Nikon Z System News and Commentary

News and commentary appropriate to Nikon Z system users. Latest post on top.
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Finally, A Prayer Answered

Yesterday I got an email from the head of a software company. What was inside made my day. 

For years (decades?) now I’ve been asking Nikon to provide the ability to save/load named settings files on my cameras. Well, Nikon didn’t listen (do they ever listen to me?). Fortunately, we didn’t need Nikon to listen. 

Reikan FoCal 3.7 (Pro) has a new feature: snapshots. A snapshot is a settings file. 

bythom 0028

You can save these settings files in named files on your computer. You can edit them on your computer (see screenshot, below). You can push a edited/saved snapshot back to your camera.

bythom focal edit


FoCal is the only remaining automated AF-Fine tuning tool out there. It’s also a pretty decent surrogate lens test program. At the moment the full package comes in Windows and macOS versions at US$99.95 (focus test charts are additional money). While a mobile app version (Android and iOS) exists, it doesn’t have the snapshot capability at this time.

So, excuse me if you don’t hear from me for a few hours. I’ve got a lot of settings to edit and save…meanwhile, why do I think there’s going to be a sudden rush on Reikan’s Web site? ;~)

Is the Z3 Next?

I keep hearing bits and pieces about what would seem to be a Z5 II in vlogging body (ala what the Z30 is to the Z50). A slightly tweaked Z5 image sensor (to provide full frame 4K video), articulating LCD, no EVF, a few other recent improvements we’ve seen in other models, all in a very small full frame body. 

I don’t have any issue with Nikon producing a Z30 and Z3 camera body pair. What I have an issue with is that Nikon is lacking the necessary wide angle zooms for either of them. The 12-24mm DX PZ still hasn’t appeared (and I’m not sure I want a power zoom, plus 12mm isn’t as wide as I’d like), and what lens would you even put on an FX Z3 vlogging camera?

Yes, the just-announced 26mm f/2.8 with a Z3 would create a really small, pocketable combo, but it just wouldn’t be wide enough. Likewise, the 24-50mm f/4-6.3 is not wide enough and it’s too slow in aperture to be competitive. 

Which just means that the Z3/Z30 crowd would be buying Megadop adapters and using the Sony 16-35mm f/4G on the Z3 or the 11mm f/1.8E on a Z30. Doh!

I’ve written it before, I’ll write it again:

  • Nikon doesn’t have the wide angle lens support it needs on the Z-mount yet, particularly for DX, but even FX is missing some lenses. 
  • Despite Nikon’s super emphasis on removing focus breathing on lenses for video, they’re not designing video lenses. Nikon seems confused by what the vlogger/videographer crowd really wants in lenses.

No Longer In Development: Two New Lenses

A month after their development announcement, the new Nikkor 85mm f/1.2 S and the Nikkor 26mm f/2.8 are now officially launched and many dealers are now taking orders for them. 

The big question you might have had is now answered: the 85mm is US$2800, and the 26mm is US$500. While Nikon makes noise about how close each focus, the actual maximum magnifications aren’t particularly all that great at 1:9 (85mm) and 1:5+ (26mm). 

The 82mm f/1.2 S is about what you’d expect, large and heavy but highly capable. 

It’s the 26mm f/2.8 that has lots of small surprises. For instance, when it focuses, it moves all of its lens elements simultaneously; there are no separate focus groups as you find in most lenses. Meanwhile, the 52mm filter rings are on the stubby little lens hood Nikon supplies, not the lens itself. The mount is metal, and Nikon says the 26mm is dust- and drip-resistant. 

The “What If” Game

Let’s play a little thought game for a moment. It’s really simple:

  • What if Nikon introduced a Z70 camera at CP+?
  • What if Nikon introduced a Z6 III camera at CP+?
  • What if Nikon introduced a Z8 camera at CP+?
  • What if Nikon introduced a 200-600mm f/4.5-6.3 VR lens at CP+?
  • What if Nikon introduced a 12-28mm f/3.5-6.3 PZ DX lens at CP+?

Go ahead, think about it for a moment before giving me your answer. I’ve got some time…

Here’s the real answer: every one of those products would be immediately out of stock due to too many pre-orders. Some would be out of stock for months. The fact that we haven’t seen a product registration for wireless and noise interference in any country yet for a new Nikon camera would also tend to suggest that any camera Nikon might introduce is not yet in production (you shouldn't pile up finished product until the Conformity Marking and manual legalese is approved and finalized). 

Nikon is getting themselves into a bit of a self-imposed trap. Their legacy user base is huge. Many are still waiting for the mirrorless camera that pushes their last DSLR into retirement. But the longer the supply chain and other issues postpone new products, two things happen: (1) the number of those waiting for that next new camera grows in size; and (2) some give up and go to competitors. 

The good and bad news for Nikon is so far #1 > #2. Good because it means plenty of future sales for Nikon. Bad because it means less future sales than they could have achieved, and that Nikon won’t be able to keep up with the demand for those who did stick around.

Nikon has powered through previous externally-produced down times in the past with eventual excellent new products. But that has tended to come with also not being to meet initial demand. For us long-time Nikon users/observers, when Nikon next introduces a significant product, I’m pretty sure it’s going to feel like Deja Vu All Over Again. 

Which Lenses Are Supply Constrained?

Nikon offers us clues as to which lenses have way more demand than supply (or just are being produced in small supply in the first place): (1) what they say is constrained; and (2) what they do and don’t discount. Couple that with looking at what’s in stock at most dealers and you come up with this current list of supply-constrained Z-mount lenses:

  • 58mm f/0.95 S NOCT (made in very low volume)
  • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S (demand still somewhat higher than supply, though supply is solid)
  • 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S (demand higher than supply, supply is hundreds of units/month)
  • 600mm f/4 TC VR S (demand higher than supply, supply is hundreds of units/month)
  • 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S (demand higher than supply, supply is hundred of units/month)

The f/1.8 primes, the f/2.8 zooms, and even the 400mm f/4.5 VR S seem to be in some form of balance where supply is meeting demand enough that you can find them in stock in plenty of places. The fact that NikonUSA backed off the discounts on some of these for February would tend to tell me that they’re not overstocked, though.

My advice for each of these lenses:

  • 58mm f/0.95 S NOCT. (Updated) Some vendors have these in stockJust put in an order with a large, reputable camera dealer. They’ll order one from NikonUSA, and given the low volume of this lens, the next US shipment will probably have your lens on it. Wait time: typically no more than a month.
  • 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. Ditto. Order from your local or national camera dealer. Nikon is producing this lens en mass. Any dealer worth their salt has more of these lenses on order, so if they’re temporarily out of stock, they won’t be for long. Wait time: typically less than a month.
  • 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S. If you’re not NPS, you’ve got a bit of a problem. This is a low volume production product, and while I’m seeing a constant stream of them, it’s a low-volume stream, not a fire hose. While Nikon hasn’t said orders have resumed, order from a large, reputable camera dealer if they allow it (some smaller dealers are reluctant to place an order for such an expensive product because you might change your mind while you’re waiting). Wait time: measured in a few to six months is my current assessment. The other exotics and the 400mm f/4.5 dropped the demand curve for the f/2.8 TC some. 
  • 600mm f/4 TC VR S. If you’re not NPS, you’re out of luck. Another low-volume product, and initial orders were much like the original 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S orders, meaning that NPS Priority Purchase alone overwhelmed the supply. Wait time: I’d bet a year if you’re not NPS. Even NPS members who don’t already have an order in will be waiting for months. 
  • 800mm f/6.3 PF VR S.  If you’re not NPS, you’ve got a bit of a problem. This is a low volume production product, and while I’m seeing a constant stream of them, it’s a low-volume stream, not a fire hose. While Nikon hasn’t said orders have resumed, order from a large, reputable camera dealer (some smaller dealers are reluctant to place an order for such an expensive product because you might change your mind while you’re waiting). Wait time: Better than the 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S, I think. Nikon is producing more of these PF lenses than the big exotic, so despite having similar high demand, the supply is a little better. Still, probably measured in months. 

Z Questions Answered

"What raw converters support the Z9 High Efficiency formats?”

  1. Nikon NX Studio
  2. Adobe ACR 14.3, Lightroom Classic, Photoshop Elements (2022)
  3. Capture One 22 (15.4.1)
  4. On1 Photo RAW
  5. Affinity Photo 2 on macOS Ventura or current iPadOS only using Apple core support

Nikon High Efficiency NEF formats basically stuff an intoPIX’s TicoRAW data package into the usual Nikon NEF container. Technically, intoPIX updated their SDK to support the latest operating systems and chips (including Apple silicon) in fall of 2022. Not all developers have yet added support to their product.

“Do you still need the paid firmware update to record raw video (ProRes RAW and Blackmagic RAW) on an external capture device?”

Yes for the Z6, Z6 II, Z7, and Z7 II (as long as they weren’t purchased in the “filmmaker’s kit” version).
No for the Z9.

The US$199 cost almost certainly arises from the fact that Nikon did not pay royalties to MPEG-LA for raw video compression when these cameras were manufactured. NikonUSA sort of buries this update on their site, so here’s the link: raw video firmware update.

Things to note about this particular update: (1) you pack your camera up and ship it to Nikon; (2) Nikon will inspect, clean, and install the firmware within 48 hours; (3) you’ll be asked to pay the update/repair fee before Nikon releases the camera; and (4) Nikon will ship it back to you at your expense. Thus, you’ll likely be without your camera for a week to two weeks, depending upon where you live and how it is shipped.

The issue to be aware of is #2: any camera that goes through the inspect and clean process at Nikon will trigger an estimated repair cost if Nikon finds something is wrong with it (damaged or out of spec). Nikon generally won’t work on a camera unless they can bring it up to at least refurbished standards, because they are essentially saying the camera will “work as expected” when it leaves their hands. Your choice if your camera is found to be damaged is to either approve the estimate, or to have it returned without the work performed.  

Before you ask, I’ll answer the question of “is it worth it?” 

Maybe.

Okay, you want more. Generally you want to avoid compression in your video editing cycle. Every non-raw option will have a serious form of compression to it, and this is always lossy compression on the Z6 and Z7 models internally. Externally, you’d still be compressing the HDMI output from the camera, but that compression can be far less lossy. Indeed, I’d tend to say that 10-bit ProRes 422HQ is a very friendly compression for videographers, and would be my first choice for improving both video quality and having a video editor compatible compression that doesn’t trigger transcoding (recompression). 

ProRes RAW, though, produces smaller file sizes than ProRes 422HQ, can produce essentially 4:4:4:4 color, allows you apply LUTs to linear data, and generally has the same benefits as do the still photography raw formats. One small downside to using raw video on a Z6/Z7 model is this: to keep up the data stream the video is produced with a pixel-skipping technique on both axes, which can produce some very low-level artifacts on motion.  

“How do I set a Z9 for BIF (birds in flight?).”

I actually have a presentation I do in my workshops now that’s a seven step program to better Z9 focus (which is already incredibly good; Z9 focus, I mean, not my presentation ;~). Maybe I’ll get around to recording that as an online course at some point (I’m in the process of improving my Z9 book’s descriptions for the next update first). 

I will say that working with students the number one thing that has to be corrected is camera/lens handling. If you can’t reliably keep pointed at the subject, you’re going to have focus misses, even with automatic features turned on. Yes, I know the Z-mount telephotos and PF lenses are light. Perhaps too light, as I see the fronts of student lenses bouncing all over the place when I look at them. 

The second biggest problem tends to be exposing for the background, not the bird (you left the camera in matrix metering, didn’t you?). Dark exposure on the subject makes the autofocus system work harder, and sometimes it fails.

Finally, you’ll get to the issue of which AF-area mode. The temptation is to use Auto-area AF. Don’t. Try a Wide-area AF (C1) (custom) and a narrowed area for subject detection. Why Wide-area? Because it has some priority to the closest subject, and the BIF is usually the closest subject. Why Custom? Because the regular versions are too small for all that lens waving you’re doing (see above). 

Consider a Hybrid Button Focus approach, but, I’ll warn you, that won’t work well if you haven’t done the above first. 

Cameras are tools. Learning to properly use the tool will always work better for you in the end.

“Should I switch to Sony?” 

Yes. Please do. The economy is slowing down; we need more consumer economic activity, so consider yourself an early volunteer. 

I continue to be amazed at the switchers. They don’t tend to stay switched. 

I used to think that was due to lenses, but that’s not turning out to be very true. I thought that the ubiquitous lens adapters were fueling the switching, as people were averse to buying new lenses. But looking at the stats, these folks switched, bought new lenses anyway, then switched back, and bought still more lenses. 

My current belief is this: the switchers are looking mostly for a lazy way of improving their imagery. More pixels, better autofocus, film simulations, it’s always a feature or perceived performance that their current product doesn’t seen to have. 

So why do they switch back? Because ultimately you still have to learn the tool to get better results, and the old brand tool's style is more familiar than the new and requires less relearning (e.g. menus, controls, etc.). The other reason is that these folk are just impatient. They apparently can’t wait for Nikon to get around to making the camera they desire, and are convinced that someone else has. And then something like the Z9 comes along and blows that all up. 

Thus, my new response to all future “should I switch? emails” is going to be: “Yes, and let me know when you switch back so I can continue to help you.” 

“Should I really install new firmware when it appears?”

Yes. 

The distrust has recently shown up with Z9 users, who found that firmware updates changed something that they were relying upon. Nikon even caught onto to one of those (Prioritize viewfinder) and eventually added both the version 1.00 and version 2.00 firmware versions of that starting with, yes, you guessed it, firmware 3.00. 

The initial firmware updates with most of the Z models have been somewhat disruptive, adding new features, changing performance parameters, and moving or renaming things. Nobody likes their cheese moved less than I do. That said, Nikon’s goal on virtually every firmware change was to make the camera better, and I’d argue that they have. Yes, sometimes the firmware updates introduce a new bug or an unintended consequence, but I’ve found that rare and once noted, not an issue that stops me at anything.

But the real reason why I say “yes” to the question is simple: you can always go back. Somewhat rare in the software update world, Nikon uses a “complete overwrite” in the firmware update process, which means that version C2.00 can be installed over C3.00, if need be. 

I keep a folder with all Nikon firmware updates. I originally started doing that so that I could deal with workshop students who hadn’t performed a needed update, but it also allows me to go back and check how a camera operates with older firmware, if necessary. I suggest you do the same: just drag all the .BIN files for the firmware updates to a "Firmware Updates" folder you create on your computer. They don’t take up much space.

“What about lens updates?”

Actually, it’s becoming very important that you keep your lenses up to date, as camera firmware changes rely upon the lens communication being correct. 

Nikon introduced focus ring changes in recent Z6 II, Z7 II, and Z9 camera firmware. But for those to work, the lens has to have been updated to support it. At present, 18 of Nikon’s Z-mount lenses have firmware updates, so it’s quite possible that you’ve forgotten to update one.

“Is Nikon now obsessed with video?”

Let me explain the reason why some people are asking this question: they don’t use the video features of their camera. They have the belief that if only Nikon didn’t work on video features, they’d get a cheaper camera with more still features. 

First, not much cost would be taken out by not adding video. The MPEG-LA and other royalties have to be paid by Nikon (and every other camera maker). Data offload from the image sensor has to be engineered to be faster. At 4K/60 and above you need really fast card write speed and management. You have to add an HDMI connector, microphone(s), speaker, and perhaps mic in and headset out jacks. You probably want a bigger battery capacity. 

Yet all of those things benefit still photography, too ;~). Yes, even that first one. Say what? Some of you complain that the Z9 can’t take 60 fps raw. Sure it can: record 8K video at 60P in 12-bit N-Raw (which required an intoPIX license by Nikon that you said video paid for ;~). Unfortunately, the process of getting to a single frame and processing it as a still is convoluted at the moment, but perhaps some savvy software developer will have an Aha! moment and provide the solution. Iliah, are you listening? How about a NEV-to-DNG converter?

Yes, even the microphone(s) and speakers have a stills use: voice annotation, which not enough of you have discovered and use. 

From a professional’s standpoint, we can’t just be a still photographer anymore. Virtually all RFQs (Request for Quote) these days have both still and video aspects to them, and the smart pro has figured out how to turn that into more revenue. 

So I don’t have any real problem with video being added to our cameras, though I use this function less than many other pros (but probably more than you). Moreover, making a hybrid still/video camera takes away a potential competitive disadvantage that could make Nikon’s lowish volume into a real problem for the future. 

That said, I believe we need to lobby for more still photography functions in our camera. Pixel shift, for instance, is one tech that Nikon is now in last place with, as they haven’t even driven the car, let alone started the engine. 

To those of you objecting to video features, I’d say this: stop protesting those and simply get more adamant about adding missing still features. It isn’t a zero sum game (though product development at Nikon might think it is ;~). 

Oh, I forgot to answer the question: yes, they are. It’s the “why” that’s a little disconcerting, as I don’t see any clear strategy on Nikon’s part other than to play somewhat the same game as others. The Nikkor group, for instance, hasn’t really gotten around to embracing video, despite all the claims of no focus breathing. So: no clear strategy. 

My goals for Nikon: develop a real video strategy and add more still photography features. 

Speedlights Disappear

Nikon has announced the discontinuation of production for the SB-500 and the temporary halt of orders for the SB-5000 in Japan (on January 27th). This appears to be parts shortage related. 

Since these are the two Speedlights I tend to recommend for the Z System cameras, this is disappointing, to say the least. Both units are pretty much back-ordered everywhere here in the US. I don’t expect the SB-500 backorders to fill. I do expect we’ll see some SB-5000’s arrive shortly, but that may not be enough to fill demand. I’ve had two additional units on order for months now (you can’t even order these through NPS Priority Purchase, by the way). 

The problem is that I haven’t found any third-party flash solution (as opposed to studio solution) to be satisfactory. Beyond the reverse-engineering triggering firmware update needs for the significant third-party flash units as Nikon makes changes to cameras, I’ve also found that the consistency of exposure to be “off” with most of the units I’ve tried. By “off”, I mean “not what Nikon calculates for their own units.” 

Moreover, Nikon’s solution is part of a broader ecosystem: the WR-R11a allows me to control not just remote SB-5000’s, but also remote cameras (and a bit of vice versa). 

I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: Nikon needs to fix their accessories situation. It is not prioritized at the same level as cameras and lenses, we’ve gone backwards in what’s available, solutions are often compromised by farming out design and parts choices, and the general unavailability of accessories has been a problem going back far into the DSLR era.

It’s the Z System, and that requires that it actually be a system, not just some cameras and lenses. We users don’t care if it’s difficult for Nikon to fix; the situation needs fixing, stat. Even if that’s eventually saying “buy Nissin” (which, by the way, are all in stock at B&H and other places that carry them).  

Message to Nikon: do better.

Do I Need Better Than S?

I could have written “do you need better than S” in the headline, but I’m going to tackle this topic more narrowly for the moment. 

The underlying questions are (1) just how good are the S-line lenses? and (2) what happens if we get a 61mp, 67mp, or even 100mp camera?

The first question is easy to answer. I’ve now used all the S-line lenses except for the nearly-impossible-to-get 600mm f/4 TC VR S. I’ve used them all on 45mp cameras, and most in serious work situations (event, sports, wildlife, some landscape). 

The answer is that I have to look way too much at pixels to find anything I’d consider a “fault" with these lenses other than perhaps vignetting, which is something I actually tend to add to my images, not subtract. Plus, I have to look at the extremes (e.g. corners) to find those faults, and often only see them only wide open, if at all. 

I get questions about the two 50mm S-line lenses all the time (“is the f/1.2 worth it?”). Yes, the f/1.2 is better at the same aperture as the f/1.8, but the f/1.8 is already at such a high level I have to wonder why I’d want the f/1.2. I’m tempted to write that the f/1.8 is Very Near Otus while the f/1.2 is Significantly Past Otus in capability. And I wasn’t using those expensive Zeiss Otus lenses in the first place!

I’m just not worried about putting any S-line lens on my Z7 II or Z9 body. I’m not going to dislike the results. If I get into truly serious pixel peeping I have tools available that fix what little I can find that might be sub-optimal. Generally, my biggest issue with the S-line lenses is using them at f/11 of smaller aperture, where diffraction is stealing too much from their optical greatness to ignore.

Which brings us to the second question: will the S-line survive likely pixel increases of the future, or do we need an S-squared-line? 

I can’t say for sure about that, because as far as you know I don’t have a 100mp camera. However, I have two thoughts about that. 

First, Nikon knows what’s coming in terms of pixels. I sincerely doubt that they’d have 19 lenses designated S-line at this point if they felt that those wouldn’t stand a couple rounds of image sensor bumps. 

Second, everything I measure in the current S-line lenses at 45mp tells me that their optics are performing at extremely high standards, and that it might actually be the image sensor or even microlenses or something else that’s holding them back from everything they could resolve. Heck, are our current autofocus systems even up to the job of positioning the focus plane perfectly for 100mp? 

So my current response to the headline question is a clear “no.” I’m happy with the S-line lenses. Very happy. Not a dud in the bunch, though the 14-30mm f/4 S is somewhat closer to where I’d draw the line than are all of the others. 

The corollary, of course, is “Do I need better than the non-S-line lenses?” Here we find the recent Tamrikon f/2.8 zooms and the muffins. I think it should be clear so far that my answer that those are also good lenses, but they do tend to have clear liabilities the S-line lenses don’t, particularly as you move further from the center axis and into the corners. They’re still really good lenses, it’s just that I can see liabilities as I work with the pixel data generated using them. Again, typically as I near the corners. That said, the Tamrikon 17-28mm f/2.8 is closer to S-line than the others, which was a bit of a pleasant surprise. 

Bonus: If you’re still a DSLR-only user, let me frame this discussion a bit differently. If you’re primarily using 20-100mm optics, the mirrorless S-line user is getting better pixel data than you are. I’d even say that if you’re using a Zeiss Otus on your DSLR, as you’re manually focusing that lens and the manual focus tools on the Z cameras are simply better and more accurate. Plus Sensor VR, since you’re probably not using a tripod ;~).

Below 20mm we have a lot to talk about, and I believe that even with the two 14mm-x S-line zooms the DSLR user may find some advantages. Personally, I use the 19mm PC-E on my Z7 II for landscape these days, but I don’t like the extra adapter involved. 

Above 100mm, and Nikon’s telephoto options with a fixed maximum aperture have always been superb, even back into the film SLR days. The advantage the S-line telephotos are bringing isn’t necessarily optical, but in terms of size, weight, and handling. 

The Z50 Gets Some Firmware Love

Nikon updated the Z50 firmware to version 2.40 today. This update adds eye-detection autofocus for video, improves the eye-detection performance in Auto-area AF mode for stills, and refreshes the focus point display faster in Subject tracking and Auto-area AF with face/eye detection active. Curiously, Nikon has still not added the extra AF Area modes of the Z30 and Zfc. 

Other things missing in the Z50 that should be easy “adds” given the Z30 and Zfc are Wide-area (L people) and Save/load menu settings, among others. This makes me scratch my head about how Nikon manages and justifies firmware updates. It really feels like they are cherry-picking a couple of easy things to mix in with a fix or two, but not building out the full capability they could. 

Nikon’s update site

Cosina Production Note

I’ve added a note to the Cosina (Voigtlander) page on this site*. This past week Cosina did what Cosina has done in the past: discontinued production of what some feel are key, interesting lenses. In this case, three fairly recent Sony E-mount lenses were discontinued (35mm, 40mm, and 50mm f/1.2 primes). Note that two of these are now produced in the Z-mount and the Z-mount versions haven’t been discontinued (they were both announced just last year; the Sony lenses being discontinued were introduced in 2017 and 2021). 

Cosina doesn’t tend to keep lenses in production indefinitely. They absolutely will cut off production and move to making something else at some point. This has been true for as long as I’ve tracked them (long back into the F-mount). It’s a bit annoying for someone like me that puts up reviews and keeps them visible, as in some cases that production has lasted less than a year, and then I end up with a review for something you can only buy used by the time you read it. 

This appears to be Cosina’s unique approach to the lens business: they have limited manufacturing and parts availability, so they produce a lens specification for a short period, then discontinue production of it to put something else into production. 


*Wait, what? Please note that on a desktop system (or tablet with enough real estate to show the full menu system) ANY item in the menu system can be clicked on, even headings, and all the heading items lead to a page that typically has useful information (plus links to the pages inside that subject). So, yes, you can click on Lenses to see that menu, or click on one of the items in that menu such as Third-Party lenses to get additional info about those, or click on one of the lens maker names further down the menu structure to see all the lenses covered and something about that maker. 

Latest Lens Info

Voigtlander added the 15mm f/4.5 and 50mm f/1 lenses to their Z-mount lineup. I’ve added them to the database.

Nikon introduced 1.10 firmware for the 400mm f/2.8, 400mm f/4.5, 600mm f/4, and 800mm f/6.3, which adds linear focus control and the switching of control rings. I’ve updated the database entry and the lens firmware update articles.

The Current State of Z-Mount Mid-Range Zoom

I’ve written about where we stand with telephoto focal lengths several times, but haven’t done so for the mid-range lenses. It’s time to correct that lapse. I’m not doing this as a permanent article in the lens section of the site just yet, because I expect we’ll see a fair amount of change in the next 12-24 months. 

The Players
We have two mid-range zoom choices in DX, and six in FX. 

DX is pretty easy to deal with due to the paucity of lenses. The 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 DX VR kit lens is about as good as we’ve ever seen from a kit lens in crop sensor cameras. It’s an easy choice to make, particularly since Nikon often offers it bundled with DX cameras at the nearly ridiculous implied price of US$150. Simply put, this lens delivers well above that cost. Whoever designed this lens deserves a promotion (and please have them design a 16-50mm f/2.8 or f/4 DX compact zoom ;~). Moreover, it’s truly small and light, collapses for even smaller travel size, and has VR built in. If you have a DX body and don’t have this lens, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Of course, if you have to buy it separately, it’s going to cost you twice as much (US$300). 

Your only other choice for DX is the 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 DX VR (US$600, or double the kit lens list price). This lens is probably closer to the DSLR version than most of the Z-mount lenses have been, which is to say it’s very good, but not great. It’s quite suitable for the 20mp we have in DX these days, though I don’t know if that will hold up with higher pixel counts in the future. My only real problem with this lens is that it’s 18mm at the wide end, or about 28mm equivalent. That’s not overly wide. So I consider this a mid-range zoom that’s skewed towards the telephoto side. If I think that I really need wide angle, this lens is not on my camera.

Moving to FX, we have a much more interesting and varied story. Let’s tackle this in “worst” to “best” order:

  • 24-50mm f/4-6.3. At the bottom of the heap, for multiple reasons, is the 24-50mm. Optically, it’s adequate but not stellar at anything. The limited focal range is it’s real drawback. It’s really a wide-to-normal zoom. So using the wording I used for DX, I consider it a mid-range zoom that’s highly skewed towards the wide side. The plus of this lens is its size and weight. As a Z5 kit lens, it makes for a very portable one-lens solution for many. It’s basically the same size for travel as the 28mm f/2.8 and 40mm f/2, which I call “muffin” lenses (because they’re not quite pancakes). So call the 24-50mm the “muffin zoom.” For a wildlife or sports photographer that’s mostly using long telephoto, sticking this lens into the bag (or pocket!) is a no-brainer should you to suddenly need wide angle.
  • 28-75mm f/2.8. Like the lens just described, this lens is towards the bottom for reasons that aren’t exactly about its optical ability. Again, not having 24mm (or equivalent) at the wide end is somewhat limiting for many. While the 4mm difference doesn’t seem like much, we’re talking about the difference between a 74° and 84° horizontal angle of view, which is not insignificant. If you want to understand why, put your arms at 90 degrees (which really requires an 18mm lens, but is close enough to 20mm), then start moving your arms closer together and see how constraining a narrower view might be indoors or close to your subjects. This lens also has virtually no additional goodies or controls, as it's sold in Nikon’s “value” lineup, not the S-line. Couple all that with the lens’ optical strength being in the DX frame lines (but not corners) and a sometimes problematic bokeh, and you’ll see why it sits lower in my evaluation.
  • 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR. You’re probably surprised to find this lens above the previous one, though I’ll caution that it’s a very small step mostly due to the vastly expanding focal range. I consider the 24-200mm to be a compromise lens: it doesn’t excel at things one of the other mid-range lenses do, but it also doesn’t perform badly with the optics in most cases, either. The reason for this position in my evaluation is the smallish size and weight (for the focal range) and the added VR (works with DX bodies to be a pretty darned good ~35-300mm lens). At 200mm, as I’ve written before, it’s the worst current performer at that focal length, though still probably more than adequate for most in a pinch. The size and weight coupled with the wide usable range means this lens tends to be the one-stop travel lens for many, and that reputation is well deserved.
  • 24-70mm f/4 S. I remember my encounters with the old Sony/Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens (still available) quite clearly. Compared to the Nikkor 24-70mm f/4 S that Sony is simply just bad. At lots of things. While the Nikkor is good. At lots of things. The 24-70mm f/4 S is small, light, and decidedly without any big gotcha optically. That’s not to say there aren’t small gotchas (my review points out several). However, with lens corrections turned on and careful use, this lens produces excellent results even on the 45mp cameras. Plus it travels smaller than it is in use, making it very bag friendly. Early on the implied lens price in a camera kit was absurdly low. Today it’s US$600 (a US$400 discount from list). If that’s too much to pay, note that a lot of excellent condition 24-70’s are on the used market in the US$400-500 range. This lens is more mid-pack in my list for a reason: it’s a solid balance of price, performance, and size.
  • 24-120mm f/4 S. We just took a jump up in optical qualities in a lens that provides a wide-ish focal range. The previous four lenses are what I regard as “useful lenses,” while this and the next lens are what I regard as “optically superior” work lenses. I was surprised at how good this lens was (though the S-line designation should have been a giveaway). If you have any experience with the Nikon DSLR 24-120mm versions, forgot that, the Z-mount lens is different and better. So much so that it’s become the mid-range zoom that’s usually in my bag (because I value the expanded focal range over what the next two lenses provide). While not the absolutely best optical performer in this category, it’s definitely useful on the 45mp bodies and holds its own. It’s worst attribute is strong vignetting without the lens corrections. This lens is probably the one that the serious users should be using unless they have a specific need for something that the next one provides.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8 S. The cream of the crop is the middle lens in the Zoom Trinity. Again, compared to the DSLR versions we had, this first mirrorless version just simply looks better, in almost every regard. If that’s not an indictment of where we were with DSLRs, consider that this mirrorless lens is 12% shorter and 20% lighter. Optically, it’s the best 24-anything Nikon has ever made, and right up there as one of the very few top 24-70mm’s you can find (the Sony GM is about the same, in my testing). That said, it rarely makes it into my bag as I value the 70-120mm range of the previous lens more than I do the extra stop of light gathering of this one. You very well may be the opposite. So ask yourself this question: another stop of light (buy this lens) or another 40% of horizontal crop at the long end (buy the 24-120mm)?

While Nikon doesn’t show any more mid-range zoom lenses on the current Road Map, what I’m hearing out of Tokyo is that several new choices are coming at some point, plus then we have to see what Tamron and maybe Sigma might provide. The Tamron 20-40mm f/2.8 and 35-150mm f/2-2.8 would be interesting additions that provide some different focal length options, for instance. Sigma, meanwhile, has the 18-50mm f/2.8 lens that would be of interest to DX users. Plus, we can’t rule out the Chinese makers, as it appears they’ve started dabbling in zooms recently.

The bottom line is that you can’t go very far wrong in the mid-range zooms currently available for the Z-mount. They all have an appropriate place, and we already have a reasonable set of choices available. Any additions will just start to clutter our choices and make them more difficult, as is starting to happen in the telephoto lens range. 

Bonus: I haven’t addressed wide angle yet, and there’s a reason for that. We simply don’t have the diversity of choice at multiple levels in wide angle as we do in mid-range and telephoto. That will get addressed soon enough, I believe. But for now, it’s a weakness in the Z System compared to the Sony FE mount.  

Some Basic Z System Camera Advice

Since we’re still in a lull waiting for new camera bodies, the most common question I’ve been getting for the last many months has been about the differences between existing Z System models, and why you might choose one over another. I have some basic, simple advice on that.

DX Bodies
Nikon has three DX bodies, but they’re all built off the same electronic platform (image sensor, EXPEED6, etc.). Thus, the differences between them speak to outside physical attributes more than anything else. I’ll get to that more in a moment.

First, however, we need to talk about the reason why you’d currently choose a Nikon DX camera. My position has been the following pretty much since the Z50 first appeared: the Z DX line is a remarkably good carry-everywhere choice that’s light and small, particularly with the 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR DX kit lens. So small and light that I consider the Z50 plus kit lens to be a pocket camera. As in jacket or vest pocket. Maybe really baggy cargo pants with a huge pocket. 

Models in Nikon’s current DX lineup are not the fastest crop sensor cameras, not the fastest focusing, not the ones with the most megapixels, and a host of other performance factors. However, these cameras use the D7200/D500 image sensor with a newer EXPEED and thus they can have better-than-D500 image quality in a much smaller package. Don’t care about package size? The DX line is not for you. Need better-than-D500 image quality? The current DX line is not for you.

As casual, jack-of-most-trade cameras, the trio of DX Z’s are arguably as good or better than anything else in their price range. 

So which of the three do you pick? In order:

  1. Z50 is what you get if you’re just looking for a small, all-around camera. Yes, I know it has slightly worse autofocus than the other two (emphasis on slightly), and yes I know it doesn’t have USB Power Delivery. But it has a solid EVF and a pop-up flash. Taking the time to master the Z50 nets you a really sophisticated camera that fits in your jacket pocket (or briefcase). The Z50 has taken over from my m4/3 cameras as my small go-everywhere camera, which should tell you something.
  2. Zfc is what you get if you have a bunch of old manual focus Nikkors laying around you still want to use, or if you just like old-school dials and something that looks like an old FN film SLR. The problem is that those dials aren’t absolute: they will end up lying to you, so you need to understand how the camera works even more than you do with the Z50’s more traditional button+dial interface. The Zfc is also a tad bigger than the Z50, doesn’t have a built-in flash, though it does have some additional AF-Area modes that help with focus performance. The Zfc is a nice street camera, and it looks good with some of the third-party lenses, including the autofocus Viltrox ones.
  3. Z30 is what you get if you really are trying to go as compact as possible, or if you’re doing more video. It’s a solid selfie/vlogging choice, but the LCD gets difficult to see in some lighting. 

I have all three. I rarely use my Zfc, as its interface is different and unique amongst the other Z cameras I use. I use the Z30 for video in my studio and streaming. I use my Z50 for my walk-around camera.

Until Nikon delivers some other DX body, I think you buy a Z50, and do so when it is on sale. Or if you don’t mind framing via Rear LCD and don’t need a built-in flash, you buy a Z30 instead, again when it is on sale. On sale both are good values. At full price, the value isn’t all there and you start to have to consider competitive products. 

FX Bodies
Nikon has made it easy with FX bodies: we’ve got a lineup of four models, from lowest cost and least featured to highest cost and most featured. The only confusion comes in the middle of the lineup where you have a pixel count choice and a generational choice. One thing that’s interesting in the current FX lineup is that Nikon has turned into the low-cost provider at virtually all the model points. That’s new (and welcome).

So which do you pick? 

  • Casual and cost-sensitive photographers should look seriously at the Z5. While it uses an older image sensor, which impacts its autofocus and video performance some, the Z5 is a remarkably well-featured camera at a remarkably low price. Indeed, the Z5 on sale is one of the reasons why the Z50 at list price is a problem: the value differential shifts to the somewhat bigger FX body. You get excellent 24mp still image quality—even a bit more dynamic range at base ISO—but slightly less reliable autofocus. Which is why I suggest it as a casual camera. The Z5 also makes an excellent body for infrared or other spectrum conversion. At the US$1000-1100 price that Nikon has tended to discount the camera to, the Z5 is one of the best bargains in all of photography. Coupled with a 24-70mm f/4 S lens, it’s reasonably small and light and highly capable of excellent imagery. Caveat: if a discounted original Z6 price comes anywhere close to the current Z5 price, get the original Z6.
  • If you’re looking for the best camera Nikon has to offer, the Z9 is really the only choice. The Z9 is the mirrorless flagship, and likely to remain that for some time. It’s enough of a flagship that I’ve now moved from my DSLR flagships to a pair of Z9s for my main work. It’s difficult to find another camera that’s better, and when you do, you’ll find that the other camera is only better at one or two things and may not be as good as the Z9 at others. The only downside to a Z9 in my book is that I have to be a bit more careful with exposure in low light, as noise can pile up with underexposure at high ISO values in ways that are difficult to deal with. Many of you, however, will be put off by the size and weight of the Z9, even though it’s smaller and lighter than a D6. The Z9 is a pro body, with a pro build, and a larger capacity battery, so you pay the size/weight penalty for all that entails.
  • Which leaves us with where I get most of my questions about Nikon's FX bodies: the middle. Z6, Z6 II, Z7, Z7 II. Let me state right up front, particularly for the Z6 II, that if you’re not 100% price conscious, get the II version of the pixel count you choose. Nikon made so many small, but useful, changes between the original and II versions that I’m pretty certain there’s at least one or two things that you’ll clearly appreciate in the II’s. Whether that’s being able to add a real vertical grip, the somewhat better and more flexible autofocus options, the extra card slot (SD), the USB Power Delivery, or one of the other two dozen tangible changes doesn’t matter; you’ll find something you like more in the II version, I’m pretty sure. There’s a singular exception to that: if you’re mostly a landscape or architectural photographer the original Z7 model is probably all you need, and since it’s often offered at steep discount, you should opt for a Z7 over a Z7 II. Other than that, pick the II model if you can afford it. The second part of the decision is 6 versus 7, or 24mp versus 45mp. Pick the Z6 II if you don’t have a specific need for 45mp. Why? Because the larger photosites drive the autofocus system a bit better, particularly in low light.

Another thing to consider: the Z5 is basically a 4 fps camera, the Z6/Z7 models are 5.5 fps, and only the Z9 delivers faster (up to 120 fps) frame rates reliably. While Nikon markets the Z6 II as 14 fps, that’s with a slide show in the viewfinder, and if there’s any need to move the camera to follow the action, both the autofocus system and your ability to compose suffer. 

If you’re a videographer and looking for best quality, there’s only two models you should consider: Z6 II and Z9. The former is a wickedly good 4K camera, the latter is a state-of-the-art 8K camera. 

That’s my current advice wrapped up in as tight an article as I dare. Obviously, nuances can and do come into play for some, and I welcome those questions. I’m just trying to set the stage for our discussion ;~).

Sorry, We Have No Sigma Today

As I expected, today’s Sigma’s 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 OS Sport lens announcement was Sony FE and L-mount only. 

While other sites have been suggesting that Sigma would announce a Z-mount version along with the Sony version, I’ve been hinting for some time now that I believe that the Nikon/Sigma negotiations are ongoing and not resolved. I do expect Sigma will release Z-mount lenses in 2023, but which ones and when are as far as I can tell still up in the air. 

Quite a few of you reading this keep telling me that the non-appearance of Nikon’s own 200–600mm lens is disappointing. Perhaps, though I’m not sure that this is just overreaction and lacks a full understanding of where that lens really falls. The upcoming 200-600mm is not an S-line lens, it’s more a consumer-oriented lens with a lower price point. Given how well the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S performs, even with a 1.4x teleconverter, I’m not sure how necessary the 200-600mm will actually be for anyone other than the “need a lower cost solution” crowd. (As I’ve explained many times on this site, my predilection is to steer people to best solution, not just the lowest-priced solution. The reason for that is that buying low tends to create a product churn until you find the quality/performance you really need. In the end, you end up spending more when you churn your way up a product ladder.)

Sigma’s 60-600mm sort of falls in the same category as the future 200-600mm Nikkor: note that Sigma labeled it a Sports lens, not an Art lens (their highest line in terms of optical quality). Sports in Sigma jargon is “sophisticated and agile,” which tends to mean lots of configuration options/controls and an emphasis on dealing with fast-moving objects.  While the published MTF charts for the 60-600mm are decent, they remind me a lot of Nikon’s own 200-500mm f/5.6E, though Sigma’s numbers aren't quite as good at sagittal performance. 

Would it be nice to have the Sigma 60-600mm in the Z-mount? For sure, and we’ll probably eventually get it. More options are always better, but it hurts Nikon to see lenses available in the Sony FE mount that aren’t available in the Z-mount. Sony mirrorless users continue to have more lens options than Nikon mirrorless users, and that just feels bad in the competitive sense, even though I don’t personally believe that the Z-mount is uncompetitive. The lenses we currently have excel. However, you, the consumer, are absolutely asking for more lens options. 

Be careful what you wish for. I already get so many “which telephoto” questions about the Z-mount options that it’s difficult to just point to one and say “that’s what you should get.” (For most people, the current best answer is often to just get the 100-400mm and a 1.4x teleconverter, as everything else is marginal extra performance for price, and you’d need to validate your need for the performance). 

Update: As one reader noted, you could probably put the new Sigma on the Megadap FE-to-Z adapter and use it with the Z-mount bodies. I didn’t originally note that in the article because it is a bit too much on the speculative side. Until the lens ships and people can test it on the adapter, I’m hesitant to suggest this as an alternative. 

I believe the real desire for the 200-600mm on Nikon’s Road Map mostly centers on 600mm. That’s the “weak” focal length in Nikon’s current offerings at the moment, as it only comes via teleconverter (560mm) or an expensive lens (the f/2.8 TC VR S lenses). The 600mm coupled with the fact that it’s not likely an S-line lens seems to suggest that the 200-600mm will be the lowest cost way to get to 600mm on the mount, at least until other choices come about (and thus the disappointment that the Sigma isn’t in Z-mount form).

About Apertures

I keep hearing from people asking “where are the f/1.4 lenses?” Others are asking for something else, like an f/2 or f/4 zoom of some sort. 

Let me be clear: Nikon seems to be executing a very specific set of strategies with lenses and apertures in the Z-mount, and those strategies seem to have been set from the start. It is what it is, so get used to it, as we’re not seeing any particular deviations from the strategy yet. 

I’d break down what Nikon has been doing this way:

  1. Primes come in three variations: f/1.2, f/1.8, and “as fast as we can make it.” The f/1.2 and f/1.8 lenses are all S-line and are each being developed into a full line of focal lengths (I expect the f/1.2 line to have fewer options than the f/1.8 line, though). Those f/1.2 and f/1.8 lenses are a bit over a stop apart (remember, it goes f/1, f/1.1, f/1.3, f/1.4, f/1.6, f/1.8, f/2…). Given where we are with image sensors these days, making lens sets with differences smaller than a stop apart doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and apparently not to Nikon, either. The “as fast as we can make it” variation means that some key attribute other than focal length is the deciding factor in creating a lens, as in “bokehlicious video lens” (f/0.95 NOCT) or “small wide angle” (28mm f/2.8). Nothing in the released lenses or the Road Map lenses indicates that Nikon is deviating from this three-pronged prime strategy.
  2. Zooms also come in three variations: f/2.8, f/4, and “variable aperture to make it smaller.” The f/2.8 zooms either replicate Nikon’s Trinity (14-24, 24-70, 70-200) or Tamron’s (17-28, 28-75, 70-180). The former are all S-line and designed to the highest possible standards, the latter are not S-line and designed to be lighter and more price conscious. The f/4 zooms are incomplete at the moment (no telephoto). Curiously, the f/4 zooms are also all S-line, which I wasn’t expecting. The variable aperture zooms seem to be there mostly for the Z5, DX, and price conscious crowd, and are mostly designed for size/weight considerations. 
  3. Exotics are interesting, and currently come in two forms. First, we have two TC VR S-line exotics so far, with more coming (hint, hint). Second, we have size/weight designs that weren’t originally expected (400mm f/4.5 and 800mm f/6.3 PF). I believe we’ll get more of those, too. 

That really only leaves only a couple of lenses that have appeared “outside of strategy,” and those tend to be gap-fillers. For example, the 105mm f/2.8 Micro-Nikkor VR S and maybe the 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S. Both sort of fit in the above strategies, though (the 105mm is “as fast as we can make it”, while the 100-400mm could be said to be “variable aperture to make it smaller”).

My expectations based upon known Nikon strategy so far is that we’ll see:

  1. Additional f/1.2 S-line primes, additional f/1.8 S-line primes, and additional “as fast as we can make it” primes. Nikon has specific needs to go wider (<20mm), longer (>85mm), smaller (pancakes and muffins), and video centric (NOCT or specifically video). The current prime strategy can accommodate all of that without change. 
  2. Additional f/4 zooms, plus a new line of faster zooms (f/2, f/2-2.8, or f/2.8-4). The basics for zooms are well covered under the original strategy (other than an f/4 telephoto zoom). The need now is extension, which likely means another product line strategy shows up with different aperture expectations. An f/2 zoom line starting would complement the f/1.2 prime line, for example.
  3. Lots of telephoto options. Exotic TCs, Exotic Small/Light, both extending the current lineup. Given recent F-mount line lenses, we’re missing a 100-300mm f/2.8 TC, a 500mm f/4 TC, and maybe an 800mm f/5.6 TC. One could argue for a (100/200)-400mm f/4 TC, too, with the wide end possibly extended beyond previous F-mount options. Small/Light is missing 300mm and 500mm, and maybe even something over 1000mm (1200mm f/8 PF?).  

To me, Nikon has clearly tipped their Z-mount Nikkor hand. All three types of lenses have two or three specific line strategies that are being pursued, and they’ll continue to be pursued until those lines are complete. Once in a while, we’ll get a lens outside of strategy (PC-E seems primed for that [pun may prove incorrect ;~]). 

So please don’t keep asking for lenses that Nikon isn’t likely to produce. A line of f/1.4 primes really makes no sense any more. The only way it could be justified is if it had another attribute other than aperture. For instance: small f/1.4 primes.

I believe that the lens side of the Z System is the most well thought out and executed bit of Nikon’s mirrorless transition so far. It appears that the Nikkor strategists and engineers have had a clear plan from the beginning, have been consistently executing on it, and will continue to do so until that plan has been completed. I can’t find any real fault with their thinking—though one would have hoped that f/1.8 primes would have come in a little smaller—or their execution. Image quality has been mostly exceptional, and other performance/features have been typically excellent, as well. The number of F-mount Nikkors I’ve kept has dwindled and dwindled to the point where two or three more specific mirrorless lens releases will likely clear my gear closet of F-mount. 

What happened to older content? Well, it's now in one of the archive pages, below:

Looking for other photographic information? Check out our other Web sites:
DSLRS: dslrbodies.com | mirrorless: sansmirror.com | general/technique: bythom.com | film SLR: filmbodies.com

text and images © 2023 Thom Hogan — All Rights Reserved


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