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. 

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