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Do You Buy DSLR Lenses Still?

The latest trend in my In box hasn't been about cameras. It's concern about lenses (again). This time the concern is about full frame lenses (but see comment at end for crop sensor).

In particular, it's looking/rumored that Canon will primarily focus on full frame RF lenses this year, and Nikon is promising six full frame Z lenses in 2019, which would be about their average new lens output for a year. New EF and F mount lenses seem like they're be rare in the coming year. Heck, they've been rare on the Nikon side for a couple of years (4 in 2017, 2 in 2018). Canon did a bit better with 6 in 2017, 4 in 2018. 

But that trend line looks worrisome, doesn't it? 4, 2, ? and 6, 4, ?. That first ? could be 0 or 1, the second could 2. That's not a lot of new DSLR lenses.

Of course, Canon and Nikon both have huge lineups of DSLR lenses already. They're not dropping existing lenses from the lineup (other than ones that got directly replaced). So there are plenty of excellent lenses for a DSLR user—old or new—to choose from.

Yet, there's worry among the faithful that this is the end for new DSLR lenses, so I'm getting the question "is it worth buying a (DSLR lens) still?"

The answer is quite simple, actually. 

Those of you asking the question tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) you're likely sticking with DSLR; or (2) you know you'll transition to mirrorless (either sooner or later). Given the average age of most DSLR users, there are far more people in group #1 than you might think.

Those that answered #1 should know their lens answer: continue to buy the DSLR lenses you want or need. Indeed, the fact that you keep buying those EF and F lenses will keep Canon and Nikon making and supporting them. Bonus: you can stop reading now!

Those of you that answered #2 have a slightly different answer. I wouldn't, for instance, tend to put my money in any of the existing f/2.8 DSLR zooms at the moment, as both Canon and Nikon have indicated that they'll make RF and Z versions soon. While the current 14-24mm/16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm DSLR zooms all work fine on the adapters on the mirrorless bodies, I think you really want to see what Canon and Nikon produce directly for the mirrorless cameras before you invest in those particular lenses if you don't already have them. (Again, I'm talking to group #2 here; don't panic group #1 users if you kept reading!)

Speciality lenses I wouldn't worry too much about buying the DSLR version. It'll take Canon and Nikon time to transition products like the tilt-shift lenses and even most of the big exotics. Moreover, in a number of cases, I'm not sure that it would be worth waiting for, anyway. For example, the two PF lenses (300mm and 500mm) from Nikon work just fine on the FTZ adapter on the Z cameras. I'd doubt that a Z version of either would change much other than dropping the need for the adapter. Not a big deal to me.

Primes are an interesting area. All my Canon and Nikon primes work just fine on the R and Z bodies via adapter. They shoot exactly how I remember them shooting. However, both Canon and Nikon have produced new mirrorless primes that outperform the equivalent DSLR prime (reviews of the Nikon 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 coming shortly). If that trend continues, I'd be tempted to wait on primes, too, if you're in that #2 category. 

A lot of you didn't notice my Nikon Z Lens Set blog entry. I noted a number of DSLR lenses there that I'm using on my Z cameras and I'm not at all thinking that there will be a Z version soon that would make me change my mind. In particular:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5E
  • 19mm f/4 PC-E
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P
  • 300mm f/4E PF
  • 500mm f/5.6E PF

I'm sure I could identify more, but that list is just primarily for my own types of shooting. Use your own judgment for your shooting, with these two things to guide you:

  • f/2.8 zooms are coming, consider waiting to see how they perform and how they're priced
  • Basic primes are looking better in the mirrorless mount, particularly outside the center

Finally, there's a third group: people who've already made the transition. You know who you are: you've already bought an Canon R or Nikon Z6 or Z7. You've already put your existing DSLR lenses on the adapters and seen what they can and can't do. You're actually the reason why Canon and Nikon are going to put out so many RF and Z lenses this year. They're hoping you buy them all ;~). 

Unfortunately, some lenses just don't seem like they're coming soon, so you have to make some DSLR choices. For example, macro lenses (no I don't consider the Canon R 35mm f/1.8 a useful macro lens). We may be waiting a long time before we get >100mm macro lenses in mirrorless, so you're going to be dipping into DSLR lenses to cover that. 

Likewise, strangely we're not seeing consumer-type lenses from Canon or Nikon in their RF and Z announcements or rumors. No 28-200mm (or longer) superzoom, no 70/80-300+mm telephoto zoom, not even a 70-200mm f/4 or 100-400mm f/5.6. You'll be dipping into the DSLR line if you want something like that.

Addendum: I mentioned crop sensor up at the top. If full frame Canon and Nikon DSLR users are confused, imagine the crop sensor users. Canon has a crop sensor mirrorless system, but it's incompatible with RF and requires its own lenses (or adapting EF lenses). Three primes and five consumer zooms make up the entire EOS M lens set. If you're not happy with that, you have to buy a DSLR lens and adapt. 

Nikon users don't even have that choice. For the time being, crop sensor is only DSLR for Nikon. There we have four DX primes, three DX "prosumer" lenses, and 23 consumer zooms (many of which are remakes or no longer made) to choose from. Basically a Nikon crop sensor user buys DX and FX lenses in the F mount, period. 

As I've indicated many times, I believe that Canon and Nikon (and now Sony) are getting crop sensor wrong when it comes to lenses. Sure, build the consumer zooms: entry-level folk prioritize convenience. But don't throttle the lineup. Build up a basic set of crop sensor lenses. In full frame equivalents, I'd argue that you need a minimum of 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes, and 16-35mm, 24-70/105/120mm, and 70-200mm zooms with a reasonable aperture. Add a longer macro, too. If you don't have those things, then the person that came in at entry-level discovers they can't get to the next level with what they have. The price jump to FX is too much for some, so you lose those folk to m4/3 and Fujifilm, both of whom have the lenses you didn't make. 

One question I get when I mention this is this: why don't the third-party lens makers step in, then? To some degree, they have (witness the Sigma f/1.8 crop sensor zooms). But the thing is that the third party lens makers don't have the same motivation that the camera maker does. The camera maker should have the motivation of "retain the customer and collect all their dollars." The third party lens maker has the motivation of "where do I get the most return on my R&D dollar?" Thus, what happens is that the third party lens makers generally see more potential in something other than making a crop sensor lens (which because of the market, is going to have to be consumer priced, remember). Right now, the primary motivation for the third party lens makers is to be faster to a particular mirrorless lens than the camera maker, because that's where they can collect the most cash. The marketing hype is all in mirrorless to start with, so they can ride the marketing wave, too. 

The Need for DSLR Clarity

Both Canon and Nikon have made a number of comments lately about their continued "commitment" to DSLRs. Let's first point out why they're doing that.

For the trailing year (Dec 2017 to November 2018), here are the CIPA numbers:

  • 3.99m mirrorless (37%)
  • 6.8m DSLR (58.6%)

The trend line is clear. That percentage number for the same period over the past few years has gone 19.1%, 23.7%, 25.6%, 26.7%, 34.9%, and now 37%. Projected out, DSLRs and mirrorless hit parity in unit volume in 2021 or 2022. 

So that means that no matter how good the Canon R and the Nikon Z cameras are, the DSLRs will still be fully alive in the 2020's. Indeed, the trend line wouldn't predict that mirrorless gets to DSLRs' current dominate position until at least 2023. Worse still, the current projections seem to indicate that overall ILC volume is only going to be about 9.5m units a year at that point (it's currently 10.8m units, and it was 18.7m in 2012).

Canon and Nikon own virtually all of the DSLR market (well over 90%), so by my count they have 21m more DSLRs they want to sell in the next five years. Cancel that, need to sell.

The problem is that the buying public has no idea what those will be or if they're really coming. We've got a number of DSLRs that are past expected update points (the 7D and D750 are just two examples). The problem I'm now seeing in my In Box is this: people are already discounting whether certain—I hesitate to say all, but it's getting closer and closer to that—models will ever get a significant update. 

As one recent email to me noted, Nikon promised a firmware update for the D5, D500, and D850 that would allow the outer focus sensors to work with the 180-400mm lens with the TC in place (that was in their original press release for the lens, in case Nikon thinks we've forgotten). Hasn't happened. So what's happening is people are starting to feel that the "committed to DSLR" comments coming out of Canon and Nikon are lip service, not reality. 

The problem is, Canon and Nikon are internally confused about just how much they should continue to do in DSLRs in the coming years, and so remain completely quiet other than their blanket statement. Unfortunately, that becomes a self-fulfilling fail if it continues. 

Canon and Nikon actually need a public Road Map for their DSLR future. 

I'll provide one for Nikon:

  • We will simplify the consumer DSLR line (D3500, D5600, D7500, D610) by reducing the number of models over time. Stated another way: we'll iterate fewer consumer DSLR models in the future, but we'll continue to iterate some.
  • We will continue to iterate all the prosumer and pro cameras (D5, D500, D750, D850) with regular updates.
  • We will add some much asked for DX lenses, such as a wide angle prime and a rework of the 12-24mm f/4.
  • We will continue to produce needed or missing FX lenses, such as a long macro, plus additional FL and PF lenses.
  • We will keep all the current AF-S and AF-P F-mount lenses in production, except where we replace a lens with a new version. 

There, was that so hard? No timing specificity, not even much product specificity, but rather a statement of direction, which is what a Road Map basically is. Canon could do something similar, of course, but it turns out they seem more reluctant at Road Maps than even Nikon (Nikon has a public Z lens road map, for example, but Canon doesn't have a public RF lens road map).

The danger of not putting out some details on the DSLR future is that this generates a bit of a stampede to mirrorless by the remaining camera customers. Because Canon and Nikon are playing from behind in mirrorless, they'll lose some of those customers to Sony (and maybe Fujifilm) when the photography herd speeds up their transition to the mirrorless world.

Now to you skeptics about DSLR's future: can a DSLR compete in a mirrorless world? Sure it can. It's going to be interesting to see just how unfettered Canon and Nikon are in doing so, though. 

Consider the D750 update. You could take the Z6 sensor and drop it into that update as is. Suddenly Live View focuses faster, video focus is better, video itself is better. Basically everything that's good about the Z6 in the EVF would be good on the D760 on the Rear LCD (Live View). But the D760 could also get the D5-generation AF sensor and improve through the viewfinder, too. Just those two changes alone would make for a pretty strong update to the D750, but there's plenty more Nikon could do to make it stronger.

The problem, of course, is that the engineers and product managers are debating themselves. A D760 that's too strong could undercut the Z6, they think. Frankly, they shouldn't care. A sale is a sale is a sale. Let the customer decide. 

And that's the bottom line here. By being mostly silent about the future of DSLR, Canon and Nikon are letting the customer decide; and they're deciding on mirrorless because they have no idea how long the DSLR engine keeps running.

I'm betting that a future Harvard Business School case study takes on the DSLR/mirrorless transition and the conclusion students will take from it is that Canon and Nikon performed sub-optimally in that transition. That's because they'll likely have used only price to prop up DSLR sales through the transition, not capability, let alone clarity of customer messaging.

So: bring on the DSLR Road Maps Canon and Nikon. I did it in five simple bullet points that commit you to little you aren't already committed to. I'm betting that the response I get to this article is twofold: (1) the usual deniers and haters who say the DSLR is just doomed, forget it; and (2) the DSLR owners who say "Yes, that's what I need, a road map."

Thing is, if Canon and Nikon are confident about their current and future mirrorless offerings, there's little risk to giving a basic guideline on how they're approaching the long-term future of DSLRs. Maybe even zero risk. The real risk is that they don't do it and lose potential sales. 

Everything Canikon DSLR in 2018

One question I keep getting is “are DSLRs dead?” Well, one thing you can do is an audit. So let’s look at everything that was introduced DSLR-wise for Canon and Nikon in 2018.

Canon

  • Rebel T7 body
  • 4000D body
  • 70-200mm f/2.8L III
  • 70-200mm f/4L II
  • 400mm f/2.8L III
  • 600mm f/4L III

Nikon

  • D3500 body
  • 180-400mm f/4E
  • 500mm f/5.6E PF

Well ain’t that curious?

Low end bodies and high-end lenses. Meanwhile, the R and the Z are sort of medium bodies with high-end lenses. So my immediate question is this: where are the higher-end DSLRs and the lower-end DSLR lenses?

Good question. 

I’d say it’s pretty likely that we get some new high-end DSLRs soon. While Canon and Nikon might have something mirrorless that is coming for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, I’m betting that we get 1Dx Mark III and D6 DSLR bodies from them as the primary thrust. There’s too much riding on that home game to experiment, and to ask agencies to completely rework their camera/lens inventory at this point is probably not going to work, particularly if that means adapting DSLR lenses to mirrorless cameras or going without something. 

But we have some other clear milestones coming up in 2019 that will be telling.

Canon is starting to see the 5D Mark IV get a little long in the tooth, while the 7D seems to have been forgotten having now passed the four year mark without an update. I’ve already mentioned the 1Dx, which is due for its update and will almost certainly get it.

You can almost see Canon’s big boat trying to change direction. The 1Dx gets an update because they’re not ready for a flagship mirrorless (boat inertia keeps it moving in same direction). The 5D Mark IV basically is where the R mirrorless thrust will be, so it doesn’t need an update (boat’s steering has been moved). The 5Ds/r seems to not be doing anything (check the thrusters, we might have lost a gear). Then there’s the 7D…"oh, we forgot about the 7D. Is anyone still buying it? No, then good thing we forgot about it.” Sometimes things become self-fulfilling.

I’d argue that the 7D update mystery exposes some flaws in Canon’s strategy. Nikon stole some wind with the D500, Sony stole some wind with various A6xxx models, Fujifilm keeps trying to steal the wind and gets more successful each attempt in the X-T realm. And then something like the D850 comes along and really steals the wind because it’s a “two-fer".

It’s tricky out there in PM (product management) land. You’ve got a declining market, more competition, an emerging transition from DSLR to mirrorless, and a whole slew of models to produce, iterate, market, and sell. That leaves you plenty of potential product points where you can inflict self-harm. Canon seems to have done just that. Moreover, the EOS M and EOS R strategies don’t match up, and there’s the Cinema cameras to bring along, too. 

On the Nikon side, both the D7500 and D850 would be due for their regular two-year updates. The D5600 update is overdue by a year, but Nikon’s been mailing in the consumer DSLR updates anyway, so it’s difficult to call anything they’re likely to do there an update. The D610 and D750 updates are so overdue as to almost be written off at this point. The D5 didn’t get the usual two-year slight refresh at the top, and it’s a little early for the next major update, but they could simply have decided to meet in the middle and release a new top model six months or more earlier than expected.

Rant on. The D500 is the most neglected product in the Nikon DSLR lineup. This started with the missing D400, when Nikon de-prioritized the top DX model and started calling the D7200 a “flagship." Other than a short blast of popularity when the D500 launched with the D5, the D500 has been slowly short-shrifted by Nikon pretty much every chance they get. And yes, that means I’m going to be going buzz-buzz and talk about the lenses Nikon never provided.

Realistically, the D500 should have easily held off the X-T1/2/3 and the Sony A6xxx. The reason it didn’t was in Fujifilm’s case, appropriate DX lenses; in Sony’s case, lack of attention, marketing, and updating of the D500.  

It’s not for lack of sensors that Nikon can’t update the D500 and make it shine again (Sony has at least two and maybe three sensors that would do that, all the way out to 32mp). It’s the lack of lenses and the fact that eventually starved sales to zip. 

This is where the DSLR looks dead to me: both Canon and Nikon seem to have a long line of planned RF and Z lenses. In Nikon’s case, that Z Road Map pretty much takes up their usual annual expected output (about six lenses). Which means that any DX lenses to truly help the D500 (and D7500 and their updates) just don’t seem to be coming.

Personally, I don’t know how you expect to sell a high-end camera without a full line of lenses that support it. It shouldn’t have been that difficult in DX: update the 12-24mm, add two or three DX primes, and perhaps add a DX telephoto zoom that’s appropriate (50-135mm f/2.8). Had they just gone with a “one lens a year plan” we’d already have three of the five lenses I just mentioned. 

To me, this indicates a lack of clear coordination between the camera and lens teams. Oh, they’re able to coordinate on something as big as the Z launch (to the detriment of DSLRs, unfortunately), but even there I see disconnects (really, manual focus NOCT that isn't optimized for video?). 

Or perhaps Nikon’s lack of commitment. As in “lets see how the D500 sells before committing lens resources.” Well, we know how that ends ;~). There’s simply no clear guiding hand managing to make camera, lens, accessories, and software all come together to exceed the sum of the parts. And I’d say that’s because management is all engineers and bean counters, and not photographers, let alone is there a really good product line manager at the top. Rant off.

Meanwhile, in the major third-party lens makers we got:

  • Samyang 14mm f/2.8
  • Sigma 14-24mm f/2.8 Art
  • Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 G2
  • Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4
  • Sigma 28mm f/1.4 Art
  • Sigma 40mm f/1.4 Art
  • Samyang 50mm f/1.2
  • Tokina 50mm f/1.4 Opera
  • Samyang 85mm f/1.4
  • Sigma 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 Sport
  • Sigma 70mm f/2.8 Macro Art
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 Sport
  • Tamron 70-210mm f/4
  • Sigma 105mm f/1.4 Art

Again with the higher-end lenses. 

What this all boils down to is that if you’re a full frame, higher-end DSLR user, 2018 looked pretty good to you (despite no new body from Canikon, though one from Pentax). Your lens choices blossomed and your bodies are already really good or likely due for a refresh soon. 

So, no, the DSLR is not dead. 

I’m starting to get a little worried about the consumer DSLR though as we get mailed in updates and no new interesting consumer lens options. And that in-between DSLR position held by the 7Dm2 and the D500 is getting a ton of neglect from both companies. I’d say that the reason those two cameras aren’t selling well is because Canon and Nikon have basically told you by their actions that they’re not overly interested in you buying them. 

Well ain't that curious?

Nikon 2019 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2019:


Nikon 2018 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2018:


Nikon 2017 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2017:

Nikon 2016 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2016:


Nikon 2015 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2015:


Nikon 2014 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2014:


Nikon 2013 News

In these folders you’ll find the several hundred news and commentary articles about Nikon and DSLR cameras that appeared on this site in 2013:



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