Why the Nikon D700 replacement won't be 36 megapixels

There has been a lot of speculation lately when Nikon will be replacing the popular D700.  For those of you who may have not been in the Nikon loop for the last few years, the D700 is a pro level DSLR with a full frame, 12 megapixel sensor.  It was originally announced in July of 2008, meaning that replacement rumors have been floating around since January 2010.  One site in particular has published information numerous times suggesting that the replacement will be sporting a full frame, 36 megapixel sensor.  I must state emphatically, that what follows is based on my 12 years of experience in the camera industry, and my observations of Nikon during that time.  The predictions are simply that, predictions, and are not conclusions drawn from any information I've received from anyone at Nikon. 

In order to start discussing the possible D700 replacement, and what type of resolution it may have, we have to first clarify how Nikon has operated over the last decade in regards to DSLR's, and more specifically, resolution.  Historically, Nikon has opted for image enhancement in areas other than resolution.  When competitors were coming out with cameras that had  higher resolutions, Nikon opted to keep the resolution lower and concentrated on other areas of image improvement.  The D700 is a perfect example of that.  At nearly half the resolution of the closest competitor (Canon 5D Mark II), many expected Nikon to be uncompetitive in the full frame, sub-$3000 category.  However, the result was a camera that was untouched by any other brand in terms of high ISO and low light performance.  Even three and a half years later, there are few cameras that can compete with the D700 at extremely high ISO.  If you're looking for a full frame camera less than $3000 that shoots video, you will naturally be drawn to the 5D Mark II.  If, however, you're looking for a camera that doesn't skip a beat even at 4000 ISO, the D700 is your camera.

Today we have a number of rumor sites that we didn't have when digital SLR's were emerging in the industry.  They are able to get a certain amount of information right, and sometimes they're 100% on with regards to product announcements and specifications.  Some take everything they say as truth, others, like me, are cautiously optimistic.  The level of secrecy within many of the camera manufacturers varies, and I think this level varies greatly from one product to another.  This would certainly explain why some information seems to "leak" out for a long period of time, while some things are total surprises right up until they are announced.

My personal opinion is that is this varying level of secrecy that is creating some confusion among industry insiders, and specifically those that provide information to the rumor sites.  I'm sure there is another camera in the works to replace the D700, and hopefully it will be announced soon.  But if it does happen to have a 36 megapixel sensor it will represent a change in the photo industry that I've yet to hear anyone talk about.  The change I'm alluding to is that it would mean that Nikon, as a company, has changed the foundational ideology that they have been operating under for the past decade.  This would be like Canon suddenly abandoning HD video in their future SLR's, or Sony changing their lens mount.  I'm not saying it could never happen, it just isn't likely to be a surprise announcement.  Shifts in a corporate philosophy tend to come either with a major change of upper management, a long transition period, or both, and we haven't seen these with Nikon.

As we near the end of this blog post, many of you are wondering, "Well where did this 36 megapixel rumor come from then?"  I have a couple of guesses.  Guess number one is that Nikon is planning a replacement for the D3x, and wants to leapfrog over Canon on the high end, high resolution DSLR.  It's not a huge market for either company as not nearly as many people buy $8000 SLR's as they used to, but it's still a market they keep supporting.  Guess number two is that they are in the process of developing some kind of super high resolution sensor design or application that is still completely experimental.  Canon has a history of doing this, announcing a 50 megapixel APS-H sensor in 2007 and a 120 megapixel version in 2010.  Neither of these have made it in to production cameras, but Canon still announced them.  Since Nikon has no history of this type of announcement, I think a D3x replacement is more likely.

As I said earlier, I'm sure there is a replacement for the D700 in the works.  Do I know when it will be announced?  If I did, I'd probably be the most popular camera salesman in the country right now.  Do I know what it will be called or how much it will cost?  Sorry, can't help you there either.  However, I would not be surprised at all to see two, possibly three big announcements from Nikon in the beginning of 2012 (think D700, D3s, D3x).  PMA at CES could be the perfect place to announce, and if the flooding recovery in their Thailand plant goes well we could see cameras in early spring.  Only time will tell.

Do you think I'm on to something here, or way off base?  Let me know in the comments below.

This article was written by Nick Gilson.  Nick has been in the camera industry since 2000, and has been working with pictureline since 2004. 

D700D800December 2011Nikon