Nikon's Other Big Announcement: The New Lenses
And the Lenses I Wish Nikon Would Announce
While most of the current Nikon buzz surrounds the new D3 and D300 DSLR bodies, they also announced a number of exciting new lenses at the same time. Here are a few thoughts on the new AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED, AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR and AF-S 600mm f/4G ED VR, along with a bit of whining over what I wish they would announce but haven't yet.
Anyone considering the purchase of a new D3 will likely be eyeing the new Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED as well. It looks like an exceptional wide angle lens for a full frame body. Nikon's press release declares it the world's first ultra wide-angle zoom lens with a fixed f/2.8 aperture and boasts that it rivals prime lens performance. That's no small boast, but it should at least be put in context of the relentless pursuit of excellence that Nikon's previous ultra wide lenses have seen. When I shot film, I loved the Nikon 17-35mm AFS. Indeed, one of the reasons I kept a film body after getting my original D100 DSLR was that lens. There just wasn't anything like it available for DX-format digital, at least until the 12-24mm AFS DX was released. But in comparison once I did have a 12-24 in my hands showed that it was better than my trusty 17-35 had been. Side by side, the 12-24 on a DX digital body was sharper and had less barrel distortion zoomed all the way out than did the 17-35 on a film body and a comparable focal length. And it was a heck of a lot smaller and lighter weight. Yes, its widest aperture is only f/4 compared to the f/2.8 of the 17-35, but landscape shots are rarely shot wide open anyway. Enter the 14-24mm AFS full-frame lens. This is not a DX lens yet it zooms all the way out to 14mm at a constant f/2.8 aperture. That's remarkable. And given their performance claims mentioned earlier, I think it's safe to say that it will outperform the 17-35 AFS and perhaps even the 12-24. All things considered, I'll stick with the 12-24 for now since I'm getting a D300 and the DX format saves me more than a bit of weight and space. The 12-24 weighs in at 485 grams compared to 1000 grams for the 14-24. From the pictures of it available on the web, it appears to have a built-in hood rather than a detachable one. This seems to be confirmed by the official announcement which makes no mention of filter size. This is an interesting design choice as it would seem you can not mount filters on it. You likely wouldn't be able to at 14mm anyway, but they wouldn't vignette zoomed further out if you could mount one. Anticipated street price is $1799.
The Nikon AF-S 24-70mm f/2.8G ED looks to be a nice incremental improvement over the already stellar Nikon 28-70mm AFS. Both seem to be around the same size and weight, but this new lens purports to have an improved optical design. As with all the lenses being introduced now by Nikon, it features the nano-crystal coating technology introduced on the AFS 200mm VR to control flare and internal reflections. The 24-70 does finally dispense with the aperture ring, still present on the 28-70 even though no current body makes use of it. From examining pictures of it on the web, it appears too that the gearing of the zoom ring is better thought out such that rotating the ring a given distance at the wide end changes the focal length closer to the same amount at the long end than is the case on the 28-70 which gets a bit bunched up at the 28mm end. Street price is expected to be $1699.
Nikon have finally listened to user demand to add VR to their lineup of long telephoto lenses with the introduction of the AF-S 400mm f/2.8G ED VR, AF-S 500mm f/4G ED VR and AF-S 600mm f/4G ED VR. Together with the AF-S 200mm f/2 VR and the excellent AF-S 200-400mm zoom VR, Nikon shooters finally have what Canon has had for some time now. Thank you, Nikon. Each is just slightly heavier than their current AFS counterparts, something that is likely to be expected given the additional elements needed for vibration reduction. Each uses the same 52mm rear drop-in filters that have been standard on Nikon big glass for some time now. They have new lens hood model numbers, but I am unclear what may have needed changed on the hoods. Minimum focus distances for all three have been significantly reduced. All things considered, these should be excellent lenses for birders, sports shooters, or anyone who needs a big telephoto. Estimated street price is expected to be around $8799 for the 400mm and 500mm, and $9499 for the 600mm.
Now for what I wish Nikon would announce.
First up would be a replacement to the AF-S 70-200mm f/2.8G VR. While this is indeed an excellent lens, it is highly susceptible to flare whenever the sun is in front of the lens. Given the kind of shooting I do, I would love to see a nano-crystal wonder to replace the 70-200. Nikon is marketing their new 14-24 and 24-70 together with the current 70-200 as being their professional lens setup that covers the full focal range (obviously even including even wider angles than previously) at a fixed f/2.8 aperture. If they wanted to really impress people, why not release new versions of all three pro lenses, rather than just two?
Next would be new versions of PC (perspective control) and particularly TS (tilt/shift) lenses. The current 85mm tilt/shift PC is an excellent lens, but what about wider angles? The 28mm PC and 35mm PC lenses are now ancient. New versions would be most welcome, particularly if they included tilt and not just shift. Canon shooters have TS-E lenses in 24mm, 45mm and 90mm focal lengths. I want a good quality, wide angle Nikon tilt/shift.
And what ever happened to the 70-180mm zoom micro? It was (and still is) quite convenient for shooting in the field, but why not an AF-S version of it, and why not add VR while Nikon is at it? That would be even more convenient and would get a lot of use at least by me.
Nikon has been making great strides over the past few years in delivering exceptional gear that I really like. I'm sure that if they broadened their lens lineup to include a few more esoteric by highly useful tools such as these, I'd find something else to ask for, but a guy can dream. A recent article by Herbert Keppler notes that Nikon now beats Canon in digital SLR sales in Japan. Outstanding! But think how much more could be possible by filling in a few of these gaps in their lens lineup.