Lens Anxiety

Nikon just issued a press release claiming 110m Nikkors have been produced (see my charting of the lens growth here), which found its way into my InBox via a scrapper I use. Along with that email came a whole bunch of what I call “lens anxiety” emails.

Basically, the anxiety goes like this: “Nikon (or Canon) changed their mount so that they can sell more lenses. My existing US$X,000 worth of lenses will become worthless.” 

This is the old “lenses are an investment” idea in a different form. 

While it’s true that some lenses tend to hold their value better than others (primarily the exotics and pro glass), in only one case have I ever gotten more for a lens than I paid for it when I decided to sell it. They’re not investments, they’re tools. You should buy and use tools rationally, and economically you justify them by what they gain you in the time you own and use them.

Those of us who have photography businesses already knew that, because we’re depreciating our lenses in our taxes. That forces us to understand the underlying economics of buying something and using it. 

Meanwhile, how much your lens is actually worth on the used market is a simple supply versus demand calculation. 

I mentioned Nikon’s press release for a reason. In the last 20 years, Nikon has sold a little over 800,000 70-200mm f/2.8 lenses. That’s a lot of supply into the new market. A new 70-200mm f/2.8E is going to cost you US$2800. Used ones of the previous model (G, II) are currently going for US$1600 in excellent condition (and would have cost you more than US$2000 even if you bought it on a sale). Not. An. Investment. But a tool that does retain a lot of its value over time.

The problem—as I’ve written about before—is that people tend to look only at sunk costs. That’s the cost they paid for something. 

So it’s easy to go to your gear closet of a serious photographer of any sort and find US$5000+ worth of sunk lens costs sitting there. Somehow this sunk cost problem then gets hooked up with a quasi-conspiracy theory (Nikon, or Canon is rendering older lenses useless on purpose), and next thing you know you have lens panic. 

I’d like to point something out for a moment: on both my Nikon Z and Canon R systems the companies make a perfectly acceptable lens adapter that makes (almost*) all my existing lenses perform just fine. 

I actually have the opposite position of all of you who are panicking and sending me emails: I’m exceedingly curious as to how Nikon (or Canon) is going to sell me a new 70-200mm f/2.8 when the one I have works extraordinarily well on my Z (or R) cameras. Heck, I just shot a football game with the Z7+70-200mm combo. 

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Thus I’m not at all concerned about what happens to the “value” of my lenses at the moment. They’ve provided me great shots in the past, they’re working for me now, and I expect them to keep working just fine for the foreseeable future. 

Nikon got me picking up the first three Z lenses because they actually fill holes in my current setup, and allow me to rely less on my Sony A7Rm3. Indeed, if the 14-30mm f/4 S is anything like the 24-70mm f/4 S, I might be able to give up my A7Rm3 entirely, as it’s primarily my small full-frame travel kit emphasizing wide. The question will be whether that new lens will also make me willing to give up my 14-24mm f/2.8, too. Probably not. 

That said, I recently did what I’d encourage all of you to do from time to time: do a complete log of what you’ve got in terms of existing lenses, look at what you’re actually using, and consolidate down to just the lenses you find useful. You can always rent a lens you need only one time or sporadically. But you’ll want to keep a useful kit of lenses for what you’re shooting today, tomorrow, and into the foreseeable future.  

So, Don’t Panic and always remember to carry a towel.

*The exception on the Nikon side is lenses that use a screw drive for autofocus. Nikon started rendering them out-of-date back with the earlier consumer DSLRs. Today those lenses only work on the D5, D500, D750, D850, and D7500 (current) models. So the warning about the long-term viability of the screw drive lenses was sent a long time ago by Nikon, and the FTZ adapter is basically just another event to emphasize that these lenses don’t really move forward. So yes, the value of those might go down, but it was already driven considerably down. 

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