share. But the full size model is another RF mount. Since there are three systems: single lens reflex EF, mirrorless APS-C EF-M, and full-size mirrorless RF, there are concerns about the spread of development resources.On the other hand, Sony, which can cover both full-size and APS-C with the same mount, launched the relatively inexpensive α6400 in February and expanded the volume zone lineup. There is no lack of user acquisition. The most problematic is Nikon. With a mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera, there is still only a high-priced Z6 / Z7, and there is no tray for a volume zone of around 100,000 yen. There is an urgent need to increase the lineup.

For the entire market, the mirrorless single-lens lineup that can be completely replaced by single-lens reflex cameras is still insufficient. Enhancement is essential. Now that the user’s mind is moving away from the camera, there is little time left for market recovery.” (BCN, Ichiro Dogoe)

The google translation can be difficult to understand but several points stand out:

  1. DSLRs are dying, but how do we increase the market for mirrorless?
  2. As of March 2019 half of all ILC sales had sensors smaller than full frame, so I assume predominantly APS-C and Micro 4/3’s.
  3. Canon has the most market share of this smaller than Full Frame sensored cameras with their EF-M system
  4. Sony did well having one mount covering both the APS-C market and Full Frame market.
  5. Nikon only has the expensive Z line of mirrorless Full Frame cameras so an APS-C solution is urgently needed

If Nikon really is discontinuing 5 lines and if those lines include the D3xxx, D5xxx, D7xxx they will need something to replace that revenue. A mirrorless APS-C solution with an enhanced F mount would make the most sense. My proposal would be a three body line similar to the M100, M50, and M6 Mark II. Use the current 24MP sensor in the first 2 bodies and a new 30+MP APS-C sensor in the flagship model and the APS-C Z camera body. I’m not a camera engineer, but if it could use an enhanced F mount that is compatible with all the current 26 Dx and 77 FX mount lenses that would make it immediately attractive to current owners of F mount glass. Then enhance it with increased functionality, something like the RF lenses then that would be a huge win. Launch a limited line of enhanced Dx lenses that are native to this new mirrorless line, but will also work on Dx DSLRs and FF DSLRs. A wide angle zoom 11-22, a standard zoom 18-55, and a 55-200. Then a macro lens and some primes. These should be L quality since standard quality are readily available in the Dx lens line.

So that’s the backstory and my proposal. Why hasn’t Nikon launched an APS-C mirrorless camera and lens line? My best guess? Poor management. They clearly had the resources but allocated them to the 1 and KeyMission. Doing FF first makes little sense. APS-C is cheaper. The sensor in the Nikon Dx DSLRs could have been used. Those customers could then upgrade or just add in the FF mirrorless or DSLR later. An APS-C Z mount camera is a great idea but is a separate solution for a different market. All I can come up with is poor management, like not ever releasing a D400 or denying the D600 had a problem. As far as releasing an APS-C mirrorless line that is not based on the S mount but is similar to the M or A6000 series will probably not happen now. Nikon is too late to the game too effectively compete with Canon and Sony. They would also have to match Canon’s megapixel count of 32.5MP in their flagship otherwise they will look behind the competition at launch. Is there a 32.5MP APS-C sensor available for Nikon to use? If Nikon launches with the current 24MP sensor they are using in their Dx DSLR line, that will be okay as long as the flagship can match Canon. Both Canon and Sony seem to be too far ahead at this point with new bodies and lenses launching in Sept 2019. Still, if an enhanced F mount APS-C sensored mirrorless camera line could be launched by Nikon in 2019 I still think it could be successful if it follows the path outlined above.

What APS-C market should Nikon compete with? The Fuji XT-2, XT-3, are full frame expensive at $1500 for the body. I don’t think Nikon competing at the high end side of the market would be a good idea since it pushes right into low end Z camera pricing. XT-20 $700 and the XT-30 at $900 seem like a better alternative but Fuji lenses are full frame expensive. This makes sense for Fuji I suppose since they don’t have to worry about stealing sales away from a full frame mirrorless line since they don’t have one. A better strategy would be to complete with Canon and Sony. Canon has the $400-$879 price points taken care of with inexpensive $300-$500 lenses. While Sony bodies are $750-$1400. So 4 bodies from $400-$1400 and both $300-$500 lenses along with L quality lenses that are $500-$1000+. If the reader will recall the 1 NIKKOR VR 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 lens MSRP was $1000 when it launched in 2014. Nikon could definitely include lens of this quality in an APS-C mirrorless lens line up.

If a Nikon F mount for their APS-C mirrorless line is possible, then that would have an immediate audience. Not an adaptor but a native lens mount that can use F mount lenses. Not sure if this is possible engineering wise with flange distance etc, but even if there is a crop factor it might be worth it.

Honestly, I still hope Nikon launches an APS-C mirrorless camera line, but if it doesn’t happen in 2019 it appears less and less likely.