Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Nikon D500 and the Future of DX

So, the waiting is over. The D300 replacement is finally here - and it's not called D400, but D500. What's in a name, huh? Well, do remember that the D300 was launched together with the D3, and the D500 now is launched together with the D5.

But can Nikon pull a similar trick as they did with the D3/D300? I think they can, but we really need to see things in perspective. You see, when the D300 was launched, the D3 was the only Nikon FX camera. At the same time, the DX lineup was much more clear: a (semi)-pro body (D300), an advanced amateur body (D90), and an entry-level body. Well, now we have two entry-level bodies, and, more importantly, an advanced amateur body (D7200) that is far more capable than what the D90 was. In fact, for certain photographers and certain situations, the D500 will not be as easily a "winner" choice as it might seem. Incidentally, although we don't need more megapixels, I find it slightly problematic that the DX flagship has less megapixels than another DX body.

Let's take a quick look at the basic D500 specs:

20.9 MP DX sensor
153 AF points
4K video
ISO range 100-51200 (expandable to 50-1,640,000)
10 fps

Basically exactly what you'd expect/wish (and more). Oh, and price? Less than 2k. It's about right, and quite reasonable.

Order Link (Amazon)

So, first impressions are very positive. This looks exactly like the camera we'd been waiting for. But the article is titled "The Nikon D500 and the future of DX", and this is where things get a bit complicated.

If you noticed following the Amazon link above, there is the option to also get the Nikon D500 together with the Nikkor AFS VR 16-80mm f/2.8-f/4 - the price then goes over $3000. That's a significant amount to pay for a lens that, when all is said and done, is not a pro lens. Surely, it's a fine piece of glass. But that variable aperture there screams "prosumer". Don't get me wrong: I don't claim the 16-80mm is not a good lens; it is a fine lens. The argument I'm trying to make here, however, is this:
There are no DX lenses to match this Nikon D500 camera
There are many FX lenses - tele lenses - that will make the D500 a powerful weapon for safari and sports. But that's the thing. Nikon seems to expect the D500 will be a camera bought only by such shooters. And, indeed, many of them will be. But guess what? There are a significant number of people who would like a DX pro body like this D500 and need wide angle capabilities. I am one of them. I had to go to FX basically because I needed better image quality than the D300 could give me, without having to go down in body ergonomics and built. The D500 is the kind of camera that could push me back to DX - but I'm not sure it will. The reason is not the camera itself; it's the system.

Let me explain.

As a people photographer (which includes portraits, live concerts, and the occasional wedding) I need, among other things:
- a fast wide-angle lens
- a fast midrange zoom.

Tell me, as a prospective D500 user needing the above, what does Nikon give me? Am I supposed to use the 16-80 f/2.8-f/4 as a midrange zoom? Or the 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5G as a fast wide-angle lens? Where is a 16-50mm f/2.8 lens? Where is a 16mm f/2 lens? The fact that we don't have such lenses, to me indicates that Nikon doesn't really believe in a pro (or semi-pro) audience for the D500. That is highly problematic. Sure, there are third-party options, but we're talking about philosophy here.

Still, I don't want to sound pessimistic or cranky. Getting the D500 is a huge step forward. We live in exciting times in the Nikon universe. Let's hope for some accompanying lenses now ;)

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