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Nikon goes full frame
August 29, 2007 9:40 AM   Subscribe

I'm completely baffled by Nikon's DSLR strategy and I'd like to understand a few things better: first they create the DX line and seem to indicate that cropped is there to stay, now they go full frame. What should a serious film photographer who wants to go DSLR and already owns a bunch of excellent manual focus Nikon lenses do now? I also find baffling that they're not teling who manufactures their full-frame sensors -- don't potential customers have the right to know who makes the heart of the really expensive camera they may buy? Thanks.
posted by matteo to Technology (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, Steve Jobs always said there was no way they were making a flash-memory iPod ... until they did. The full-frame thing should be no surprise -- Canon have made it increasingly cheap, and Canon has been eating Nikon's lunch in the past few years.

As for the sensors, presumably that's a market advantage to them, and they're under no more obligation to tell you who actually fabs it than BMW are to tell you who makes the flange sprocket.

What's preventing you from moving to a Nikon DSLR? They'll take your lenses, which is a big plus, no?
posted by bonaldi at 9:58 AM on August 29, 2007


bonaldi, I like wideangles.
posted by matteo at 9:59 AM on August 29, 2007


Well, in that case you're set, now they've brought out a full-frame body, aren't you? I'm a bit confused as to what you're asking, here.
posted by bonaldi at 10:05 AM on August 29, 2007


They had to offer a full frame camera to compete with Canon. While they may remain philosophically opposed (sort of like Steve Jobs and his one button mouse) the market forced them to shift strategies.

As for your manual lenses, they'll work splendidly with your DSLR. I use the F100 and the D50 and swap lenses all the time. While the smaller sensor means your 35 turns into a 52.5 (which we may as well call a standard 50mm) it's still a great piece of glass.

I can't speculate as to the secrecy behind the manufacturer. Perhaps they don't want to give credit to a competitor? But what difference does it make, really, so long as it performs well?

On preview: I see you know all about the sensor multiplier. While it's true that you have to go really wide to use a manual lens on a Nikon digital, that obviously isn't a problem with the D300. So, like bonaldi, I don't quite understand what sort of advice you're looking for . . .
posted by aladfar at 10:12 AM on August 29, 2007


basically I wonder, is it just an experiment? is their full-frame decision coming from an actual game plan they're commited to or are there elements to fear it's a half-assed attempt to chase Canon (my lenses fit on a 5D, too, with a ring) with a mystery sensor?
posted by matteo at 10:13 AM on August 29, 2007


By D300 I mean D3. Oops.
posted by aladfar at 10:14 AM on August 29, 2007


Perhaps they don't want to give credit to a competitor?


yes, but maybe it's manufactured by Craptacular, Inc in North Korea.
posted by matteo at 10:16 AM on August 29, 2007


I can't imagine that they'd go full-frame with the D3 only to go back to a smaller sensor on future models. Professionals demand full-frame sensors - that's what manufacturers will have to provide if they're to remain competitive.
posted by aladfar at 10:17 AM on August 29, 2007


I don't think they are going to phase out the cropped sensor line. And presumably this new line will compete with Canon's full frame offerings. I don't see what your issue is?
posted by chunking express at 10:18 AM on August 29, 2007


I'm pretty sure it's a game plan. They talk it down when they don't have a FF sensor, then suddenly unveil one. Now that they have, they'll be committed. OTOH, I don't expect they'll put one in a lower-priced body -- FF will remain premium.

If you've been waiting for FF to switch to digital and can afford the D3, then your time has come. If you're waiting for a FF D200-level, I think you'll wait a bit longer still. Or get the 5D, it's a very good camera indeed.
posted by bonaldi at 10:18 AM on August 29, 2007


yes, but maybe it's manufactured by Craptacular, Inc in North Korea.
It's not like it's an unseen part though -- the images coming off the sensor will tell all. Who cares who makes it, if they're fabulous. If they're crummy, who gives a shit if Rolls Royce makes it?
posted by bonaldi at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


If Craptacular, Inc makes crappy sensors then the D3 isn't going to sell too well. It's not like people won't notice the images the camera is producing suck.
posted by chunking express at 10:28 AM on August 29, 2007


It's not like it's an unseen part though -- the images coming off the sensor will tell all. Who cares who makes it, if they're fabulous. If they're crummy, who gives a shit if Rolls Royce makes it?

People that don't want it to fail in 3 months.
posted by chundo at 10:34 AM on August 29, 2007


Sensors are getting larger because it's getting pointless to add more pixels to the existing cropped sensors--increased sensor resolution at that size starts to push the clarity of existing optics in the lenses. Also, while manufacturing advances may lead to improved optical clarity in the future, physics dictates that full-frame sensors will always allow in more light per pixel (assuming larger pixels at the same resolution as a cropped sensor, not more pixels at the same pixel density), which makes them faster/more sensitive.

But full-frame Nikons shouldn't worry you, they should worry people who have put money into DX lenses that look to be an evolutionary dead-end.
posted by cardboard at 10:38 AM on August 29, 2007


People that don't want it to fail in 3 months.

So don't buy a camera for thousands of dollars till some time has passed, you have read some reviews, and seen some photos. It's like buying anything expensive.
posted by chunking express at 10:42 AM on August 29, 2007


Why would consumers have the right to know who manufactures the sensor? I mean, I understand what you're getting at, but still - do you ask who manufactures the axles on your car? Does that keep you from buying a certain brand of car?

Which is all beside the point, anyway - either the sensor is good, or it isn't. In about 3 months you'll know the answer. I'm guessing that you've waited this long, so you're probably able to wait a few more months.

Personally, I think the D300 is going to be the last DX format sensor. Mostly I think it's because as sensors get smaller and cheaper, people are going to demand full-frame sensors at reasonable prices. I'm not going to buy another DSLR (I have a D70, my wife has a D50) until full-frame is the standard. If it's a Nikon, that's great, but I'm entirely willing to switch over to Canon in coming years. The 5D is an awesome camera, as are plenty of of other Canon DSLRs.

The only reason I think they wouldn't drop the DX line is if they're looking to stratify their product line along FX/DX lines. Personally, I think that would be a stupid business decision - there's thousands and thousands of D70 owners who will be looking for new cameras in the next few years, and if the 6D (or whatever) is full-frame, and the D90 isn't, I think there'd be a lot of new Canon owners.
posted by god hates math at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2007


At least Nikon lets you mount DX lenses on the D3. Your images will just be cropped to 5.1MP. Canon's lenses for small-sensor SLRs won't mount to a full-frame body, unless you hack apart the lens.
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 12:14 PM on August 29, 2007


god hates math: why would there be a lot of new Canon owners? Has Canon announced that they're only going to produce full-frame DSLRs now?
posted by marionnette en chaussette at 12:18 PM on August 29, 2007


first they create the DX line and seem to indicate that cropped is there to stay, now they go full frame. What should a serious film photographer who wants to go DSLR and already owns a bunch of excellent manual focus Nikon lenses do now?

Nikon guru Thom Hogan has a few things to say about Nikon's strategy. Specifically, Nikon is aiming to support both full-frame and crop-frame lineups (FX and DX respectively in Nikon parlance), just as Canon has been doing for a long time now, starting with the original 1Ds. He sees the D3 as a chance to (finally) give Nikon film holdouts a chance to use their excellent 35mm lenses at their intended FOV.

I think it's a great move on Nikon's part. It's also wonderful for digital photography as a whole, and I know many other Canon shooters like me are also celebrating: competition at last! to kick Canon off their 20D/30D/40D digicam-like mini-upgrade treadmill. Nikon's new DSLR lineup clearly establishes technological parity with Canon's, and Thom has a Nikon/Canon DSLR lineup comparison table (about 60% down that page) matching cameras vs cameras in their respective lineups. But this is where I disagree with Thom about winning film holdouts: the D3 is aimed at pros, but pros have almost all converted to digital at this point. It's some of the die-hard amateurs that are being the holdouts at this point, and if that were the segment Nikon is really courting, they'd need a non-pro FX camera like Canon's 5D. The D3 is all about reestablishing technological parity with Canon on the pro end of things: just look at the high-end specs and prices on the new FX lenses just announced. The sea of white lenses at sporting events will start to slowly erode now, bit by bit.

In short, Nikon has finally gone full frame, and quite seriously so at that. All indications point to an upcoming high-megapixel, full-frame D3X to counter Canon's 1Ds series within the next year. (Thom correctly points out that the D3, despite being full-frame, is pitted against Canon's 1D series, not the 1Ds series -- it's a speed/sensitivity camera, not a resolution camera.) And Nikon is showing their dedication to full frame with their new FX wide zooms -- 14-24/2.8 and 24-70/2.8 -- as well as finally upgrading their superteles with VR (almost a decade after Canon's equivalent IS offerings).

Will Nikon full-frame eventually be available to the average Nikon shooter though? Nobody knows, but for the time being Nikon has no full-frame for the masses. Canon's 5D is still the only full-frame game in town for amateurs. Almost all Nikon shooters will continue shooting DX, just as Canon maintains its Rebel and 40D series APS/EF-s crop bodies. Nikon's new D300 reaffirms their commitment to DX, and takes no prisoners about it, either. It's great to see Nikon, not Canon, inspiring gadget-lust for a change.

Personally, I think the D300 is going to be the last DX format sensor.

No way. Nikon has been kicking ass and regaining market share with their low-to-medium end lineup (D40/D80/D200). It's the golden goose that funded their D3 and is funding their FX future, and it's where the overwhelming bulk of the DSLR market volume and growth has been and will always be. Rumors are that Nikon and everyone else are aiming for even lower DSLR price points still -- think $300-400 -- and they're not going to be shy about stripping away features to hit that price point, like Nikon did with removing in-body autofocus for the D40. Even Canon's cheapest full-frame camera (5D) is still in the $2000-2500 range a full 2 years after its introduction (though it's exciting to see how Canon's upcoming 5D refresh will answer Nikon's D300, particularly in the AF department). So: Nikon has gone full-frame for good, but DX is still here to stay. There's every indication that crop-sensor DSLRs are going to be around for the foreseeable future.
posted by DaShiv at 12:43 PM on August 29, 2007 [2 favorites]


bonaldi writes "Canon has been eating Nikon's lunch in the past few years."

Well Nikon has been selling everything they can make hand over fist.

cardboard writes "they should worry people who have put money into DX lenses that look to be an evolutionary dead-end."

Those lenses will behave on the full frame camera in the exact same way they did on the crop frame camera. You just end up using the centre of the sensor. And they are cheap, cheap, cheap. If you've got $1000 to spend it doesn't matter how much awesomer the FF lenses and body are.
posted by Mitheral at 2:26 PM on August 29, 2007


Yeah, and your $230 55-200-(blah-blah)-DX-VR just turned your full-frame, $6000 D3 into the equivalent of the crop-framed $1800 D300. DX lenses may work on the D3 but if you're going to use them a lot you shouldn't have bought the D3 in the first place--full-frame lenses are needed to justify the purchase.
posted by cardboard at 3:10 PM on August 29, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well Nikon has been selling everything they can make hand over fist.

Indeed. I'm not going to get into some dpreview forums-esque brand war, I'm too busy fighting emacs vs vi. But Nikon definitely had an early lead in digital tech, and all the Canon-using pros I know switched to it. Then it languished, and Canon stormed ahead at the top end, and then with the Rebel and 20D picked up the bottom end as well (Flickr backs this up). A vast majority of the pros switched back.

Like DaShiv says, it's great that Nikon are back in the game: it's great for people with Nikkor glass, and it's great for Canon users because they'll stop resting on their laurels in the 10/20/30/40D line.
posted by bonaldi at 3:22 PM on August 29, 2007


I also find baffling that they're not teling who manufactures their full-frame sensors -- don't potential customers have the right to know who makes the heart of the really expensive camera they may buy?

The reason Nikon and pretty much every other DSLR maker used DX (APS-C) sensors in the first place is that although they only cover half the 35mm frame, it's far far cheaper to create a 16mm x 24mm sensor than a 24mm x 36mm sensor. It's not just half the cost, it's probably something more like a fourth of the cost.

As your die size goes up, your yields drop radically, since the larger die size means that you can fit fewer chips on a wafer. That absolutely kills you in the cost department, and since you end up selling fewer cameras as the cost goes up, that also kills your margins, since your R&D costs are mostly fixed and get spread across fewer cameras.

This smaller frame size theoretically has benefits on the lens as well, since you can trim away the parts of the lens that you don't need. You end up with a camera that produces a smaller image (in APS-C cameras it's a 1.5x crop), but as long as you can make really wide angle lenses , then you're not missing out on much.

The problem, though, is that while Nikon created 12-24mm wide angle and 17-55mm mid range zooms for the DX format, (that are equivalent to 18-36mm and 26-82mm zooms on a full frame body,) they never did release any wide angle prime lenses, other than a 10.5mm fisheye, for DX. Their prime lens design has lagged rather badly behind Canon for a while, and I think this is the weakest part of their SLR offering. They don't have any non-telephoto primes with AF-S, and they don't have any wide-angle fast primes at all. 14mm f2.8 and 20mm f2.8 are as good as it gets in the F-mount.

Even with those weaknesses, Nikon is selling far more D200's than Canon is selling 5d's, and I expect that trend will continue with the D300 and 5D II generation. I don't know for an absolute fact, but I'm willing to bet that Nikon's margins on the D200 (and D300) are way way better than the 5D margins, and if that's the case, Nikon has very little incentive to roll out a full frame successor to the D300 until their manufacturing costs come down. They're making money hand-over-fist on the D200, and I don't see that changing any time soon.

The D200 is an incredibly solid, pro-level body with a similar control scheme to the D2x. It's what I use on a daily basis, and it fits my shooting style perfectly. I wish it had a larger sensor, but I'm willing to give that up to have a camera with near-perfect ergonomics.

I'm sure they were planning to add full-frame sensors to their lineup, but they had to wait for Sony to ramp up their production, and it probably took far longer than they expected.

Also, the only two companies that make camera sensors that large, and in that kind of quantity, are Sony and Canon. Fuji makes some sensors, but they don't sell them to other camera manufacturers, and Kodak is floundering around wondering where their film business went. They made full-frame sensors at one point, but they tended to be noisy and slow, and they haven't sold a full-frame camera in several years.

Nikon has long worked with Sony on its sensors, and the D3 sensor is no different. Nikon might have designed it, or tweaked the design from the original Sony spec, but it definitely came out of a Sony fab.

This is what Nikon is expected to release over the next year:
posted by bshort at 8:03 AM on August 30, 2007


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