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Opinion: A Nikon Retro Mirrorless Camera is Everything We Want

·7 min read

If NikonRumors gets this one right (and they have a high success rate of doing so), then a film SLR styled Mirrorless body could be coming to Nikon’s lineup soon.

Whether it’s Leica’s M and Q cameras, Fuji’s X series, or the Olympus OM-D and PEN collection, there’s always been something appealing about digital cameras housed in a vintage body. I don’t own cameras from either of these brands. But to me, they represent some of the most beautifully designed digital cameras made. I agree with the views of our EIC Chris when he speaks about the beauty in the design of the Olympus PEN-F (a camera that’s long overdue for an update now). For the most part today, camera brands tend to match each other in specifications such as megapixels, frames per second, high ISO values and noise handling. But where is Nikon?

Where brands like Leica, Fuji, and Olympus are clearly winning is in the styling and ergonomics departments. Porting over classic retro looks stemming from years of experienced designs in their film range has proven to be a winning formula for them. Aside from the Df, I can’t recall a time in recent years when I’ve stopped a fellow photographer holding a Nikon, Canon, or Sony camera to take a closer look at the aesthetics of what they held. It’s almost like these brands have forgotten to include a stylist in their design and R&D departments. The latest update from NikonRumors about an upcoming vintage-looking Mirrorless body from Nikon has really excited me.

What Does the Report Say?

According to the Report, “the new Nikon APS-C mirrorless camera could be retro inspired:

  • Nikon Df-inspired mirrorless camera with mechanical dials and articulating screen.

  • Very thin camera body without a handgrip that looks something like the Olympus OMD or Nikon FE10 cameras

I personally hope that the end design turns out to be the former of the two. This is because the Nikon FE10 (and FM10) weren’t exactly their most memorable models. The production was outsourced to Cosina to keep costs low and make them more affordable to emerging markets. Almost entirely constructed out of plastic, they don’t have a premium feel to them. Patina is a lot more pleasing when it develops on metal bodies (for those of you who excessively use your cameras).

The Df, on the other hand, was well-received among Nikon users. A fully metal body that included functional metal dials, with backward compatibility up to Nikon’s first F mount lenses dating back to 1959; what’s not to like? It was pleasing to hold with a comfortable grip, and they even designed a vintage-looking edition 50mm f1.8 lens to go with it. Nikon could really nail this one if they go down this route.

The Nikon Df next to my Nikon FM2 on the left
The Nikon Df next to my Nikon FM2 on the left

Long Overdue for Nikon

When reports of the Z series of cameras began floating around some years ago, I hoped Nikon would launch this series with a film era styled body. Even if they’d kept the same Df style body and made it smaller (due to the lack of a prism), I would have bought it in a heartbeat. Nikon has a history of releasing some amazing rangefinders and SLRs over many decades. Like many others, I never stopped to think why these designs never made it to their DSLR range. When it finally did make it to the Df, what stopped them from continuing the trend?

A Mirrorless body like this is what Nikon fans like myself and countless others have been waiting years for. Lightweight, packed with the latest features, but also something that is a thing of beauty to look at. Looks matter for camera bodies because they’re the first thing we fall in love with about them. As photographers, we fight over brands and argue over megapixel counts and low light performances. But we’ll be the first to admire an appealing camera, even from a competing brand.

Vintage styling does not need to get in the way of the functionality of a cameray. I’m stumped over why Nikon didn’t release styling variants of its Z series of bodies yet. Even something as simple as a dual-tone body with an upper silver half would have been something a lot of us Nikon fans would have opted for. I’ll admit that I had even considered getting a silver half body skin for my Z6. I picked this colour combo over the all-black option for my favourite walkabout camera too – the now discontinued Nikon J5.

I hope some day they’ll bring out a digital version of the Nikon S2
I hope some day they’ll bring out a digital version of the Nikon S2

What would I like to see in this Nikon camera?

If this one is released with specs that match any of their existing Z bodies, you can be sure that it won’t fly off the shelves. Nikon should avoid what they did with the Df, where they put in a D4 sensor. They then dropped the frames per second rate and removed all video recording features. No one purchased a Df because they thought they were getting the D4’s sensor capabilities at a lower price. Those who bought the Df did so for the styling, handling and Ai lens compatibility. I’m a firm believer that when a brand releases a new camera, it has to outshine existing models. Will this cannibalize the sales of existing Z bodies? It might. But this is the perfect opportunity for Nikon to attract those using m43 and APS-C retro-styled bodies to move over to their cameras.

This reported camera needn’t be as powerful as the upcoming Z9, but some features that I think it needs to have are:

  • A slightly higher megapixels count than the Z6. Maybe 30 MP. Ideally also not a sensor from Sony.

  • 4K video at least 60 fps with a full sensor readout

  • At least 8 fps (for those rare occasions where some of us would like burst capabilities)

  • Classic styled dials on the top (alongside a small LCD) for ISO and EV changes. I wouldn’t be upset if a mode dial didn’t make it to the top

  • 2 card slots (let’s not make that blunder again)

  • Compatibility for an add-on battery pack

  • All black and silver/black colour options for the body

  • Firmware that supports custom shutter sounds. Imagine being able to swap the electronic sound for the clack of an FM2 shutter!

  • Support for virtual focusing screens that mimic the ones we saw in film cameras

  • A comfortable thumb rest if they ditch the idea of a sizeable hand grip

  • An articulating touchscreen LCD

  • IBIS that safely supports even Nikon’s larger telephoto lenses

  • FTZ compatibility to use F-mount lenses

  • Full-Frame sensor. If this camera is released with a smaller sensor, I would be more heartbroken than when Nikon canceled its unreleased classic-looking DL series of cameras. A DX sensor isn’t going to win over Fuji and Olympus owners who may be thinking of making a switch. A Full-Frame mirrorless camera can even win over older photographers who cut their teeth on 35mm cameras some decades ago

  • As much as I’d like a few vintage-looking lenses to go with this, I’ll pass on that for now. Nikon fans are already berating them in online forums over their inability to stick to the release timings of their already announced lenses. Maybe someday Nikon can even bring out an S2 styled digital rangefinder too

Make it look like the FM2 and I’ll be the first one to pre-order it
Make it look like the FM2 and I’ll be the first one to pre-order it

I can only speculate on the specs, but the ball is in Nikon’s court to give us something better than what we might expect. Nikon makes some great cameras; however, it’s time they stopped playing catchup with their competition. The above list might seem like an extensive wishlist, but it’s also Nikon’s best chance in recent years to entice fans of other camera brands. Hook them with the looks and reel them in with the specs, but go all in this time, Nikon.