8.30.2018

A brand new camera from Nikon that is destined to save the company's bottom line. And make great photographs.

The Nikon D3500.

I'm pretty sure that the Nikon announcement of the Z6 and Z7 cameras was just a ploy to distract attention from other parts of their product line that were about to be announced. I'm sure they did not want Sony and Canon to gain too much pre-knowledge about the camera that will be the real money maker for Nikon; far outselling any of the models marketed to overly-excited, ardent camera "connoisseurs" that line up to spend thousands and thousands of dollars on luxe camera bodies that are 1 or 2% better than the models (bought a few months ago) that they will replace. Now that Nikon has pulled the decorative cover sheet off the D3500 I'm nearly certain that Canon will be rushing to get out a competitive Rebel model as soon as possible while Sony will gin up another cynical advertising campaign meant to move their ancient a5000 or a6000 stock in response. 

As camera enthusiasts we like to believe (deep down) that good photographs can only be well taken with a "prosumer" or better camera. Afflicted Nikon worshippers draw the line at the D7500 as worst case, and really have come to believe that the only cameras that seriously matter to the true believers are full frame and as new as cheap wine. Likewise, the Canon camp will tolerate 7D cameras, with their tiny cropped frames, but secretly they suspect that "authentic" Canon cameras begin with the 6Dmk2 and hit their stride with the 5D models.

There are no current, newly launched, state-of-the-art cameras from Sony that can compete with a camera like the D3500 for one simple reason: The Nikon D3500 will come ready to shoot, with an 18-55mm version 2, VR kit lens (which is actually not a bad lens at all) for the princely sum of....
$499. Camera, lens, 24 megapixel sensor, no anti-aliasing filter on the sensor, and 1080p video for the paltry sum of $499. (yes, some would have killed for performance like this from a $6,000 camera only a decade ago...).

When the Z cameras were announced I was interested in the way a student of English Literature might be about some newly discovered poems by Andrew Marvell. I'd love to read the poems and understand how they fit in with the existing poems. But I would not be quite ready to bid on the original manuscripts... I think the Z cameras are interesting, capable, new and different but I don't think I "have to have one right away!!!!!!!!!" and I'm pretty certain that even the Z7 won't be that much better an image maker than the little collection of D800's and D800e's that I've been stacking up in the drawer just beneath the mirrorless drawer in my office. I probably won't rush to Precision Camera with my American Express Mocha Edition card with the intention of dragging home a whole new system. But the D3500; now that's a different story. And I'll tell you why....

This is a mature, time tested product line which is limited, really, only by the lenses you choose to put on the mount. The sensor itself should be in the same ballpark as the Fuji and Sony APS-C sensors that photographers love to gush about. But instead of ripping well over a thousand dollars out of your wallet in order to own one you get basically the same level of performance, in the camera, that you could get from a $2,000 trendy body in a delightful and agile DSLR for > $500. Slap a $4,000 Otus super lens on the front of a D3500 and I bet you'd be able to generate pix that would absolutely blow away competitors' cameras, outfitted with "lesser" lenses,  that come with the same basic 24 megapixel, Sony derived sensor. So the limitations for the D3500 should not come from the imaging pipeline, they'll come from the glass you choose to use. 

Of course the little camera will have a number of limitations that pricier cameras will not. But most of those features on the pricier cameras fall into the unnecessary category, equivalent to seat warmers in car seats of automobiles sold and used in Texas. (Believe me, there are maybe three days a year when you might actually want to use seat warmers in Texas....). 

But the limitations will be concrete things like: A smaller buffer. A less impressive eye level finder. A slower frame rate. A less sophisticated autofocus implementation. Less battery life (although the press release states 1200-1500 shots --- so much better than all previous generations of exotic cameras like the 380 shot spec of my old Sony A7Rii...). AND THE MOST SAVAGE DEAL KILLER OF ALL TIME: Only one card slot in the D3500!!!!!

But if I already have GH5 cameras and D800 Nikons and D700 Nikons why would I be at all interested in a cheap-ass camera like the D3500? Hmmmm. Because it's small, quiet, almost disposable and able to take most of the lenses I used on my other Nikon cameras (sorry, no "D" series and absolutely no metering or automation with Ai, MF lenses). I can see using a camera like this when I want to travel with almost zero burden. I'm even considering using a camera like the D3500, combined with a lens like the 24-120mm f4.0 VR to shoot dress rehearsals with because the range is perfect in a way that it's not with full frame Nikons. And much quieter.

I also think it would be a nice camera for a challenge I have in mind for all my friends who walk around spouting things like: "It's not the arrow, it's the Indian." "It's not the camera, it's the photographer." "the most important thing is what's two inches behind the camera" etc. All while routinely dropping thousands of dollars a year on over-engineered cameras of which very little of the camera's potential is even tested, much less used. I would like to get all of them to buy one of these cameras (or the equivalent Canon, or entry level mirrorless) and prove to me (and the world) that it really is more about the photographer than the inventory of toys. 

But here's the bottom line: Nikon may sell a bunch of Z cameras but they will sell a bunch x10 of cameras like the D3500. You'll be able to pick up your D3500, along with your 120 roll pack of toilet paper, from Costco. You could get one along with your driveway oil change kit at Walmart. Might even be able to get one at a Sears store, if one still exists... The Z is not the camera line that will make or break Nikon financially ---- it's the small, cheap highly competent cameras at the bigger bottom of the product pyramid that will keep the wheels turning. And each student, struggling to find a job millennial, mom-turned-photographer-on-a-budget, will  start out with a camera like this and keep the pricier cameras at the top alive by establishing a brand loyalty and by upgrading (as many of us have) over the course of their careers and lives. 

I can hardly wait for the reviews to come in. I hope while DPReview and all the other "usual suspects" are thrashing and trashing that single card slot, and that smaller buffer, etc. they take the time to mention that, used correctly and with good glass, the images out of the camera have the potential to be every bit as good as those from a $1500 Sony a6500 or a $2200 Fuji X-Pro-2. 

When I get mine I'm going full beginner chic and using the big black and yellow camera strap that will, no doubt, come boxed with the camera. No pre-order necessary. These will be flying off the shelves like candy at a supermarket checkout line but Nikon will keep these in stock. 



24 comments:

Mike Rosiak said...

Kirk Tuck - iconoclast.

Dave said...

Kirk, I couldn't agree more. I'm even looking at one of these, with the DX 35mm 1.8, and going for a hike. Small, light, agile, familiar control layout and menus. With a great sensor. Sounds like a winner, winner, chicken dinner!

Anonymous said...

Now, this is way more interesting to me than revisiting a D700. And, I could work it into my sort of tight budget. Maybe.

Michael Matthews said...

Seems to me you proved its merit as a portrait camera in 2012 when it was the 24 MP D3200 — and cost about $200 more.

mosswings said...

Yup. Not only that, smaller, too! With a great grip. And it's even smaller than the Z7!
I can't be seen with one, though. It has only...one control wheel.

How pedestrian.

Stan Yoshinobu said...

You can get even more frugal and pick up a used D3300 with lens for ~$300. But the real sin is going with an M43 sized sensor for stills. Might as well get the lego camera.

Anthony Bridges said...

If you're serious about photography in some form or another, people will gravitate to you with this burning question:

"What kind of camera should I buy for Christmas?", or some iteration of this.


If they are a beginner looking for a dSLR, I always recommend an entry level camera like a Camera Rebel or a Nikon D3xxx. Why pay more if you're new to this? I ask them what they want to shoot and no one has said they need a quiet shutter or high frame rate. They want something for their kid's volleyball match or the family vacation to Alaska.

atmtx said...

I have the Nikon D3300 from a couple of years ago that I used to take sports photos. It worked like a charm with wonderful image quality. This entry level DSLR also focused better for sports than my mirrorless cameras.

amolitor said...

As I have mentioned, I have a D3100, and it's fine. I can stick my favorite lens on it (AIS) and guess exposures well enough. I have average sized hands (I can span an octave on the piano more or less comfortably, but not much more) and it fits well in the hand, and it's ridiculously light.

I don't use a strap at all, I just carry the thing. Maybe it wouldn't work for a day, but I can amble around for an hour or two with my fingers lightly curled around the grip, camera dangling there. When I get sick of carrying it, I toss it in a cloth grocery bag. The body is disposable (I must be closing in one of the end of the shutter life, honestly) and the lens is indestructible.

Gary said...

Kirk, if you write and I read long enough contradictions will appear. (I know, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.) A couple years ago I suggested in a comment here that mirrorless APSC buyers might well be satisfied with a D3200--small,light, great sensor and pictures. You chided me by saying that using the viewfinder was like looking through a dark tunnel, or words to that effect. I agree that the pentamirror finder can't match a pentaprism of,say, a D7200. Still, pretty capable little cameras for the money, no?

A. Wright said...

Yes, this is the "bread and butter" for Nikon, just a shame they keep taking bits out. My camera is the D3100 that I have been using since 2010 and it is so simple to use with good output. I keep thinking about moving to one of the 24M models but each is missing more and more features that I have in the D3100. Apart from the sensor most else will be a downgrade for me - not a way to get your existing customers to move on. Actually after using Nikon cameras for 30+ years I just bought my first Canon. It may be "just" a G7x ii, but I suspect it is going to be competitive with my D3100 and will replace my carry everywhere Nikon Coolpix.

Don B said...

Like a comfy warm evening breeze.
Love it!

Carlo Santin said...

When I saw this announcement the other day I already knew I was getting one. Dirt cheap. I have the lenses already. The kit lens it comes with is really pretty good. I can also slap an old MF lens and figure out exposure within a couple of quick test shots. The image quality will be top notch and a nice upgrade from my D300, which honestly is also quite fine for my purposes but I haven't bought a camera in many years and it's time for me to scratch that itch. I'm not paying many thousands of dollars for a camera that will be replaced with an updated model within a year, or with a camera that will need several firmware upgrades to work the way it should (hello Fuji). This camera will be small, it will work straight out of the box, 24 megapixels. Easy to use, reliable and if it gets smashed or stolen I won't lose any sleep. Perfect.

Anonymous said...

I applaud your going out on a limb here by praising such a camera. There is a lot to like, but (at least through the 3300, which I tried in the store), I have to agree with you about the viewfinder and the dark tunnel. I immediately dropped it from consideration after that experience. Perhaps spoiled by somewhat better viewfinders, but it was just daunting to try to look at things through that. If that's not a problem for the prospective user, a very good value

Rick

Peter said...

You (deliberately😉) miss the point! Many of us guys are 'camera' enthusiasts, not 'photography' enthusiasts. Some, like me, started out in our long ago youth, enthusing about cameras, and then an enthusiasm for pictures, and for photography grew substantially along the way. I now love prints, books by pioneering photographers, and seeing the latest of what is happening today photographically. However, as you know perfectly well, some cameras are a pleasure to use, and some less so. I'm fairly sure the D3xxx comes into the 'less so' category.

I have travelled quite a bit in the last few years, including many of the world tourist hot spots. After the ubiquitous smart phone, the next most popular camera I see, is the entry level DSLR like the D3xxx. (Lightweight mirrorless is next.) I notice that more often than not, it is carried by the mom in the family. (Presumably, she has become the 'official' family photographer and wants something much better than her phone can provide. And because she truly loves her subject matter she is sometimes getting really great pictures which may well be treasured for many decades to come.) The D8xx type cameras are occasionally seen, but are very rare by comparison. From conversations with owners of the basic DSLRs, I think they have about the same interest in upgrading their camera and lens, as in upgrading their dishwasher. If they take a look at my humble Olympus EM1 II, with 12-40 2.8 zoom, it gets handed back with a comment like "Wow, that's heavy!"?? "But it's got two card slots!" – just kidding!

Perhaps the future at Nikon depends more on getting a first class, low weight mirrorless combo out including lens, at $500 or less, than it does on Z type cameras.
Peter Wright

Thomas Rink said...

Meh, single card slot. A total deal breaker! What had Nikon been thinking?!

;^)

Rufus said...

I agree with most of your statements about this sweet little camera, with one caveat.

You do not mention the one big downside ( for me ) with these budget end DSLR. The viewfinder. To save costs they have a simple little penta-mirror viewfinder. It is like peering down a narrow tunnel. It ruins the experience for me, personally.

In all other respects, they are great. And the image quality is very nice indeed.

Tom Barry said...

I think for most of us, it is "want" rather than "need," and we sometimes either confuse the two or engage in rationalization.

dinksdad said...

Pentax gives you way more in its bargain DSLRs (weather-sealing, pentaprism, in-body image stabilization, etc.). And you can use a zillion old Pentax lenses. No adapters required and they'll meter manual lenses. But they don't come with the cool Nikon name.

mark268 said...

Well said Bravo!!!!!!

Jack said...

I love that, and what, you've written about this new Nikon. It is good to step away from "Sturm und Drang" directed at and about the new Zs.

While this little one may have slipped in over the transom, it is really more attractive to me and more significant, as noted, to Nikon than the Zs.

If I was into optical finders, I'd give it a look; but I'm not able to pry my eye from my X-T2 these days.

cheers
Jack

Gunnlaugur Gudmundsson said...

You are destroying the economy! I hope you realize that? We tick tack along, based on telling each other that the new G-Vectoring cornering system, that's so good that you don't notice it, is a must have! When we take that corner, on a wet road, the power will decrease by 5% on the right, so the stearing wheel won't vibrate in our hands, or at least 15% less ... (based on the Mazda cars, I love ...)

anyway, you are doing a great job

very, very true

nowadays, truth is very valuable, a diminishing commodity, very rare ...

Anonymous said...

I have to disagree with some of this as Nikon and Canon may sell these cameras by the bucket load but a lot of their overhead costs are fixed. These are so cheap and the profit is so small on them that they can actually lose money on them when they start to get discounted (which is usually about six months after release) This is the problem the industry has nowadays and why everyone is scrabbling for the high ground where profits are much greater.
Basically for much of its life cheap cameras don't make any money and there's only so many iterations of the same cameras that manufacturers can introduce in a given time period.

William Beebe said...

In response to Anonymous above:

Nikon has re-engineered the body so that it's even cheaper to manufacture than the D3400, along the same lines as the current D5600 (see Thom Hogan's article: https://dslrbodies.com/newsviews/nikon-2018-news/august-2018-nikon-news/whats-up-with-dx-redux.html). I trust what Thom says about Nikon, and some of his observations in this article are: "Here in the US, the D3400 is Nikon's best selling ILC, by far. It also tends to produce the most sales dollars overall from any model. Thus, it's an important product."

So the idea that the D3500 might be a drag on profits is ill-supported with facts at best.

As for the key features of this camera, one stands about above all others: WiFi and Snapbridge. The ability to load an app for either iOS or Android is key to the use of this camera, as you can wirelessly move images directly from the camera to the smartphone, manipulate them in an endless line of "photo" apps, and push the results up to your social network(s) of choice. Thom Hogan (again) might lambast Snapbridge over its limitations, but the fact it exists (along with similar functionality from other camera makers) makes cameras like this much more acceptable to the smartphone users. Of course, you could argue they'll only use their smartphones, and that's true enough, but the D3500 (and Olympus and Panasonic micro four third models) allow for the use of affordable zooms that can extend the creative options for such folks, including video as well as just stills.