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Nikon Digital RF


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See all those scratches? That’s the life of a film photographer.

Rumors of a Nikon Digital RF resurfaced this week. The source seems to be an Aussie CV dealer. Details are sketchy – M mount, 6-7 MP, shipping in kit form with a redesigned pancake 45MM 2.8 – but the available details are more interesting than the ridiculous frankenstein-like feature set of last September’s rumor (here and here). At first glance, 6-7 MP seems a bit off the mark, but there may be good reasons for that low MP count. The 45mm 2.8 suggests that this will be a full frame camera; who would ship a kit with a fixed length lens equivalent to anything longer than 50mm? If it is full frame, perhaps lowering the MP count helped them solve the problems of vignetting and color shift in the corners. Maybe micro-lenses are easier to work with when they aren’t quite so micro. A low MP count would certainly give good noise performance, which might mean that you could just handle all the vignetting with software. Or, perhaps the low MP count means it isn’t a bayer pattern sensor. Perhaps it’s a monochrome only sensor, or something foveon like. Or, perhaps it’s a Fuji sensor. That might be interesting, because it might mean that the camera isn’t even a Nikon, but actually a Fuji. Their DSLRs have never really taken off, so maybe Fuji is looking for a different way into the market for higher end digitals. Hey, if they think they can make money on a new 6X7 RF, why not a digital RF?

Setting aside the Fuji angle for a moment, let’s think about why Nikon would bother with a digital rangefinder. Nostalgia? Could be. They did design some pretty kick ass rangefinders back in the day, and they keep reissuing them too. There’s a certain stubbornness in doing this, an insistence that things of quality are worth making, logic be damned. The profits on the SP 2005 can’t have been much, if anything. A digital rf would seem to take that stubbornness to a whole new level. Is Nikon that nuts? Well, they have brought out a new film camera more recently than even Leica (F6=2004, MP=2003). That’s pretty nuts.

Setting aside the general quirkiness of Nikon for a moment, there maybe sound financial reasons for doing something like this, particularly if the camera isn’t really a rangefinder at all. Maybe it’s more like a digital Hexar AF. There would be some logic in this. Canon has shown with the success of the G9 that photographers want a sophisticated compact digital camera. A fixed lens, fixed focal length full frame digital compact might sell, particularly if the low MP count meant that the cost was not stratospheric. Sure, it would cost more than a G9, but a big sensor would let many photographers take it a lot more seriously. Heck, keep the build quality high and the controls simple and put in a good viewfinder and you might even get a few of those folks still hanging onto film.

I’m interested in these rumors of a Nikon digital rf because I’ve nearly decided to buy a digital M after this year’s Photokina. Why wait? If an M9 or, more likely, an M8.2 is coming anytime soon, Photokina seems the logical time for Leica to make the announcement. If they do, and it doesn’t appear to suck, I’ll buy one. If the presumptive successor shows signs of sucking, I’ll buy a used M8 at what will hopefully be somewhat slightly discounted prices. I’m not holding my breath for a digital ZI or the rumored Nikon, but Photokina would seem the likely place to announce either of those as well.

Why am I’m interested? I love film, but there are days when the thought of scanning another negative makes me want curl up in the corner and forget about photography. I don’t expect digital to be any less work or any less frustrating, but it might be time to give myself the opportunity to experience different kinds of frustration. It’s been almost two years since I bought my last digital, so I’m about due. I’d like to be able to take a break from film, and I also have some ideas about working in color. A few project ideas that have been percolating in my head would also benefit from the higher fidelity of digital. I can’t get on with any of the current crop of DSLRs though. The controls give me fits and the viewfinders just aren’t designed for glasses wearers, so it’s gotta be a rangefinder.

Update: Between this interview over at PopPhoto and the Economist article linked in the comments, something like a digital CL sounds more likely than a revamped M8.

19 Comments

  1. Bob Koller says:

    Matt, I know the feeling. Just returned from a five day visit to see relatives in Maine. I took a Nikon D40, a 50mm f1.2 AIS (not AF), and the AF18-70mm zoom. I find the D40 is compact and handy to use. Yes, I could have taken a film F100, or other film SLR, or the Rolleiflex, or more lenses, but for travel and convenience the D40 works well.

  2. Bob Koller says:

    Come to think of it (how could I have forgotten?), I did take an Olympus Pen-FV and four rolls of film on the trip to Maine. It caused problems going through security. They had to check the camera and each film canister for explosives. Never used the camera on the trip.

  3. Oren Grad says:

    Matt, IMO the best reason for sticking to 6-7 MP would be that with the right engineering, the big pixels can give you a material improvement in dynamic range, as is apparently the case with the D3. With fewer pixels than the D3 in a full-frame sensor, maybe they’d do even better. I’d line up to buy such a camera.

    At the moment, I’m doing a lot of snapshooting in a mix of B&W, color neg, and digital. The dynamic range limitations of the digital cameras are still a huge headache, the main reason I can’t imagine going only digital even just for hand-held snapshooting.

  4. matt says:

    Bob, did you ask for the cameras/film to be hand-checked? I’ve travel with film cameras many times in recent; I always just let the bag run through the scanner, and I’ve never been asked to remove/open anything.

    Oren, I’d sacrifice MP for dynamic range. After years of shooting B&W, my eye is calibrated for that kind of dynamic range.

  5. chris weeks says:

    feel the same way about neg-scanning, which is why my lab does that for me now.

    digital nikon rf? i’d put my $$$ on no.

    a new leica? perhaps … but at what us$7000 or so?

    unless a fullframe m-mount digital rf comes out i’m not interested. i don’t shoot crop-frame d-slrs and am not about to start with rf’s.

    hope you have a great weekend!

  6. Bob Koller says:

    Matt, the film canisters were inside a lead lined pouch. The first time they did not like the fact they could not see inside, so they hand inspected. After that I just asked for hand inspection. Also, the camera had film in it and I did not want to get the film fogged by X rays.

  7. Bob Koller says:

    I actually like scanning negatives and slides. I do not do it on a production basis. I have the lab give a CD with their version of a scan. I then rescan the ones I want to keep. The Lab scan is my contact sheet.

  8. akikana says:

    In this week’s Economist they have an article on Leica and its recent managerial woes etc. From the article it seems like a digital SLR is next in the pipeline.

  9. tomf says:

    I would order it tonight – is there a buy it now button. I miss my Contax G2

  10. matt says:

    ‘I miss my Contax G2′

    Have you noticed that prices on used G2s have started going up again?

  11. Bill Cropper says:

    Hi Matt,
    I’m sure you’re familiar with the story:
    http://www.amateurphotographer.co.uk/news/leica_issues_statement_on_m8_future_news_184828.html
    Has been in and out of the press in England for the last 5 months. Definitely worth the wait, especially since the ‘upgrade’ offered by Leica to replace the shutter and LCD screen on the M8 currently runs into $2200+. BTW, don’t forget that all your lenses have to be coded to interface with the M8 body, all the trouble the M8 had with image quality, and that strange red filter that needed to be fixed onto all the lenses…
    Not saying I’ve looked into this myself, but the number of ‘used’ M8′s cropping up on http://www.ffordes.com (THE site to use for second hand equipment over here) is maybe a little worrying….
    Either way, your output is still fascinating and a constant source of interest/inspiration, keep going!
    Bill

  12. matt says:

    Guy, thanks for mentioning the Economist article. It makes for interesting reading;

    http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11413199

    An R DSLR and perhaps some more lower cost offerings like the Summarits seems to be in the works if the article is right.

    Bill thanks for the links. The prevalence of used models doesn’t worry me so much; the M8 was bound to be a poor fit for a number of its buyers.

  13. Matt,

    Moving to digital AND colour? Couldn’t you have broken that to us gently over a few posts? I can understand completely why you would want to give up scanning negs and I’ve found myself shooting more colour as well this year. But your blog is all about the trials and tribulations of a film shooter. If you start shooting digital aren’t you concerned that your usp will disappear?

    I think you’ve just hit that that point where you’re feeling that you’re stagnating a bit and have started looking for something to give you a boost. I’m guessing here but if you look back at the cameras you’ve had, have you changed them every couple of years or so? I think we’re all guilty of that. I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or bad. And I still don’t know whether it’s something we should resist or embrace. I think what usually happens, though, is that the lure of some new gear triumphs over the tougher task of developing new photographic goals or working on new projects.

    Bruce

  14. matt says:

    Bruce, it isn’t so much that I want to give up scanning negs, I just want options. I don’t intend to stop shooting film anytime soon; it does too much that I like.

    I’ve been fairly constant when it comes to 35mm cameras. I’ve owned my Hexars for over three years, and before that it was an FM2 that I’d owned since my early teens. However, I have run through three digitals in that time period. In every case, they were discarded because they didn’t meld with my way of shooting.

  15. [...] In addition, there are persistent rumours that Nikon is working on a design. This may be a traditional rangefinder with a large sigital sensor, or an EVIL (or just unfounded speculation). [...]

  16. Looks like the blogosphere is really busy fueling rumors about a Nikon Rangefinder… either that’s good news for the consumers and bad news for the competition, or the other way round.

    From the looks of it, I’d say probably great for consumers…not sure what the market for RFs is like right now, apart from sentimental reasons… time will tell.

  17. [...] ScanCafe Scanning Services for Slides & Negatives | Jacob Maentz’s BlogA Few Pointers For Being Taken More Seriously As A Blogger Part 1 | Tyler Ingram Dot ComDark Daze Photography » Archive » Studio Lighting Course offered.1pt4 | B&W Rangefinder Photography by Matt Alofs » Blog Archive » Nikon Digital RF [...]

  18. Sean Lee says:

    Did you ever pick up the M8.2 you referred to in this blog? I’m on the fence right now. Leica has an announcement in 7 days and I want a new cam. Do I get a used M8 a new M8.2, wait for a NIkon (that may never show) or see what Leica has in store next week?!!!

    Any current thoughts?

    thanks!