It's official: the Nikon D300s is no more, at least in the United States. The news didn't exactly come as a breaking press release, but rather a series of people noticing that Nikon USA is no longer listing the D300s as a current camera on its website. Instead, the D300s has been moved to the archived (out of production) page. So, does this mean a D400 is just over the horizon?
Short answer: it's hard to say.
While officially a 2009 release, in reality, the D300s is 2 years older as the D300s is merely a D300 (2007 release) with video. Throughout the digital era, Nikon has had a habit of adding various letter designations to established nameplates in order to create a new, stop-gap replacement model until a major overhaul of the old camera can be perfected. Typically, these letter models have production lives of less than 2 years. Well, the Nikon D300s has now been axed just shy of its 5th (or is it its 7th?) birthday, which begs the question: is the D300/D300s the end of its branch on Nikon's evolutionary tree? My bet: yep.
Unlike the same-age Canon7D, which faces a single-front attack, the D300s is fighting a 2-front war against the D7100 on the lower side and the D600 on the higher side. Initially priced at $1800, the D300s sits smack in the middle of the $1200 D7100 and the $2100 D600, which both share a lot of features with the D300s. Result: Nikonians have 2 options here: pay a little more than the D300s and get a FX sensor, or save some money and get an in many ways (save user interface) superior D7100. Bottom line: as it stands now, if Nikon were to launch a D400 as a direct evolutionary model to the D300s, not many people would be willing to buy, which leads to my theory: the D400 (if it comes out at all), will probably be a D4 body featuring a DX chip.
Sound wild? Remember when Nikon said they'd never make a FF sensor? Well, so much for that pledge!
As for my take on a possible D400, it does make sense. When the D300s came out back in 2009, the next tier down camera (then the D90) came nowhere near the D300s in terms of performance. Examples: the D300s had a 51-point AF grid while the D90 only had 11 AF points. The D300s sported a 1/8000th second top shutter speed while the D90 was a full stop slower at 1/4000th second. Weather-sealing? The D300s had it along with metal construction while the plastic D90 had no sealing whatsoever. As for the viewfinder, the D300s was 100% while the D90 was only 96%. Want a built-in intervalometer? You won't find it on the D90 but it was included with the D300s.
Fast forward to 2014.
Now, when pitted against the D7100, the D300s doesn't look so special anymore as the D7100 shares all the features that made the D300s superior vs. the D90. In addition, the D7100 also has the following pluses: full 1080p HD video, the same 51-point AF as found in the D300s, 2 extra stops of ISO sensitivity, a slightly higher resolution LCD screen, dual memory card slots (vs. the D300s's one), a built-in microphone, a second aspect ratio, and a lighter weight despite retaining the D300s's tough build quality.
Bottom line: come 2014 and the D7100's laundry list of pro-grade features and its intro price of $1200, Nikon could never sell many D400s at $1800 with the only benefit being a better user interface.
They need to do something bolder.
When looking at the D7100 vs the flagship D4s, there's a lot of added capabilities. These extra features include the ability to save in a TIFF format, 11fps (vs. 6), a microphone and video port, built-in vertical grip, and the FX sensor along with all of its resultant benefits.
Now, if one were to take the D4s's specifications, remove the FX sensor, stick in a DX one, and call it a D400, Nikon probably couldn't make them fast enough.
As for who would want a D400 if it were to take the D4 with a DX sensor form, there's a lot of people, including: pros looking for a backup body but who don't want to pay for another D4, people who like the focal length multiplier (sports and wildlife photographers come to mind here), cash-strapped pros, amateurs who are heavily invested in DX glass, and simply anyone who wants the best on the market without going FX.
Will this come to pass? Who knows, only time will tell.
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