Nikon MX Rangefinder musings...

DMF Sep 5, 2008

Rumors have been flying about the blogosphere regarding an earthshaking product introduction by Nikon. Nikon took out a half-page ad in Rangefinder Magazine about “Something Big” to be announced at the WPPI convention in February 2009.NikonRumors has been tracking this for quite a while and even Wired picked up on this.

So far the rumors have Nikon introducing a new format sensor called MX. The MX sensor is 48 mm x 48 mm and has 40.7 megapixels. These pixels are the same size and pitch as the ones in the D3/D700 so the camera should have spectacular low-light capabilities. The sensor can be masked for portrait or landscaped images without having to rotate the camera. The camera will be able to mount DX and FX lenses with and adapter.

Here are some observations and deductions I have made:

1. Nikon wants in on the lucrative MF/Wedding market and will lowball the competition severely. Phase One is currently offering a P45+ back for $29,990 and they are throwing in the rest of the camera kit (Body, Viewfinder, & 80mm Lens – an $11,000 value) for free. Rumors place the price of the MX in the sub $10k range.

2. The RF in this system will likely be a refined version of the ERF in the D700. If the MX uses a optical viewfinder, it may not couple with the focus mechanism (ie, will only be used for framing the image and will always be in focus) while the lens AF handles the actual focusing. If they take the path of EVIL (Electronic Viewfinder Interchangeable Lens), then they can simulate SLR-like framing, focus and composition in an RF style body.

3. It will likely be way smaller than current DMF systems. Especially if they use EVIL.

4. FX lenses will have a .5x magnification crop. Wides will be wider and and teles will be shorter. This will target the Alpa/Cambo/Horseman shooters who are looking for a smaller landscape/architecture rigs. The MX would offer superior features over those systems as they are all scale-focus cameras.

UPDATE: Nikonrumors has posted another update. It looks like the MX (codename “Otoji”) will be a mirrorless design. Here is the quote:

The initial problem of the difference in flange register between both standards is addressed by the automatic repositioning of the focal plane of the sensor unit. The adjustment is made automatically when the adapter is mounted. The mirrorless design allows for adequate space to accomplish this while electronic masking ensures accuracy while still keeping the unit size very compact.

The keywords here are:

  • automatic repositioning of the focal plane of the sensor unit when the adapter is mounted
  • mirrorless design

  • UPDATE 2: Matt over at Nikonwatch has received the following anonymous tip:

    Dear Matt

    On speaking with Nikon [in country unnamed], this came to light with various questions – they already had development plans for a new Nikon digital rangefinder with approx 48mmx48mm size sensor inside it, tentatively called the “MX” format, the camera is not to dissimilar to the older film Mamiya 6 camera philosophy.

    The new camera will be backward compatible with DX and FX lenses (via mount adaptor), therefore the lens factor (based on using a FX lens) will be worked out like this:

    DX = 1.5x (Half frame)
    FX = 1.0x (Full frame)
    MX = 0.5x

    Custom format choice:
    When shooting in FX mode with this camera, you will be able to “rotate” the sensor crop from landscape to portrait rather than turn the camera as well as be able to shoot the full square resolution this camera provides. options for 5:4 etc will also be available.

    Viewfinder/Live View:
    For more critical cropping (like for still-life and macro work) you will be able to use the live view function for exact framing rather than the rangefinder component.

    about 48 megapixels, similar to the Nikon D3 design.

    New range of lenses required for the full MX format, zoom option available covering different ranges on different formats, lenses relatively compact for format size.

    A relatively compact traditional “medium format-esque” camera in a new camera line that will be aimed at studio, portrait, landscape and wedding photographers needs, with a more affordable price point than present larger format digital backs. This will allow the continuation of the D line as the sports and news photographers choice, expanding on the D3 with an upgrade to a 24mp sensor (hopefully available for the D3 body!) and future plans for 60 frame rate video recording modes in future models.

    Please keep my name, email and location anonymous.

    This certainly fleshes out more details about this rumored camera. But several questions remained unanswered:

    How big will this camera be? Medium Format cameras are large and boxy due to their modular nature. Will this system be smaller than current MF offerings or will it be about the size of the old Mamiya 6?

    This brings up an interesting point: There is another, parallel rumor circulating that the “MX” moniker only means “modular” or “multi-format”.

    So will this be a “classic” rangefinder or MF SLR style body or a mutant mirrorless design? I myself favor the mutant mirrorless version as this would allow Nikon to really shrink the body and still provide such goodies as TTL framing and focusing as well as electronic masking and would cut down on the mechanical complexity of the camera.