The Missing Lenses (2009 version)


Did all the Nikon lens designers retire, or what?

Original: 10/14/2009
Updated: 10/20/2009 fixed items, added feedback, added Third Party fillers

Nikon's recent lens announcement (85mm DX Micro-Nikkor) has once again provoked the "where are the lenses" complaint from many Nikon faithful. I decided to look to see what I'd written about missing lenses, and, whoa, I wrote something back in 2004 (and updated it in 2007). I was kind of hoping that a few things on that list might actually have made it to market. Well, we got some PC-Es, though not the one I wanted.

Oh my! I listed 20 lenses that needed to be produced. We got...wait for it...none. It appears I need to do a better job describing what we have and what we need (at a minimum). So here we go:

DX
Let's start with what we have:

Primes Consumer Pro
10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 12-24mm f/4
35mm f/1.8 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR 17-55mm f/2.8
85mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR  
  18-70mm f/3.5-4.5
18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR

Let's start with a premise: that the DX lens line should be reasonably complete by itself (without siphoning off FX lenses). The rationale behind that thought is that DX lenses should be smaller and lighter than FX lenses, and the mostly consumer (slightly prosumer) DX crowd wants reduced size and weight, and a more modest cost. So what's missing? Simple:

  • A wide angle DX prime. Any of the following would suffice: 12mm f/4, 14mm f/4, 16mm f/4.
  • A prime portrait lens: 58mm f/1.8.
  • The full set of consumer zooms. Missing are the 18-70mm VR and 18-135mm VR.
  • Technically, the 17-55mm could use VR.
  • A prosumer telephoto zoom: 50-150mm f/2.8 VR.
  • Also for the prosumer, a DX PC-E option: 16mm f/4 PC-E.

Why the modest apertures on the wide angle and portrait lens? Price and size. Remember the premise: DX lenses are going mostly onto consumer/prosumer kits. We have higher priced and bigger FX variants that can suffice for faster lenses (e.g. 14mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.4). So, at a minimum, Nikon is missing six DX lenses, and has been for some time. The two new consumer zooms give more options to the new DSLR user. The 14mm f/4, 58mm f/1.8, and 50-150mm f/2.8 would sell well. The PC-E lens would simply be a clear indication that Nikon wants DX users to be able to do pretty much everything DLSRs can do.

FX
DX only needed six lenses to round out the offerings. FX needs much more, especially since FX lenses fill out gaps for DX, as well. But let's look at what we've got (lenses marked with an * are lenses that need significant updating):

Primes Consumer Pro
14mm f/2.8* 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5* 14-24mm f/2.8
16mm f/2.8 fisheye* 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6 VR* 17-35mm f/2.8*
20mm f/2.8* 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VR 24-70mm f/2.8*
24mm f/2.8*   24-85mm f/2.8-4*
28mm f/2.8* 70-200mm f/2.8 VR
35mm f/2* 80-200mm f/2.8*
50mm f/1.4 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR*
50mm f/1.8* 200-400mm f/4 VR
60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor  
85mm f/1.4*
85mm f/1.8*
105mm f/2*
105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor VR
135mm f/2*
180mm f/2.8*
200mm f/2 VR
200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor*
300mm f/2.8 VR
300mm f/4*
400mm f/2.8 VR
500mm f/4 VR
600mm f/4 VR

What's immediately startling to me is that of the 33 lenses on the FX list, 21 need updating! Yes, 21. Other things that stand out immediately are that Nikon has a lot of primes (though many of them need updating), but almost no consumer lenses. We've got a lot of work to do here:

  • Prime Overhaul. We need updated AF-S G versions that work well on the D3x of the 14mm, 16mm, 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, and 35mm lenses. The 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, 180mm need AF-S and VR. That's a lot of work to do.
  • Definitive Consumer FX Zooms. D700 users are being forced to the pro lenses. Some good quality, reasonable sized zooms with lesser specs are absolutely necessary. A perfect offering would be: 16-28mm f/4, 24-85mm f/4 VR, and 80-200mm f/4 VR, all AF-S. This provides a strong offering from very wide to decent telephoto in three smallish lenses that have some overlap. Kill the 24-120mm and 18-35mm.
  • Make the Pro Lineup Shine. The pro zooms are in the best shape of the bunch, but even here we need some work: we need a wide angle zoom with filter rings (16-35mm f/2.8) and we need VR in the mid-range zoom (24-70mm f/2.8 VR). We do have an updated 70-200mm and there's nothing wrong with the 14-24mm, fortunately.
  • Telephoto Options. The 80-400mm needs replacement. Just add AF-S. But a 100-400mm or 100-500mm alternative would be fine, too, as long as it has both AF-S and VR. The 300mm f/4 needs VR. And we need a slower, smaller long option or two, such as a 400mm f/5.6 or 500mm f/5.6.
  • Exotica. The 200mm Micro-Nikkor needs redesign, VR, and AF-S. The PC-E lenses need to be able to have tilt/shift regardless of orientation, ala the latest Canon ones. And a wider PC-E would be nice (18mm PC-E f/3.5).

Let's put everything into a couple of simple charts. The black lenses in the following tables exist, the red lenses are my proposed additions/changes/updates. First DX:

Primes Consumer Pro
10.5mm f/2.8 fisheye 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 12-24mm f/4
14mm f/4 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6 VR 17-55mm f/2.8 VR
16mm f/4 PC-E 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 VR 50-150mm f/2.8 VR
35mm f/1.8 18-70mm f/3.5-4.5 VR  
58mm f/1.8 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
85mm f/3.5 Micro-Nikkor 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
  18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR
55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR

It would be an odd DX user who wouldn't be happy with that lineup. Especially since they could supplement with FX lenses.

Here's my full proposed FX lineup:

Primes Consumer Pro
14mm f/2.8 * 16-28mm f/4 14-24mm f/2.8
16mm f/2.8 fisheye * 24-85mm f/4 VR 16-35mm f/2.8
18mm f/4 PC-E 80-200mm f/4 VR 24-70mm f/2.8 VR
70-300mm f/4-5.6 VR
20mm f/2.8 *   70-200mm f/2.8 VR
24mm f/1.4 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR *
24mm f/3.5 PC-E + 200-400mm f/4 VR
28mm f/2

 

35mm f/2 *
45mm f/2.8 PC-E +
50mm f/1.4
60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor
85mm f/1.4 VR
85mm f/2.8 PC-E +
105mm f/2 DC VR
105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor VR
135mm f/2 DC VR
180mm f/2.8 VR
200mm f/2 VR
200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor VR
300mm f/2.8 VR
300mm f/4 VR
400mm f/2.8 VR
400mm f/5.6 VR
500mm f/4 VR
600mm f/4 VR

* indicates minor update (add AF-S)
+ indicates minor update (add shift/tilt in both directions)
All other lenses in red are more major design changes, or new designs

As you can probably see, the FX line needs a lot of work bringing it up to modern standards (G, AF-S, VR, weather sealing), and has a lot of problems or gaps that need fixing or filling. The irony is that Nikon has made three out-of-the-park hits with the D3 (now D3s), D700, and D3x, all FX cameras. We're living off legacy lenses for the most part with FX, and the "consumer" (or should I say "affordable") line of lenses is totally out of whack. D700 users are pretty much stuck with buying the 24-70mm or using the inferior 24-120mm or 24-85mm lenses.

By my count, Nikon has 29 lenses that need attention (or ground up designing). At 7 lenses a year, Nikon's average, that means that Nikon is arguably four years behind where they should be right now. I'll repeat: four years behind where the users want them to be.

The one good thing about all the above is that, at least a handful of cases, there are third-party alternatives available while we wait for Nikon. Still, there are significant missing components to a full F-Mount lens set (18mm PC-E or 400mm f/5.6 VR, for example). So what are the significant third party filler lenses as I see them? Here are my choices for third party lenses until Nikon's lineup becomes what I want it to be:

DX wide angle prime: no acceptable candidate
DX PC-E lens: no acceptable candidate
DX portrait lens: Tamron 60mm f/2 Macro
DX pro mid-range zoom: Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 VC
DX pro telephoto lens: Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 HSM (wish it had OS)
FX 14, 16, 20, 24, 28, 35, 85, 105, 135, 180: no acceptable candidates
FX 18, 24, 45, 85 PC-E: no acceptable candidates
FX long macro: Sigma 180mm f/3.5 HSM (wish it had OS)
FX 300mm, 400mm: no acceptable candidates
FX 16-28mm, 16-35mm, 80-200mm: no acceptable candidates
FX 24-85mm: Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 (wish it had VC)
FX 80-400mm: Sigma 150-500mm used only out to 400mm

One comment about third party lenses: I've seen more sample variation with third party lenses than I have with Nikkors, so be sure to get return priveledges or try out the actual lens in a store before buying it.

 
Lenses We Don't Need

Meanwhile, I'm not at all interested in the following, and I doubt many of you are either:

  • Any additional DX consumer zooms that start at 18mm (unless they are updates that improve an existing one).
  • Any additional macro lenses unless they have a very long working distance (200mm), great flexibility (70-180mm), or greater than 1:1 capability.
  • Another mediocre update of the 24-85mm or 24-120mm FX lenses. Indeed, variable aperture mid-range FX zooms are out of character to the FX audience.
  • Any more mid-range or telephoto lenses that don't have VR.
  • Any additional PC-E lenses that have the single orientation of tilt/shift.

Meanwhile, Nikon needs to get the production geared up to meet demand on the lenses that have been announced. The production runs have been too conservative to demand in the last two or three years, resulting in constant shortages at retail.


Some Reader Feedback

A few comments from those that have read the article that I need to address:

  • Several people want an FX 28-300mm. I'm not sure I'd push Nikon that far into consumer superzooms for FX. Quite frankly, the compromises in image quality that come from such large focal ranges doesn't really play into the current and expected Nikon FX body lineup, which is all pro. I'd be trying to get such users to pick DX--FX isn't really giving them much if they start compromising on lenses.
  • There's a fair question as to whether Nikon would be better off having five 18-xx variable aperture lenses or whether they should put some more variety into the consumer DX zooms. For instance, making the 18-70mm VR an f/4 lens was one such suggestion. I'll have to admit that I kept my list conservative and as close to Nikon's current products and capabilities as I could. The less Nikon has to change, the faster we would get it. That said, I do like the idea of a constant aperture consumer DX zoom.
  • Questions about my proposed 55mm DX lens have caused me to update my spec slightly, to 58mm. The current 50mm f/1.8D is a bit too short for DX portraits, nor is it current (no AF-S), and thus unusable on the D40-type bodies.
  • Does Nikon really need a boatload of FX primes (22)? No, they probably don't. The 20mm, 28mm, the slower 50mm, and the slower 85mm could all probably go away without too much whining, especially if the others were updated well. Still, I'm hesitant to suggest that Nikon cut into that list to do other things. In and around the studio, I'd rather be using primes, especially if they have long focus throws (the zooms tend have minimal focus ring movement).
 

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