What Lenses Does Nikon Still Need? (Updated)

We know about 32 FX Nikkor lenses (28 announced, 4 on the Road Map). While working on the lens section of this site recently, one of the things I was thinking about is where are the weaknesses and gaps in the FX lens lineup? 

Wide Angle Needs

To me, the primary Z-mount weakness is still wide angle. That’s despite really good 14-24mm f/2.8 S and 14-30mm f/4 S offerings. What are we missing in the really wide angle range? Well, we can’t get below 20mm with primes, and the 20mm f/1.8 is also a pretty big lens, so that means that we really need:

  • 14mm f/1.8 S-line. The difference between the 20mm and this is an additional 20° horizontal coverage (104° at 14mm, 84° at 20mm at 10m). Some might argue for an 16mm (98°) or 18mm (90°), but the point is we need wider. Unfortunately, we also need smaller lenses in the wide angle realm, so:
  • 14mm f/2.8. Near muffin-size is the goal here, making a Z7 II+14mm a very transportable combo.
  • 20mm f/2.8. Call it the Modern Galen (though Galen would have been happy with f/4 to keep size down). This lens needs to be muffin sized, see bullet just above.

We also don’t have a full-frame fisheye in the Z-mount. Nikon could just move the 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5E over to the mirrorless side, and I think most of us would be happy. But some just want a simpler, small full-frame fish in prime form, so:

  • 16mm f/2.8 full frame fisheye. Keep it sized to the F-mount version.
  • 8-15mm f/3.5-4.5 S-line circular/full frame fisheye. Give us a refreshed mirrorless version in top-level cladding.

We’re still not done with wide angle, believe it or not. Sony goes wider in zooms, and everyone else is providing a wider focal range with a faster lens. So we end up needing these two lenses, too:

  • 12-24mm f/4 S-line. Or is it 12-24mm f/2.8 S-line? The difference is lens size. The former if it can be made small enough, but the latter if we’re going to get a bigger lens due to that 12mm focal length. Note that this lens also has DX implications.
  • 16-35mm f/2.8 S-line. Some will argue about the need here, but given a lens I think is coming down below, I’d argue for this specification. 14-24mm is 74-104°, this spec is 54-97°, which is enough different to justify. Event photographers seem to favor the 35mm over 24mm ending; the 14-30mm gets you to 62-104°, but isn’t f/2.8. Couple the extra “long end” with a faster aperture, and you’ll find plenty of takers for this lens. There’s also the 20-40mm f/2.8 Tamron that comes into play (49-84°), but I suspect Nikon would just defer that to Tamron as it’s not a proven need yet.

So, without doing anything exotic or out of the ordinary, I’ve identified seven needed wide-angle lenses still missing. I also note that almost none of these would be filled exactly by third-party makers with existing mirrorless optics brought over to the Z-mount. Have at it, Nikkor engineering.

Mid-Range Needs

As I outlined in earlier articles, the mid-range is pretty well covered by Nikon. I define mid-range as any lens that goes from a wide angle coverage to a telephoto coverage for zooms, or a focal length from 28mm to 70mm for primes. 

With primes, there’s one clear missing lens, maybe two (both of which can be basically served if a third-party makes a version of an existing lens for the Z-mount):

  • 28mm f/1.8 S-line. Nikon put a slower muffin-sized lens in the 28mm slot. It seems intentional that we didn’t get a faster S-line lens, but why?
  • 70mm f/1.8 S-line. Here things seem a little more clear: Nikon has traditionally avoided anything other than a macro lens between the 50mm and 85mm lengths. With the Z-mount short macro coming in at 50mm, I don’t think Nikon is going to put anything in between the 50mm and 85mm focal lengths.

The trend in fast mid-range zooms lately has been to extend the wide end or the telephoto end. To wit, the Sony 20-70mm f/4 or the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8. The big issue for Nikon is that they haven’t crossed those thresholds, let alone the f/2.8 max aperture floor. Thus, I’d propose these are the truly missing lenses:

  • 20-70mm f/2-2.8 S-line. It’s sad that Sony got there first, but that shouldn’t stop Nikon from putting an option forward. Some might say 24-70mm f/2, but I think that’s just cutting 24-70mm too many ways, and not giving us truly new options. Some might say 20-70mm f/4, but I also don’t think we need more f/4 mid-range lenses. Thus, I’d encourage Nikon to jump on both trends (faster aperture and extended range). 
  • 24-105mm f/2.8 S-line. The 24-120mm f/4 is a great lens. But it might not be fast enough for some, thus this option is needed. We keep the telephoto end down a bit to keep the lens from turning into a large monster. 
  • 35-150mm f/2-2.8. I’m going to guess we soon see this lens in Tamrikon form. It just fills a really nice little niche, and it’s low-hanging fruit for Nikon to license and convert into a Nikkor. Aside: this lens is probably the number one reason a Z-mount user buys a Megadop adapter, even though that adapter doesn’t currently support the L-Fn buttons on that FE-mount Tamron. 

I’d guess that anything else in the mid-range zoom line would likely be served by third parties. For instance, a 28-200mm is more likely to show up from Tamron than Nikon at this point. Given the existing and credible 24-200mm, I don’t think Nikon believes they need another superzoom.

Despite what I wrote above, primes in the mid-range are going to lead to lots of contention. Do we need f/1.4 optics? I’d say no. But Sigma could certainly produce them if Nikon lets them.

What’s really missing is more smaller lens choice (pancake, muffin, and compact), which means f/2.8 is the aperture that needs more targeting. Tamron has 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm options. Sigma has 45mm and 60mm options. Do I think Nikon will target any of those? No. Note that we already have Nikon 26mm, 28mm, and 40mm options. See how would they dovetail with Sigma/Tamron? I suspect Nikon’s choices are telling us something. 

So, with mid-range I see two primes, three zoom options, plus more than six third-party options that could fill in the lineup.

Telephoto Needs

I’m sure I’ll get plenty of feedback here ;~). Particularly when I suggest that you might not see many third-party lenses come to play here. Nikon clearly targeted telephoto as something they want to hold serve on, much as they have since the beginning of film SLRs. I think you can only count on Nikkor options coming, and that’s a little difficult to predict, as Nikon is changing what they do in telephoto (e.g. more PF, built-in teleconverters, etc.).

So here’s my take on what’s still needed. Let’s start with zooms this time:

  • 50-200mm f/2 TC S-line. I don’t think Nikon will just reproduce Fat Boy (200mm f/2). I have a feeling that we’ll have a new Fat Boy of some sort. Would be an expensive lens, though.
  • 120-300mm f/2.8 TC S-line. The “ends” might end up a bit different (e.g. 100-300mm, 100-280mm, etc.), but I can’t help but think that Nikon needs this lens in their mirrorless offerings. It’s a near perfect sideline lens. Many Z9 users are mounting the F-mount version on an FTZ adapter and getting the “TC” via a FX/DX Switch button customization. 120-300mm f/2.8 plus 420mm f/4 would be a really nice combo.
  • 100-400mm f/4 TC S-line. Surprised? Don’t be. Nikon’s been fiddling with a lot of new ideas in telephoto, and they’re very likely to give you a couple of options at various focal lengths. A full stop faster at 560mm by flicking a switch is enough, in my opinion, to make this a useful addition.
  • 600-1200mm f/5.6-11. May be a PF to keep size and weight down. This pairs up with a 200-600mm quite nicely, right? 

In terms of primes, the big need is at the shorter end. We already have a 135mm f/1.8 coming, but in addition we should also get:

  • 105mm f/1.8 S-line. An obvious missing lens. Another possibility: the 105mm joins the f/1.2 brigade. 
  • 600mm f/5.6 PF. Another obvious missing lens.

Thus, I come up with six more lenses that fill out the basic line and should be in the Nikon lineup.

Other Needs

Despite all the above, I haven’t touched on three areas at all: tilt-shift lenses, macro lenses, and video-specific lenses. I’ve also avoided thinking about the Z3/Z5 needs, which would suggest Nikon doing a wide-angle, mid-range, and telephoto zoom trio with variable apertures and small size. 

I’m told that Nikon is exploring all four of those lens categories I just mentioned. I’d guess that we need three each in those categories, so I’m up to defining 30 potential new Z-mount FX Nikkors that extend the lineup. That would cover us for another four or five years given Nikon’s 6-8 lenses/year introduction rate. 

I haven’t discussed DX because, despite the triplets, it’s impossible to predict and understand what Nikon thinks will happen with DX in the future. With no DX body clarity, it’s impossible to discuss DX lens needs (the bees are resting for the moment, but I’m sure they’ll eventually start buzzing ;~).

I’m tempted to publish a list of the Nikkors that apparently have been designed or prototyped by Nikon, but many of those come from only a single source. That list currently has 41 lenses on it. From patents, I can add another 14. So if I’m to believe all sources, the Nikkor engineers have been fiddling with well more than 50 possibilities, of which I’d guess that half or fewer would eventually show up. I think the 60 total lenses number is a good over/under mark for where we’ll be five years from now. Thus, we’re about halfway there, and this is a very good time to discuss what the remaining half should be (and thus this article providing my thoughts). 

Finally: does the f/1.2 line expand? I haven’t done so in my list of needed lenses, but I don’t believe Nikon done with f/1.2 primes. The two most logical next ones are 24mm f/1.2 S and 105mm f/1.2 S.

Update: It seems a lot of folk think I’m wonky because I didn’t suggest a 70-200mm f/4 or a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 VR. I’ve seen no indication that Nikon intends to make either such lens. Neither shows up on the full list of prototyped, muled, developed, patented, or rumored lenses I’ve compiled so far. Moreover, with Tamron already in that space with a lens, I suspect that Nikon expects others to mostly fill the “budget” telephoto zoom position. There is one rumored Nikkor lens that sort of fits in this focal range, but I don’t know if it will be produced or not. 

All of which tends to hint at how I came up with my above list. Yes, I was mostly selecting lenses from the full list of prototyped, muled, developed, patented, or rumored lenses I maintain. Lenses that that I felt distinguished the mount and/or also fill significant gaps and holes. I write these speculative articles to be provocative and promote debate among users, which is exactly what seems to be happening. 

Your list of what Nikon should produce will absolutely be different than mine. Both my and your list will almost certainly be different than what Nikon eventually produces. However, to judge how well Nikon does with doubling the lens lineup in the next few years, you need to start with a foundation of what you think should be done. If Nikon mostly fulfills that, you’ll be happy. If Nikon substantively deviates from that, you’re going to be unhappy and want to understand why Nikon’s list went where it did. 

Personally, I’d be very happy if the list I propose above comes to fruition. Five of the lenses I propose are ones I’d absolutely buy. 

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