Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Nikon D600 Launch Impressions

Big launch day today. Now that the iPhone 5 hoopla has cleared, it's D600 time. And just like that, it's everything the rumors said it was except for the price. For a couple of weeks now, somebody, who knows who, started a snowball of a rumor that the D600 was going to come in at $1500 USD. And for the whole time, I was saying that that figure was absurd. Why? Because it's less than the inflation adjusted introductory price for the D300. Don't let reason get in the way of internet chatter though. Tonight, it's the inevitable deflating of the bubble.

However $2,100 is still a remarkable price, and now for Nikon shooters, the long dreamt of upgrade path to full frame is a little bit easier. It's just not so cheap that everybody will jump en mass. This is is is less than the D700, and in today's dollars is about equal to the Sony A850, which came out in 2009. Similar mega pixels, but you are getting far more with the D600 than you could ever have gotten with the first batch of 24mp cameras... D3x included. Making the least expensive FX camera on the market or 2012 seems like disruptive market behavior, but it also seems inevitable. Nikon's cadre of DX users have been stewing for years about moving up to FX, if only for the price. We lusted longingly for the D700, but once the D7000 arrived, we discovered that 80% of what we wanted in a much more affordable package didn't seem like such a bad deal. Nikon would have needed something exciting to keep the game moving; they aren't competing just against Canon, in many ways, they are competing against themselves.

The price is still enough to make people pause for thought, and rightly so. If you have a D7000 now, what would you need to buy lens-wise to reconstitute your portfolio for full frame? It seems that reality is sinking in for some. However, the revolution is here, this is the future. One day amateurs will be shooting with full frame regularly; but by then it won't be such a big deal and the pros will have moved on. If you have a D7000, now is a good time to remember how impressed you were when you first got it, because it's still a leading edge camera. If you weren't using all 16mp, then 24mp isn't really going to help much more. If you were always shooting at ISO 6400 and hoped for better, now is a good time to ask why you aren't reaching for a proper flash unit.

Another pause for thought: Is this what Nikon thinks of me? To elaborate: there is a a lot of nip and tuck to get to this new price point; thankfully none of it is offensive. I can't wait to get my hands on it, but there's just something about the D600 that seems less permanent than the D700. The D700 seems destined to be an fondly remembered classic... the D600 seems like a harbinger of a more down market future. Just like how the all of the leaks proved to be true, we are a little too aware of the man behind the curtain, and how this is cleverly designed to lure enthusiast shooters further upmarket. Remember, the initial reaction to the D700 was "Wow, I'm almost getting a D3!" I don't anybody will have that reaction this time. It's kind of like how you always wanted a Burberry piece, only now that you can have it, it seems to have lost it's lustre because everybody can get it now. Even in bikini form. Oh dear, how very common. If just anybody can have FX, what must the pros be getting?

You can see Nikon's marketing brain at work here. The D800 came out and it was cheaper than the competition and cheaper than expected. My bet is that it took with it a good proportion of the well to do FX upgraders... that would have settled for a D600 had one been available. That's how it works. Dazzle first, pick off the rich and price insensitive, and then bring out the product for the masses. Think D100 to D70, D200 to D90, D300 to D90, etc. etc. Some things never change; yet every generation, we keep thinking that it will, and that this new generation of cameras will change all of that. The game works like this: not many of us can make a living as pros, but a lot of us would like to think that it would be possible. Hence, you have the phenomenon of amateurs buying pro equipment... it keeps the dream alive. That was the D800. The D600 isn't that, it's solidly in the enthusiast camp. Rectangular eye-cup, anybody who knows Nikon code knows what that means.

So cheap isn't as cheap as we hoped for. Sigh. Back to reality. But that said, the D600 will be a big seller.  The D700 and the D800 were not saddled with such expectations, cost more, and were still sales successes.  It's a great day to be a Nikon fan, just spend your money wisely, as always.

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