It has been awhile since I have seen an updated set of predictions for what is to come from Nikon from reputable sources. Being in the industry I am always being asked what is coming, but like everyone else I do not know anymore than what is officially said. But this does not mean I cannot speculate.

Most of you will know that I am a big fan of Thom Hogan‘s writings, but his last set of predictions date back to Nov 2009 with updates in Jan 2010. Although some of these predictions have become reality, some of them still don’t sit right to me, so I have decided to try my hand on predicting when new cameras will arrive. However I will be using the same methods as Thom, using patterns gleaned from previous releases and design trends to extrapolate what is to come.

Nikon DSLR Map, July 2010

Nikon DSLR Map, July 2010

So what does this all mean? How did I get here?

From the above image we can clearly see that Nikon DSLR can be broadly split into four categories (Professional, Semi Professional, Enthusiast, Amatuer/Entry) and there seems to be a few common trends. Being a Fujifilm user I have also added the Fuji DSLR linage as well.

Professional cameras are actually split into two linages, sport/speed cameras and studio/resolution cameras) with each body lasting on roughly four years with a mid-life upgrage (the “s” cameras). This line started way back in June 1999 with the D1, before being replaced by the D2H in the third quarter of 2003 (Q303). The D2Hs subsequently replaced the D2H in Q205. The D3 arrived in Q307, heralding a new era for Nikon, the arrival of FX (full frame). With the D3s being released in Q309, it indicates that the D4 (or D4H) will be due roughly Q311. The D3X was released in Q409 indicates a mid-life upgrade to D3Xs should occur Q410, and a D4X will arrive sometime near Q412.

In the Semi Professional line up we have seen a divergence into DX (or APS-C or 1.5 crop) and FX (full frame) with the introduction of the D700 in Q308. This line of semi pro FX may further diverge into a resolution orientated (D700X) or simply get an update to D700s in Q310 or Q410, we may even get both cameras. Why not a D800? Nikon likes to filter down their sensor technology, the D3 sensor was out for a year before the D700 came along, so it makes sense for the D700s update to arrive in Q410, or a D700X (with a D3X sensor) to arrive in Q310. The D800 is most likely to arrive in Q312 with the D4/D4H sensor.

The other line of Semi Professional cameras has been a bit turbulent in its development with the D100 (Q102) staying around for approximately 14 quarters (or 3 1/2 years) but the D200 (Q405) had a life of approximately 7 quarters (1 3/4 years) before the arrival of the game changing D300 (Q307). The D300 hung around for a full two years before receiving a mid-life update becoming the D300s (Q309). Why did this happen? It probably is a combination of a lack of a breakthrough in sensor technology and the large leap ahead that the D300 gave Nikon. So what happens next? Nikon is overdue to release a D400 if you count the D300 and the D300s as one camera, but we are still waiting to see a sensor arrive. If Nikon continue to use a Sony sourced sensor then the Alpha A700’s replacement will herald the arrival of the D400. However the D400 must be close by Q111.

Moving to the Enthusiast line we have three (or four depending on how you see the D70/D70s) strong, successful cameras. However, the linage is a bit scrambled, which makes it hard to discern the life cycle of these cameras. If you count the D70 (Q104) and the D70s (Q205) as one camera (with a mid-life update) then the life cycle is approximately two years. The D80 had a two year life cycle before the D90 arrived. However you must also consider that the D70/D70s borrowed its sensor from the D100, the D80 borrowed its sensor from the D200 and the D90 is borrowing the D300 sensor then we cannot predict a D90 replacement just yet even though the D90 reaches the end of its two year life cycle in Q310. With the absent sensor for the D400 we are more likely to see a D90s in either Q310 or Q410 and a proper D90 replacement with a D400 based sensor, at soonest, in Q112.

The Amateur/Entry cameras have seen more iterations and a divergence and overlap between three closely related linages. The D50 started this category by itself in Q205, lasting 1 1/2 years before being replaced by the D40 in Q406 and the D40X in Q107. This is the first divergence with the D40 being a cheaper entry body and the D40X a higher spec entry/amateur camera. The D40X enjoyed a short life realistically being displaced in 10 months by the D60 (Q108) which could have almost been called D40Xs as it was only a small incremental upgrade on the D40X.  This line diverges once more with the arrival of the D5000 in Q209 as a  more advanced camera for amateurs. The D3000 arrived in Q309 to replace the D60 and the D40 which were available for 1 1/2 years and 2 3/4 years respectively.

It can be easily seen that the Amateur/Entry linages have always been the last to implement the sensor technology from the higher end bodies. However their arrival and life cycle have been the most confused. But if we simplify this into three lines (Amateur, Upper Entry, Entry) we can make more sense. The D50 filled all three lines and lasted 1 1/2 years, the D40X and the D60 filled the Amateur and Upper Entry lines and between them lasted 28  months which averages out to a bit over a year. This would indicate that these cameras will have a roughly 14-18 month life cycle. The D5000 is approaching the 15 month mark, which should mean it is ripe for replacement by Q410 . BUT there is a problem, there is no higher end sensor to trickle down. The D40 was very long lived, 31 months. If we count the D3000 as a D40/D60 replacement to fill the Upper Entry and Entry lines then we can see a D3000 replacement arriving as soon as Q111, most likely with the sensor from the D300/D90/D5000.

Please remember that these are my extrapolations for the next few years based on Nikon’s design and release history. It is not a guarantee, nor should it be used to decide when to buy. I may be completely off the mark!