What's Happening With DSLR Lenses?

There's some continuing confusion about which Canon EF and Nikon F-mount lenses are in production and which aren't. This isn't helped by the fact that the various Canon and Nikon subsidiaries around the world seem to have a different set of lenses still available. It's unclear whether that's lingering inventory or something else is going on, such as targeted distribution. 

I vote for something else; I've seen products suddenly pop back up on sale after long periods of apparent discontinuation. I think this has to do with production facilities and how many units the companies think it takes to be worth restoring a production line temporarily. 

That said, the UK's Amateur Photographer just put together a list of 30 EF-mount Canon and 35 F-mount Nikkors they believe to be out of production, so it's worth taking a look at those lists and then formulating some conclusions. 

Nikon F-Mount

I'm going to start with Nikon and split the presentation into three lists (DX, D, and G) so as to make things a little clearer. Here's what AP said was "discontinued":

DX

  • 10.5mm f/2.8G (it's also D)
  • 12-24mm f/4G
  • 16-80mm f/2.8-4E
  • 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G
  • 17-55mm f/2.8G
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G II
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-P
  • 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G
  • 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G VR II
  • 18-300mm f/3.5-5.6G 
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR II
  • 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G

D

  • 14mm f/2.8
  • 16mm f/2.8 fisheye
  • 20mm f/2.8
  • 24mm f/2.8
  • 28mm f/2.8
  • 35mm f/2
  • 50mm f/1.4
  • 60mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor
  • 105mm f/2 DC
  • 135mm f/2 DC
  • 180mm f/2.8
  • 200mm f/4 Micro-Nikkor

Other G

  • 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5G
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G
  • 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G
  • 60mm f/2.8G Micro-Nikkor
  • 70-200mm f/2.8G VR II
  • 70-200mm f/4G
  • 70-300mm f/4-5.6G
  • 105mm f/2.8G VR II Micro-Nikkor

You probably noticed the bold items in this list. Those are lenses still listed as available new by NikonUSA! 

Which brings us to the confusion. Different Nikon subsidiaries are listing available lenses differently, with Japan itself being probably the most assertive in reducing their available lens list. (Nikon Japan tends to also have a sliding policy that takes a lens from Discontinued to Not Available to Archived, which in itself causes confusion elsewhere in the world.) Some lenses not on AP's list of 35 discontinued lenses are apparently no longer available in Japan. The 85mm f/3.5G DX Micro-Nikkor, for instance (still available in the US, too). 

NikonUSA and its Nikon Inc. brethren (basically Nikon North America, which includes a bit that's not North American) are about one third of Nikon's global market. Historically, North America seems to be last in discontinuing older products, for reasons I'm not 100% sure of. 

Canon EF Mount

AP's "discontinued" Canon lens list looks like this:

EF-S

  • 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 35mm f/2.8 Macro
  • 60mm f/2.8 Macro

EF

  • 14mm f/2.8L (II in stock)
  • 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 20mm f/2.8
  • 24mm f/2.8
  • 24-70mm f/4L
  • 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6
  • 28mm f/1.8
  • 28mm f/2.8
  • 40mm f/2.8
  • 45mm f/2.8 TS-E
  • 70-200mm f/2.8L II
  • 70-200mm f/4L (both versions)
  • 70-300mm f/4-5.6L
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO
  • 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III
  • 85mm f/1.2L
  • 89mm f/2.8 TS-E
  • 100mm f/2
  • 100mm f/2.8 Macro
  • 180mm f/3.5L Macro
  • 200mm f/2.8L
  • 300mm f/4L
  • 400mm f/5.6L

As with the Nikon list, I've used bold to indicate that these lenses are still listed by CanonUSA as being in stock and available to buy.

Make a Plan

These lists make those who have decided to stick with DSLRs a little bit vulnerable. It's clear that EF- and F-mount lenses are being discontinued, but it's entirely unclear exactly when you'll no longer to be able to get specific lenses. The discontinuation of many Canon macro and Nikon Micro-Nikkors, for instance—only one older FX model is available in the US now, for instance—means that the used market or third party lenses will become the only sources for DSLR macro optics in the near future. 

In crop-sensor DSLRs, it seems that Nikon's being more aggressive short term in discontinuing lenses for them (DX) than Canon is (EF-S). I'd say that this seems to indicate that Nikon will remove all DX DSLRs from their lineup before Canon removes all the EF-S DSLRs from theirs. But plans change quickly during transitions, so I wouldn't 100% count on that if you're a Canon EF-S user.

Plus it's unclear how long the third party lens companies will keep their DSLR lens lines intact, too, particularly with crop sensor lenses.

Thus, you have to assess what camp you're in with lenses, and start making plans now. I see three distinct groups forming:

  1. Already have the lenses you want/need. Bravo. You need take no action, and you'll find that the exotic EF- and F-mount lenses are coming down in used prices, so you might find something enticing in the near term that extends your kit at the telephoto end.
  2. Have some lens gaps you planned to fill. You need to pay attention to what's going on with F-mount lenses and perhaps move up your purchase timing. If a lens you planned to buy is in bold on the above list, you're going to want to pick that lens up sooner rather than later, as there's no predictability as to when they will no longer be available new. Some dealers may still have new copies of lenses that are not in bold, but once those are gone, you'd have to dip into the used market to pick them up. Time is not on your side. You should be adjusting your purchase plans stat, before your choices get more limited.
  3. Just starting out or have lots of long-term lens need. If you're just starting out, you're going to want to fill out your lens set faster than you originally planned (much like those in the previous bullet). Either that or just be prepared to be dipping into the used market to find excellent-rated examples of the lenses you desire (which may save you money, so not all bad). If you currently have just a few lenses but had plans for building out a full lens lineup (the second part of this group), it may be too late for you. The reason I say that is that you're probably financially limited in what you can do short term, which is why you were making long-term plans for acquiring more lenses. I'd again point to the growing used market for you. As more and more Canon and DSLR users switch to mirrorless, the used market will grow for a while longer. Moreover, on the Nikon side these folk are discovering that the new Z-mount optics deliver in ways that go beyond what they're used to, and thus are ending up more aggressive at getting rid of their old F-mount optics than the Canon EF crowd. This is producing plenty of supply in the used Nikkor market, and is pushing used prices downward, especially for the top-end lenses. Take advantage of that.

One other thing to keep in mind: there's an unknown "gray area" that's starting to become evident. That has to do with repairability. In the US, the general standard that's followed is California's: basically companies must offer repairs for products that were in production in the last seven years. 

You can see how that quickly creates a gray area. Some of these lenses that are still available may have been out of production for awhile without us knowing. So the clock started ticking on their repairability without any of us knowing, let alone as to when the clock started. The Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is potentially a good example of that. I'm sure that production was trimmed, if not stopped, after the 24-70mm f/2.8E was introduced in 2015. But exactly when did the cutoff occur? No one knows. Well, okay, the ones that know won't tell you. So some of the lenses on the above list are potentially non-repairable once the warranty is exhausted (remember when NikonUSA dropped their 4-year automatic warranty extension? ;~). 

Of course, some of the really old lenses on the list, such as the Nikon 24mm f/2.8D, are simpler lenses that independent repair shops might be able to fix using scavenged parts. Just realize that for discontinued lenses, there is an expiration date for when NikonUSA will repair them. We're already seeing that with bodies, as the D800 and D4 are now out of the seven-year window.

Before you panic, take a deep breath, and remember you're carrying a towel. The recent DSLR bodies (and even many older ones) are robust, produce excellent results, and so do the F-mount or EF-mount lenses for them. Just as some of you are probably driving 10-year+ old autos and are content with that, there will be a time when more of you are using 10-year+ cameras, and will likewise be satisfied. 

So relax, and make your plan for the future. Answer a few simple questions, then adjust your lens expectations as I suggest above. What questions, you ask? Well, this one is sort of a critical one: "will I transition to mirrorless, and if so when do I plan to do that?" 

As always, my In Box is available for quick consultation if you have a specific question.

Update: moved the Canon 60mm f/2.8 macro to the correct category.

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Bonus: As is happening over and over in the world of photography-related Web sites, once one site publishes something that looks like news—in this case Amateur Photographer in the UK—they all follow with their own news-scraping version of it, typically with no added information or analysis whatsoever. This forces sites like mine, which do attempt to improve readers' understanding of what's going on, to have to publish a version that tries to go beyond the "oh no, lenses are disappearing" level of reporting. 

Looking for gear-specific information? Check out our other Web sites:
mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general: bythom.com| Z System: zsystemuser.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com


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