The Nikon Lens Approach

Started 3 months ago | Discussions thread
Patrick McMahon
Patrick McMahon Senior Member • Posts: 1,409
Re: The Nikon Lens Approach

anotherMike wrote:

I know you and I have had strong differences of opinion in the past, but I get where you're coming from. In a general sense I do agree with most of what you wrote, but do also disagree with you somewhat on some points which I will talk about below. So, in my overly wordy fashion:

  1. Lens Approach: When Nikon decided to come out with the Z system, I think they took at look at the competitive landscape (meaning, Sony) and realized they likely were not going to be able to challenge them on features and body-centric functionality. The reality is that while there are differences in AF, refresh rate, EVF quality (and a few of those Nikon still can, and IMO need to, improve upon), I think quite soon - year or two tops, there will be a threshold where all the major players will have similar level of quality in their systems at the body level, as these being electronic devices, they will become more similar than different. So what does that leave as a competitive advantage, if you're Nikon looking to provide an edge over Sony? Obviously the lenses and thus the lens mount. The mount parameters are better, no matter how many Sony fans whine an try to proclaim it isn't. IMO that means Nikon realized they were an optics company and decided to head down the potential for superior optics as their competitive advantage.
    1. Reality Check #1: The thing is, Nikon doesn't have unlimited design resources, and knew they had to also build out an initial set of lenses. From the patents it's easy to see they chose Konica-Minolta as their design partner, and K-M did a fair number of the existing Z lenses, just as they've done more than a few of the latest F mount lenses (19PCE, 20/24 1.8G, 28/1.4E). What has resulted is that while all of the Z mount lenses are pretty good, some of the core are not "the best" available for all tasks (I'll get into that in a future bullet point) and can be "beaten" by other lenses.
      1. The 35/1.8S, quite good, lags behind the Tamron 35/1.4, the Zeiss Milvus 35/1.4, and a long way behind the Sigma 40/1.4 Art in many aspects of use that 35mm lenses are used for.
      2. The 50/1.8S, extremely good, lags behind the Sigma 40/1.4 Art in some use cases (astro, landscape)
      3. The 20/1.8S - disclaimer - haven't shot this one, by most accounts is not quite as good as the Sony 20mm.
    2. Reality Check #2: There are really good lenses in the Sony ecosystem too:
      1. Nikon has nothing right now that touches the 135 GM and I still don't know whether the ultra wide zoom battle goes to the Sony 12-24 or the Nikon 14-24, but all signs indicate that Sony is special.
        1. Meaning, so far, Nikons mount superiority hasn't really been "shown" in reality across the majority of the Z mount lenses. The walk has not (yet) fully matched the talk. And hence, the snide comments from the Sony youtubers saying "and you thought we couldn't do (this lens) with a small mount", etc.
    3. Nikon Strengths: On the flip side of the coin, when Nikon chooses to (and I'm sure it's because of how much they had to produce as an entire lineup), they are capable of being quite certainly in the category of "the best": witness the 70-200/2.8FL and S lenses (no competition really) and the 24-70/2.8 (although man, that Canon 28-70/2 RF is *really* nice and I might prefer it subjectively for some things (more on that, again, later)). The Nikon 50/1.2 looks to be another that is going to have to be considered in the small set of "the best" for sure.
      1. So the question becomes, how many of Nikons remaining lenses are going to be world beaters, and how many are going to be very good but not the best? That might be the determinant of how serious people will take their (on paper) mount advantage. The more times the next core focal length is matched or beaten by a Sony lens at the same point, the more the gist will be that the mount advantage isn't playing out. I honestly think the 35 (and probably even the 24) should have been a bit stronger, and it looks like the same might apply to the 20mm Z lens too.
  2. Other Brands / The "Best" / Lens Design realities: Here is where I'm going to depart from your opinion a bit. First off, let me state that I do agree that I'm beyond tired of this overuse of the words "clinical" and "sterile" to describe lenses. Lenses aren't those in a general sense. Mostly it's people who don't like another lens and want to choose negative connotation words to ascribe to their performance properties. Rendering, however, does exist. But first we must discuss a few things:
    1. "The Best". What is "The Best"? My strong opinion is that in an absolute sense, there is no answer. My view is that there are lenses that are the best *at specific tasks* or *ranges of tasks*, and that's because the "perfect lens" doesn't exist as all lenses - from anyone - are compromises, although obviously in the higher end lenses these often are subtle.
    2. Magnitude of Difference: Next we have to look at the reality that not everyone is capable of realizing the differences (through their technique/subject matter/whatever) or even *seeing* the differences - note some people think the 50/1.2S and 50/1.8S render the same, yet others (myself included) quite easily see the differences even at common apertures. That means not everyone will be *interested* in the subtle aspects and differences between lenses.
    3. The lens designer has to decide what he wants the lens to excel at, and how he's going to do his horse trading. Even among, say, two extremely good lenses, they might render differently. One designer might balance the aberrations (say, between the 3rd and higher order) slightly differently, or decide whether to slightly under-correct some spherical aberration (or not), or how much to lean on software fixes for distortion (or not), and even among two really great lenses, these *will* lead often to subtle rendering differences. And if the designers choices mate well with your subject matter, then that lens is "the best" - for your task or range/set of tasks, while the other designers choices might mate well with another guys. So the concept of one lens being the absolute best doesn't really hold up.
      1. Example: I own the Sigma 40/1.4 Art. Flat field, as flat as any lens I've used, sharp as hell, sharper than most everything wide open, in fact, across a wider set of use cases and wider set of apertures, is sharper (and importantly, more consistently sharp) across more of the field than about any other lens. So the astro guys love this thing - it's extremely well tuned to their task. A theater/stage shooter as well. Landscape wise, same thing, incredible resolution to the edges/corners at previously unheard of apertures - better in this regard than most every Nikon lens.
        1. So why, owning this lens, am I very interested in the 50/1.2S? Because the 50/1.2S appears to be *equally as good, but in a slightly different way* - it's not "better than anything else", it's "one of the best", but at different things than the 40 (in this case), due to somewhat different design priorities and aberration balancing. Another option to match tool to the task, as opposed to "this lens beats that one" in a universal sense. (The difference IMO is the fall off in sharpness as one moves away from OOF, and one way is not intrinsically right or wrong, just different, and one way or the other might be preferable based upon, again, subject/use case/task)
      2. As such, there *is* validity to other brands lenses and other approaches, because sometimes Nikons choices align well with what we shoot, sometimes another brands do. Subtle rendering differences exist, and to me it's all about tool to task matching. So while Nikon is obviously chasing a very high ground with their lens approach, that doesn't mean other high end brand choices aren't valid - it's not as simple as measuring someones weight an saying the heavier person is better, and as such, it's quite possible other options might be the best tool. I do agree that in general I approve of Nikons approach - be the lens company you used to be (I think they lose their mojo a bit in the AF-D and G days) and produce truly excellent stuff, which it looks like they might be doing with things like the 50/1.2S and probably the 85/1.2S when it arrives.



I greatly appreciate you taking the time for this post- great info.

 Patrick McMahon's gear list:Patrick McMahon's gear list
Sony RX100 IV Nikon Df Nikon Z6 Nikon Z50 Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G ED VR II +11 more
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