The Future Is Bleak: Why Nikon and Canon’s New Mirrorless Lenses Are the Wrong Direction

The Future Is Bleak: Why Nikon and Canon’s New Mirrorless Lenses Are the Wrong Direction

Nikon and Canon have both introduced mirrorless bodies using new mounts, and the industry is at a crossroads. The new lenses that were introduced lack any promise or justification for their existence, and are more expensive while offering less useful features than past generations.Most lenses introduced in the last few years have been a disappointment. While they are technically impressive, offering unprecedented focal lengths or apertures, they are getting drastically heavier and more expensive, while making serious compromises on usability and filter compatibility. At the same time, they are often missing basic features, like image stabilization or filter threads. This trend seems only to have worsened with the new mirrorless mounts.

Nikon’s Z line is a prime example, pun intended. For the launch of a new mount, they rolled out a few obligatory lenses including a 24-70 and a few primes. Instead of developing a more useful lens, like a telephoto lens native to the mount for launch, they focused development on a ridiculous 58mm f/0.95 vanity lens. It is rumored to cost $6,000, and is so unwieldy it comes with it’s own tripod foot. Besides trying to grab headlines, I can’t figure out who this lens is aimed at, particularly given the attributes of the existing Z bodies. High performance 50mm lenses, like the Zeiss Otus, already exist. Meanwhile, Nikon claims their existing 50mm Z mount lens “will redefine your notion” of what a 50mm lens can do. Do photographers really need two definitions of a standard lens on a mount that only has 4 or 5 lenses to begin with?

I don't think even NIkon knows which direction they want to go.

Canon’s RF mount isn’t any better, with the 28-70 f/2 lacking the wider angle capability of their EF lenses and any form of image stabilization, all for twice the price of their well regarded 24-70 f/2.8 II. The lens features an insane 95mm filter diameter, and weighs 1.3lbs more than it’s EF competition. This throws away any weight savings from the switch to mirrorless, and seems to be another example of a product made for a cool sounding headline, rather than a genuinely better user experience. What sort of performance could Canon have delivered if they stuck to F2.8? Could they have fit in an IS system? That omission seems particularly egregious given the EOS R lacks any built in stabilization. If they are worried about low light performance, a 24-70 f/2.8 II shooter can bring another 1.3lbs of f/1.8 prime lenses for the best of both worlds.

I would have loved to see some f/4 zooms that match professional standards, and some wicked sharp f1.8 primes. The classic 24-70 f/2.8 shouldn’t be regressing, and image stabilization should be included whenever possible. The new bodies are hopefully on the cutting edge of ISO performance, and emphasize the weight savings inherent in mirrorless, so what is this fetishization of unnecessarily wide apertures? The expanded electronic communication abilities of the new mounts also seem to be going to waste, as Nikon’s halo lens is manual focus only, despite the razor thin depth of field. Canon and Nikon instead seem to have aimed for the most expensive options at every turn, without a meaningful improvement in product capability.

These lenses seem to be trying to justify the new mounts’ existence. Instead of genuinely addressing a photographer’s needs, Nikon and Canon built lenses in search of a problem. Viewing the new lenses in combination with their bodies only further highlights the disjointed nature of the lineups. The Z6 and Z7 offer photographers a practical, collapsible 24-70 f/4 and a monstrous, multi-thousand dollar prime lens, with nothing in between. If, however, you're looking for a 50mm lens, the Nikon Z lineup is perfect, featuring 3 variations of a 50mm lens out of 12 total lenses announced.

1 of 3 50mm lenses for the Z mount

I'm not saying the only direction to go is smaller, lighter, and slower. I'd love to see some alternatives to the bigger, faster, but wildly expensive lenses that are in vogue; I understand that new ground has to be broken for marketing wins. I think my problem instead lies with the unclear direction that Nikon and Canon are taking with their new mirrorless efforts. While the road maps they've provided offer more information than they have provided in the past, I don't see their overarching purpose. Is the Z lineup supposed to push the limits of what cameras can do, as the 58mm Noct would indicate? Then why does it's autofocus performance lag competitors and even the D850 it supposedly equals? It lacks the same level of customization in controls already present on less expensive, older bodies like the D500.

While some would say, if you don't like it, don't buy it, the very existence of these new lines also threaten the viability of existing models. Looking at the number of lenses that Nikon or Canon are capable of designing and launching, when combined with their road maps for the new mounts means new lenses for existing mounts are unlikely. The situation is even worse for users of the duo's first mirrorless efforts, as Nikon CX is discontinued and Canon's EF-M has an unclear future.

Nikon and Canon should ground their new mounts in reality. Once they’ve rolled out a competent set of practical tools, go ahead and build some $3,000 vanity lenses, but not while you’re still missing anything with a focal length above 105mm. As both mounts heavily rely on legacy compatible adapters to create any sort of complete kit, did the Z and RF mounts really need to exist? Nikon fans already complain of missing lenses for the DX mount, and I feel there are still holes in the F mount line, like a high performance, lighter mid-range zoom. Canon is having to juggle development for EF-S, EF, RF, and EF-M, which leaves the future of each mount in question.

Given the lenses introduced and revealed on the roadmap so far, I don’t believe Nikon and Canon are headed in the right direction. With tightening camera sales figures, manufacturers need to make rational, deliberate choices more than ever before, and manage their resources wisely.

Lead image by Szabo Viktor

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199 Comments

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Mr Hogwallop's picture

These cameras are not niche products like a Leica, they are mainstream products from a mainstream corporation . But the oddball 50mm 6k lens is to challenge their engineers, entertain their customers and annoy the hoi polloi. Much like a Lexus LFA, Nissan GT-r and Ford GT.
It also give our corporate overlords something to brag about with their pals.

Alex Coleman's picture

It's not inherently a problem to start at the high end, and have things trickle down. Take Tesla for instance.

The problem is this would be analogous to Toyota stopping production of any new model year ICE cars, and introducing a new electric car lineup that consists of a F1 car and a minivan. People who own trucks, SUVs, and compact cars have nothing to upgrade to.

the 50/.95 is like a bicycle.

Billion dollar companies make mistakes and missteps all the time. If you've worked in a corporate environment at a high enough level you would see that the dynamics and power structure of business management and engineering don't always align and lead to be best decisions being made for consumers.

For instance, a product like the 50mm f0.95 could have been pushed through to development by a senior product manager/chief engineer who had this as on the back burner for years as a pet project. "Oh wow, here is an A4 my team just produced that shows this is the best product to launch a new lens system with." Imagine that.

Thinking that just because a "Billion Dollar Company" decided this is the best lens lineup to launch with they should be immune to criticism is naive.

Sure, companies make mistakes and even billion-dollar companies can go broke because of those mistakes.
But companies making billions for several decades have proven they understand their market. That doesn’t mean the next decision will automatically be the right one.
I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t criticize those companies, but if you do, you need to make a case. Just saying “this is the wrong direction” without any knowledge, facts, experience, references and logic to combine them is like shooting with a blindfold on. You might still hit the target, but what are the odds you will?

The 50mm f/.95 will be (commercially) irrelevant for the success (or failure) of Z-mount mirrorless cameras. It’s a niche lens, a look-what-we-can-do-product and these kinds of lenses have always been in the product range and way more exotic ones as well. Lenses like the Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 fisheye or the Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 L.
If you want to criticize these companies for making those kinds of lenses you first need to understand the reason they make them.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

I don't feel like Alex was necessarily trying to make the case that Nikon or Canon will not make money or go bankrupt on their new strategy. Personally I think they will make a lot of money as they have decades of experience backing them up. I guess the question is rather whenever their strategy is good for photography and photographers.
Think of it as McDonald's - global corporation, very experienced, they know exactly what they do and make plenty of money doing it. However there is no question the quality of their food leaves a lot to desire and is simply just not good for your health.
Lenses like 50mm f/.95 has been made in the past. Canon's famous 85mm f1.2 is an example. Big, heavy, expensive and of course great quality. But Canon never made ton of money on it. It was always a show off lens, one that screams "we can do it". And many photographers swear by it but it's not like Canon's lens roadmap would have been broken without it.

>>I guess the question is rather whenever their strategy is good for photography and photographers.<<

Photographers are different people with different, needs and budgets.
The majority of people buying ILC (Interchangeable-lens camera) buy crop cameras. Full Frame cameras are a small segment of the total ILC-market and a very small segment of the total camera market so if we talk about “photography and photographers” in general the FF-strategies of Nikon and Canon are irrelevant.
If you compare photography to eating, smartphones are like fast-food, crop ILC are like “real” restaurants, FF-ILC are like Michelin 1-star restaurants and Medium Format and up are like 2 and 3- star restaurants.

To argue these FF mirrorless lenses from Canon and Nikon are “the wrong direction” you need to understand the segment of the market they are aimed at and that is not the “McDonald's crowd”.
I know what I want/need, but my preferences are irrelevant to those companies as are yours and all other individuals. They do extensive market research and base their strategies on it. That doesn’t mean they get it right each and every time, but individual photographers don’t have the data these companies have, so you need to have very strong arguments to conclude they are going “the wrong direction”.
I didn’t see strong arguments in the article, it’s even hard to find any real arguments that support the conclusion.

Ed Sanford's picture

It is easy for we as photographers to pass judgement on corporate strategy on a company like Canon. We base our opinions on just the little niche that's important us. I looked at Canon's Financial report and it was very revealing. 45.7% of Canon sales comes from commercial office products. 27.8% of their sales come from their imaging business which is the area important to us. Because consumer spending typically makes up about 2/3rds of sales, I'll guess that most of the sales are in low end consumer items. 10.7% of sales come from medical products. 17.9% of sales come from industry and other business. Each one of these divisions are separate and distinct businesses that are vying for investment dollars. So, at the corporate level, I am not certain that the CFO is concerned about what lenses or camera bodies are being sold. The CFO wants to know where they are getting the highest return from dollars spent. They also realize, that overall, mobile phones are encroaching on the market share of all traditional cameras. Therefore, individual product strategies in professional photo products could be taking a back seat to a new MRI system or industrial grade printers. In fact here is what Canon is saying about there direction: "Accelerating growth in commercial printing, network cameras, healthcare and industrial equipment
as key drivers of Canon’s next-generation business".... Check out their 2017 annual report here: https://global.canon/en/ir/annual/2017/canon-annual-report-2017.pdf

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

True, Canon is more flexible in that sense. Sony is even more flexible. Nikon is not quite in the same position.

Daniel Medley's picture

"I would have loved to see some f/4 zooms that match professional standards, and some wicked sharp f1.8 primes."

Speaking only for Nikon, have you looked at their lens road map? https://petapixel.com/2019/01/08/this-is-nikons-updated-mirrorless-lens-...

Perhaps they're not "wicked sharp"?

To be honest, I'm pretty happy with what they're doing with lenses (the f0.95 nonsense aside). Much more happy about it than the first gen Z series cameras themselves.

Well the new 35 f/1.8 and 50mm f/1.8 are apparently already better than any of the F mounts counterparts (including the f/1.4s).

ì

Michael Dougherty's picture

The recently announced 14-30 might be pretty outstanding on the Z7, especially for landscape photographers.

Alex Coleman's picture

Hey Daniel- those comments have both Canon and Nikon in mind. Both seem to prioritize some very fast, niche lenses (50 .95 for Nikon, Canon's 1.2). Given the very constrained number of lenses at release, I feel that a native 1.8 or 1.4 prime would have been a better use of resources, and would appeal to more photographers.

Daniel Medley's picture

Again, I can't speak for Canon, but didn't Nikon already release a 35 f 1/8, 50 f1.8, and a 24-70 f4? This year they're going to release a 14-30 f4, 24 f1.8, 85 f1.8, 24-70 f2.8, 70-200 f2.8 along with the 58 noc. Granted, there's no 1.4, but it clearly shows that they aren't prioritizing niche lenses with just the one.

It actually seems like a pretty reasonable road map with the exception of the 58.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

naaah, he was discussing Canon plans, ya know !

Theses opinions articles are too much geared by selfishness, too deep pockets and too large ego ! And click-bait titles just to get more 'influencer skill'.

It the meantime, we get too much of theses bla bla bla articles, whereas sometimes they manage to rise some good points, there is always poor engineering or marketing intelligence powered claims that would put any student to shame.

Look, author told us Nikon was doing a lame lens road map, and now you argue with him he says it is more on Canon side. But in another post, he was almost saying Canon was doing better job... So go figure.

chris schmauch's picture

“I would have loved to see some f/4 zooms that match professional standards, and some wicked sharp f1.8 primes.“

...this is literally what Nikon was doing, and with ibis they don’t need to be stabilized.

And if you’d used any of these new lenses on the new Z bodies, you’d realize they offer superior IQ to the F-mount equivalents, regardless of aperture. They are super sharp wide open and across the frame - and are extremely compact to boot. Worth every penny.

Edward Blake's picture

Thank you. I read that several times and thought I was having a bad brain day.

Alex Coleman's picture

No doubt Chris- the 24-70 f/4 is one of the major reasons why I want to shoot with the Z. What is holding me back is the lackluster adapted lens autofocus, which hits telephoto lenses even harder than a wide angle, for instance. If they had a native 70-200 f/2.8 or f/4, it would be a lot closer to a complete kit than it is now.

PJ Rankin's picture

I genuinely don’t know what you’re whinging about, you’ve apparently seen their road map, so you can see that the 24-70 and 70-200 2.8’s are coming this year. Are you impatient? Obviously these things take time to roll out, and I’m sure there were grumbling from Sony users when the A7 line up didn’t have the full plethora of desired G master lenses, but they came in time. I’d be more curious as to how the new S line of lenses will affect the overall long term value of any premium f mount lenses that Nikon users have built up during their careers, will there be a significant drop in their resale value should that time come?

Alex Coleman's picture

Hey PJ- I’m saying that not having a telephoto ready at launch means you can’t build a kit around the camera. No doubt that they take time to build out, so focus on the most important things first, like a native telephoto lens. 3 versions of a 50mm shouldn’t have been a priority.

Alex, this is what Nicky was b---ing about and I agree with your point. 3x50 is stupid. what were they thinking. it would be different if the F-UTZ adaptor worked with existing Nikon glass but the performance is dismal on a camera body that already struggles with tracking AF.

Wonder Woman's picture

3 versions of 50mm is perfect. Some people don't have a lot of money, and some people do, so why not create options for both groups?

Alex Coleman's picture

Market segmentation in a more mature product is fine, but it looks like 3 out of the first 12 Z lenses are 50mm. That's way too much overlap in a lineup that is missing some of the basics.

Daniel Medley's picture

The 70-200 is coming out this year. They can't dump all the lenses that everyone wants; can't please everyone on launch. What they did launch in 2018 seems like a pretty reasonable cadre of lenses to start with for what most people probably want. In fact I'd posit that the 70-200 is probably more niche than the 50, 35, and 24-70 that they already have out.

When Nikon released the 14-30 f4 pretty much everyone complained about it not being f2.8 etc. I think the 14-30 f4 is a fantastic lens because it accepts screw filters, it is light and small in size. It is definitely the best choice for backpackers.

JetCity Ninja's picture

agreed. besides, the only people i’ve ever heard of who shoot an ultra-wide ƒ/2.8 lens fully open are real-estate photographers who don’t know how to use lighting. everyone else actually stops it down for a sharper image and uses lighting if necessary. or “videographers” who prefer to “run and gun”... aka 1-man blogging productions who use a Canon and have to overcome a crop with an ultra-wide angle lens. and even then, they use an aperture of ƒ/4 or smaller to give themselves a large enough depth of field to prevent needing critical focus.

michaeljin's picture

Real estate photographers still stop down their lens for dof. Its Astro photographers who tend to shoot wide angle lenses totally open but they are generally using primes.

Agreed. Can't wait for the 14-30 to arrive.

Alex Coleman's picture

It looks like Nikon is really nailing it with the f/4 lenses. The 24-70 is excellent, and I'm excited to see the 14-30. If there was a complete, native kit available for the Z, I believe a lot of photographers would be switching over- but without any native telephoto options, the diminished AF performance on adapted lenses is a concern.

Further, the disconnect I alluded to is apparent in your comment- the bodies and some lenses are perfect for small and light kits, but they'll be releasing 3 different 50mm lenses and no small/light telephoto.

Having rented and used a Z body with adapter on my AF-s lenses I can see no falloff in AF performance from the adapter. The lens itself has more to do with AF performance, my 70-200 and 200-400 are blazing fast, my 24-120 relatively pokey. If you have AF-d lenses you give up AF, but how many professionals still have a large selection of AF-d lenses? And the Z6 (have not tried the 7) is superior to my D850 with a tele-converter attached. When

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