Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?

Started Feb 15, 2012 | Discussions
DocS
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Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
Feb 15, 2012

Just as Nikon bodies from the 90’s and 2000’s have the means to recognize a motorized lens (e.g. an AF-S or AF-I), and in response, turn off its internal AF motor and control the lens’ autofocus motor electronically. Can Nikon bodies of today control the diaphragm in the same manner? And specifically, can Nikon bodies of today electronically control BOTH autofocus and diaphragm closure simultaneously, i.e. without any mechanical operation of the lens, the way Canon has been doing it since the EF mount was introduced?

Or would that require more electrical leads than is currently found on the F-mount (including the F-mounts of the D4 and D800)?

I know there are PC-E lenses that require the camera to control the diaphragm electronically, but these lenses are all manual focus (which suggests to me the possibility that the electronic leads normally used to control autofocus are somehow being used to control the aperture). I understand that having a non-rigid lens makes putting an AF motor a little tricky, but something tells me that if it were possible to make these PC-E lenses autofocus, Nikon would have done it.

Basically, I don’t know much about the plumbing of Nikons and I’m curious to know if this is possible with Nikons, or will they forever require that aperture be controlled by the aperture lever?

Will Nikon ever adopt a system like Canon’s?

Nikon D4 Nikon D800
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Jon Rty
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 15, 2012

There are no autofocus PC lenses. Not for Nikon, not for Canon. It has little to do with the mount. Personally, I see the mechanical aperture link as an advantage, as it allows for smooth aperture control of every lens. All you need is a body that can move the aperture cam steplessly. What's more, it allows for mechanical third party lenses with auto aperture. With the EOS mount, you've got stop down metering only.

DocS wrote:

Just as Nikon bodies from the 90’s and 2000’s have the means to recognize a motorized lens (e.g. an AF-S or AF-I), and in response, turn off its internal AF motor and control the lens’ autofocus motor electronically. Can Nikon bodies of today control the diaphragm in the same manner? And specifically, can Nikon bodies of today electronically control BOTH autofocus and diaphragm closure simultaneously, i.e. without any mechanical operation of the lens, the way Canon has been doing it since the EF mount was introduced?

Or would that require more electrical leads than is currently found on the F-mount (including the F-mounts of the D4 and D800)?

I know there are PC-E lenses that require the camera to control the diaphragm electronically, but these lenses are all manual focus (which suggests to me the possibility that the electronic leads normally used to control autofocus are somehow being used to control the aperture). I understand that having a non-rigid lens makes putting an AF motor a little tricky, but something tells me that if it were possible to make these PC-E lenses autofocus, Nikon would have done it.

Basically, I don’t know much about the plumbing of Nikons and I’m curious to know if this is possible with Nikons, or will they forever require that aperture be controlled by the aperture lever?

Will Nikon ever adopt a system like Canon’s?

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michaeladawson
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 15, 2012

Curious as to why you ask the question. Is there something that Nikon cameras can't do today that they could if there was no aperture lever?
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DocS
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to Jon Rty, Feb 16, 2012

Jon Rty wrote:

There are no autofocus PC lenses. Not for Nikon, not for Canon. It has little to do with the mount. Personally, I see the mechanical aperture link as an advantage, as it allows for smooth aperture control of every lens. All you need is a body that can move the aperture cam steplessly. What's more, it allows for mechanical third party lenses with auto aperture. With the EOS mount, you've got stop down metering only.

Smooth aperture control of every lens? How is that? I’ve never heard of Canons having problems with controlling the aperture of lenses.

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DocS
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to michaeladawson, Feb 16, 2012

Well, mechanical operations are more prone to failure after repeated use than are electronically-controlled ones.

In fact, at the local Ritz Camera yesterday, a customer had brought his Nikon in for that very problem: the aperture control lever mechanism stopped working. I didn’t see which model it was.

The repair time from Nikon? Four to six weeks. He doesn’t have another camera to use.

So I started doing a little web research and I’ve read more stories about this problem: i.e. the lever not working, or the lever bending, etc.

It seems more reasonable that Nikon get rid of this one last vestige of its primitive cameras. If they want to leave the camera bodies equipped with aperture levers just as they do the autofocus drive motor so that people can use their older (and oft inferior) lenses for nostalgic reasons, then by all means, leave them.

But what I want to know is why Nikon hasn’t produced pro lenses that have their aperture and autofocus tasks controlled purely electronically.

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wfektar
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

Hmm ... is this compelling reasoning?

Too many variables here: purely electronic coupling has not been around that long, how will they be working in 30-40-50 years? What is the sample size of purely electronic vs mechanical, what are the failure rates, what happens if you adjust for age?

The plural of "anecdote" is not "data". Some data would be nice.

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Jon Rty
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

Smooth as in stepless, for video use. With Nikon, it's just a lever than needs to be moved, and the aperture changes as steplessly as you can move the lever. With Canon, you need to control the motor, and the best they've managed is 1/8 of a stop with the C300.

DocS wrote:

Jon Rty wrote:

There are no autofocus PC lenses. Not for Nikon, not for Canon. It has little to do with the mount. Personally, I see the mechanical aperture link as an advantage, as it allows for smooth aperture control of every lens. All you need is a body that can move the aperture cam steplessly. What's more, it allows for mechanical third party lenses with auto aperture. With the EOS mount, you've got stop down metering only.

Smooth aperture control of every lens? How is that? I’ve never heard of Canons having problems with controlling the aperture of lenses.

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Jon Rty
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

I doubt anyone of us have access to statistical information about the failure rate of aperture mechanisms in Canon and Nikon lenses, so that's really a hard point to make.

DocS wrote:

Well, mechanical operations are more prone to failure after repeated use than are electronically-controlled ones.

In fact, at the local Ritz Camera yesterday, a customer had brought his Nikon in for that very problem: the aperture control lever mechanism stopped working. I didn’t see which model it was.

The repair time from Nikon? Four to six weeks. He doesn’t have another camera to use.

So I started doing a little web research and I’ve read more stories about this problem: i.e. the lever not working, or the lever bending, etc.

It seems more reasonable that Nikon get rid of this one last vestige of its primitive cameras. If they want to leave the camera bodies equipped with aperture levers just as they do the autofocus drive motor so that people can use their older (and oft inferior) lenses for nostalgic reasons, then by all means, leave them.

But what I want to know is why Nikon hasn’t produced pro lenses that have their aperture and autofocus tasks controlled purely electronically.

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TITCHY
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to Jon Rty, Feb 16, 2012

to start with ,many of the Older Nikon lenses are superb performers even by todays standards ,I feel sorry for canon users if they dont have the massive choice of lenses Nikon owners have at their disposal .

I have tried to tote up how many cameras I have owned since the early seventies when I got my first Nikon, and its in the region of 35 to 40 , a Canon A1 ,Oly OM1, Oly OM2sp , all the rest were Nikon , I was also a member of various photographic groups ,and dont ever remember , having a problem with the aperature control , or for that matter hearing about any one else having such a problem , if it happens ,then its a rare occasion , there are many more common problems that occur with cameras ,and Canon and Nikon are not immune from them ,but you seemed to have developed a theory,based on the scantest of information .

that Nikon is somehow inferior because they have choosen to use a particular method for aperature control ,that incidently works well .

any one can brake a camera ,too many of use often change lenses hastily and forget to check the camera is switched off ,and often ham fisted in the process ,when we stop to think about it ,its a miracle more lenses or cameras dont get broken ,but thanks to Nikons sturdy and well thought out mount ,most of our mistakes are forgiven .

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bobn2
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

DocS wrote:

Just as Nikon bodies from the 90’s and 2000’s have the means to recognize a motorized lens (e.g. an AF-S or AF-I), and in response, turn off its internal AF motor and control the lens’ autofocus motor electronically. Can Nikon bodies of today control the diaphragm in the same manner? And specifically, can Nikon bodies of today electronically control BOTH autofocus and diaphragm closure simultaneously, i.e. without any mechanical operation of the lens, the way Canon has been doing it since the EF mount was introduced?

Or would that require more electrical leads than is currently found on the F-mount (including the F-mounts of the D4 and D800)?

The lens/camera protocols of Canons and Nikons are somewhat similar at one level, but the philosophy of protocol design is completely different.

Both systems use serial communication between camera and lens. There is a slightly different electrical configuration, Canon uses separate unidirectional data lines lens-to-camera and camera-to-lens, while Nikon use a bidirectional line with a separate signal saying which direction the data is travelling. Whatever, they both use essentially three signals to communicate serially between the lens and camera. The protocol design however is differently conceived. Canon's protocol involves the camera issuing commands and the lens responding with information or action, in a number of different response formats. One of the first commands requests the protocol version, and the camera/lens negotiate upward through protocol revisions (why the performance keeps on improving but the system is still compatible with the earliest EOS lenses) there have, I think, been four versions of the protocol so far. The commands include moving focus and aperture.

In the Nikon system there is one command sequence which the camera uses to read data from the lens. the data is arranged to look like a memory, with known data at set locations. This is extensible but, so far as the camera is concerned, is 'read only'. In the original AF system all actions were mechanical. The in-lens motor AF system was implemented by adding two extra lines for motor control, and the camera sends essentially the same signal as it would to its own motor to activate the in-lens motor. Top end systems add another two lines which allow the lens to give direct information of the movement of the focus helical resulting from the motor commands (otherwise the camera has to read focus position from the lens data as above).

Basically, I don’t know much about the plumbing of Nikons and I’m curious to know if this is possible with Nikons, or will they forever require that aperture be controlled by the aperture lever?

To add electronic aperture control would need at least one more contact, unless Nikon changed the 'read only' nature of the lens' register array to a 'read write' interface (which would also require an extra wire if the 'write' command couldn't be worked into the protocol).

Will Nikon ever adopt a system like Canon’s?

I doubt it. The mechanical system, crude though it might seem, does offer some unforseen advantages. Both the D4 and D800 have a 'silent aperture' mode where the camera can change the lens aperture while filming video without putting noise on the soundtrack. This requires only quietening the aperture motor in the camera, then works with any Nikon lens. The same isn't true with the Canon system. If Canon users want silent aperture control during video, Canon will need to release a set of silent lenses.
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bobn2
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to Jon Rty, Feb 16, 2012

Jon Rty wrote:

I doubt anyone of us have access to statistical information about the failure rate of aperture mechanisms in Canon and Nikon lenses, so that's really a hard point to make.

I have had aperture mechanism failures in EOS lenses (EOS user for 24 years). There are advantages both ways. The motor in lens diaphragm minimises mechanical linkages but requires a motor and controller in every lens, which is likely to by built down to a price. The old fashioned system requires rather higher precision and durability mechanical links, but with a single in-camera actuator, that is likely to be built to a higher specification. If I was designing a camera system I'd probably use the lens motor system (as all mounts designed since EOS have done) but I think in practice there isn't a clear advantage one way or the other.
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Guidenet
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

DocS wrote:

Well, mechanical operations are more prone to failure after repeated use than are electronically-controlled ones.

So I started doing a little web research and I’ve read more stories about this problem: i.e. the lever not working, or the lever bending, etc.

I'm wondering if most of this type of damage is the result of attempting to mount a pre-AI lens on a camera with the lever.

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bobn2
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to Guidenet, Feb 16, 2012

Guidenet wrote:

DocS wrote:

Well, mechanical operations are more prone to failure after repeated use than are electronically-controlled ones.

So I started doing a little web research and I’ve read more stories about this problem: i.e. the lever not working, or the lever bending, etc.

I'm wondering if most of this type of damage is the result of attempting to mount a pre-AI lens on a camera with the lever.

Wrong lever. The aperture control lever is the sprung lever at 3 o'clock as you look at the lens' mount (its camera mount counterpart at 9 o'clock). This operates the same in all lenses, but the AI-S and later have a linear characteristic to make shutter priority and program AE easier. The thing you are thinking of is the ridge on the mount which signals the maximum aperture to the metering system (a design actually ripped off from Minolta). That is unlikely to get damaged on the lens, because it's solid metal. Mounting a pre-AI lens on a low end Nikon (with AI linkage) can damage the camera lever that couples with this ridge - top end Nikons had a lever that could flip out of the way, and modern low end Nikons don't have the AI linkage at all, so are OK.
It might be that DocS is confusing the two things as well.
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Guidenet
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to bobn2, Feb 16, 2012

Thank you so much for the clarification. I was certainly confusing the two.
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Ralf Ronander
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to bobn2, Feb 16, 2012

bobn2 wrote:

snip

The thing you are thinking of is the ridge on the mount which signals the maximum aperture to the metering system (a design actually ripped off from Minolta).
> snip

Well, actually it doesn´t. It signals how many stops from full the lens is set at, regardless of the maximum aperture.
(the ridge is at the same location on all lenses)

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DocS
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to bobn2, Feb 16, 2012

bobn2 wrote:

DocS wrote:

Just as Nikon bodies from the 90’s and 2000’s have the means to recognize a motorized lens (e.g. an AF-S or AF-I), and in response, turn off its internal AF motor and control the lens’ autofocus motor electronically. Can Nikon bodies of today control the diaphragm in the same manner? And specifically, can Nikon bodies of today electronically control BOTH autofocus and diaphragm closure simultaneously, i.e. without any mechanical operation of the lens, the way Canon has been doing it since the EF mount was introduced?

Or would that require more electrical leads than is currently found on the F-mount (including the F-mounts of the D4 and D800)?

The lens/camera protocols of Canons and Nikons are somewhat similar at one level, but the philosophy of protocol design is completely different.

Both systems use serial communication between camera and lens. There is a slightly different electrical configuration, Canon uses separate unidirectional data lines lens-to-camera and camera-to-lens, while Nikon use a bidirectional line with a separate signal saying which direction the data is travelling. Whatever, they both use essentially three signals to communicate serially between the lens and camera. The protocol design however is differently conceived. Canon's protocol involves the camera issuing commands and the lens responding with information or action, in a number of different response formats. One of the first commands requests the protocol version, and the camera/lens negotiate upward through protocol revisions (why the performance keeps on improving but the system is still compatible with the earliest EOS lenses) there have, I think, been four versions of the protocol so far. The commands include moving focus and aperture.

In the Nikon system there is one command sequence which the camera uses to read data from the lens. the data is arranged to look like a memory, with known data at set locations. This is extensible but, so far as the camera is concerned, is 'read only'. In the original AF system all actions were mechanical. The in-lens motor AF system was implemented by adding two extra lines for motor control, and the camera sends essentially the same signal as it would to its own motor to activate the in-lens motor. Top end systems add another two lines which allow the lens to give direct information of the movement of the focus helical resulting from the motor commands (otherwise the camera has to read focus position from the lens data as above).

Basically, I don’t know much about the plumbing of Nikons and I’m curious to know if this is possible with Nikons, or will they forever require that aperture be controlled by the aperture lever?

To add electronic aperture control would need at least one more contact, unless Nikon changed the 'read only' nature of the lens' register array to a 'read write' interface (which would also require an extra wire if the 'write' command couldn't be worked into the protocol).

Will Nikon ever adopt a system like Canon’s?

I doubt it. The mechanical system, crude though it might seem, does offer some unforseen advantages. Both the D4 and D800 have a 'silent aperture' mode where the camera can change the lens aperture while filming video without putting noise on the soundtrack. This requires only quietening the aperture motor in the camera, then works with any Nikon lens. The same isn't true with the Canon system. If Canon users want silent aperture control during video, Canon will need to release a set of silent lenses.
--
Bob

Unfortunately, there's simply no way for me to adequately convey to you just how good your response was without berating the umpteen other responses posted above yours. I asked a technical question, and everyone (but you) responded with questions asking "what for"....presumably because they simply had nothing better to offer. Your answer was descriptive, concise, and answered the very question I asked. I hope others will take the time to read it and see for themselves how technical questions should be answered.

Praise aside, I'm not surprised by the answer itself. I suspected that the Nikon F-mount in its current form isn't capable of manipulating the diaphragm simultaneously with autofocus and the other communicative tasks typically carried out between camera and lens.

I'm sticking with Nikon, of course (even have a D800 on order), but I have to call a spade a spade: the Nikon F-mount is inferior to Canon's EF mount. The smaller size makes optics more difficult to design, it still contains moving parts, and it apparently can't carry out all of the electronic functions that the EF mount can. And for what? So that people could use old Nikon lenses. Canon punted its old mount and started completely anew, and it seems to me that they've suffered few if any consequences.

As for silent aperture during video, most of us don't care. I'd much rather have a camera body with as few moving parts as possible. It's a lot less painless to add new lenses for added features and to send a lens in for repair than to send in your camera body for repairs or buy a new body for new features!

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bobn2
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to Ralf Ronander, Feb 16, 2012

Ralf Ronander wrote:

bobn2 wrote:

snip

The thing you are thinking of is the ridge on the mount which signals the maximum aperture to the metering system (a design actually ripped off from Minolta).
> snip

Well, actually it doesn´t. It signals how many stops from full the lens is set at, regardless of the maximum aperture.
(the ridge is at the same location on all lenses)

Ralf, you are right, a little brain slip on my part. Caused by my having a pre AI Nikon, where the index was fixed at f/5.6, so the camera had to find the max aperture to meter properly. With the index just set at max aperture, this was not necessary. Nikon's confusing name was 'Auto Indexing', by which the really meant 'Indexing No Longer Necessary Because We Reset The Index to Where It Should Have Been In The First Place'. But then I suppose AI is a bit more snappy than INLNBWRTITWISBITFP.
Incidentally, if you want to know how to AI a non AI lens, here it is:
http://rick_oleson.tripod.com/index-107.html
(plenty of people do this with a file rather than milling)
--
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bobn2
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

DocS wrote:

Your answer was descriptive, concise, and answered the very question I asked. I hope others will take the time to read it and see for themselves how technical questions should be answered.

Thanks for the kind words.

Praise aside, I'm not surprised by the answer itself. I suspected that the Nikon F-mount in its current form isn't capable of manipulating the diaphragm simultaneously with autofocus and the other communicative tasks typically carried out between camera and lens.

I'm sticking with Nikon, of course (even have a D800 on order), but I have to call a spade a spade: the Nikon F-mount is inferior to Canon's EF mount. The smaller size makes optics more difficult to design, it still contains moving parts, and it apparently can't carry out all of the electronic functions that the EF mount can. And for what? So that people could use old Nikon lenses. Canon punted its old mount and started completely anew, and it seems to me that they've suffered few if any consequences.

I'm not sure I'd say the F mount is inferior, simply that the Canon design is mere elegant. I practice the benefits of mechanical vs electric diaphragm is six of one and half a dozen of the other. Where I think Nikon is smart is the placement of its contacts, out of the way where they consume less of the (admittedly smaller) mount diameter. The mount design I really think is a dog's dinner is the Nikon 1 mount, which wastes a huge portion of its diameter on contacts.

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Bob

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Cultured Vulture
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

DocS wrote:

I'm sticking with Nikon, of course (even have a D800 on order), but I have to call a spade a spade: the Nikon F-mount is inferior to Canon's EF mount. The smaller size makes optics more difficult to design, it still contains moving parts, and it apparently can't carry out all of the electronic functions that the EF mount can. And for what? So that people could use old Nikon lenses. Canon punted its old mount and started completely anew, and it seems to me that they've suffered few if any consequences.

As for silent aperture during video, most of us don't care. I'd much rather have a camera body with as few moving parts as possible. It's a lot less painless to add new lenses for added features and to send a lens in for repair than to send in your camera body for repairs or buy a new body for new features!

There are some advantages to the EOS mount and I acknowledge them. One of those is that they can be adapted to use Nikkor lenses. Seriously, when Canon switched mounts they had little to lose as they were a poor second place in pro cameras to Nikon at the time. Nikon was complacent and let them catch up and pass them not because of the F mount, but because they did not see the need to modify it to more modern purposes. The ability to trust Nikon to maintain compatibility with their older lenses is a prime reason I continue to buy Nikon. I would never give Canon that trust because they have already demonstrated their willingness to drop one mount and abandon their installed base.

They got away with it because of the switch to AF and all of the changes that went with it. In many ways the switch to AF was more game changing than digital was. Not only bodies had to be changed but lenses too. When digital came you could still use your old glass with full function.

I can't really see a real reason for Nikon to switch their mount. Canon lenses don't seem to demonstrate any optical superiority in any general way. Some of their lenses are really good and some not so. The only real advantage I can see is the ability if they wanted to is to produce a f/1.0 lens. Such a highly specialized lens in the age of super high ISO is hard to justify.

I also wonder if Canon had been first out of the the gate with a DSLR they might have tried a mount switch again. Using some specious reason to justify it. Probably not, you can't go to the well to often or you will get drowned.

One last thing. Your comment "It's a lot less painless to add new lenses for added features and to send a lens in for repair than to send in your camera body for repairs or buy a new body for new features!" The age of digital has made bodies a lot more disposable than lenses. Many, if not most of us, have a greater investment in glass than bodies. Bodies are constantly being changed and updated with new features and higher quality sensors. To stay at the leading edge of photography you must change bodies much more often than lenses. To me, it is much more painful to send in lenses to be repaired than bodies. I have a back-up body or two. I don't have two 70-200 f/2.8's.

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Stepanfo
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Re: Could Nikon get rid of mechanical aperture control altogether?
In reply to DocS, Feb 16, 2012

DocS wrote:

Well, mechanical operations are more prone to failure after repeated use than are electronically-controlled ones.

Well made mechanical system is way more realiable and durable than any electronic apparatus with multiple electronic components and integrated circuits with stored programs. Beside of "normal electronic failures", one hit by high energy cosmical radiation and our beloved electronic device suddenly does not remember, what it should do, or starts to behave erroneously and unpredictably.

The less electronics is in the product, the better.

BTW mechanical system is easily REPAIRABLE too.

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