With a few days of Alpine riding (and a stack of pictures) under my belt, I've had a bit of time to digest the impact of Nikon's new dSLR offerings. My pre-order for the D300 is already in; the only thing I'm not sure about until it's arrived is whether it'll be replacing the D200 or the D2X (which reminds me, later this year one of those cameras will be up for sale... one careful owner, etc.).
dSLRs are different beasts from their old film counterparts for three reasons. First, their design both defines and limits the image quality of which they're capable (you could change the appearance and technical quality of your film photos simply by loading a roll of the latest emulsion into your xx-year-old SLR). Second, they've traditionally been more expensive than film SLRs, particularly at the pro end (this is a significant factor for anyone with an interest in using cameras as part of their business, because a dSLR is a capital expense that can't be fully offset against tax). And third, dSLR lifecycles have been shorter than their film equivalents (a pro film SLR typically wouldn't be updated for 5-8 years, whereas pro dSLRs are on a 2-3 year refresh cycle. So that's both more, and more frequent, capital expense).
Although the D3 is getting a lot of the attention, it's the D300 that I think is particularly interesting. On the first point, it promises to at least match the D2X on image quality (this, in case you're wondering, is a Good Thing. The D2X is my benchmark for clean, accurate and detail-filled files - it's noticeably, if only slightly, better than the D200 in this respect). And it's going to achieve that - along with some worthwhile performance and useability hops like higher frame rates and better AF - at a price that's about the same as Nikon's closest-equivalent semi-pro film SLR from a few years ago, the F100. Which blows the second point out of the water, and should give Canon something to think about (although the 1DIII offers some advantages over the D300, it's out-resolved by the Nikon, matched or exceeded in spec in most other areas and costs twice as much).
So in two respects, at least, the D300 represents a welcome watershed in dSLR design. The D200 was the first camera that persuaded me that good digital performance didn't have to mean a second mortgage; the D300 simply takes that process to its logical conclusion. It's not so much a stripped-down D3, but a fully-featured pro camera in its own right at a price that should have the competition running back to the drawing board.
But that third point - short product lifecycles - doesn't look like going away, and that presents pro photographers with a problem that simply didn't exist in the days of film. How do you pay for more frequent capital expenses that also depreciate more quickly... and all against the backdrop of image over-supply and falling rates?
Answers on a new 14-24mm f/2.8, to be left (carefully) by my back door, please...