Do F and EF-Mount Lenses Have a Future in Your Bag?

Do F and EF-Mount Lenses Have a Future in Your Bag?

With the continued introduction of new lenses, bodies, and roadmapped development, do Nikon’s F and Canon’s EF-mount lenses have a future?

With the introduction of their mirrorless cameras, both Canon and Nikon also introduced new lens mounts. I’ve already stated my opinion about the initial lens choices both have created to support their new cameras in an earlier article. Setting aside those specific critiques, it is clear that both brands consider these new mounts to be their future. They have dedicated most of their output, both production and R&D, to introduce new bodies and lenses designed specifically for the mounts.

What does this mean for photographers who haven’t yet upgraded? In my opinion, if you are still going to be shooting in five years, now is the time to take a hard look at what you think you’ll be using in that time. Many photographers have a significant amount of money tied up in their lenses. In my case, lenses constitute 70 percent of all my equipment costs. Furthermore, they are among the most brand specific, unlike tripods, lighting, or filters, which can all be used with other cameras.

Lenses, for the most part, have done better when it comes to depreciation than camera bodies. They might not enjoy that distinction in the future, as the viability of F and EF bodies diminish over the next few years. I’m not saying that your lenses are instantly worthless. Both Canon and Nikon offer adapters to support converting their old lenses to the new mounts, and the old mount bodies will still keep working. But inevitably, the state of the art moves forward. For instance, Nikon’s Z mount 24-70mm f/2.8 offers a number of features over their most recent F mount 24-70mm. Bodies across the range now offer more megapixels, and the reduced flange distance available in the new mounts allows for entirely new designs. Taken together, it is tough to see how adapting old lenses will present a value proposition for most photographers, without a substantial markdown in price.

The new Nikon 24-70 includes a new multi-focus system, new coatings, and control interfaces.

Furthermore, photographers upgrading or switching will have a pernicious effect on the resale value of old mount lenses. As more photographers make the switch, the pool of buyers and users of old mount gear will shrink, right at the same time supply on the used market will increase. This combination will put a significant downward pressure on gear prices.

While I don’t believe the new Z and RF mounts can currently support an entire kit, photographers who expect to switch in the next couple years should carefully consider a few factors before making significant new lens purchases.

As a quick guide, the safest choices for the old mount appear to be super telephotos, followed by special cases like macro lenses, as well as fast long or wide primes. Conspicuously each of these are mostly missing from Nikon and Canon’s roadmap for the next few years, and these lenses have historically held their value better than other types of lens.

Wide and midrange zooms, particularly at the high end, have already seen superior mirrorless versions introduced. Primes are trickier to generalize, and vary based on the manufacturer and style of lens. Some specialty primes should be safer, while standard primes like a 50mm f/1.8 have already been significantly outperformed by new models.

Interestingly, both manufacturers haven’t aggressively marked down their old lens stock. While this is partly a move to preserve their margins at a financially difficult time, it should make the decision easier for buyers, as it only diminishes the value proposition of new purchases in the old mount. Essentially, if you can’t score a bargain on the lens, that only makes its future depreciation more painful.

Overall, I think photographers should take stock of what lenses they own and what they expect to be shooting in the future. When I say what they expect to shoot, I mean both subject and manufacturer. If your current manufacturer’s mirrorless is aligned with your needs and you are OK with adapting, you may be just fine. If you think you’ll be switching or want to take advantage of the clear upgrades available, like users of Nikon’s old 24-70mm, take that into consideration when shopping for new gear. While gear is only important for the end goal of creating images, and shouldn’t be a pursuit in itself, every photographer should take the financial side into account.

Are you planning on any significant lens purchases? Did the introduction of the mirrorless lines influence the decision? If you don’t see a future switch to mirrorless, are you making a lens or body purchase you were holding off on?

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30 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

Good question.
Luckily, I 'think' I already have all the F-mount lenses I need. Famous last words I guess?
That said, they all perform outstandingly on the FTZ adaptor and Z7. I have no reservation in using an F-mount on there are all. So if something F-mounted came a long that I fancied and wasn't available in the Z-mount. Yes, I would certainly buy it.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Well, good glass is good glass after all. G.A.S. aside, it might be good for the industry to change for new glass, but not for my photography. That won't change a bit. So why should I buy new stuff?

Timothy Gasper's picture

Exactly. Yes...it's always 'good' forthe industry to change for new glass. After all, that's just one of the ways they make their profits. But...like you...I don't need any new glass either. I DO need one....maybe two more lenses (well maybe not really) but I will buy them used, thank you very much.

Richard Kralicek's picture

Good idea to buy used lenses. That way I got the old TS-E lenses 45/2.8 and 90/2.8 for the price of one (wanted the new macro TS-E 50/2.8, but they delayed delivery on and on till I found those 2 lenses second hand and removed my order), as well as the 180/3.5 macro nicely reduced in price. Have been stupid for way too long buying new stuff I didn't need but wanted.

Michael Jin's picture

I think that the ones with specific character like the older DC lenses or the 58mm f1.4G could, but the newer lenses that are designed more for clinical sharpness than anything else will likely be replaced when the Z mount versions come out simply because the newer versions will outperform them.

That said, it looks like it'll be a few years before they release replacements for many of the high end prime lenses.

Alex Coleman's picture

Good point Michael- there are definitely lenses that are "unique", even beyond just a focal length/f stop combination.

William Faucher's picture

Funny enough, for the first time in what seems like, well, ever, I'm 100% content with my setup. I'm still using my trusty D800, and to be quite honest, it just does what I need it to do. There's better out there, yes, but will it make my work substantially better? Not really. 35mm 1.4, 85mm 1.4, and a 300mm f4. I don't need anything more.
Don't get me wrong, if I had the opportunity to swap for a Z7 or something, I would take it. But I cannot justify the purchase. Any fullframe body from the past 6-7 years works like a charm still.

Simon Patterson's picture

I'm the same. Very content with my d800 and suite of lenses. By the time I need to "upgrade" due to equipment failure, the mirrorless market will have had plenty of chance to mature.

Andrew Leman's picture

I feel like most people are in this situation. We have all built good sets of lenses and unless you have money laying around to make the entire switch, there's no need to. Like already stated, switching isn't going to change my photos by enough to make it worth it. I love mt D750 and I've got a 14-24 2.8, 50mm 1.8 and an 80-200 2.8. They cover everything i need and then some. I'm confident my 750 will treat me well for many years to come.

Simon Patterson's picture

You're probably right that most people are in a similar situation to us.

But writing about sticking with a d750/d800 and quality glass doesn't make good copy. So the online articles and videos we see tends to be from either the early adopters or the sponsored salesphotographers. And many of us find it interesting to see what new tech is coming out, even if we will not be buying any of it.

Alex Coleman's picture

That's really the point I'm at too- I love my D810 and most of my lenses. The only exception is the 24-70, which really doesn't hit the standard of the others. Either Z 24-70 seems like a drastic improvement, but that is a lot of change just for a single lens.

William Faucher's picture

Yeah the 24-70 has been on my mind for a while, love that flexibility, but the thought of purchasing one now seems like a bad idea. Especially considering how it almost feels... outdated? Canon is stepping up the game and offering an f/2 version. If Nikon were to offer a competing lens, then I might consider it. Until then, I will stick with my primes.

Mike Gillin's picture

Totally agree. Still rocking a D800 and can't justify the upgrade as it's not exponentially greater. Even if I was to move to the Z, good glass will still be good glass.

Robert Teague's picture

At the moment, I see no reason why I'll get any more F mount lenses. Once the new 14-30 and promised 70-200 come out, I'll be set (unless there is a future replacement for the 105 macro). I upgraded from a D800 to the Z7, with the D800 now relegated to backup status only.

Andrew Morse's picture

I've been on the fence with buying a Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 II. Odds are I end up buying it because its adaptability may be an advantage if I ever go to mirrorless. Since Canon's mirrorless offerings focus up to at f/11, I can use a 2x EF extender and a converter to get AF on a 200-800 equivalent full frame lens. I don't see canon releasing an RF extender until their super teles are available, so an RF 100-400 couldn't do that without a new RF 2x extender.

No doubt there'll be a notable quality compromise in that, but I don't see myself buying an 800mm lens any time soon and having that reach could open some creative avenues that I don't have access to now.

Alex Coleman's picture

There aren't many good options to get that long of a focal length, so that sounds like a good plan!

Andrea Brizzi's picture

Thanks Alex, very informative. You forgot, however, to include tilt shift lenses among those that don't -yet- have a mirrorless camera alternative. I shoot architecture, both with a PhaseOne + Arca Swiss technical camera and Canon with TSE lenses. Both have positives and negatives. The options offered to someone in my line of work are extremely limited. I dream of a 100MP Leica with a couple of TS lenses. Good luck everyone.

Alex Coleman's picture

Good point- in my mind, that was covered under the "specialty" lenses, but I forget that tilt shift is essential for certain types of work. Have you seen if Nikon or Canon's adapted t/s work well? I imagine the emphasis on live view could make that work easier.

Andrea Brizzi's picture

Thanks Alex, I have not and in fact I wonder if using my existing lenses Canon with an adapter on a new mirrorless (once a 50 or 100 MP model is introduced) will result in loss of quality.

You can use DSLR lenses on mirrorless, but you can't use mirrorless lenses on a DSLR.

These F and EF lenses still have plenty of use left, and i will continue to buy F mount lenses if i need it.

Richard Bradbury's picture

I will be sticking to DSLR platforms and EF lenses myself at least for the next 10 years, after which I would still not fancy the expense of switching but will see what is happening then.

Canon Rumor just mentioned the field tests for 1DX Mk3:
https://www.canonrumors.com/canon-eos-1d-x-mark-iii-field-testing-has-be...
That's still a DSLR, so I guess there is not need to get worried about EF mount.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I have so much tied up in F-mount glass you'll have to pry my D750 from my cold, dead hands. I have a bunch of (admittedly excellent) EF stuff too but I've not really ever been a fan of the bodies I've hooked them up to.

Gil Aegerter's picture

Just waiting for folks to start dumping their 24-70mm AF-S lenses. I have a selection of manual Nikkors that I find fun to use and sharp. And I just took a Hawaiian trip and used only a Nikon D5200 with 10-20, 18-55 and 70-300 AF-P lenses. You might laugh at the plastic body and lenses, but if the whole kit had been stolen, I would have been out a total of about $500. And the images rock.

Simon Patterson's picture

That's a great travel kit. A good trio for pretty much every situation.

The only thing I'd change would be to take a second body, to avoid having to change lenses much. But although those aps-c bodies are very small, even the dslrs, it does still add bulk and weight.

We've never had so much choices to choose from, but the newer lenses are a different breed and their physical size is closer to medium format lens size because the design is only to use the sweet spot just to cover full frame format hence the amazing quality over the older generation of lenses. The older lenses are soft wide opened and sharper stopping down which is great for soft bokeh and dreamy effect. The newer digital lenses would be great for technical or photos where sharpness/definition is required. One thing for certain is the full frame 35mm will eventually to replace the medium format, interesting times ahead.

Tony Northrup's picture

This is a REALLY hard time to buy DSLR lenses because the resale value is definitely going to plummet over the next couple of years.

Kirk Darling's picture

I've never counted resale value in any professional equipment purchase since I'm going to depreciate the expense anyway. Whatever I can sell it for is gravy.

That said, I don't intend to buy another EF lens. Given the excellent performance of the R adapter, I can let my current EF lenses reach the end of their economic/technical lifespans and replace them with RF lenses at the same economic/technical point I'd have replaced them if I were still shooting with a DSLR.

What causes me a bit more headache is that I shoot with five bodies, so the next couple of years is going to see me having to change those over on an accelerated schedule. Ow, my aching cash flow.

EL PIC's picture

When my hands get smaller .. my lenes will get smaller ..

Adil Alsuhaim's picture

Yes. Drop-in filter options!

Canon has an EF-R adapter with Drop-in ND filter. Of course it's costly, but it can go down in price, and we may see 3rd party options. I can see such an adapter being particularly useful for ultra-wide lenses with a bulge (no filter thread) and for video shooters.