Nikon Df vs the Mythical D400

Owl at a crossroads

No, I don’t have the specs for the D400 (should it ever be more than a vapor-camera) but after reading many “Df compared to” articles, I was thinking about what Nikon’s sales would be if they produced a D400 instead of the Df. I am going to go against Nasim and Roman’s love affair with the new Nikon Df and say that I don’t care much for it. Sure, it is cool looking, but otherwise? I made the comment to Nasim and later to Bob (who might feel as I do) that it doesn’t do much for me. Roman concluded in summary of his Df vs D610 article that you buy the Df with your heart and so it may be that I am heartless. When it comes to the Nikon Df vs the mythical D400, which would Nikon be better off producing?

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Nikon D400 is Definitely Coming

Nikon D400

Many of our readers are wondering if the Nikon D400 will ever see the light of the day, given that the Nikon D300s is now 4 years old. Nikon confused us with the D7100 announcement (see my review here) when it used the word “flagship” in its product page and announcement, something that once belonged to the D300s, the once DX flagship of Nikon. Because of this, and the fact that the 51-point Multi-CAM 3500 AF system that was only used on high-end Nikon DSLR cameras before, I interpreted the D7100 announcement as the merger of the camera with the D300s line, eliminating high-end / flagship DX line forever. However, after using the D7100 for a couple of months and shooting wildlife with it, I realized that the D7100 seriously lacks the large buffer required for fast action photography (even shooting in cropped mode and smaller RAW files) and its non-pro body build, with the absence of 10-pin connector and important buttons like AF-ON got me thinking about the potential release of the D400. So after a short while, I published an article titled “is there room for a Nikon D400?“, where I posted a poll asking our readers what they thought about the D400. It turned out that a lot of people want the D400, despite the release of the D7100.

Nikon D400

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Is there room for a Nikon D400?

Nikon D400

With the introduction of the Nikon D7100, there has been both excitement and frustration from Nikon fans. Those who wanted to move up to a higher-end DX camera greeted the D7100 with fanfare, while many existing D300/D300s owners were disappointed with this update. Why? Well, for anyone moving up from an older generation or an entry-level DSLR, the D7100 is a significant upgrade, thanks to its high resolution sensor and top of the line autofocus system. However, for those that shoot sports and action with a D300/D300s, the small buffer of the D7100, lack of a dedicated AF-ON button, slower fps speed and a few other factors left them puzzled about the future of a high-end DX camera. As I initially stated in the Nikon D7100 announcement article, I feel like Nikon has merged the professional DX line (D300s) with the semi-professional (D7000) line into the D7100. A number of factors led me to make that conclusion. With the high-end autofocus system making it into the D7100, lack of an optical low-pass filter, full weather sealing and Nikon’s usage of words “flagship” and “high-end” in their press releases, it just felt like the D7100 killed the possibility of the D400 ever making it to the market. On top of that, both the D7000 and the D7100 were announced after the D300s, making the D300s over three years old and breaking it out of its typical 2 year update cycle (the D200 was released in 2005, D300 was released in 2007 and D300s was released in 2009). Will we ever see a D400 DX, or has the D7100 become the high-end DX?

Nikon D400

As I was compiling the data for my Nikon D7000 vs D7100 article, I realized that the D7100 has one major drawback that will immediately draw criticism from current D300/D300s owners – the small buffer size. Even compared to the existing Nikon D7000, the D7100 can only handle up to 9 images in compressed 12-bit RAW format (which is the smallest RAW file size) at full resolution and up to 14 images in the same format at 1.3x crop size, whereas the D7000 can handle 15 RAW files without the crop. Compare that to the D300s, which can take 45 compressed RAW images before the buffer gets full – that’s quite a difference.

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Why DX has no Future

FX and DX camera

Although I called this article Why DX has no future, I believe it applies to all cropped sensor DSLR cameras, not just Nikon. Earlier in 2012, I wrote an article called “The Future of Digital Cameras“, where I shared my thoughts on what I think will happen with DSLR, Mirrorless and other camera technologies within the next few years. One of the main points of the article, was my opinion on DSLRs and why I think they are here to stay for a long time. I did not clarify what I meant by DSLRs, because the DSLR technology defines how the camera works, not what type of sensor or features it has.

FX and DX camera

As I am sure you already know, DSLRs today come in different sensor sizes. There are expensive, pro-level DSLRs with full-frame sensors equivalent to 35mm film in size, as well as cheaper DSLRs with much smaller sensors (about twice smaller in size than 35mm, generally referred to as “APS-C”). Historically, DSLR manufacturers have been producing APS-C cropped-sensor cameras for three main reasons: lower cost, smaller size and lower weight. The smaller size of the sensor meant that the camera’s internal components such as the reflex mirror could also be made smaller and the entire frame of the lens did not have to be used, making cropped-sensor DSLRs and lenses lighter, more affordable and a little more compact in comparison (see my DX vs FX article).

The End of the Small Compact and the Rise of the Mirrorless

With personal computing making its way to phones and tablets, instantly reaching millions of people, the message has been clear – people want smaller and more capable devices. This change in consumer behavior is very obvious. If just a couple of years ago the general population was carrying compact digital cameras to capture their everyday moments, now most people just resort to smartphones with built-in cameras. We live in a very connected world today and people are willing to give up a little on quality, as long as they are able to instantly share a picture or video with friends and relatives. They do not want to carry multiple devices – convenience has become hugely important. That’s what has been shattering the compact camera market for sometime now and as I have previously pointed out, I believe the small sensor compact market will pretty much disappear within the next few years.

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Nikon D400 Announcement This Fall?

Nikon D400

I am getting some information from our readers about a potential Nikon D400 announcement this fall (during Photokina in September, shipping in October). I was not going to post anything when I first got some speculative information about the D400, but when the same person that sent me some details earlier this year on the D800 (which turned out to be 100% true) confirmed the D400 specs, I decided to post what I have regarding the upcoming DSLR. I am still a little skeptical about some of this, since it could contradict the potential announcement of the Nikon D600 that I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. If Nikon does indeed release the D600 at a ~$1,500 price point, it would have to severely handicap many of its features, if the below specifications turn out to be true. Otherwise, Nikon will have a hard time selling the D400 in my opinion. Nikon is apparently already working on D400 production in its Sendai plant in Japan.

Nikon D400

Here is a summary of the Nikon D400 specifications that I have received from multiple sources:

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