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.