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Reader Comment: Thoughts on Nikon Z lens Line Optical Quality

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Reader David T writes:

The more I watch the ambassadors. The more I think we might have a winner. I’m getting caught up with the wrong herd here. Thinking that maybe with the few custom buttons I can get proper settings I want quickly when combined with the U dial. Also there is that new function button that can be assigned directly on the lens - this is new and smart.

I think people might be hating on 1.8 because they assume they are cheap. If they weren’t spectacular why would Nikon promote this whole new mount as a feature. The mount might just tend itself to both less complex more consistent lens designs. We know how good the 35 on the RX1 is because of its proximity to the sensor. Maybe this isn’t so different.

As mirrorless users we both know how well the Loxia lenses are and how they strike an excellent compromise between image quality and speed. Users are used to 1.8 being cheap lenses while 1.4 is superb. Nikon is going the right direction here by offering 1.8 lenses that are light with potentially high optical performance. Really trying to have an open mind here, because we might have a winner on reliability and image quality - the reviews can’t come soon enough!

DIGLLOYD: I’ll be reviewing the Nikon Z7 and all its lenses in great detail.

In Nikon Z Lens Line Roadmap I alluded to something which I’ll make more explicit here: the Nikon NIKKOR Z 'S' line might substantially exceed expectations. Anyone presuming mediocrity because the lenses are f/1.8 or f/4 is placing a bad bet.

Nikon describes the new lenses with veiled but obvious pride

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S

Nikon describes the new NIKKOR Z S lineup in terms that aligns strongly with all the ideas I’ve put forth in recent years: (1) increase quality control, (2) choose moderate apertures for increased performance, lower cost and lighter weight and reduced size, (3) establish a high-end lens line, (4) create all new optimized optical designs.

It might be a golden (well, silver!) age for Nikon lenses. Nikon seems to think so:

The title of the S-Line is reserved only for NIKKOR Z lenses that have cleared newly established standards of design principles and quality control that are even stricter than Nikon’s conventional standards. The “S” represents the first letter of various words such as “Superior”, “Super” and “Sophisticated.” It also stands for the silver-colored line on the lens barrel: the symbol of the series.

All NIKKOR Z lenses that are released together with the new mirrorless cameras are S-Line models. Whichever model you may choose, every S-Line lens achieves new-dimensional optical performance including outstanding resolution that can keep pace with future imaging demands, providing photographers with excitement and richly satisfying shooting experiences.

Price vs performance, slow apertures are a SMART MOVE

See The Irrational Aim of f/1.4 Lenses, which I wrote back in 2015.

The new Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S is priced at about $597. Compare that to the about $217 Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G.

That’s nearly triple the price along with an all-new optical design not constrained by a mirror box and optimized for the new camera line. I expect the performance to be extremely high for the 50/1.8S and its siblings.

Many shooters bemoan the f/1.8 apertures of the two S primes as well as the f/4 aperture of the Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S. This is absurd in my view, f/1.4 does not serve most photographers well, who must suffer the penalties of cost/size/weight with an f/1.4 lens. Aperture f/1.4 is largely useless for many types of shooting; f/1.4 is often pointless.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S: 370 grams
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S: 476 grams
Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S: 500 grams

The new lenses are substantially heavier (but not heavy) than their old AF-S DSLR versions. Think about that: a new lens mount, all-new design, and substantially heavier! That almost certainly reflects far superior optical performance and to hazard a guess I’d say the performance is likely to leave all existing Nikon AF-S 35/1.4 and 50/1.4 and 24-70/2.8 “pro” lenses in the dust.

A new ultra ultra high end prime ≠ same-old

The Nikon NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct looks to be the finest full-frame mirrorless lens ever produced, and might cost up to $6000. Why build such a lens if not a serious focus on changing perceptions? It would not make sense to have one great lens and sibling mediocrities. I think Nikon is dead serious about retaking some glory.

Lenses are the most important thing; camera bodies evolve quickly. So I am not concerned about the already (apparently) excellent Nikon Z7—there will be other camera bodies. I care about the lens performance and the size/weight factor.

Nikon Z lens line roadmap through 2021
Nikon NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S
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