Following the launch of its 35mm F1.8 lens, we spoke to Nikon to discuss why it has chosen this particular lens to address the commonly-cited lack of cheap, fast primes for owners of its D40, D40X and D60 DSLRs. Robert Cristina, Manager of professional products, Europe and Ludovic Drean, Product Manager for lenses, Europe, offered to explain.
The majority of lens systems have offered 50mm lenses as the most accessible way for new DSLR users to experiment with fast prime lenses (a legacy from 35mm film cameras on which they acted as 'standard' lenses). Yet Nikon has decided that its new offering should be a 50mm equivalent. Ludovic Drean explains why: "The concept was to give a 50mm equivalent lens on the DX format. A lot of people have bought the 50 1.8 because it was all that was available. It may seem rather late for the APS-C system, but we believed that entry-level users wanted a standard lens."
Nikon already builds a full-frame 35mm F2 lens, but this doesn't quite fit the bill, he says: "That's an older lens, a slower lens and, in terms of product placement, a more expensive lens. Updating that and making it an AF-S, 'G' version might have cost twice as much. The new lens is a step above the 35mm F2 in terms of image quality. It's specifically designed for DX and the aspherical element helps it give better results."
The other obvious question was why the lens should be restricted to the DX format, given that Nikon now makes three FX, full-frame bodies: "It's about price, size and weight. We wanted this to be a lens for the entry-level. If we'd tried to make an FX 35mm F1.4 it might cost €1400, rather than €200, and we wanted to make sure it was an affordable lens." Drean says.
Robert Cristina offers some context: "The main target is D40/D60/D90 owners. They make up 80% of our DSLR sales and there wasn't really an inexpensive prime lens for them. So far, the lens offering for that market has included some really good zooms, but this offers them something they were missing."
Being a standard lens, the 35mm focal length offers flexibility, but doesn't lend itself to portraiture as a 50mm lens (that many APS-C users have become used to), could at a push. And, while neither would be drawn on specific future lens plans, they did hint that more primes might be seen for the DX format: "DX is not over," Drean says: "we plan to increase the offering. The prime lenses were definitely something that was missing."
Drean says the company's lens plans are not contingent on the 35mm being a hit, though Cristina is optimistic about its chances: "If even 5% of the D40, D50, D60, D80, D90 owners buy this lens, that's a huge number," and, he adds: "this is not the last lens announcement we'll be making this year."