Nikon and Canon have both introduced mirrorless bodies using new mounts, and the industry is at a crossroads. The new lenses that were introduced lack any promise or justification for their existence, and are more expensive while offering less useful features than past generations.Most lenses introduced in the last few years have been a disappointment. While they are technically impressive, offering unprecedented focal lengths or apertures, they are getting drastically heavier and more expensive, while making serious compromises on usability and filter compatibility. At the same time, they are often missing basic features, like image stabilization or filter threads. This trend seems only to have worsened with the new mirrorless mounts.
Nikon’s Z line is a prime example, pun intended. For the launch of a new mount, they rolled out a few obligatory lenses including a 24-70 and a few primes. Instead of developing a more useful lens, like a telephoto lens native to the mount for launch, they focused development on a ridiculous 58mm f/0.95 vanity lens. It is rumored to cost $6,000, and is so unwieldy it comes with it’s own tripod foot. Besides trying to grab headlines, I can’t figure out who this lens is aimed at, particularly given the attributes of the existing Z bodies. High performance 50mm lenses, like the Zeiss Otus, already exist. Meanwhile, Nikon claims their existing 50mm Z mount lens “will redefine your notion” of what a 50mm lens can do. Do photographers really need two definitions of a standard lens on a mount that only has 4 or 5 lenses to begin with?
Canon’s RF mount isn’t any better, with the 28-70 f/2 lacking the wider angle capability of their EF lenses and any form of image stabilization, all for twice the price of their well regarded 24-70 f/2.8 II. The lens features an insane 95mm filter diameter, and weighs 1.3lbs more than it’s EF competition. This throws away any weight savings from the switch to mirrorless, and seems to be another example of a product made for a cool sounding headline, rather than a genuinely better user experience. What sort of performance could Canon have delivered if they stuck to F2.8? Could they have fit in an IS system? That omission seems particularly egregious given the EOS R lacks any built in stabilization. If they are worried about low light performance, a 24-70 f/2.8 II shooter can bring another 1.3lbs of f/1.8 prime lenses for the best of both worlds.
I would have loved to see some f/4 zooms that match professional standards, and some wicked sharp f1.8 primes. The classic 24-70 f/2.8 shouldn’t be regressing, and image stabilization should be included whenever possible. The new bodies are hopefully on the cutting edge of ISO performance, and emphasize the weight savings inherent in mirrorless, so what is this fetishization of unnecessarily wide apertures? The expanded electronic communication abilities of the new mounts also seem to be going to waste, as Nikon’s halo lens is manual focus only, despite the razor thin depth of field. Canon and Nikon instead seem to have aimed for the most expensive options at every turn, without a meaningful improvement in product capability.
These lenses seem to be trying to justify the new mounts’ existence. Instead of genuinely addressing a photographer’s needs, Nikon and Canon built lenses in search of a problem. Viewing the new lenses in combination with their bodies only further highlights the disjointed nature of the lineups. The Z6 and Z7 offer photographers a practical, collapsible 24-70 f/4 and a monstrous, multi-thousand dollar prime lens, with nothing in between. If, however, you're looking for a 50mm lens, the Nikon Z lineup is perfect, featuring 3 variations of a 50mm lens out of 12 total lenses announced.
I'm not saying the only direction to go is smaller, lighter, and slower. I'd love to see some alternatives to the bigger, faster, but wildly expensive lenses that are in vogue; I understand that new ground has to be broken for marketing wins. I think my problem instead lies with the unclear direction that Nikon and Canon are taking with their new mirrorless efforts. While the road maps they've provided offer more information than they have provided in the past, I don't see their overarching purpose. Is the Z lineup supposed to push the limits of what cameras can do, as the 58mm Noct would indicate? Then why does it's autofocus performance lag competitors and even the D850 it supposedly equals? It lacks the same level of customization in controls already present on less expensive, older bodies like the D500.
While some would say, if you don't like it, don't buy it, the very existence of these new lines also threaten the viability of existing models. Looking at the number of lenses that Nikon or Canon are capable of designing and launching, when combined with their road maps for the new mounts means new lenses for existing mounts are unlikely. The situation is even worse for users of the duo's first mirrorless efforts, as Nikon CX is discontinued and Canon's EF-M has an unclear future.
Nikon and Canon should ground their new mounts in reality. Once they’ve rolled out a competent set of practical tools, go ahead and build some $3,000 vanity lenses, but not while you’re still missing anything with a focal length above 105mm. As both mounts heavily rely on legacy compatible adapters to create any sort of complete kit, did the Z and RF mounts really need to exist? Nikon fans already complain of missing lenses for the DX mount, and I feel there are still holes in the F mount line, like a high performance, lighter mid-range zoom. Canon is having to juggle development for EF-S, EF, RF, and EF-M, which leaves the future of each mount in question.
Given the lenses introduced and revealed on the roadmap so far, I don’t believe Nikon and Canon are headed in the right direction. With tightening camera sales figures, manufacturers need to make rational, deliberate choices more than ever before, and manage their resources wisely.
Lead image by Szabo Viktor