Nikon announces full-frame mirrorless camera system under development

After years of rumors, Nikon has finally confirmed that it’s working on an all-new mirrorless camera system based around a full-frame image sensor. The company has given very few details, but we know the system will use a new lens mount and thus require new lenses, though an adapter for F-mount SLR lenses will also be available. (It’s unclear whether this will offer features like autofocus.)

This will be Nikon’s second line of mirrorless cameras after the Nikon 1 series, which launched in 2011 and was recently discontinued. Nikon 1 used small 1-inch sensors and unconventional controls, with an anemic lens range that mostly consisted of slow zooms, meaning image quality was usually closer to a point-and-shoot than a DSLR. There was an F-mount adapter available, but the sensor size meant that focal lengths were cropped to extreme degrees, turning all but the widest lenses into telephotos.

The Nikon 1 system was widely considered an attempt to enter the mirrorless market without cannibalizing Nikon’s greatest strength, its F-mount lens library that dates back to the 1950s. The problem is that you can’t really design a competitive mirrorless camera system around a legacy lens mount. Today’s announcement, then, represents Nikon’s acceptance that mirrorless cameras are the future of professional photography, though the company says it will continue to develop SLRs.

As for when we can expect more information, Nikon is only saying that release and pricing details will be shared “at a later date.” Nikon often announces the development of high-end products without giving much information; it made a similar pre-announcement for the current flagship D5 camera.

Comments

I don’t see why a mirrorless system can’t be based on the F-mount? The distance between the back element and the sensor?

Yeah, Pentax tried to do this about 5 years ago and the result was a super bulky camera with terrible autofocus. Size might not necessarily be a problem if Nikon is going for pro users at first, but an older mount limits your flexibility to develop the form factor, to keep the size of lenses down, and also to introduce new technology. Canon bit that bullet back in the 80s when it broke compatibility for its EOS autofocus lenses, which gave it a bunch of technical advantages over Nikon. Nikon is targeting Sony with this new system, and it will lose if it’s beholden to backwards compatibility and its legacy.

I could be mistaken, but last time I checked, Sony was still the only manufacturer making full-frame mirrorless. Canon’s mirrorless EOS-M is only APS-C. Fuji leapfrogged the field and went straight to medium format with the GFX. Sony more or less achieved the objective of a significantly smaller form factor with mirrorless bodies, but with lenses, no. It appears large sensor size simply requires large lenses. Fuji too isn’t really claiming its lenses for its all-mirrorless line are at all smaller.

Why not design space for a SLR pentaprism, but have the small body size of their classic manual focus cameras? Technically impossible? ie. take an Sony A7, add a pentaprism, and call it a day.

Because with a non-mirrorless cameras, there’s a mirror (hence the pentaprism). That mirror needs space to flip out of the way so light can hit the sensor behind it. That’s why the space between the sensor/film and rear element is what it is in SLRs. That’s also why Canon’s crop-sensor cameras can have lenses with rear elements that go farther into the camera body (that’s what EF-S lenses are). The sensor is smaller, so the mirror is also smaller.

Hey, here’s an idea. Start a new market niche — digital SLR made out of replacing the film door of old SLRs with a digital back. Kind of like Hasselblad. Put a digital sensor in the space occupied by the film of old, together with the necessary circuitry, OLED monitor on the back, and the now-familiar buttons. And why not go a step further — hybrid film-digital system cameras, still able to use legacy lenses and film drives, also featuring both OVF and EVF. From there, develop and introduce digital sensor roll as well once the economics becomes viable. This would be a win-win for Nikon and its users if they are first with it. What say you, Nikon?

There was a kickstarter for something like this awhile back… but in general, I think this idea is more of a Kickstarter type idea than a real business a major company could pursue. Though I would buy one.

Another idea is just to take the old film SLR, use the familiar lenses, operate the camera normally but save the images wirelessly to a tablet. This is more doable with the addition of a digital sensor on the old film pressure pad, Bluetooth circuitry, and so forth. But since the topic is about full-frame mirrorless by Nikon, it begs the question why not just use your Nikon DSLR in Live View mode or mirror lockup mode? That’s in effect using it as a mirrorless camera minus an EVF, but you have the LCD on the back anyway? No huge investment in a new set of lenses.

it begs the question why not just use your Nikon DSLR in Live View mode or mirror lockup mode? That’s in effect using it as a mirrorless camer

I don’t think the drive to mirrorless cameras are because of the mirrorless technology in the sense that there is no mirror, I think it’s because typically, a mirrorless camera allows much smaller and more compact form factor while offering similar or equal image quality. Using a DLSR in mirror lock mode isn’t really the same thing as using a much smaller mirrorless camera.

But since the topic is about full-frame mirrorless by Nikon, it begs the question why not just use your Nikon DSLR in Live View mode or mirror lockup mode?

Grab a Nikon DSLR and spend 14 hours shooting with it, grab a mirrorless and spend 14 hours shooting with it, and then tell me which one you’d rather lug around day in and day out and into and out of cars and onto and off of airplanes.

I can’t pretty much guarantee it won’t be the heavy, bulky, ergonomically hostile DSLR. And even that guarantee is assuming you never use the EVF, focus peaking, or face/eye autofocus in your time with the mirrorless. Add those in and you might just throw your DSLR out the nearest window.

Can pretty much guarantee. Ugh.

Yes, kilopixel and chriscookz, you’re exactly right. With all the advantages of the mirrorless, I wondered to myself long ago why companies still kept producing DSLRs. The original rationale for the film SLR was as the solution to the parallax error in using the rangefinder and twin-lens formats. With the SLR, one basically was viewing what he was getting in his shot, not a slightly different perspective or angle. But since this was also achieved even with compact digital cameras, I couldn’t comprehend what it was that justified the continued existence of the mirror box. I especially couldn’t grasp the "why?" behind Sony’s "translucent" mirror SLT system, with its nonmoving mirror that just sits there and only subtracts from the light that reaches the sensor and defeats the expense on faster lenses. Mirrorless systems also have better, more accurate autofocus because the focusing sensors are on the exact same plane as the imaging sensor, unlike with DSLRs, where the focusing sensors are located on the floor of the mirror box or otherwise on the focusing screen and use only a reflected image from the mirror system. (When the mirror flips up, though, DSLRs function as mirrorless and use a different set of focusing sensors on the plane of the imaging sensor — which is why Live View focusing usually produces more bang-on sharp results.) DSLRs have a claimed superiority in producing bokeh or subject separation as a result of the greater flange distance, but mirrorless nowadays can deliver the same with the right lenses.

The F mount is 60 years old, and has significant inherent weaknesses. Mainly the long flange>sensor plane distance and the small opening. Nikon dealt with these rather than changing mounts at the beginning of the AF era (like Canon). They’ve made it work, but if they want to advance their lens technology this is when they have to do. They’ll most certainly release an adapter that will work (hopefully) seamlessly with f-mount lenses.

Word is Nikon will be announcing this new line August 23rd.

"The Nikon 1 system was widely considered an attempt to enter the mirrorless market without cannibalizing Nikon’s greatest strength,…"

I’ve never understood this argument. How is it better that someone else cannibalizes your product instead? Surely Kodak put that question to rest.

I think it’s that in the case of professional photography equipment, having an entrenched userbase is key. By continuing to promote and support full-frame F-mount, pro Nikon users would have less reason to switch, and that’s why many of them stuck with Nikon for decades. If they sensed that Nikon might move away from the system in the future, though, then switching to Canon would be more conceivable.

Of course the inevitable endgame here is that the tech advances to the point where it’s untenable for Nikon not to make a high-end move, which is exactly how it’s played out. It might be too little too late, but it’s possible that in the past few years Nikon’s figured something out to make the transition smoother. More likely is that it just took its time observing the market and was predictably hesitant to jump in.

I think it’s that in the case of professional photography equipment, having an entrenched userbase is key. By continuing to promote and support full-frame F-mount, pro Nikon users would have less reason to switch, and that’s why many of them stuck with Nikon for decades. If they sensed that Nikon might move away from the system in the future, though, then switching to Canon would be more conceivable.

This is certainly the reason. I’ve shot Nikon for almost 20 years and have $1000s (maybe $10000+?) in lenses and have shot Nikon my whole photography career for this reason. When I got a mirrorless for personal photography, I intentionally went with the Fuji x100 series because I didn’t want to mess around with ANOTHER set of lenses. But if faced with the need to switch to another lens system, I’m going to go with whatever seems like the best and most likely to last for another 20 years, and that may or may not be Nikon. I’m sure they were trying to keep lots of people like me from being faced with that same choice.

And yet, inevitably, here you now are faced with exactly that situation – except that now the probability that you do switch away from Nikon is increased proportionally to Nikon’s relative deficit in that market.

Not if he can use the same lenses he already owns.

Except, I’m still not faced with that situation – why do I need to switch NOW? If/when they stop making DSLRs, I will be faced with it… unless they have a good f-mount adaptor for this new system, which would (or at least might) mean I’d be more likely to go with that.

It might be too little too late

Yeah, Nikon’s a little late out of the gate here; a lot of long-term Nikon shooters have already left for Sony. Between the lack of mirrorless and the largely waving their hands in the air while Canon and Sony have brought out numerous clean-sheet lens redesigns for today’s digital and high-resolution sensors, Nikon’s had a tough row to hoe lately with many pros.

All I want is a digital Nikon FM2n. An already legendary compact camera for f lenses.

I bought the original A7 a few months after it came out for this very purpose. I had hope for the Nikon Df before it was announced, but that turned out to be a cruel joke. Anyway, I sold my D700 shortly after getting the A7 and haven’t looked back. If you don’t mind the EVF, the A7 with an adapter is a nice small set-up with old Nikon MF lenses. Not to mention you can get one for dirt cheap now.

We all knew this was coming the second D850 was released with every feature conceivable tossed it. The only reason any company would throw in every feature they had developed into a new product is either it’s a last attempt to stay relevant or that they knew it was the curtain call. Kind of like the last minute of a fireworks when they throw everything into the air and light it up! The features that went into D850 in the Sony playbook would have stretched into 3 releases or 5 releases for the iPhone!

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