Nikon F 35mm
size sensor
image of Nikon D6
Front side of Nikon D6 digital camera        

Nikon D6 Review -- Development Announcement

by Jeremy Gray
Preview posted: 09/05/2019

Like Nikon did ahead of the full reveal of the Nikon D5 professional DSLR camera, the company has again teased their next flagship camera without providing any substantive details. Although we and many others suspected that a Nikon D6 would arrive ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, it is nice to receive actual confirmation from Nikon that the camera is in development.

Unfortunately, the new information essentially stops there. Nikon has released an image of the front of the Nikon D6 and stated that the new camera will be Nikon's "most advanced digital SLR to date." Granted, one would expect the newest flagship camera to be better than its predecessor, so this is far from surprising.

There is not much to be gleaned from the product shot either, as it shows a nearly identical camera body to the Nikon D5. The viewfinder prism looks slightly taller and has a crease not present on the D5. The D6's "mode dial" (which is really a cluster of 3 buttons with a release mode dial at the base) also looks a little taller, although it's difficult to ascertain much based on a single product shot and no real details. For fans of the ergonomics of the Nikon D5, a lack of notable changes to the grip and overall shape is likely a good thing.

The Nikon D5

The Nikon D6: A look to the past can sometimes inform the future

Rather than end our overview of the Nikon D6 here, let's take a look at Nikon's single-digit D series of cameras in general. The series is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2019, and Nikon's professional DSLR cameras have come a long way since 1999's D1.

Nikon D1: A 2.7-megapixel CCD sensor that changed the trajectory of digital photography

It's a testament to the Nikon D-series that its dual-gripped design has remained generally unchanged in the last two decades. While styling, build quality and the control layout has certainly evolved, like the D1, the D6 will have a top display, a top button cluster/release mode dial and a large optical viewfinder. When you consider what was inside the D1, the changes over time have been massive. The D1 had a CCD image sensor, rather than a CMOS image sensor, and produced 2.7 megapixel images -- a mere 2,000 x 1,312 pixels. Its ISO range was also just 200-1600, and the dynamic range was certainly much more limited than what even the most affordable Nikon cameras offer today. The D1 utilized a Multi-CAM 1300 autofocus system with only five areas. While these features don't jump off the page now, they did back in 1999!

In 2001, Nikon added a pair of new D1-series models, a trend which continued until the D5, the D1H and D1X. The "H" model was oriented toward action photography, offering the same megapixel count as the original D1 and pushed continuous shooting speeds up to 5 frames per second with a buffer depth of 40 images. The D1X, on the other hand, opted for a higher resolution 5.3-megapixel sensor and slower shooting speeds of 3 fps. Both the D1H and D1X added sRGB and Adobe RGB color spaces, a feature missing on the original D1.

Nikon D2H and D2X: Faster and higher-resolution

After the D1H and D1X models focused their strengths in different areas (speed and resolution, respectively), Nikon opted to skip a D2 proper and go straight to the D2H and D2X in 2003. The D2H captured 4.1-megapixel images at up to 8 frames per second and included an improved 11-area autofocus system. The D2X went to a 12.4-megapixel CMOS image sensor, which could shoot at a still pretty quick 5 fps. It could also record 7-megapixel images in a cropped mode at 8 fps. In 2005 and 2006, Nikon released updated models, the D2Hs and D2Xs, respectively. These minor upgrades included improved electronics and features.

Nikon D3: A game-changer for Nikon

In 2007, Nikon released the D3, the company's first full-frame DSLR camera. This camera was not only revolutionary for Nikon but had an important impact on the industry as a whole. The D3 came equipped with a 12-megapixel full-frame CMOS image sensor with a native ISO range of 200-6400. The camera recorded 14-bit raw images to dual CF card slots at up to 9 frames per second (11 fps in a DX crop mode).

The camera, designed by Giorgetto Giugiaro's Italdesign firm, proved hugely popular. It was also, along with the Nikon D300, Nikon's first camera to offer Live View shooting. It represented many "firsts" for Nikon, and its impact is still felt today.

Proving popular, Nikon continued its trend of releasing update models of its flagship DSLR. In 2008, Nikon debuted the 24.5-megapixel D3X, which at the time was Nikon's highest-resolution camera. The D3X also included a wider ISO range of 50-6400 and utilized a new image processing system. For fans of speed, 2009's D3S had a redesigned 12.1-megapixel image sensor that had a higher maximum ISO of 102,400. The camera also included a 720p video recording mode, something brand-new for Nikon full-frame DSLR cameras.

Nikon D4: More megapixels and more speed

Announced in January of 2012, the Nikon D4 came with a new 16.2-megapixel full-frame image sensor and featured improved autofocus and metering performance plus a higher maximum ISO of 204,800. With a target audience of photojournalists and sports photographers, the D4 focused on improved speed and performance, offering 10fps shooting with full AF/AE and a larger buffer. The camera could record up to 100 raw images. While the D3S added 720p video recording, the D4 took video further by adding 1080/24p recording.

Since the D1, Nikon had been releasing higher-resolution cameras later in each model's lifespan. With Nikon having released the venerable D800 camera during the D4's run, this trend stopped. The Nikon D4S released in 2014 offered a new 16.2-megapixel image sensor, a faster processor, better battery, improved ergonomics and an even wider ISO range.

Nikon D5: One of the best DSLR cameras ever made

In 2016, Nikon announced the D5. The camera used a new 20.8-megapixel full-frame image sensor that offered a native ISO range of 100-102,400. The camera's ISO could be extended all the way up to ISO 3,280,000. The camera included a new 153-area autofocus system, 12 fps shooting with AF/AE (up to 14 fps without AF/AE) and 4K/30p video recording. We really enjoyed shooting the Nikon D5 camera with its excellent design, impressive image quality in basically every situation and incredible autofocus performance.

Rather than release a D5s or D5x model, Nikon released the high-resolution D850 full-frame DSLR in 2017 and then launched a brand-new mirrorless camera system in 2018.

Nikon D6: What will Nikon do?

A lot has changed in the industry since the D5 launched in 2016. Although, even at the time, it felt like it might be part of a last "hurrah" for full-frame DSLR cameras. Then, of course, came the fantastic D850. Nonetheless, one can't help but wonder where Nikon goes from here.

Mirrorless offer certain advantages, especially as the technologies featured in mirrorless cameras have continued to improve at a rapid rate. An area where Nikon's Z system falters, however, is with respect to native lenses. While the FTZ adapter works fine, all of Nikon's best sports lenses are F-mount lenses. Many pros are still happy to continue using their reliable (and capable) DSLRs.

The Nikon Z7 mirrorless camera

However, mirrorless cameras such as the Sony A9 and Sony's expanding lineup of native mirrorless lenses, including great sports lenses, are likely giving some Nikon DSLR users pause. What can the Nikon D6 bring to the table that will change the game in a way similar to how the D3 (and to a lesser extent, D5) did when they were released? Is it even possible to continue to revolutionize a DSLR camera?

At this point, all we can do is guess and speculate. Looking back at how Nikon has released their professional DSLR cameras and what types of technology the company has introduced in other camera models, it's a safe bet that the D6 will offer more than 20 megapixels. Further, we can also assume that we will see improved high ISO and dynamic range performance. Considering 2017's Nikon D850 (our 2017 Camera of the Year), we can also assume that the D6 will incorporate the D850's improved video features and performance. Perhaps the D6 will also opt for a back-illuminated CMOS image sensor.

Although it is risky to draw too many conclusions based on early marketing materials, alongside the development announcement for the D6, Nikon released a behind-the-scenes video with sports photographer Joel Marklund.

In the video, Marklund discusses his experience using Nikon cameras in extreme weather and in very challenging, low-light situations. He also discusses the fast workflow of sports photography and how the D5 has allowed him to seamlessly transfer images. The fact that this is the first video Nikon is releasing alongside the D6 announcement suggests that the D6 may very well double down on ruggedness, low light performance and connectivity/workflow features. Marklund also discusses autofocus and subject tracking performance. Additional AF points, faster performance, better tracking and better autofocus frame coverage all sound like safe bets for the D6.

From a business perspective, especially with increasing competition in the sports camera market, it makes some sense for Nikon to tease the D6 if they aren't ready to fully unveil it to the world. However, there is some risk here as well, as people's expectations may run wild, only to eventually be let down by the full reveal. Ultimately, it's nice to know that the D6 is coming, but it's disappointing to have been given basically zero real information. While a stroll down memory lane with the flagship D series cameras has been enjoyable, for Nikon to continue to hold a distinguished place in the photo industry, the company needs to pull out all the stops with the D6.