It has been a year now since Nikon hinted at an upcoming Nikon full-frame mirrorless camera and the news are somewhat official now, with the launch of a Nikon special event page and its countdown, along with a press release that said absolutely nothing about the upcoming camera (which is why we never bothered publishing it at PL). But we know one thing for sure – the camera is supposed to be released on August 23 of 2018, about a month after the first teaser video came out. Although we don’t have any information from Nikon on the specifications of the camera, some details have been leaked and we do have one major piece of information based on the teaser video – the camera will feature a brand new mount. Many Nikon shooters are anxious to see what this camera is all about and some might be wondering how the new camera system might impact their existing investments and what it might mean in terms of future developments of DSLR cameras and lenses. In this article, I want to go over the upcoming Nikon Mirrorless system and discuss the features I believe Nikon should focus on in order to make it successful.
Please keep in mind that some of the information presented below is based on unofficial rumors and speculation, since all the information will be kept in secret until the day of the announcement.
The One Chance for Nikon Full-Frame Mirrorless
Nikon has had its share of failures in the past, most notably with its first Nikon 1 mirrorless system that has now been officially discontinued. Before that, we saw DL-series compact cameras die before ever being released to the market, and you might even remember the Nikon D600 disaster, along with other recalls and service advisories that left some serious dents on Nikon’s reputation. The company certainly showed its strength with such camera releases as the Nikon D750, D810 and D850, making some of the finest DSLR cameras ever made, but now we are dealing with a totally new camera, one Nikon is putting a lot of bets on.
The new mirrorless full-frame camera is Nikon’s hope to keep its customers from switching to other mirrorless systems. Nikon is pushing hard with this release and based on what we have heard from previous interviews, the company wants to make a truly competitive product that will be able to challenge other mirrorless systems on the market. That’s a tough goal to achieve, considering that Sony, Fuji, Olympus and Panasonic have been making mirrorless cameras for years and have managed to build solid, complete systems with plenty of lens and accessory choices. The pressure is certainly high, and if Nikon fails to deliver something that can stand out from its competition, it will have a hard time recovering. In short, this is probably Nikon’s one chance to deliver a solid mirrorless system. Anything less than that simply won’t be enough…
A New Mount
One thing we know for sure based on the teaser video and the development announcement, is that Nikon will be releasing a brand new system, not just a new camera. This means that we will be dealing with a new mount, a new breed of mirrorless lenses and potentially, even new accessories.
I was really hoping that Nikon would roll out a transitional camera first, one that would have the size and weight of a DSLR camera along with the good old Nikon F mount, but with an EVF capability. The idea was that such a camera would see a lot of potential use due to its ability to mount existing Nikon F lenses, and could have even replaced DSLRs in the future. With 100+ million Nikkor lenses out there, it would have made sense to keep the old mount going. Who knows, perhaps Nikon is planning to continue to focus on the F mount and DSLR cameras in parallel, but considering that Nikon is a small company with a limited R&D budget, it might end up moving most of its resources towards the development of the new mount instead. Sony’s track record shows that a new mount can take over most of the development efforts, and if Nikon follows suit, we might see the eventual death of the Nikon F mount in the future. That’s understandable, since a new mount opens up new opportunities for Nikon. A shorter flange distance translates to a smaller and potentially lighter camera, while newer lens designs will also become possible, allowing Nikon to create fast and compact primes such as the Sony FE 55mm f/1.8 that have not been possible with the F mount before (we might even see Noct-type lenses with extremely fast apertures of f/0.95-f/1.2, based on patent applications). A new lens mount will also bring in a lot more money to Nikon overtime (provided that many existing Nikon shooters switch), because Nikon shooters will most likely end up switching to new, more powerful lenses as they become available.
Now, if you are a Nikon shooter and you are already invested in Nikon lenses, you might be wondering if Nikon is going to release an adapter to make your existing lenses usable on the upcoming mirrorless system. Yes, Nikon has already stated that an adapter is in development, so I am sure existing Nikon F lenses will work on the new mirrorless system. However, an adapter is just a compromise and a short-term solution. It is a compromise because it introduces two mount points, which could create problems in the field (potential decentering / QA issues, more weight and bulk to worry about) and it is a short-term solution, because specific lens designs for the Nikon mirrorless mount will make them more appealing than Nikon F in the long run anyway.
Compared to other mirrorless systems on the market today, Nikon won’t be able to offer a complete lens line-up from the get-go, so a proper adapter to convert existing Nikon F lenses to the new mirrorless mount will be required. If Nikon does not deliver a fully compatible adapter that can accept all lenses from screw-drive D-type (AF-D) and G-type (AF-S) all the way to electronic diaphragm E-type and P-type (AF-S G and AF-P) lenses, it will be bad news for Nikon. This adapter must make it possible to mount all existing lenses and it must provide full connectivity for quick and accurate autofocus performance as well. Making such an adapter won’t be easy, as Nikon will have to incorporate a mechanical lever for controlling the diaphragm of G-type and older lenses, while providing electronic connections for newer E and P-type lenses. The adapter will need to be “smart” to be able to provide full-time metering and autofocus functions as well, no matter what Nikon AF lens or teleconverter is attached. Nikon has already made an FT1 adapter for the Nikon 1 system to be able to mount Nikon F lenses and if you take a look at the adapter lens compatibility list, some lenses such as the PC-E 24mm f/3.5D are incompatible. In addition, features like subject tracking were disabled when using the FT1 adapter. Nikon will need to overcome such limitations and make all modern and older lenses compatible with the new mirrorless mount if it wants to make the transition to the new mirrorless system as smooth as possible.
Lastly, considering that the new mount is physically larger than the F mount, it will probably be an odd-looking cone-shaped adapter. I don’t know how Nikon will overcome aesthetics with such an adapter, but I hope it looks at least reasonably good…
With the new mirrorless mount, Nikon should start off with outstanding lenses. There should be no compromises if Nikon wants to excel with the mirrorless system from the start. Fuji’s success on the mirrorless market was largely due to the introduction of excellent prime lenses at the launch, and Nikon should follow the same methodology. Based on the teaser images we have seen so far, it looks like a 24-70mm lens will be launched and it had better be as good, if not better than the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. Along with the zoom, Nikon should launch a few excellent primes that will make the mirrorless camera instantly desirable. Personally, I would love to see a newly designed 50mm f/1.4 prime that could be on par, or better than the Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 Art (minus the size and the weight would be huge bonuses). In fact, it would be better for Nikon to get started with a bunch of fast and compact, professional-grade prime lenses, rather than bulky and expensive zoom lenses. The success of the new mirrorless system will largely depend on how good Nikon designs the lenses for it. Images need to speak for themselves and launching a system with a bunch of slow zooms just won’t cut it.
Big, Fat, Lasting Battery
By now, we know that while size and weight are certainly important, they should not be the priority for designing a successful mirrorless system. Sony has moved away from a small and lightweight battery to a larger high-capacity battery with its third iteration of the Sony A7-series cameras and the overall size and weight of the cameras has increased as a result. Sony finally realized that the batteries used on its previous generation mirrorless cameras were simply not powerful enough for serious use. Nikon should start out with a large, high-capacity battery that can provide plenty of juice for the upcoming mirrorless camera at the start. If it makes the same mistake as Sony, it will be painful to recover from it later on.
One big hope many of us Nikon shooters have at the moment, is that Nikon is going to take its years of experience in building superb cameras with exceptional ergonomics and bring that experience over to the new mirrorless system. Without a doubt, ergonomics and consistent experience from camera to camera are very important, so I expect Nikon to excel here and not only make it easy for a Nikon shooter to transition to the new mirrorless camera, but also make it easy for others to switch to Nikon. I expect to see an excellent and comfortable grip, smart and functional button placement, easy navigation and zero non-labeled buttons. I would also love to see a digital display on the top of the camera (similar to the ones on Fuji X-H1 and GFX-50S cameras) and illuminated buttons, but those are “nice to have” features. Lenses should balance well with the camera and not make it too front-heavy.
The menu system should be easy to understand, simple and organized, similar to what we have today on Nikon DSLR cameras. The LCD screen should be touch-enabled and it should be easy to use the touchscreen to both navigate through the camera menu, as well as for things like focusing. Finally, I really hope Nikon fixes the menu banks system on this one!
High-Resolution, Bright and Lag-free EVF
The new mirrorless camera should have a superb high-resolution EVF (electronic viewfinder) that is both bright and lag-free in order to make it appealing for end-users to transition to EVF from OVF (optical viewfinder). I expect Nikon to give us some of the latest OLED EVF technology with its own optimizations to deliver excellent experience.
PDAF and CDAF Autofocus
Without a doubt, autofocus performance is going to be a key factor in the success of the Nikon mirrorless system. Nikon needs to prioritize autofocus speed and accuracy, so that the system nails focus for both still and moving subjects – whether one is shooting images or video. This will be tough to achieve, considering that Nikon has never made a full-frame sensor with phase-detection autofocus pixels built-in. Contrast-detect autofocus (CDAF) is not going to be good enough, so a combination of phase-detect autofocus (PDAF) and CDAF will be necessary if Nikon wants to be able to compete with Sony and Canon in the future. While it will be tough for Nikon to match its DSLRs in terms of AF speed and accuracy, if Nikon can make the magic happen, many photographers will seriously consider transitioning to the new mirrorless system for this reason alone.
In-Body Image Stabilization
Considering that Nikon has traditionally only employed lens-based stabilization, we don’t know if Nikon is planning to implement in-body image stabilization (IBIS) for its new mirrorless camera. As my experience with Sony, Olympus and Fuji mirrorless systems shows, IBIS has become a very important feature among most mirrorless players. For example, having recently used the Fuji X-H1 (which is the first Fuji X-series camera to feature IBIS), I can say with confidence that Fuji is better off incorporating IBIS in all of its future X-series cameras, as it makes a huge difference when shooting in the field. Nikon should seriously consider IBIS for its new mirrorless camera – I really hope to see it work as well as on the Fuji X-H1 and Olympus OM-D E-M1 II cameras. Lastly, it is important to note that if Nikon does implement IBIS, it needs to make sure that existing lenses with vibration reduction are going to be compatible when using the upcoming adapter.
BSI Stacked Image Sensor
It goes without saying that image quality of the new mirrorless system should at least match that of the Nikon D850, and hopefully even exceed it. This means that the new mirrorless camera should be able to offer exceptional dynamic range and superb high ISO performance to make it appealing for everyone, not just specific types of photography. The resolution of the camera is also important, but if Nikon wants to make a speed demon in the future, it should probably offer two different types of mirrorless cameras – one for sports / action and one for everything else. I expect Nikon to start off with a high-resolution version first, then offer a lower-resolution / faster frame rate camera later this year or next year. According to Nikon Rumors, we might see 45 MP and 24 MP full-frame versions of the mirrorless camera, which would mean that Nikon wants to potentially target the Sony A7R III and Sony A9 cameras in terms of resolution and speed. For optimal results, a BSI stacked CMOS sensor would be the way to go, but I am not sure if we will be able to see such technology on the first iteration of the camera. We might see that later on the 24 MP version instead. While a global shutter would be incredible, we know that such technology is not yet available for us today, so we need to base our expectations from the most current cameras on the market.
Dampened Shutter Mechanism with EFCS
Nikon needs to make sure that it incorporates the same or better shutter mechanism from the Nikon D850, so that it is properly dampened for less noise and vibration. In order to minimize shutter shock, Nikon should incorporate electronic front-curtain shutter into the camera and turn it on by default. Ideally, I would love to see a combination of EFCS, mechanic and electronic shutter to be able to go beyond 1/8000th of a second when using very bright lenses in daylight, similar to what Fuji has done on its X-series and GFX cameras.
Identical Dual Memory Card Slots
I personally don’t care whether Nikon sticks with XQD, CFexpress, SD or some other media type, as long as it keeps both memory cards identical. I can understand the point of transitioning into a different memory card type on current-generation DSLRs, but it is time for Nikon to pick one memory card format and just stick with it. Ideally, I would love to see the latest generation CFexpress memory cards on the Nikon mirrorless, but as long as there are two slots of the same kind and not XQD + CFexpress or CFexpress + SD. It is time to end the memory card nightmares by using one format that is future-proof.
Lastly, let’s not forget about new camera and menu features that could give a competitive advantage to Nikon over other mirrorless players. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity are a must, and Nikon needs to make sure that it has a properly developed app (not a crappy Snapbridge app everyone hates) that can control the camera and quickly transfer images to hand-held devices. A built-in GPS would also be a nice feature to have for those who like to geotag their images. For those who like shooting portraits, it would be also nice to add a radio transmitter for controlling the latest generation radio flashes such as the Nikon SB-5000. It goes without saying that the newest features we have seen on the Nikon D850 such as focus stacking and precision macro focusing should be available on the new mirrorless system from the start.
In addition, I would love Nikon to fix its Split-Screen Display Zoom feature, so that one can use it while shooting in portrait and landscape modes. This feature does not exist on any other camera on the market, which would give Nikon a competitive advantage.
Lastly, for those who shoot video, I expect Nikon to provide 4K+ video shooting at reasonably high frame rates, external HDMI output and other video features. It would be nice to also include 10-bit video recording, S-Log / F-Log, etc as well.
Last, but not least, is the pricing of this new mirrorless system. All this amazing technology can come at a hefty price, which would be a mistake, if Nikon wants to be competitive with what Sony has to offer. I would like to see the new mirrorless camera to be on par, or perhaps cheaper than the Sony A7R III for the high-resolution version and the lower, high-fps version should be able to compete with the Sony A9.
Are you excited about the new Nikon mirrorless system? What other features would you like to see on it? Please let us know in the comments section below!