More Responses to Internetting...

"You never dare write about the awful Nikon lenses: cheap plastics, far from being smooth, worthless for manual use (even the more pricey ones)." email received (highly edited for spelling, capitalization, and punctuation [I edit all quotes for clarity/consistent terminology])

So much to respond to in one statement. Let's tackle it bit by bit.

I most certainly do dare to write about when Nikon does something awful. For years, many at NikonUSA made me a persona non grata and bad-mouthed me any chance they got (little did some of them know I was sometimes standing behind them listening ;~). One reason I know that I'm critical of Nikon is just how many emails and responses I get that tell me to stop being so critical of Nikon. I'm pretty much dismissing the "never dare" part of the above email because it's simply a misstatement, best case.

In the recent Z-mount offerings, I'm not aware of any "awful" Nikkor lenses. Plus the last handful of F-mount lenses that were launched are also pretty incredible optics (e.g. 120-300mm f/2.8E). True, some are better than others, but there's really not a dud in the last 34 lenses Nikon has put out. I have to go all the way back to 2016 to find a lens—the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G DX non VR—that I'd say shouldn't have been made and qualifies as a clearcut dud. 

No doubt some Nikkors are better than others. In the recent offerings, the 28mm f/2.8, 40mm f/2, and 28-75mm f/2.8 feel "old school" to me, in that they correct (or not) things optically the way lenses of a decade ago did, not lenses of the 2020's do. But they're still really useful lenses.

So we come next to a common myth and long-held bias that's not correct: cheap plastics. "Plastic is bad" is a very commonly held belief. It appears this belief stems from thinking that things that are being made from plastic today used to be made of metal, and metal is always better. Really? Is the camera-buying crowd all ex-Steelworkers?

First of all, the correct term for the outer casing of recent Nikkors is polycarbonate. Nikon puts a polycarbonate shell around an internal (typically) metal based optical frame for a number of reasons. One of which is that the outer shell doesn't wear or break as easily. Another is that correctly designed polycarbonate shells act as a shock insulator to the delicate optics that are isolated inside; plastic rebounds better than metal on shock (up to the point it breaks). Reducing weight is another factor. And yes, cost is also a factor. I'm pretty sure if you talked to the Nikon engineers, they'd give you a long list of why they—and virtually every other Japanese lens maker—use polycarbonate on the outside of the lens these days.

So you're probably asking how come the cheap Chinese manual focus lenses are all metal? Because they're easy to make in low volume. Metal working machinery abounds and is easy to access, while polycarbonate requires creating complex molds. It's easy enough to study how the Japanese made lenses in the 50's and 60's and duplicate that in a small shop that has some basic metal machinery. Of course, if your volume gets high enough, you have to move to other choices to stay efficient and keep cost/time down. I already see that with Viltrox, for instance: they've moved to something closer to what the Japanese are doing and use polycarbonates in the outer body.

But the big thing is that polycarbonates can be stronger than metal, and they'll simply crack before losing shape (metal layers tend to lose shape on impacts and force). 

The "plastic is bad" thinking is like a lot of thinking these days. Back in ye olden dayes, that person had a bad experience with early plastics. That condemned all plastics forever in their mind. They want to Make Lenses Great Again. Only those lenses they're remembering simply aren't anywhere near as good optically or as reliable as the lenses we're getting these days. The entire world is on a dystopian fever dream at the moment, one that says that things were always better in the past. Only problem is, they weren't. Moreover, if "the past" is always better, then maybe we should just all go back to 536AD (regarded as one of the worst years in history by people who study such things ;~).

Next up, we have "far from being smooth." I'm not sure which lens this emailer is thinking of, but it certainly isn't a Z-mount lens. If anything, their rings are too smooth. The last lens I remember complaining about a lack of smoothness was the 200-500mm f/5.6, which had a distinct point in its zoom ring rotation that fought you and tended to make zooming a two step process. 

I suspect our emailer is referring to the lack of inertial hysteresis, because his next complaint is about manual focus. I've written about this before, and it's clear Nikon has heard the user complaints about the speed at which the focus ring works in the mirrorless cameras, because they've started doing what they should have in the first place: Nikon now makes the camera's response to the focus ring tunable. That currently works only with some cameras and some lenses, but it's clearly what should have been done in the first place, and what all cameras and lenses are likely to do in the future.

I have a simple answer for the emailer: buy one of the Chinese knockoff manual focus lenses. Metal, traditional focus ring, and you're done. They're typically less expensive than state-of-the-art autofocus lenses, too ;~). Just don't complain to me that the lens is soft in the corners, has lower contrast than you expected, and shows significant chromatic aberration and flare.

"Those of us who had D850 and D500 cameras were PROUD owners, and we were downright evangelical about Nikon. Now, my Z7 and Z6 II are adequate for my work. 'Adequate' doesn’t make evangelists." received email

Indeed it doesn't. That said, not every camera Nikon makes is going to hit that nail squarely on the head. The Z9 does, while the rest of the Z-mount lineup basically shows that we're still in the infancy of Nikon mirrorless. Those of us with long memories remember that the original D1, as remarkable as it was, was a modal mess that was almost unusable. The D1h and D1x updates were rapidly eclipsed by Canon in megapixels (both) and sensor size (latter). So while many of us liked our early Nikon DSLRs, there was much betterment to wish for.

Nikon is also, at core, an optics company. I do think it promising that the whole caboodle of Z-mount Nikkors they've unleashed are pretty much the best variants of each optic we've seen. Just as happened right before the DSLRs were launched, we've been seeing increases in lens quality (see my comment about the last 34 Nikkors, above) that started before the mirrorless cameras were launched. That should tell you that deep within Nikon R&D the first thing that changes with a major transition is the optics. Again, Nikon is an optics company, so that shouldn't be surprising. 

I'm sure we'll have Z cameras that'll make you an evangelist again. Which ones and how soon will be the questions that I can't answer (yet). 

"Most of the newer lens makers in the market do not have the technical acumen to link to the AF in the bodies. I doubt the TTArtisans people even have AF engineering experience at all, for example." -- Discus post

This post shows one of the issues that is becoming more and more prevalent on the Internet: inability to observe reality. The post I quote above was written over a week after TTArtisans launched their first autofocus lens for several lens mounts, including Nikon's supposedly closed mount. We now have three "newer lens makers" who have clearly successfully reverse engineered the Nikon Z mount communications, and whose lenses perform exactly the same as Nikon's own small Z-mount primes. 

This and other posts assert knowledge they do not have, and are easy enough to disprove with the evidence in the market. However, the danger is that people believe the comment and take it to be true without looking to see if it was. Worse, we now have a plethora of these "authoritative" statements in discussions that are more difficult to assess, as there may be no clear evidence to prove or disprove their assertions. It's one thing to offer an opinion, another to state something categorically. Unfortunately, we're seeing more false categorical assertions than opinions these days.

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