Round Up: On the trail of the Nikon MX camera

Discussion in 'Digital Camera News' started by David Rasnake, Oct 31, 2008.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    2,170
    Likes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    0

    We don't tend to trade in internet rumors around here: there are too many half-truths and too many un-truths floating around out there to make it worth our time to try to get to the bottom of them. But when a manufacturer launches an ad campaign designed for the sole purpose of fueling rampant speculation, it's hard not to wonder what's up.

    [​IMG]
    Scan of the Rangefinder ad from Echenique.com, via NikonRumors.com

    Nikon placed the above ad, which has been making its rounds on the internet in scan form ever since, in the August issue of Rangefinder magazine, touching off an inferno of speculation in certain corners of the internet.

    And why not? With claims like, "Something SO BIG we can't even tell you what it is," the ad is really nothing short of incendiary. Usually furtive Nikon flaunting the fact that they're up to something (something BIG, as best I can tell) is strange in its own right. And in spite of the ad's promise that more would be revealed "next month" – that is, September – more than two months have now come and gone without any additional substantiation.

    So what's Nikon planning? With no reliably sourced information to work from, speculation has been cleared to run free. And from this ad, the rumor that Nikon is preparing to go where no mainstream consumer manufacturer has successfully gone in the digital era (incidentally, Pentax gets points for coming the closest) and launch a medium-format digital system was born.

    The MX format mystery
    In fairness, other information to support the claim that a medium-format body is the "BIG" thing that Nikon is up to has emerged. PhotographyBay.com, one of several sites that have become clearinghouses for information on the forthcoming product, reported early on on a document that listed three sensor sizes/formats for Nikon DSLRs: DX (APS-C sensors and digital-only lenses), FX (full-frame sensors and lenses), and the previously unknown MX format. Digging a little deeper into admittedly unverifiable sources on the subject of MX format has suggested that the new big thing that Nikon is working on is a relatively compact medium-format system (not unlike the recently announced Leica S2) with a 40.7 megapixel sensor.

    So could this, a compact medium-format camera, be the big as-promised announced? In terms of pure technology at the level of body development, there's nothing especially unreasonable about the idea. Medium-format sensors are usually much less proprietary than their smaller counterparts, and cramming all of the necessary components into something roughly the size of the current D700 as rumors have suggested is not out of the question.

    But the problem with this line of thinking as I see it is that a single ad has now provided the lynch-pin for (and perhaps even the impetus behind) this whole web of partially informed speculation. Without that ad – which makes no mention of anything revolutionary, but only of something "BIG" – none of the other pieces of evidence presented in support of a new medium-format camera stand at all strongly on their own. Sure, a medium-format system would be big from a technological standpoint, and certainly big on resolution besides. But I can think of other, much more conventional things that Nikon might be planning for next February that would also be fairly described as big. Moreover, there are other serious considerations that don't bode well for a Nikon medium-format system in the near term.

    The lens dilemma
    The most pressing unaddressed problem with the MX rumor as I see it is also one of the most fundamental: where do the lenses for such a system come from? Persistent blog rumors that a new Nikon MX system would be able to, through some combination of contrivances, use Nikon FX glass have been thoroughly debunked by those who understand the mechanics involved in designing optics for larger sensors. Simply put, the physics of it don't work. So if not from the current stock of Nikon full-frame glass, where would the lenses for an MX camera come from?

    Unless Nikon entered some mount licensing agreement (which seems unlikely to me), optics for the new system would have to be purpose-built by Nikkor and launched with the body. As if on cue, a list of six forthcoming MX-format lenses from Nikon/Nikkor has also bobbed to the surface from some murky internet backwater. But the fact that "official" documents are too easy to fabricate notwithstanding, the lens development issue is really what kills the credibility of an MX system camera in my mind.

    Although it owns a large share of the consumer and professional camera markets, compared to many of its competitors – what with their attachments to large general imaging companies or consumer electronics firms – Nikon is a fairly small operation. While most of its competitors in the medium-format space are also small, they didn't try to build systems from the ground up. Rather, they've adapted existing film technology over time.

    On the optics front, Nikon has no such safety net – only its familiarity with DX and FX optical design to work from. The thought, then, of a firm of Nikon's size gambling on the development of this many new (and expensive, in terms of both development and production cost) lenses for an unproven system in a niche market seems more and more outlandish the more you think about the business side of it. Certainly not impossible – manufacturers have done more outlandish things than this before – but arguably not a great business decision, either.

    Alternatives to MX
    The obvious, if somewhat more conventional, answer about what Nikon's doing in response to the "BIG" ad seems straightforward enough: D3x. Given the launch date and venue, it seems most likely (to me, anyway) that Nikon is prepping a high-megapixel "studio" version of its D3 – just like it did with the D2 a generation ago.

    No, it's not as exciting as the MX format hype, though I doubt that it will be a snooze from a technological standpoint, either. If you were to speculate about what Nikon's now infamous ad might imply in absence of any of the supposed evidence for an MX format camera that has been unearthed on the internet, a D3x would be the most logical informed guess based on Nikon's past history.

    My position: wishful skepticism
    Like probably every other imaging industry watcher on the planet, I'll be elated if it turns out I'm wrong: in fact, I really hope I am, as Nikon's move (especially if it was competitively priced compared to existing technology in this space) into medium-format imaging will only serve to make the possibilities of huge sensors seem more relevant and more accessible to those who find the rarefied air of the current medium-format market a little stifling.

    But based on what we've seen so far, I'm holding my ground as an "MX format skeptic" until something more convincing than a few lists, a cryptic translation, and some small, blurry photos shows up.


    Round Up is a regular editorial column on DigitalCameraReview.com.

     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 28, 2015
  2. maximumverbosity

    maximumverbosity New Member

    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    "On the optics front, Nikon has no such safety net – only its familiarity with DX and FX optical design to work from."

    While it remains to be seen if Nikon actually has plans to bring out a medium-format digital camera (I hiope they do but I'm doubtful it will happen anytime soon), it's certainly incorrect to state that their optics expertise is limited to small-format cameras.

    Nikon has manufactured lenses for at least two medium-format cameras, the early Bronica S-series as well as the Plaubel-Makina 67 rangefinder. These lenses are of legendary status, and Nikon could almost certainly update those designs without much difficulty.

    Some of Nikon's telephoto designs, going back to their 35mm rangefinder camera lenses, will indeed cover 6x6cm, and adapters to use those lenses on the Bronica cameras were available. Also, their bellows mount lenses of the 1960's, and shift lenses still made today, must by definition cover more than the 35mm frame (a 43mm diagonal) in order to allow for movements. Since the current PC lenses have 11mm of shift, they should cover a 52mm diagonal, more than enough for (say) a 48mm square sensor. All Nikon would have to do is remove the shift controls and put the optics in a different barrel.

    Furthermore, Nikon has also manufactured optics for large-format cameras, process camera lenses, enlarging lenses, and high-magnification lenses for specialized macro applications. Some of these lens designs may also be workable for a medium-format camera system, especially the 80mm EL-Nikkor which I have used in the darkroom; it is very sharp.

    Here's to wishful thinking! If they build it, I'm buying.
     
  3. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    2,170
    Likes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Thanks for the correction, maximumverbosity: it's probably unfair to have neglected that portion of Nikon's history. And it's true that tilt-shift provides a window as well.

    I guess the more precise statement would be that Nikon doesn't (with a couple of notable exceptions) have a current range of AF/AE glass that could be made to mate with a new body in this format with basically no fundamental modifications. Whether it's reviving old designs or modifying darkroom lenses, the engineering undertaking involved will be serious - probably too serious for the potential return.

    Like you, I hope we're pleasantly surprised come February!

    dr
     
  4. CalebSchmerge

    CalebSchmerge Super Moderator/Reviewer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    884
    Likes Received:
    9
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Either way it sounds like a neat announcement. For someone like me (college student, hobbyist) it doesn't matter yet, but maybe in a few years that technology will trickle down a bit and be in range for me.
     
  5. leaftye

    leaftye Well-Known Member

    Messages:
    269
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Medium format would be incredibly expensive right? If so, like Caleb, it wouldn't matter to me yet either, but the story and mystery is certainly interesting...even if a lot of it is well over my head. Of course, I'd just be happy if Nikon announced that they'd have in-body IS in all their cameras. Their slr's are priced well, but the lack of in-body IS, or no IS (in kits) at all, is a deal breaker for me.
     
  6. AaronM

    AaronM News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    86
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I read the location of the ad, Rangefinder and the code, MX differently. To me it would indicate, in the realm of complete speculation, a rangefinder. The MX indicates that the lenses are compatible with Leica's M-class glass.

    A
     
    Last edited by a moderator: May 27, 2015
  7. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    2,170
    Likes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    0
    But just for argument's sake, why unveil a new rangefinder at WPPI? Why not at PMA instead?

    dr
     
  8. lse

    lse New Member

    Messages:
    1
    Likes Received:
    0
    Trophy Points:
    0
    I'm sorry but I just don't follow the "too serious" argument, or that it is too hard to pull off lenses for this. A lot of people said for the longest time that nikon could not make an FX camera compatible with DX lenses, they also said nikon could not make an f/1.2 lens because of the F-mount diameter. Both things nikon has done with little sweat. More often than not, there is no such thing in engineering as "too hard". The question often is, "is it marketable".

    Nikon does not have to mass produce these MX lenses either and be able to sell them at wal-mart. Assuming they release an MX SLR, it will likely be aimed at the high market and so will the MX lenses. Producing the large optics for these at premium prices aimed at a market is a perfectly viable strategy. This is why nikon makes $8000+ telephoto lenses even though it is "hard" and expensive. They will probably create a crop mode for FX lenses and some adapter as a temporary bridge.

    Additionaly, Nikon is not dumping FX and DX, assuming this is true, it will just up the game for those that can afford it and like all technology, the price will eventually come down many years down the road for the rest of us.

    I think people are underestimating the renewed nikon of recent years and the state of engeneering these days. What could throw a wrench into all of this is not the laws of physics, but the bad economic climate. However that would at the very worst delay things, not halt them.

    good read otherwise and I guess we'll find out in two months. I keep my mind open and my skeptisism in check.
     
  9. David Rasnake

    David Rasnake News/Review Writer News/Review Writer

    Messages:
    2,170
    Likes Received:
    7
    Trophy Points:
    0
    Well said, lse. It's quite true that, given the broad range of optics Nikon can and has successfully developed, they certainly could handle a new line of lenses for a presumed MX format. I guess the question is, will they?

    As you said, "The question often is, 'is it marketable,'" and you point out that an MX format camera would probably never have a big market. In my mind, that's precisely why Nikon will stay away: because they can't easily adapt existing technology, the financial return on investment may prove to be too small to outweigh the prestige they'll gain from such a move.

    To make a connection, it's interesting to me how successful Nikon and, especially, Canon have been in recent years in "mainstreaming" FX-format technology. They've done an amazing job of making full-frame viable and accessible for serious amateur shooters. I've been shooting with the 5D Mark II for the past few days, and I'm continually fascinated by the fact that this camera has a Creative Auto setting that reduces aperture adjustment to "Do you want the background sharp or blurry." Is it possible that Canon is realistically targeting buyers for a camera in this price range who want (or need) that kind of hand-holding? I don't know, but given how much traction these semi-pro full frame models are getting, I think they've found at least some mass market there.

    In this way, full frame is quickly entering the consumer space (again), potentially justifying many years of pro-focused, small-market investment in this format. While there might also be a chance for MX to take a similar road, as you allude to, I'm less convinced on this one, though, for reasons of cost and size. And if Nikon (or anyone else) can't see a path toward eventually commercializing this technology beyond the pro market, I wonder if they'll look at the engineering involved - which is not insurmountable, but will certainly be costly - and choose to leave medium-format digital alone.

    I think you're also correct, though, that Nikon has shown a bit of a "wild card" streak of late in their higher-end stuff, and a lot of foresight in ways to take back market share. What I'm having trouble seeing is how their accountants would possibly approve a move like this, given its potential reach. But maybe (hopefully!) they'll see it differently.

    Thanks for the counterpoint,

    dr
     
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page