Nikkor Lenses


Part one: the zooms.

Original: 3/9/2008

A lot of forum fodder of late (and my InBox) has been filled with complaints about Nikon lenses. Specifically, complaints about the availability of the lenses "I need." Both DX and FX users make similar gripes, only with different gaps in mind when they do.

As always, I try to come at any topic with an open mind. I decided to break the task of analyzing (for the umpteenth time) Nikon's lens lineup into two parts: zooms and primes. I tried to have no premise going into this analysis, despite some of my own complaints in the past about missing lenses in Nikon's lineup. Today we're going to tackle just the zooms. In a month or so I'll tackle the primes.

Here's the full Nikkor DX and FX zoom lens lineup (some may quibble with my list, since availability across different regions of the world is a bit different--I've used NikonUSA's current list):

Copyright 2008 Thom Hoga

Green = DX consumer zoom
Red = DX pro zoom
Blue = FX consumer zoom
Yellow = FX pro zoom

First thing that you should notice is that the DX lens lineup has a lot of overlap, giving users quite a bit of choice, especially in the mid-range zoom area. We've got only two pro lenses in the DX group, but they're at the wider end of things, right where the pro emphasis should be, in my opinion.

The FX zoom lineup is another story. First of all, we have far more lenses that are due for update or replacement. Second, we've got several seriously overlapping pro choices (24-70 versus 28-70 and 70-200 versus 80-200, for example). An FX user doesn't have many good choices that bridge the mid-range zoom; basically two pro and two amateur lenses, three of the four being elder statesmen and due for update or replacement or end of life. VR only starts at 70mm for the FX lenses.

Now let's pretend for a moment that we're a DX user. What options are available to us? Here's the revised list (I've put all lenses at their effective focal lengths so that you can see how the DX and FX lenses correctly intermingle in terms of focal length choice):

Copyright 2008 Thom HoganGreen = DX
Blue = FX

That's a pretty solid set of choices. If there is any weakness, it comes at the very bottom of the focal range: another option that gets to at least 20mm effective focal length would be welcome, but isn't necessary. My analysis: DX users have nothing to complain about in terms of zooms. Indeed, if we really boil it down, we get two sets of DX zoom kits that make sense.

Amateur DX Zoom Kit:

Copyright 2008 Thom HoganProfessional DX Zoom Kit:

Copyright 2008 Thom Hogan

One could argue that the 70-300mm VR goes in place of the 80-400mm in the amateur kit (or even just go with one lens, the 18-200mm), and I suppose some might say the 14-24mm ought to go into the wide end of the pro kit. No matter what, I'd say that for a DX user, the available zooms allow you to put together kits that provide everything you really need in focal range, with the only limitation being that VR isn't available under 70mm on the pro side.

How about the FX user? How does she kit up with the available zooms?

Amateur FX Zoom Kit:

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I really can go either way on the long end, so included them both this time.

Professional FX Zoom Kit:

Copyright 2008 Thom Hogan

Again, a very competent set of lenses that covers a huge range in four pieces.

So far, the only thing you can really complain about is that a few lenses need updates, most notably the 80-400mm needs AF-S, VRII, and nano-coating. That and the curious lack of VR under 70mm in the pro FX lenses.

Indeed, after spending hours looking at the zoom lineup from every angle I could, my analysis boiled down to this: Nikon has it mostly right. But there's an important gap, and that's the one between the amateur and pro sets: what I'd call the scaled down pro zooms. Nikon simply doesn't have constant aperture, smaller-sized zooms available for when the pro wants to "go light" or the amateur wants to "go upscale."

So here's my new critical to-do list for Nikon zooms (the numbers in parentheses are my priority):

  • Update the 18-70mm DX to add VR (4)
  • Update the 18-135mm DX to add VR (2)
  • Update the 80-400mm VR to add AF-S (1)
  • Update the 24-70mm to add VR (7)
  • Introduce a new 50-135mm f/2.8 AF-S VR DX (6)
  • Introduce a new 24-100mm f/4G AF-S VR FX (3)
  • Introduce a new 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR FX (5)

We can quibble a bit on the exact specifications of those last three lenses, but I think those specifications are about right. And as it turns out, a shorter list than I thought I might come up with. Not only that, it's a very do-able list, and doesn't require any "jump through hoops" technology to produce. Half the list is a slam dunk, the other half requires a bit of optical design tweaking, though nothing fancy. If Nikon wants extra credit, any FX zoom in the 17/18 to 35 range would be interesting enough to warrant considering. But seven lenses would essentially make 90% of you very happy (at least those of you who aren't already happy ;~). To the above list I'd probably also add one more consumer FX zoom, the 28-200mm, just to have a better matching lineup (if I really wanted to be FX complete, I'd add a 24-85mm FX consumer update, but we really don't have a body to make those FX consumer zooms useful yet, so they're low priority). Here's the full list of what Nikon should have as zooms, in my (current) opinion (red indicates doesn't exist):

  • 12-24mm f/4G AF-S DX (18-35mm equivalent)
  • 14-24mm f/2.8G AF-S FX
  • 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX (24-120mm equivalent)
  • 17-55mm f/2.8G AF-S DX (26-85mm equivalent)
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX (28-85mm equivalent)
  • 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX (28-105mm equivalent)
  • 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX (28-200mm equivalent)
  • 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR DX (28-300mm equivalent)
  • 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S VR FX
  • 24-120mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR FX
  • 24-100mm f/4G AF-S VR FX
  • 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR FX
  • 50-135mm f/2.8G AF-S VR DX (70-200mm equivalent)
  • 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR DX
  • 70-200mm f/2.8G AF-S VR FX
  • 70-200mm f/4G AF-S VR FX
  • 70-300mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR FX
  • 80-400mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR FX
  • 200-400mm f/4G AF-S VR FX

I've got 19 zooms on my list, and Nikon currently lists 23 on theirs, so we're well within the realm of what's possible.

Obviously, I've been shooting with the zooms that have appeared in the recent past, and that has influenced some of my analysis here. We'll get to the details when I start publishing the reviews of those lenses. But suffice it to say that Nikon is hitting home runs with their latest zoom lenses. Who would have thought the 24-70mm would make the existing 28-70mm look weak optically? That Professional FX Zoom Kit (minus the 200-400mm) was pretty much what I had with me in Patagonia, and other than the weight (say it with me, Nikon, f/4, f/4, f4...) I was very happy optically.


 

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