Responses to Lens Tyranny

Here a few reader responses to my Lens Tyranny article, and my comments.

"It took me years to build this collection of lenses and it will take me years to build the next collection."

Exactly. The real issue is whether the camera companies fully understand and respect that. The customers with more than one or two lenses in their collection should be their most valued customers, as these folk have proven loyalty and they buy and buy again.

In terms of respecting that customer, I'd say so far things have reversed from where they were early in the digital era: Canon is now the best at this (as long as we don't go back before EF lenses ;~). Three different adapters, and the EF lenses seem to perform exactly the same on the RF cameras as they did on the DSLRs. Nikon is (surprisingly) worst: the lack of AI-S indexing and screw-drive focus support is problematic, the single FTZ adapter has a non-removable tripod mount that can get in the way, and we've seen instances of older lenses "frying" the FTZ (specifically, certain old 24-70mm and 80-200mm ones). After years of respecting the lens closet of the Nikon user, Nikon took shortcuts this time around. Sony (Minolta) fits somewhere in between.

"As a business/market strategy having a compatibility or transition path (for lenses to new bodies/lens mount): (a) increases upgrade and transition sales by lowering customers' cost hurdle; (b) somewhat reduces urgency to invest huge amount of development dollars and other resources (supply, engineering, manufacturing) to provide a gap-free native 'eco-system' immediately (i.e. lowers the lens selection hurdle); and (c) fosters/rewards brand loyalty."

It's (a) and (c) that Nikon is struggling with. I get the Nikon point about the new Z-mount lenses being "better" and thus more desirable, but that isn't the primary reason why Nikon DSLR users would want to switch to mirrorless (e.g. it's not "I want to switch to mirrorless for better lenses"). Nikon is complicating their transition process by leaving some older lenses in the lurch. I finally decided to sell my 70-180mm macro lens, simply because it isn't well supported by the cameras I'd use it on most now. But as users start jettisoning lenses that lack full compatibility, they also start to question the loyalty that had them build their lens set in the first place. In essence, Nikon's strategy allows a long-loyal Nikon film SLR/DSLR user to think "if I'm going to be buying some new lenses, which brand do I want to do that with?" Given Sony's long head start in full frame mirrorless, the lens pasture sure looks greener in the FE mount than the Z mount.

"One of my takes from the Tyranny of Lenses article is that you are somewhat dismissive of folks who are 'hung up on their loyalty to their old lenses.'" 

Okay, I'll own that (as long as the "somewhat" is included). I've been in high tech pretty much all my life (I designed a computer on paper in my teens). The one thing I've learned is that technical progress is often just that: progress. Despite Photoshop's long-held ability to "remove" chromatic aberration, there are scenes with some older lenses that require time and skill to clean up well. And then along comes some of these new lenses, and even without lens correction profiles they're remarkably free from things I formerly needed to spend time correcting. So yes, I'm a huge fan of technical progress. Not all progress, but progress that makes my life simpler. 

On the other hand, I don't mean to demean those who like and want to continue to use their older lenses. I do that, too, though not with as many lenses these days as I used to. Note my comments about Nikon's strategic error here: it is an error to overturn the apple cart: Nikon's given their most loyal customers a reason to consider another mount. 

One thing my teaching assistant and I just spent some time trying was this: Nikon lenses on a Sony A1 (Monster Adapter) and Sony lenses on a Nikon Z7 II (TechArt adapter). Our reason for doing this is that I'm encountering more and more students that are using Sony gear, and when we're in the middle of nowhere in Africa and someone breaks (a body or a lens), can we help provide them with a backup solution that works? I still have more work to do on this testing (and I need to include Canon/Nikon and Canon/Sony testing, too). But the initial results have been interesting enough for me to spend some more time trying to suss out what does and doesn't work well. That, too, could come back to haunt Nikon with their limited support strategy.

"Nikon could really distinguish themselves from Canon right now by offering an F mount to Z mount conversion, starting with Nikon Pros, and also releasing a successor to both the D850 and D500, but it seems that Nikon is hell-bent on ignoring their existing customer base."

I'd vote for an F-mount to Z-mount conversion for the exotic lenses (not sure we would want it for the others; a US$500-1000 conversion cost for a 400mm f/2.8G/E is a lot different than having to buy a new 400mm f/2.8 S. 

Meanwhile both Canon and Nikon are now doing the Sony thing and signaling to DSLR customers that the end is near (or has already happened). I still see enough demand in the Nikon DSLR crowd that a D580 and D880 done right would sell plenty of units to warrant producing (though delaying doing so will erode that). Both, if they were available right now, would easily sell 50k+ units a year, which is plenty to keep them in consideration, given their unit pricing and margins. The problem, of course, is messaging: Nikon really wants to sell the existing DSLR users a mirrorless camera, because they really need to bolster the Z System fast. The Internet buzz world doesn't talk about ILC, it talks about mirrorless.

"'If a lens is really needed, Canon, Fujifilm, Nikon, Olympus/Panasonic, and Sony will all get around to making it.' Ha! Tell that to my pair of D7000 that are collecting dust on the bookshelf! As you say, buzz buzz."

You got me. The problem with generalizations is that they're generalizations. That said, somehow we as customers never managed to prove to Canon/Nikon that more APS-C lenses were needed in the DSLR lines. Couple that with Canon/Nikon wanting you to move up to a full frame camera, and yes, we got mostly bupkis. 

I think (I hope?) that with everyone now concentrating on mirrorless mounts that the companies will start to get back to the generalization I offered. It's way too early with Z DX to tell just how many camera models we'll end up getting that are DX, and what those cameras will really need in terms of lenses. I do find it interesting that Nikon is offering the full frame 28mm f/2.8 prime with the Zfc. Indeed, Zfc buyers will get it before full frame owners. So it appears that Nikon understands that maybe they need more DX (or at least DX worthy) lenses in order to sell DX bodies. One wonders if the number of Zfc+28mm kit orders sent a signal to Nikon about small primes. You never know with Nikon. It's not like they have someone looking up in the sky all the time for bat signals. 

Someone wanted me to comment on the Sigma CEO's interview comments on lenses: "When making lenses for mirrorless, if we only focused on the needs of stills photographers, we could design lenses similar to those we made for DSLRs. But that’s not a great idea from the point of view of either continuous autofocus performance or video. So we need to achieve a balance between the requirements of stills and video."

Focus breathing, parfocal (versus varifocal), and other aspects come into play when you design a lens that needs to be "right" for both stills and video. I'm not sure I accept his comments at face value, though (and I've heard similar ones from other companies). What companies are really doing is trying to extend sales volume while reducing overhead.

Consider this: you make only lenses for stills cameras, so you don't get sales from a subset of the user base that also records videos. So you decide to make both a stills lens line and a video lens line. A video-only lens line would sell in less volume than a stills-only one, but would require as much (if not more) R&D, plus would increase your associated manufacturing, inventory, and marketing/sales costs. If instead you make one lens that caters to both, you increase your R&D costs some, but not all the other costs. And you (probably) increase the number of sales you'd get if you only produced a stills-only lens. 

The problem from the maker point of view is that the market has gotten so small in volume that it is harder to make a "niche" work. With the industry now making very capable still/video combo cameras, the problem is doubled. 

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