Patents Predict Nikkor Lenses

Nikon doesn't provide a Road Map to future lens offerings for their systems. However, the patent system is a relatively good predictor of what Nikon is working on. Recently, for instance, the 19mm f/4 PC-E and 180-400mm f/4E FL were predicted by patents. That said, not all lenses that are patented actually get produced. Moreover, there's been a strong shift by Nikon in the last two years away from DSLR-type lenses being patented to mirrorless lenses.

Here are some of the recent patents filed (I've gone back two years to compile this list; bolded lenses are ones I'd be very interested in):

  • 10mm f/2 (FX). Wow! Super wide and fast. Also likely to have a very big front element. 
  • 10mm f/4 (FX). A return to Nikon's "we love super wide" legacy.
  • 16-35mm f/2.8 VR (FX). The replacement for the 17-35mm f/2.8. 
  • 16-30mm f/4.5-5.6 (FX). The wide angle zoom for a low-cost FX body.
  • 17mm f/4 Tilt/Shift (FX). The missing PC-E to compete with Canon's offerings
  • 18mm f/1.8 (FX). A large and sophisticated fast prime for FX
  • 18mm f/2.8 (DX). A low-cost 28mm equivalent for DX.
  • 18-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO (DX). A shorter, lighter version of the current lens due to diffractive optics. Unlikely since we got the second 18-300mm with the f/6.3 telephoto aperture. 
  • 24mm f/2 (or f/2.8) (DX). A low-cost, 35mm equivalent for DX.
  • 24mm f/2.8 (FX). Another indication that Nikon has considered offering a return lineup of small, simple primes.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 PF VR (FX). This appears to be an attempt to find a way to take weight and size out of the primary lens of the zoom trio. I’m not sure this lens will make it to production due to the flare issues with the PF element and the fact that we got the 24-70mm f/2.8E VR.
  • 28mm f/1.8 VR (FX). Unusual in that Nikon generally hasn't provided VR in wide angle focal lengths, and absolutely not at all in wide angle primes.
  • 28-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO (FX). A shorter, lighter version of the current lens due to diffractive optics.
  • 35mm f/2.8 (FX). What appears to be a simple, low-cost slightly wide prime, something entirely new for Nikon and which hints at a set of small f/2.8 primes to return to the lineup.
  • 50mm f/1.2 (FX). An update to the 50mm f/1.2 AIS lens.
  • 55-300mm f/2.8-4 VR (FX). A strange concoction, as it's big like a 300mm f/4, but has zoom versatility. 
  • 100-300mm f/4 (FX). An interesting variation to fill in the lower cost telephoto zoom gap. Coupled with a 24-120mm f/4, this would give a two lens kit at f/4 for many people.
  • 100-400mm f/4-5.6 VR (FX). Another of the 80-400mm possible replacements, though now unlikely due to the refresh of the 80-400mm. 
  • 105mm f/2 (FX). Potential replacement for the 105mm f/2 DC, brought up to AF-S and G standards, but losing DC. Simple low-cost design, no VR.
  • 135mm f/1.8 VR (FX). Potential replacement for the 135mm f/2 DC, brought up to AF-S and G standards, but losing DC. 
  • 300mm f/2.8 FL VR (FX). The missing exotic that hasn't gotten the FL treatment. Very likely to eventually appear.
  • 400mm f/5.6 and 600mm f/5.6 Phase Fresnel (PF) (all FX). It seems unlikely that Nikon would make all of the PF options they've patented.

Please note that not all of these lenses will show up at retail. Perhaps none will now that Nikon is transitioning to the Z mount for mirrorless. Nikon has a long history of designing more lenses than it releases. However, it's been very rare that Nikon has released a lens for which a patent wasn't already known, thus almost all of what we'll see in the future should come from this list.

As for how "when?", Nikon releases about six lenses on average each year. Rarely have they released more, and in a few years they've released fewer; six is a good target. Given how many lenses are on this patent list, they represent many years worth of potential Nikkor introductions. As I noted earlier, not all of these will make it to market.

Analysis: I have a few comments about what I see in this stream of patents. First, let's assume for the moment that there aren't any hidden patents (likely, as Nikon has been mostly open about patent filing on lenses). Second, let's assume that the older patents (over four years old) aren't making it to market. Here's what I see:

  • DX: Nikon continues to slight the high-end DX possibilities. There's a paucity of wide angle offerings being considered, and 24mm equivalent seems to be the bottom of what Nikon thinks is needed in DX. True, we have a lot of zooms that cover DX wide angle territory (10-24mm, 12-24mm, 14-24mm, 16-35mm), but clearly missing is a 16mm prime. 
  • f/1.8: It appears that Nikon is going to do a complete cycle of f/1.8 primes for FX: 18, 20, 24, 28, 35, 50, 85, 135. That's a pretty remarkable list. Why f/1.8 and not f/1.4? Note that the f/1.8 lenses appear to be Made in China (or SE Asia). I suspect it has to do with glass choices and complex polishing and alignment abilities. For a small sacrifice in maximum aperture Nikon is getting reasonable cost primes that are more modest in size and quite capable. I'm all for this. I'll take one of each, please.
  • Replacements: At this point, all the known replacements have pretty much been done. It appears Nikon is extending the line.
  • Finishing touches: The 17mm PC-E, 28mm f/1.4, and 100-300mm would be additional "line fillers," adding to the PC-E, f/1.4 prime, and f/4 zoom lineups, respectively.
  • Low end FX: You can just see the D6xx and D750 bodies in that list: 16-30mm, 24-70mm, and perhaps the 100-400mm variable aperture zooms all sound like lower cost options for FX users, better to match the lower cost body price, obviously.

What's missing? Here are my thoughts on that:

  • DX Love: we need a 16mm DX prime, a new 17-50mm f/2.8 option (with VR), and a 50-150mm telephoto option, at a minimum. Those are all slightly high-end DX, so the fact that they're missing makes us question the future of DX high-end.
  • Telephoto options: Okay, perhaps the f/4 and f/4-5.6 options in the list are meant to address it, but Nikon's weakness in telephoto is in affordable 400mm and 500mm options. If they can do it with zooms as it seems they are, great. But a 400mm f/4 or f/5.6 prime would mean "optimized for 400mm," not the "a bit weak at 400mm" that the zooms tend to be. While I love the thought of the 800mm f/5.6 coming back, it's not the answer. It's the 400-600mm range that is missing lower-cost options at the moment.
  • Macro: No 200mm f/4 replacement (though there was a patent on a slightly shorter lens that could have been a replacement issued about four years ago. No handy zoom macro like the wonderful 70-180mm. No way beyond 1:1. It seems as if Nikon thinks short focal length 1:1 macro is all that's needed. While people buy these, they are actually less useful for serious work: Nikon's best serious work macro is the 105mm, which has a fairly short working distance (front of lens to subject at 1:1).
  • PC-E: Why oh why don't we have the tilt/shift problems being addressed? The 19mm f/4 PC-E shows that Nikon can do this (make it work with independent T/S directions and not hit the nose of the prism overhang). 
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