The Z Lenses

Nikon published a roadmap for lenses on their new Z system, and they strongly hinted at quite a few changes in optics coming down the pike. It seems that rather than getting a marketing message clear from the start, Nikon preferred to just drop a lot of clues. 

What are these clues?

  1. I'd have to guess that there's an A9 competitor coming prior to the Olympics in the Nikon Z line. Why? First, because of the priority given to the f/2.8 trio being moved over to the Z mount. Second, because Nikon dropped the hint that there would be a lower line of Z mount lenses coming, but every lens on the road map is labeled S-Line, which is the high end monicker they're using. 

Let's look at that S-Line in a different way:

  • Fast primes: 50mm f/1.2, 58mm f/0.95 Noct
  • Primes: 20mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm f/1.8 set
  • Fast zooms: 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, 70-200mm f/2.8
  • Slow zooms: 14-30mm f/4, 24-70mm f/4

Dang, they've been reading my comments on lenses, as the last three bullets are almost the exact "basic set" I outline needs to come with every new mount. The only missing lens from my basic list is the 70-200mm f/4, i.e. no compact and light telephoto zoom. 

Because the f/1.8 and f/4 spec on the first three lenses seem to be so "consumer" to many, people are missing Nikon's messages about S-Line: those lenses are better than the F-mount ones we're used to. Indeed, if you look at the published MTF curves, those "consumerish" lenses look like pretty spectacular performers into the corners. Early reports from pros I know that have some experience with them say that the lenses achieve what the curves imply: strong performance out into the corners, even wide open, and with minimal coma and astigmatism. 

I noted some people complaining about how expensive the 50mm f/1.8 is. Only thing is, that 50mm f/1.8 appears like it may perform better than any 50mm we've had before, certainly from Nikon, and maybe from anyone. Sure, consumer ;~). And did you pick up that all these lenses have Nano coating? Nikon is throwing everything they have at the new mount, it seems.

But as I noted in an earlier article, the first set of lenses are not the ones to look at for clues as to what Nikon is up to, the 58mm Noct is the one you want to look at. It's premature to go into details as that lens hasn't been announced yet, but expect new glass types, new coatings, new optical designs (changes in aspherical production), and more. 

One other note: it's mentioned only in passing in Nikon's Z literature, but apparently Nikon is designing resolution and performance for cameras not yet produced. I'd bet the Z8 will be a 70+mp camera and the Z9 is a D5-type camera.

Bottom line: Nikon's shooting very high with the lenses, even if the basic specs might not seem like it. Personally, I'm really happy to see that, because Nikon is an optics company that makes cameras, not a camera company that makes lenses.

  1. A lower level of camera is coming, and it will be matched with a lower level (price, and size) of lenses. Some of those lower lenses will be pancakes. That seems clear, but what's unclear is whether that is full frame or APS-C. Nikon was intentionally vague with their 2020 and 2021 lenses for Z mount. Not surprisingly so, as things can shift or change two years out. It's a full camera design cycle away, after all. 
  2. What we haven't yet seen are images that make us go "wow." I think we will. To me, it looks like Nikon was rushing the last minute marketing again. As usual, the pros they picked had limited time and were shooting JPEG—and with a camera that has some changes in the JPEG engine that need learning to optimize. There wasn't a lot of "wow location" in the lens shoots, but I think it's coming.
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