The New Nikkor Wish List

Instead of updating my Missing Nikkors article for the umpteenth time, I decided to take another approach. What follows is my current Nikkor Wish List and my rationale for it.

DX Lenses
I've been extremely vocal about Nikon missing the boat with DX lenses (buzz, buzz). Yes, Nikon can and did sell a lot of consumer convenience 18-xx DX zoom lenses. A lot, as in millions all total. The problem is that these are all one-time buys, they stay on the camera forever, and that user is done. Then Nikon wonders why no one is still buying DX lenses. Well, it's a lower level user and they have the one lens they want.

Yet Nikon management can look across town and see Fujifilm selling a whole bunch of APS-C (DX) type lenses. What's going on there?

Duh: photography, dudes. The serious photographer understands lenses and wants more. Not more 18-xx lenses, not more kit lenses, not more low-cost and lower-quality AF-P lenses. Funny thing is, one of Nikon's most successful recent cameras is the D500, and you'd think they'd want to make the D7500 successful too. These cameras absolutely demand appropriate lenses. But Nikon doesn't have many of them. Indeed, other than the 16-80mm f/2.8-4 and the 35mm f/1.8 they don't have any.

So here we go. The needs in the DX lineup are plentiful:

  • 14mm f/2.8E DX — Does Nikon remember Galen? He'd be demanding this lens. Because he'd still be running up mountains, only with a DX body instead of an N65.
  • 16mm f/2E DX (1)— My requirement used to be f/2.8, but because of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, it's gone up: Nikon needs a fast wide prime to shift some sales.
  • 23mm f/1.4E DX — The modern mild wide that can roam indoors and out.
  • 23mm f/2.8E DX Pancake (2)— For the rest of the world, the travel lens that is mild wide.
  • 50mm f/1.4E DX — (Can be anything from 50mm to 60mm) — The modern short portrait tele for the crop sensor crowd.
  • 70mm f/2E DX — The longer portrait tele. This is about as far as we can go in primes and get any real benefit from making the image circle DX instead of FX, so the FX line will take the mantle the rest of the way. Technically, the current 85mm f/1.8G FX can hold this space, though I find it a little long for portraits. Thus, this isn't the first hole I'd try to fill if I were Nikon.
  • 12-24mm f/4E DX VR (3)— The remake of the original wide angle pro lens from Nikon. We don't really need 10mm. What we need is really good performance to the edges that holds up with 20/24mp image sensors (and whatever comes next for DX). 
  • 16-50mm f/4E DX AF-P VR — In theory, a smaller lens than the 16-80mm f/2.8-4. We need to keep the DX advantage (smaller than FX) in our kits, even if it means sacrificing something (in this case a stop of aperture and some telephoto). 
  • 50-135mm f/2.8E DX AF-P VR — The missing fast telephoto zoom. Frankly, Nikon has their work cut out for them, as the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 Art is a really, really good lens. So good I might not buy this Nikkor even if it existed. 
  • 50-135mm f/4E DX AF-P VR — The complement to the other two f/4 zooms, giving you a capable 12-135mm (18-200mm equivalent) kit that's highly capable (24mp acuity levels) in as small as possible sizing (the f/4 and DX bits). 

Had Nikon started by delivering two of these a year starting in 2014, we'd be done in 2019. Moreover, the signal that it would have sent would have kept some of the defections to Fujifilm from occurring. Now, well, that's 10 lenses I defined, and Nikon only introduces about six a year on average. They'd have to completely prioritize DX lenses or add a great deal of launch capability to turn DX around. 

So, to all those managers at Nikon scratching their heads wondering why DX is failing them so quickly, go down the hall to the restroom and look in the mirror.

I hold out very little hope that Nikon will address the DX lens wish list. What that means that any followups to the D7500 and D500 will do worse than Nikon is forecasting in their future spreadsheets. You'll notice a few numbers in parentheses in the above list. If Nikon is going to produce any future DX lenses, at all, those are the priority numbers I'd give them: 16mm f/2 first, 23mm f/2.8 second, a better 12-24mm f/4 last. Put out one a year, worst case. Anything less than that means Nikon will simply just let DX DSLRs turn to dust, as far as I'm concerned.

FX Lenses
The tricky part here is that Nikon updated many of their FX lenses, but they didn't make them E or AF-P or video/mirrorless ready. I'm not 100% sure what they should do about that. Starting the prime lineup all over again seems like a task that will take them deep into the next change they needed to make already but didn't (mirrorless). 

Still, I like the idea of revisiting a few key lenses. In particular:

  • 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm f/1.4E AF-P fast focus primes. Some focal length gaps are fine; these are the lenses needed to quickly help fill that E/AF-P/video/mirrorless requirement but still work fine on the big, high resolution DSLRs. We need that 18mm for crop video by the way, not so much for still use. 
  • 135mm f/1.8E, 200mm f/2.8E, and 400mm f/4E PF primes. This rounds out the telephoto prime set (the 400mm gives you the 500/600mm f/5.6 with the TC-14EIII). I know a lot of folk will be surprised that a 200mm f/2E FL or 300mm f/2.8E FL isn't on my list. I'm pretty sure they're on Nikon's list, unfortunately. The problem is that that boat has passed. Once we get into the exotic lenses, the demand is now near zero at the current pricing. Basically most of those lenses end up getting bought by lens rental companies, and they're not repeat buyers. Still, Nikon's likely to give us the two FL lenses before we get the three I've asked for in my wish list. 
  • 200mm f/4E Micro-Nikkor VR. Oh dear have we missed this lens. For a company that was so instrumental in pioneering macro photography, it seems that they've completely lost the thread. Instead of new capabilities, we keep getting "copy stand" macro lenses (e.g. 40mm DX and 60mm FX). Anyone still have a copy stand?

The good news is that the zoom side of things has been remakes to bring latest technologies into the key Nikkor lenses. The 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8E zooms are already in place. The 14-24mm f/2.8 is the one that needs the most refresh, and I'd make the 24-120mm into a 24-85mm f/4 or maybe 24-105mm f/4 myself. The 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6G could use a freshening, too, as the new 70-300mm and 200-500mm have revealed its weaknesses, and Nikon could really use a better handholdable telephoto zoom that makes it to 400mm.

So in FX, I've got twelve lenses on my want list. And I'd have to admit that some of them can wait a bit, as the current lens in that position is still fine for most uses (e.g. 24mm f/1.4, 14-24mm f/2.8). The biggest need out of all dozen lenses I want: a 50mm f/1.4 that's up to the performance of the current Nikon cameras. Even Nikon doesn't suggest any of their many 50mm lens options for D850 users. Wow. Talk about admission of failure.

Mirrorless
Which brings us to the baby elephant entering the room: mirrorless. I'm going to tackle this in two pieces: consumer and prosumer. Well, okay, I'm going to tackle only one piece: consumer. You can decide yourself whether that means DX/FX or something else. But I'm pretty sure that Nikon will have consumer mirrorless cameras initially, and it will be awhile before they expand that to true pro/prosumer.

In the consumer realm, the minimum requirement is (I'll use full frame equivalent focal lengths here for clarity):

  • 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm prime set, preferably fast aperture
  • 14-24mm or 16-35mm slow aperture or variable aperture wide angle zoom
  • 24-85mm or 24-105mm or 24-120mm slow aperture or variable aperture mid-range zoom
  • 70-200mm or 70-300mm telephoto zoom; while many companies try to get away with slower apertures here, that just introduces shooting issues, so this lens has to be f/4 or faster in my mind (this introduces another thing that's often missing from Nikon's lenses: filling the hole that really needed to be filled. The reason why you need the 70-300mm to be something other than f/5.6 or 6.3 is shutter speeds. You tend to use such a lens for moving subjects further away, and while VR might help with the camera stability, it doesn't stop the subject motion. So the whole notion of a "soccer mom lens" is defeated. The result is she still gets worse results than expected. Even one stop opens up a higher likelihood of success. So how about a 70-300mm f/3.5-4.5 as a compromise?)
  • 28-200mm or 28-300mm superzoom; Nikon isn't going to leave this category uncovered for a consumer mirrorless product given their success at superzooms for consumer DX, and I don't think they should, so build the superzoom (one this time, guys, not a series of half dozen)

Note that if Nikon did exactly what I ask for here as a minimum, we'd have eight lenses needed for the consumer mirrorless system, something that's do-able in a two year period if mirrorless were prioritized over DSLR. Where Nikon needs to be careful of is not sending the wrong signals and lowering their success chances.

What do I mean by that? 

Well, let's take a scenario where Nikon introduces a consumer mirrorless and the first lenses are only a 50mm prime and a 28-200mm superzoom. This is the Nikon DX problem all over again, but in a really tight nutshell. All the prosumer and enthusiast shooters will look at such a launch and say: "oh oh, DX all over again." They won't like that the zoom starts at 28mm instead of 24mm. They won't like that there is only one prime. They won't like that there's no fast zoom, no high optical-quality zoom. And they will simply go to their local store and buy a Fujifilm system, where they can get all the things they want.

Nikon will have two other problems, as well:

  1. Where's the Road Map? Launching a new mirrorless system with only a small number of lenses against competitors who have full sets is lunacy unless you can prove to the prospective customer that you're going to be able to match them. The way you do that convincing is by issuing a Road Map. Not show a handful of possible lenses in a glass case and then not producing most of them...which brings us to
  2. CX was a dead end, why will this new system be any different? Indeed, Nikon is going to have to kill CX, I think. They can't have a lessor system with better lenses competing against their new system for attention. But this brings up the question: you've tried this before, what makes you think it will work better this time? Nikon—and by association, it's dealer network—is going to be asked tough questions about how fast Nikon will build out any new mirrorless system, what that will consist of (Road Maps!) and whether it will just be abandoned quickly if it doesn't succeed to expectations.

Final Thoughts
I haven't even talked about a higher-end pro/prosumer mirrorless system, and I've identified 30 lenses I believe Nikon needs to produce. That's five years worth of their historic levels of introduction (six a year). 

The problem is that Nikon's missing lenses, the lenses that we all wish for, the ones that I identify in this article, those are all current demands, not what we hope to see five years from now.

Nikon's strength entering the DSLR era was lenses. Ditto for Canon. It's why they dominated the DSLR market as they did the late film SLR market. I can't believe that Nikon didn't realize that lenses are a truly protective barrier against competitors. Fujifilm has erased the DX advantage now with their onslaught of lenses. Not their onslaught of cameras, which is also happening. It's the Fujifilm lenses that are attracting crop sensor customers right in the heart of Nikon's success (the D70 level, which currently is served by the D7500). 

Someone needs to wake the boys up at the glass factory. Maybe it got too hot for them with all that glass being made and they all took a long siesta. Siesta time is over. Nikon needs to muscle its way back into the "we make the best glass, no matter what you need or want for whatever Nikon camera you choose." Nothing less is satisfactory now.

Thus, my wish list here is also a checklist as to whether Nikon is trying to fill the gaps. Yes, we can quibble about many of the specifics I've outlined (is it a 16mm f/2 or f/1.8 or pancake f/2.8 DX?). That's not the point. The point is that Nikon has holes and weak points, and the serious shooter is waiting for them to fill those. Can I cross any of the wish list lenses off my wish list with Nikon's next lens introductions? Any? We'll see. I'll do just that in this article if they do, but currently, nothing is crossed out ;~).

Finally, let me make another point: I'm not talking about the quality of the lenses Nikon does make. For several years now, the Nikkors that have been introduced are really knocking it out of the park. At low price points (200-500mm). At high price points (70-200mm f/2.8E). And at everything in between. 

Nikon makes excellent lenses. The question is this: are they making the right lenses? Will they make the right lenses soon to shore up the gaps?

text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
portions Copyright 1999-2017 Thom Hogan-- All Rights Reserved
Follow us on Twitter: @bythom, hashtags #bythom, #dslrbodies