I am one of the photographers who thinks both formats are valid and have their own
advantages and I will just say I don't think mirrorless yet offers a comparable solution.
I think the practical issue is that Nikon isn't designing new high-end DX lenses (only a handful of them exist, and it can be argued that they're outdated optically), so why should they make a camera for which there are few dedicated lenses that are of interest to the advanced user (unless the camera is just for tele for the most part)? Yes, FX lenses can be used but most of the image is left unrecorded so the argument can be made that better image quality could be obtained by using dedicated lenses optimized for the smaller format if Nikon went through the development effort, and the focal ranges of the lenses would be better suited to typical applications. If Nikon made a 50-135/2.8 for example, it could be smaller and lighter than the 70-200/2.8. If Nikon put a similar development effort into a successor of the 17-55/2.8 DX that they put into the 24-70 I am sure it would be sharper and have less flare and ghosting. And there are no DX wide angle primes. I believe if Nikon made one or two of them, e.g. basic reportage 20mm or 18mm f/2 or f/1.4, DX could be something that one can stay with, instead of something only to be considered as a stepping stone into FX. To me the lack of a proper high quality fast wide angle prime for typical documentary photos in low light equivalent to the 35mm prime on FX is a crucial omission which meant I would never stay with DX. The wide angle prime is important especially to realize the smaller and lighter potential of DX, and to make the camera less intimidating than when e.g. a 17-55 is used to for this kind of work.
Without the lenses, I have little interest in DX. I do think a D7000 is excellent for macro, but there is little that it can do that the D800 can't do now (possibly better LV implementation). A D5200 on the other hand, with its improved sensor and the adjustable screen is of interest to me even now, for macro work in the field in difficult spots, to avoid me having to strain my neck to see. However, I abhore the pentamirror viewfinder for regular work; in my opinion all DSLRs should be made with pentaprism viewfinders, against the D3xxx/D5xxx viewfinders, EVFs start to look quite attractive ... yet I also dislike those.
Now, if Nikon made a D7000/D300s successor, with the mode dial lock from the D600, the D800 AF system, 6-8fps with the 24MP sensor from the D5200, and a proper optical viewfinder, with or without the tilting LCD I could buy such a thing, but not until there is at least one reportage-style wide angle prime the size (and cost) of which is in line with the size of the format.
As the matters are right now, I am planning on solving the compact wide angle problem by purchasing a Fuji X100s. Now that's what a DX wide angle should ideally look like! Compact, small, and with great quality. Yes, I understand because of the mirror and with a sensor that has generic microlenses rather than optimized for a single lens, Nikon can't use a similar optical construction. I could accept something a bit bigger than the Fuji lens.
The Fuji also lets you select the focus point much more liberally than Nikon FX cameras do. When photographing people using a moderate wide angle I want more compositional freedom aided by a broad distribution of focus points. The D300s AF point layout is a reasonable approximation that could be inherited by a D400 and this would be useful.
So come on Nikon there are still a lot of photographers who like dx or at least want
a highly specced dx body to compliment their full frame cameras.
If Nikon were to make a few more pro-spec DX lenses I could agree that a D400 is a good idea. There doesn't have to be that many. 23/2 or 23/1.4, maybe an 16mm f/2. A new nano-coated 17-55/2.8, and a 55-135mm f/2.8 that is compact. With those 3-4 new lenses I could easily justify the purchase of a D400 to go with them, to use for travel, macro (the lenses that I use for close-ups range from covering FX through 6x7 to 4x5; I am fine with them not being dedicated to DX, though it seems the ones that only cover smaller formats are sharper as a rule). I was always very happy with the performance of the D7000 for close-ups, but in general photography, with fast lenses I was unhappy with the AF performance, so I ended up with FX only.
It surpasses my understanding why Nikon would abandon the still profitable DX market and chase after a much smaller pool of FX users.
I believe this is because the optical FX viewfinder is very attractive and one which is better in practical use than any OVF; it gives a sharp, bright, clear image that doesn't flicker and has no delay. I feel the DX viewfinder is too small to be really appealing and to give enough reward to the user for the increase in size of the camera and lenses compared to a mirrorless camera. Because of the long flange distance of the F mount, it is not easy to design high performance wide angles that are of reasonable size to the DX format (leading to my main gripe about DX), whereas such lenses with excellent performance and moderate cost (28/1.8 AF-S) can be designed, and exist, for FX. The F mount has been originally designed for the needs of 35mm film in mind and Nikon probably aims to return to having the system centered around FX sensors. Their lens development of recent years certainly suggest that. I think FX DSLRs can easily hold their market against mirrorless systems whereas in DX format and smaller, the mirrorless camera sales will increase faster than DX DSLRs. I think Nikon is preparing to introduce a DX mirrorless platform and gradually transfer DX users into that. FX may or may not follow, later, if the users really abandon the optical viewfinder, which I doubt will happen in the next decade or even two. I find even recent EVFs unappealing, especially in low light. I can't even time my shots using that kind of a finder, the subject expression will have changed by the time I get my shot. This is one of the reasons for my interest in Fuji X100s and also the X-Pro1 system platform; they have nice optical viewfinders and an overlaid EVF on request.
For long lens users, if Nikon abandons the high end DX camera completely, they could alleviate the issues that result by introducing intermediate aperture long glass along the lines of the Pentax 560/5.6; a 400/4 or 400/5.6, 600/5.6 and so on - with these lenses, the combination of an FX camera + lens would not be much larger than DX cameras with similar low light performance and reach, yet provide the larger viewfinder image (e.g. note the 800mm lens is only slightly longer than the 600/4, so it is not necessary for these to be as long as the focal length). Unfortunately Nikon seems to think someone who wants to shoot with a long lens will always want extreme performance and fast apertures a.l.a. 400/2.8, 600/4, 800/5.6, rather than compactness, lower weight yet still maintaining high quality. DX can help provide the compactness of course, into the future, if new bodies with good AF are introduced.
As an FX user I would like a 400/4 or 400/5.6 prime and maybe a 600/5.6 could also be manufactured, such as in the old days, but with AF-S and VR. I fully understand the appeal of the 400/2.8 et al. in professional sports photography where the background clutter and advertisements are to be avoided; comparing some of the best sports photography from the 1970s and today, the rendition of out of focus backgrounds has experienced a phenomenal improvement. However, those lenses are not useful to those who cannot afford them and/or carry them. The 200-400 exists as a slightly more moderate aperture lens but I find in my (rather brief) testing that the primes have nicer out of focus blur at long distances and while the zoom is attractive to use, the output from the 300/2.8 is much more appealing (to me). And it's not just the larger maximum aperture but the quality of the rendering.
What bothers me is that Nikon spends so much time updating the fast superteles (think how many versions of the 300/2.8 exist...) yet is seemingly unable to keep up with Canon's technological advances in this area. First it was AF-S, then IS, and now the newest Canon supertele primes are substantially lighter than the corresponding Nikkors. So instead of making moderate aperture teles, such as provided by Canon in e.g. the 400/5.6, 400/4 and so on, I suspect Nikon will go on a pursuit trying to make lighter fast supeteles. The intermediate level long lens user doesn't get much affection from Nikon these days. I don't understand why. In the manual focus era Nikon made a whole plethora of long lenses at all possible maximum apertures and these stayed in the lineup for many many years, until the great purge of 2005.
Ok, admittedly, an easy solution to the intermediate level tele problem is the use of a DX camera, a 300/2.8 with a 24MP DX sensor becomes a formidable lens in bright light. But for the increased sensor pixel density to pay actual dividends in the image quality, autofocus accuracy needs to really improve along with it, and it hasn't kept up. The D3200/D5200 level AF just isn't what I had in mind here. I got tons of out of focus pictures when I tried to use my 200/2 wide open with the D7000 - and a very small percentage of keepers (around 10%!). Much happier with D3X and D800 and the same lens.
Nikon does not really do market research, it seems. They're the classical engineering company with a bunch of gearheads that say "oooh, I'm sure people are going to love this product."
No doubt some products are made because lens designers want to make them, to make something unique, instead of something commonly needed and practical.
But they do market research also, and I believe it is precisely market research that led to the increase in emphasis on resolution and reduced fps as one of the prices to pay, in this generation of cameras. It was what everyone was craving for, at a time when the only way to get higher resolution than 12MP in a pro-grade camera was to buy the D3X. It is easy to overreact to customer complaints. I think the D800 would have been better as a 24MP camera, or a least more general purpose, but Nikon got so much slack for staying at 12MP so long that I guess they wanted to exceed the competition this time. And they did, in some ways. Canon also solved the complaints about AF and speed that 5D Mk II users had had. So both companies do respond to customer complaints.
Sorry for the long post.
Edited by ilkka_nissila, 31 January 2013 - 16:20 .