The Missing Lenses (2004 version)


Did all the Nikon lens designers retire, or what?

One common email query I get has to do with which Nikkor lens should be purchased. That's not an easy question by itself, as to really answer it you need to learn about the photographer asking the question; what's right for photographer A isn't necessarily the best bet for photographer B. But many times in answering these questions I end up in the Rabbit Hole of Missing Lenses.

Don't believe me? Here's just a short list of what Nikon should have produced but hasn't:

  • Add Some DX Primes. While zooms are flexible, they're also big, even in DX-land. DX promises small, and a DX prime would fit into just about any bag. Just as every serious Nikon film user has a 20mm or 24mm prime somewhere in his or her kit, the DSLR users all want a 12mm f/2.8G DX and a 16mm f/2.8G DX (and with 52mm or 62mm threads, thank you). And when you make these, Nikon, don't forget the DOF markings, either.
  • Provide Some Useful PCs. While the 85mm PC is a very nice lens, it's not the first modern PC most of us would have asked for. With the 1.5x angle of view change, the 28mm PC became a mostly unusable 42mm PC equivalent (and there's even worse news if you've got a body that doesn't meter with AI lenses, such as the D70 or D100). Perspective Control is used mostly in two types of photography: wide angle landscape (specifically architectural, but also nature) and macro. At present, we only have the macro capability. What we want is something less than 30mm equivalent for our DSLRs (e.g., an 18mm f/4P PC DX).
  • Give us More VR. Canon currently has at least 10 IS lenses, Nikon 4 VR lenses with one more (that most people can't afford) announced. The difference in numbers isn't as important as the missing vibration reduction lenses. Where's the consumer telephoto (e.g., 70-300mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR)? Where is any exotic fixed focal length telephoto (e.g., 500mm f/4G AF-S VR)? Even adding only those two lenses to the current lineup would go a long way to leveling the field (though some just won't be happy until all the telephotos have VR). Hey Nikon, if you're going to do it right, bring back a famous old design as the 300mm f/2G AF-S VR, that'll turn some heads and empty some wallets. Update: the 70-300mm appeared. In mid-2007 there are now nine VR lenses, so some progress has been made.
  • Bring Back the Legends and Fill in the Gaps. An autofocus version of the 105mm f/2.5 would be nice (it should be less expensive than the Micro-Nikkor and DC 105mm's, and that famous optical performance at a reasonable price is really missing in the mid-telephoto range right now). The 75-150mm f/3.5 or the 70-200mm f/4 resurrected as the mid-level telephoto zoom would be quite welcome, even more so if any of the latest goodies were added (VR, AF-S). I've heard a few people ask whether the 24mm f/2 would ever make it to AF-land. As some have discovered, the 50mm f/1.2 NOCT is fabulous as a night lens, but, it too never made it to AF-land. And I can't tell Nikon how many digital body sales they've lost because there is no digital (modern) equivalent to the Medical Nikkor 120mm f/4; add a D-TTL/I-TTL ring flash and update it to AF and they're back owning that market. Speaking of missing in action, where's the 400mm f/5.6G anything (VR, AF-S, whatever)? The 35-105mm gets mentioned from time to time as being more interesting now that we're in DSLR world (essentially would become a 50-150mm zoom equivalent), but it, too is MIA.
  • Up the Ante on the Basics. The 85mm f/1.4 should be an AF-S lens, maybe even VR. Ditto the 180mm f/2.8. The 70-300mm has already been mentioned as needing an overhaul. The Micro-Nikkors need VR and perhaps AF-S. Update: we got the 70-300mm and one Micro-Nikkor; still waiting for the rest.

Okay, I've come up with 20 lenses, only three of which are really new designs. So let's set up a delivery schedule:

Spring 2005: 12mm f/2.8G DX, 24mm f/2G, 70-300mm f/4-5.6G AF-S (VR), 180mm f/2.8G AF-S, 200mm f/4G Micro-Nikkor VR AF-S, and 500mm f/4G AF-S VR (very do-able list, actually). This list shows that Nikon is serious about filling in the gaps and bringing its best lenses up to date.

Spring 2006: 18mm f/4P PC, 35-105mm f/3.5-4.5G AF-S, 85mm f/1.4G AF-S VR, 300mm f/2G AF-S VR, 400mm f/5.6G AF-S. This list carries over the gap-filling and updating, but also points out that Nikon is still working on the exotic (the PC and 300mm).

Spring 2007: 16mm f/2.8G DX, 50mm f/1.2G NOCT, 105mm f/2.5G AF-S, remaining Micro-Nikkors VR'd. This list shows that Nikon is going to dot the I's and cross the T's, filling out the lineup in great detail.

So Nikon, nudge those lens designers back into action on the above wish list, give us everything else when you can, add VR versions of the 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, and 600mm f/4 when you can, and we customers may even let you design two or three lenses we aren't expecting during that time frame.

That's what I'm wishing for as my birthday once upon rolls upon us. Now all I have to do is figure out a way to blow out way too many candles...

 
Lenses We Don't Need
Okay, this'll be a bit controversial, but let's clean up the lineup a bit while doing the updating asked for in the left column. Here's my first batch of Nikkor lens candidates to perform end of life cycles on:
  • 18mm f/2.8D (not optically good enough)
  • 50mm f/1.4D (the NOCT is better as an exotic, and the f/1.8D is perfectly acceptable)
  • 85mm f/1.8D (decent lens, but the f/1.4D is much preferable)
  • 135mm f/2D DC (the 105mm DC is enough DC for me)
  • 24-85mm f/2.8-4D (not as good as the less expensive 24-85mm AF-S, and there's too many mid focal-length zooms in the lineup)
  • 28-100mm f/3.5-5.6G (too many mid focal-length zooms that are better)
  • 35-70mm f/2.8D (not enough zoom, and too many other mid focal-length zooms)

Meanwhile, I'm not at all interested in the following:

  • Any more mid-range zooms (sensing a trend?)
  • Any more <US$200 lenses (the 18-70mm DX lens that comes with the D70 sets the standard by which lower cost lenses need to be judged; I haven't seen a Nikkor lens that costs less than US$200 that comes close, so let's all just pony up the extra US$100 and get quality)

Finally, Nikon needs to get the production geared up to meet demand on these lenses:

  • 17-55mm DX.
  • 200-400mm AF-S VR.
  • 70-180mm Micro-Nikkor.

 

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