Is There a System to the Z Mount?

Nikon has been suspiciously quiet about mount licensing, even though it’s clear that they’re doing it. This, of course, starts the conspiracy theorizing. So lets start the Theory Engine AI. 





Theory #1 is that Nikon is being their usual self, and just not marketing something that should be marketed. Behind this theory is the belief that Nikon is indeed fully licensing the mount to pretty much anyone willing to go through the licensing process, but someone forgot to tell the Nikon marketing department that. Third-party companies just need to apply and get approved. Somehow the legal department was awake enough to remember that the licensees should disclose that they’re operating under a license in their manuals for their lenses. At the moment, the known “liscensees” are Cosina (Voigtlander) and Tamron. Viltrox may be another, but in the Viltrox manuals I got, there’s no mention of a license. Lawyers asleep at the wheel, or something else? Not much conspiracy in this theory. It's actually the antithesis of conspiracy. 

Theory #2 is that Nikon is playing favorites. Ah, now that smells like conspiracy! ;~) Cosina and Tamron, for example, have long been contract builders for Nikon of various products. There’s an established relationship that benefits both companies, they know how to work together, and if Nikon doesn’t want to put its brand on a resulting product, then the product can still be launched using the originator’s brand. This explains the Tamron 70-300mm in the Z-mount: Nikon isn't going to make a 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3. At least not one with those specifications. 

But Theory #3 is the most interesting one: Nikon is picking and choosing who gets to play in the mount with what. Basically, third party lens designs fall into two categories: (1) a design Nikon wants to put their brand on; (2) a design that doesn’t overlap anything that the Nikkor group wants to put out any time soon. This explains the dual nature of the Tamron offerings: the f/2.8 zoom trio (17-28, 28-70, 70-180) were a group of lenses that Nikon wanted to brand, but the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3 isn’t a specification that Nikon is going to put in their lineup, thus they gave Tamron the green light to put it out under the Tamron brand. It might also explain why there’s a 65mm Voigtlander macro lens, but not a 110mm (too close to the 105mm Nikkor). 

Theory #3 could also seem to explain Sigma’s late entry: Nikon and Sigma are still negotiating which lenses would be allowed under the Sigma name for the Z-mount (e.g. nothing that duplicates a Nikkor, such as the 24-70mm f/2.8 ART). If you look carefully at the Sigma mirrorless lenses (their E-mount offerings is a good list to use), you find a heck of a lot of overlap with Nikkor offerings, with the primary unique ones being Sigma's APS-C (DX) lenses. Conspiracy theorists would say that Nikon would love Sigma to make their DC DN lenses in the Z-mount, but not so much the DG DN lenses.

So, do I care which theory is right? No, not really. In all cases, we’re getting a more rapidly expanding lens lineup than we’d have otherwise, and so far there’s really not been a dud in the NIkkor bunch, while the third-party lenses have all held up well, too. 

Okay, I lied. Theory #3 would the best way of fixing the Buzz, Buzz problem* of so few DX lenses without Nikon having to do any real work (other than coming up with a better set of DX cameras). Both Sigma and Tamron have a solid set of crop-sensor lenses that could quickly come to the rescue of any Nikon Z70 or Z90 (or even Z50 II ;~). For instance: Sigma 16mm f/1.4, 30mm f/1.4, 56mm f/1.4, plus 18-50mm f/2.8; and Tamron 17-70mm f/2.8, 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3, 18-400mm f/3.5-6.3 (all with stabilization), plus 11-20mm f/2.8. Those eight lenses, coupled with Nikon’s five (known) and Viltrox’s four, would be a very strong complement to any DX camera lineup. That said, a total of 17 DX lenses would still come up short against the other crop sensor mounts (except for Canon RF-S). So maybe instead of Buzz Buzz I'd have to write buzz buzz. 

Where Sigma would have problems with Theory #3 lies in the full-frame lenses, many of which duplicate (or nearly duplicate) Nikkor offerings. Would Sigma really want to mostly just offer APS-C lenses in the Z-mount? I think not. While Nikon has three DX (APS-C) cameras on sale at the moment, the volume there probably doesn't justify the expense, particularly since Viltrox is already there serving the fast prime need Sigma would mostly provide. 


Whatever the actual licensing regimen that's in play, the result is still the same: more lenses for the Z-mount. I believe that in 2022 we went from "constrained lens set" to "reasonable lens set" and that in 2023 we'll end up with "extended lens set." The Sony fans have short and faulty memories. At the same four-year point in their Alpha FE cycle, Sony had fewer lenses than Nikon now has, and several were not as good as Nikon has produced (particularly the Sony Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 and 24-240mm f/3.5-6.3 OSS). 

* Buzz Buzz is my shorthand for sounding like an annoying fly buzzing around Nikon's head, reminding them that they haven't gotten around to making enough lenses for DX cameras.

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