DSLRs have taken a back seat to mirrorless cameras in the past few years, but the 2020 Olympic Games will see professional, sports-focused flagships from Canon and Nikon face off again, just like the old days.
In the red corner, there’s the incoming Canon 1DX Mark III, which has been confirmed as being in development. And in the opposite corner is the Nikon D6, which was also given a development announcement in September 2019.
While not exactly hybrids of DSLRs and mirrorless tech, both cameras are promising to mix some of the best features we’ve seen from the latest mirror-free models, like advanced autofocus and in-body image stabilization, with traditional DSLR traits like optical viewfinders and lengthy battery lives.
2019 marks the 20th anniversary of the Nikon single-digit D series, which launched in 1999 with the Nikon D1, and the company promises that the D6 will be “the most advanced digital SLR to date”.
At the moment, we don’t have any official specifications – just some fairly realistic rumors – but we can offer plenty of informed speculation, based on what we think is likely to appeal to professional photographers four years on from the D5.
At the time of the D5’s launch, the camera market was in a very different place. Mirrorless existed – even full-frame mirrorless – but the number of players was limited, with Nikon and Canon yet to enter the full-frame mirrorless market.
Many may wonder why the D6 is even in development – after all, why not just go full pelt with a highly-specced pro mirrorless model, such as the Sony A9 (and the upcoming Sony A9 II), and get out of the top-flight DSLR game altogether?
Well, one reason is that if you’re a seasoned pro you’re likely to already have a kitbag packed full of Nikkor DSLR lenses – it’s one thing asking pros to splash the cash on a new body, but an entirely new kit? That’s a tougher challenge. Give it another five years though, and pros might be more willing to make the leap.
For now, what can we expect the Nikon D6 to include?
A recent leak from Nikon Rumors has suggested that the Nikon D6 will be announced in mid-February, with February 11 2020 apparently a possibility for the release date.
This may be a date for the internal team, though, with another potential release being at Japan’s CP+ camera show, which starts on 27 February.
So far, there haven’t been any leaked prices for the D6, but we can make an educated guess based on previous pricing. The Nikon D5 had a body-only price of £5,200 / $6,500 at launch, so it seems likely that its successor will be in the ballpark.
This would also put it firmly in the same territory as its main rival, the incoming Canon 1DX Mark III, which is similarly vying for the camera bags of professional sports photographers.
While we have no confirmed information about the D6 sensor, a recent leak from the usually reliable Nikon Rumors suggests it will be a 24MP camera.
This is a step up from the D5’s 21.3MP CMOS sensor but, like the Sony A9 II, it doesn’t go as far as adopting the high-resolution sensors seen in the likes of the Sony A7R IV.
This makes sense, as the Nikon D6 is designed for sports photographers looking to fire off lots of frames to capture the perfect moment. A very high-resolution sensor would impact both shooting speed and workflow due to file sizes, so the 24MP sensor would seem to the sweet spot.
It’s not yet clear exactly how fast the Nikon D6 will be able to shoot, but its burst rate will certainly be quicker than the Nikon D5, which managed 12fps. We’d anticipate it going closer to the 20fps that we’re going to see on the new Canon 1DX Mark III.
The Nikon D5 was the first Nikon DSLR to be capable of recording high-definition 4K/UHD movies in-camera, and we can expect the D6 to build on that – professional shooters are increasingly being asked to supply video content as well as stills.
Perhaps we’ll see 6K recording capability make its debut with the D6 – perfect for capturing those 100m finals – while we’ve also seen other manufacturers hint that 8K will be ready for the Olympics; if Nikon was to jump on board with that kind of technology in the D6, it’d be mighty interesting.
The latest rumors, though, suggest the D6 will be going for the more standard 4K/60p video, which is understandable considering it’s mainly aimed at pro stills photographers.
Nikon was kind enough to supply a small picture of the impending D6 in its development announcement. It’s presumably a mock-up, rather than a final rendering, and it looks pretty much exactly like the D5, but with a 6 in place of the 5 in the name.
It would come as no surprise to see Nikon keep to a very similar form factor as the D5’s for the D6 – after all, expecting pros to get used to a drastically new way of working is a big task. The square shape of the D5 allows it to incorporate a battery grip for extended battery life, and we expect the D6 to blow its mirrorless rivals out of the water for longevity by doing the same thing.
Also announced as being in development at the same time as the D6 was a new 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR telephoto lens, which looks set to be a bit of a beast – the Nikon D6 will have to be large enough to balance well with such lenses, which are popular with sports and wildlife shooters.
Given the popularity of mirrorless models, it would make a lot of sense for Nikon to incorporate some of the features we’d more commonly associate with mirrorless cameras into the D6.
There is of course a limit to what those features might be, thanks to a pesky thing called physics, but there’s every possibility that we might see improved in-body image stabilization, plus a new silent shooting mode for those quiet moments (something which has proved incredibly useful and popular on the Sony A9).
We’d also expect to see an improved autofocus system on board. It’s not like the D5 was a slouch, but perhaps Nikon could bring over the on-sensor PDAF (phase detection autofocus system) from its Z-series cameras to enable better live-view autofocus.
Dual memory card slots are pretty much a given. The Nikon D5 can be bought with either 2x XQD slots, or 2x CF slots, but Compact Flash is pretty old hat now, so we’d expect the D5 to be equipped with slots for two CFExpress memory cards (which are the same size and shape as XQD cards), with backwards compatibility for those who already have a stack of XQD cards in their possession.
New dual Expeed processors will likely feature, and we may even finally see the appearance of Wi-Fi on a top-of-the-line pro DSLR. Nikon has previously claimed that it wasn’t possible to include Wi-Fi inside the thick, sturdy bodies of its professional-level cameras, but not having this feature would make a camera launched in 2020 feel extraordinarily outdated – hopefully Nikon can come up with a solution.
So that’s about all we have on the Nikon D6 for now – a set of educated guesses. We’ll update this page regularly as more rumors begin to appear, so stay tuned.