Missing Nikkors (2017)

For almost a decade I've updated my "Missing Nikkors" article using an approach that attempts to consider the historical aspect of the lens lineup. This year I thought I'd try something different. I'm going to propose two sets of lenses—base and exotic—and then look at what's missing in the Nikkor lineup. (I've left last year's older approach article up so you can compare; see link, above.)

The Base Lens System
A base lens system would arguably consist of:

  • 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes with reasonably fast apertures
  • 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm zooms with reasonably fast apertures
  • 24-85mm/120mm consumer zoom, 70-300mm consumer zoom

That base would be first extended in the following ways:

  • 20mm, 105mm primes with reasonably fast apertures
  • consumer wide angle zoom of some sort (e.g. 16-35mm)
  • superzoom of some sort (e.g. 28-200mm minimum)

With FX, Nikon has the above pretty much covered. Indeed, they've got overlap in their coverage. So I don't think you can deny that FX DSLRs have a solid lens base available.

It's DX where the problems lie. Currently, Nikon can't say they really cover:

  • 20mm, 24mm (equivalent) fast aperture primes
  • None of the fast aperture zooms line up with the expectations (the closest is the 17-55mm f/2.8, but it really doesn't get you to 24mm equivalent; the 12-24mm f/4 is an old lens that needs redesign to stay current with the 20/24mp sensors, and it isn't a reasonably fast aperture)

Moreover, the whole prime set is awkward in best case, as the only DX-sized lens is the 35mm (50mm equivalent) f/1.8DX. You have to use a very large 24mm f/1.8 to get a 35mm equivalent prime, and a very expensive 58mm f/1.4 to get an 85mm prime.

Why is a DX lens set important (buzz, buzz)? Because it helps protect the DX camera base from the mirrorless competitors. Arguably, m4/3 and Fujifilm X now have full base lens sets and more. A Fujifilm X-T20 is going up against something like a D7200, and the D7200 is coming up short not because of the camera, but because of the lens choices. 

Nikon spent much of the post 2007 period making different DX variations on the 18-xx zoom lens and a few consumer telephoto DX lenses (55-xx zooms). In essence, Nikon was saying to customers that DX DSLRs were basically fixed lens cameras: just put a superzoom on them and you're done. Or that they were only a consumer camera: just put an 18-55mm and 55-xx lens on them and you're done. While there's certainly a subset of the customer base that thinks that way—partly because that's what Nikon targeted, especially at the D3400 end of the spectrum—you have to wonder why you can't just get that customer with a dedicated bridge camera. Indeed, Nikon themselves have been pursuing that super-superzoom approach with the Coolpix P900 type cameras. Doh!

You buy a sophisticated camera (DSLR) to have sophisticated performance and sophisticated choices. Nikon got the first part right, but given the fact that they started as a lens company, it's totally mystifying that they got the second part wrong for DX. Even prior to the FX D3 appearing in 2007 Nikon was getting DX lenses wrong.

So, what does Nikon need in the base for DX? The missing DX lenses are:

  • 16mm, 23mm, 58mm f/1.8 or f/2 primes that are priced/sized to DX
  • 12-24mm f/4 rework, 16-50mm f/2.8 VR, 50-135mm f/2.8 VR

Really, just six lenses would allow Nikon to say that they have a full and useful DX lens set. 

But wait, you say, the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 VR is "better" than the 16-50mm I propose. While I like the 16-80mm, I'd argue that Nikon really needs a smaller solution in this space. Heck, even a 16-50mm f/4 VR would be arguably useful given how well the DX cameras work at high ISO values these days, and how much consumers are demanding smaller and lighter kits. Likewise, I'm not sure many would complain if the 16mm and 23mm primes were f/2.8 lenses, as long as they were close to pancake size.

Nikon put themselves in a bit of a bind with DX and FX. As I argue elsewhere, most of us shooters really want a two stop equivalency difference between any two systems we buy. FX and DX are one stop apart. Thus, DX lenses really have to have an emphasis on downsizing in order for there to be any useful difference between carrying our DX kit and carrying our FX kit. 

That does occur a bit in the telephoto (sports and wildlife) world. I can get by with the 300mm f/2.8 on DX instead of the 500mm f/4 on FX, for instance. The 200mm f/2 is a perfect DX substitute for the FX 300mm f/2.8. 

But in the base lens kit? Nope. Nikon hasn't really caught on that they need to emphasize size in DX but still have a full equivalent kit. 

I went back to see when I first wrote that. Yep, you guessed it: 2007 when FX came out. So in 10 years Nikon has been mostly asleep with DX lenses, iterating lots of consumer zooms and not much else, yet many of us saw what was needed on day one. 

Thus, I have to say that the six missing DX lenses are not only missing, they've been missing for a long, long time (buzz, buzz). Nikon management has either been asleep at the wheel or looking at the wrong customer or spending too much time at the saki bars. 

The More Exotic Lenses
In terms of exotic lens offerings, we have the following groups:

  • Tilt-Shift lenses
  • Macro lenses
  • Fisheye and Ultra-Wide Angle lenses
  • Really fast primes (f/1.2 and f/1.4)
  • Telephoto lenses
  • Video lenses

Nikon has FX lenses that pretty much fill out all those categories. The only problem is that in each case there are things that never happened to make those lenses modern:

  • Tilt-Shift: other than the recent 19mm PC-E, the other Nikkor tilt-shift lenses can only tilt or shift in one axis at a time, and that axis is predetermined in the factory. That needed to be fixed ions ago, but has yet to be addressed for the 24mm, 45mm, or 85mm PC-E.
  • Macro lenses: for some reason Nikon still loves making the 60mm variation of the old 55mm Micro-Nikkor. May I remind Nikon that the original was designed to be used on a copy stand to photograph artwork (mostly)? How many of you are still doing that kind of work? Oops. Meanwhile, the two great outdoor and nature macros, the 70-180mm and the 200mm f/4, have never been updated. Again, should have been fixed eons ago. 
  • Fisheye and Ultra-Wide Angle lenses: Nikon still sells the 10.5mm DX and 16mm FX lenses that give you 180° across the diagonal. Both could use updating for the high pixel count cameras of today, and neither are AF-S, but both are still usable. In the Ultra Wide Angle category we're pretty much down to the 14mm f/2.8D, which just hasn't aged well at all. 
  • Really Fast Primes: While we got f/1.4 lenses, how many of them are type E? Any VR in the mix? How about faster lens focus motors? Negativo on all counts.
  • Telephoto lenses: The one area that Nikon seems to slowly keep iterating. We're still missing 200mm f/2, 300mm f/2.8, and 200-400mm f/4 updates that bring them into the FL and E era, though. Personally, I imagine a really tiny group of elderly gentlemen slowly taking new technologies and adding them to the older telephoto lenses, one at a time, as fast as they can. Which isn't very fast. Plus we're still missing something like a 400mm f/5.6, which should probably be PF to keep size and weight down.
  • Video lenses: MIA. Totally MIA. Surely Nikon is sending a (wrong) signal here: sure, our DSLRs can shoot video, but we really don't want you to. Coupled with removing the Atomos triggering protocols from the D5/D500, Nikon is clearly not moving seriously into video any time soon. 

So, let's build the exotic list that Nikon is still missing (sans video):

  • 24mm, 45mm, 85mm PC-E with user-changeable dual axis
  • 70-180mm and 200mm Micro-Nikkors with AF-S, VR, E aperture ability
  • 10.5mm DX, 16mm FX fisheye updates, any one of 12mm, 14mm, 16mm (all FX) wide angle choices
  • 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm f/1.4E with faster focus motors
  • 200mm f/2E FL, 300mm f/2.8E FL, 200-400mm f/4E FL with built-in TC, 400mm f/5.6E PF

That's another 16 missing Nikkors for a total of 22 missing Nikkors in 2017. That's over four years worth of output at Nikon's current rate, and that doesn't take into account the fact that Nikon may have to produce a new mirrorless set of lenses, too. 

Since I started tracking Missing Nikkors in 2007, the list doesn't seem to go down much. We get a few new things each year, but they often show that other things then need updating (as in the user changeable dual-axis for PC-E or the FL changes to the exotic telephotos). Indeed, we still have a fair number of non-E lenses that could use just that update, alone. 

For a company whose reputation is based on optics, you have to wonder why Nikon feels like it's lagging so much with the F-mount, both in DX and FX variations.

Yes, I know many of you can come up with even more lenses you'd like to see (135mm f/1.8E for instance). Nikon may even fill in some of those gaps. But what I'm seeing is that Nikon had an arguably strong and extensive lens lineup that they've let go lax in a lot of areas. I'd argue they need to shore up the lenses mentioned above before venturing further into others. 

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