Results of My Nikkor Lens Surveys

Almost 14,000 responses. Here's what you said.

Earlier this year (2011) I again surveyed byThom site readers about Nikkor lenses. You probably are wondering what it was you said (collectively--I hope you remember what you said individually). This second survey had slightly over 7100 responses from Nikon DSLR owners before I closed it down after a few days.

Today we're going to look at a few overall results from these surveys, specifically centered on the most recent one. Later we'll look at DX and FX subsets to see if this changes any of the responses.

Overall, the survey takers split to about 66% DX users versus 33% FX users (this site tends to attract D90, D300, D700, and D3 users more than low-end DSLR users, thus the results are disproportionate to the entire Nikon user base, but highly correlated to the serious Nikon user).

The top four DX lenses that survey takers currently own are the 18-200mm, 18-70mm, 35mm f/1.8, and 12-24mm f/4, in that order (ranging from 17% to 22% ownership). Of the existing Nikkor DX lenses that people say they will purchase in the future, only three lenses had a response over 10%. From lowest to highest: 16-85mm f/3.5-5.6, 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5, and 35mm f/1.8. If you can't see it already: the 35mm f/1.8 DX was a big hit. Meanwhile, the 17-55mm f/2.8 is not so loved (10.6% currently own it and 6.1% once owned it but sold it; this is in contrast to my previous survey, where the 17-55mm f/2.8 was in the top four owned DX lenses).

The top four FX lenses that survey takers currently own are (from highest ownership rate to lowest) the 70-200mm f/2.8, 50mm f/1.8D, 24-70mm, and 70-300mm VR, with the 105mm f/2.8 VR close on the latter's heels (ranging from 20% to 32% ownership). Future purchases for existing FX lenses were also interesting. In ascending order, all with 20% or more "will buy" responses: 24mm f/3.5 PC-E, 105mm f/2.8 VR, 50mm f/1.4G, 70-200mm f/2.8, and the real surprises 24mm f/1.4G at 26.2% and 16-36mm at 30.2%. Other current lenses that just missed out on being in that popularity contest are the 85mm f/1.4D, 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8, and 200-400mm f/4, all in the high teens.

One of the surprising things to many people I show the full set of numbers to is how many lenses (both existing and proposed) fall in the "single digits." When you consider that ~20-30% of you have bought nine specific lenses and that 30 other existing lenses are in less than 10% of your bags, you start to see some of Nikon's problem: there are a few clear winners everyone wants, and then things break down into lots of small groups that want specific things, but those things are different for each group.

So I decided to go back to my previous large lens survey, taken back in 2006, to see if it showed the same thing (remember, at the time, there were no Nikon FX bodies, though there was the Kodak Pro 14n, which only 0.8% of the 6000+ respondents said they owned).

The top four DX lenses owned four years ago? 18-200mm, 17-55mm, 12-24mm, and 18-70mm, in ascending order. Notice something interesting? Yep, the 17-55mm ownership basically dropped in half between the first and second survey. Obviously, a lot of this is the FX effect (people replace it with the 24-70mm when they move to FX), but it doesn't explain the whole drop. The four DX lenses people said they'd buy in the future were the same four (all with over 25% saying they'd buy those). Curiously (;~) I proposed several (5) DX lenses that came to pass. Two of those are now on the current will buy list and were high on the old will buy list (10-20mm, and 35mm [technically, I proposed a 30mm]).

Top FX lenses owned four years ago? 50mm f/1.4D, 70-200mm f/2.8, and 50mm f/1.8D all far outrun the others (26-40%!). The primary "will buy" lenses four years ago were the 85mm f/1.8, 105mm f/2.8 VR, 70-200mm f/2.8, 300mm f/2.8, and 200-400mm f/4.

By now you're probably getting the same feeling I do from these lists:

DX User

  • 10-24mm or 12-24mm
  • 16-85mm or 18-200mm
  • 35mm
  • 105mm macro
  • 70-200mm
  • 200-400mm

FX User

  • 14-24mm or 16-35mm
  • 24-70mm
  • 70-200mm
  • 200-400mm or 300mm
  • 24mm or 24mm PC-E
  • 50mm, 85mm, 105mm macro

Yep, that's the core of your lens buying past, current, and future. Of those lenses, only one isn't current (the 85mm f/1.4D, which as of this update is now current [f/1.4G] but wasn't when the survey was taken). Also note which lenses have been getting updates or alternatives that many of you thought were unnecessary (10-20mm, 16-35mm, 70-200mm, 200-400mm, 300mm, 24mm, and 50mm). Everything else is small potatoes compared to that set of lenses. Thus, the "Nikon should revise the XX lens" complaints that you see around the net pose a real problem for them. While there's demand for perhaps another 50 or so different lens specifications, all of those lenses are small fish to Nikon: the level of demand for any given lens beyond those in the above table all falls down into a long tail. Picking one over another to do based upon "demand" is nearly futile, as the demand is mostly low and near equal on all the other lenses on the list.

For example, there's been a constant call for an 80-400mm update (it needs AF-S). I agree with those folk, I think it's a lens that strongly needs updating. I want one. Now. But I'm in the minority here. Only 6.6% of you own the lens and only 6.7% of you say you'd definitely buy it if existed. Even the "would consider buying" response was mid-pack for this lens at about 28%. Curiously, more of you would want a 100-500mm f/4-5.6G VR AF-S (though I don't think the survey respondents knew how much more that might cost, which would probably change the results).

Looking at the overall results of the survey, it seems like Nikon has been making reasonably wise decisions about where to put its lens design/redesign focus. But what happens when we look at the subsets (DX only or FX only)? Well, stand by, we'll be looking at those numbers soon.

Meanwhile, the survey tells me I need to prioritize my 10-20mm, 35mm, 16-35mm, 14-24mm, 24-70mm, 300mm, and 24mm PC-E reviews. I might not get to all of these before a few others, but I've pushed things around on my To Do list priorities based upon your responses.

Another way to look at lenses in my user surveys was to look at the "Not Interested" responses.

For DX, the lenses you weren't interested in were:

  • 91.8%: 85mm f/3.5G AF-S VR macro
  • 90.6%: 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR
  • 84.2%: 55-200mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR
  • 82.1%: 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G AF-S VR

Remember, byThom site visitors are highly skewed towards the D70/D80/D90/D7000 bodies and higher, so the last two aren't surprises. The first two are head scratchers. The first because not only is the demand low for a modest aperture 85mm macro lens, but why Nikon felt that something was needed between the 60mm and 105mm in the first place seems unclear. The 18-105mm is a surprise because it is the kit lens for the D90, and it's a quite good all-purpose lens. The DX lens with the lowest "Not Interested" score was the 35mm f/1.8G AF-S. (The 2006 survey has similar results, though the 18-135mm is the highest "Not Interested" response, which makes it unsurprising that Nikon stopped making it.)

I proposed thirteen possible future DX lenses. The ones with the highest interest were:

  • 16-50mm f/2.8G VR AF-S
  • 50-150mm f/2.8G VR AF-S
  • 100-300mm f/4G VR AF-S

Those of you (including me) arguing for a wide angle DX prime are going to be upset to hear that such lenses polled poorly (half or less) than the above three. Two lenses polled higher than 90% in the "would not buy" column: VR updates to the 18-70mm and 18-135mm zooms. (The 2006 survey has very similar results for proposed lenses, with only a 10-20mm f/4G AF-S polling higher than the ones I list above. Not surprising that Nikon came out with a 10-24mm, is it?)

If you remember from the first installment, the 17-55mm was initially popular but then saw a great drop in interest in the second poll. Yet here we have a replacement polling the highest in proposed new DX lenses. I think it's safe to say that people want a fast mid-range zoom for DX, but the 17-55mm isn't it. Personally, I like the old screw-drive Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 and it's what is in my DX kit bag, so I guess I'm no different from the rest of you. The Nikkor 17-55mm isn't a bad lens, but it's a big, heavy lens that seems out of place with the DX concept and simply doesn't excel enough to dislodge other competitors.

The interest in a 50-150mm isn't surprising, either. The Sigma 50-150mm and the Tokina 50-135mm have proven to be popular third party lenses (reviews coming). But neither of them have VR, which I think is necessary for this type of lens and its likely uses.

FX lenses were more interesting in the "Not Interested" column. First, there was a far greater range of values generated (40.5% to 92.8%). I'm going to set aside the highly expensive exotic telephotos for a moment (300mm, 400mm, 500mm, and 600mm), as they are clearly niche lenses. So which FX lenses weren't you interested in?

  • 92.7%: 16mm f/2.8D
  • 92.6%: 14mm f/2.8D
  • 91.7%: 18-35mm f/3.5-4.5D
  • 91.6%: 28mm f/2.8D
  • 91.5%: 24-85mm f/2.8-4D

At the other end of the spectrum, the lowest scores in the "Not Interested" category came from the lenses I mentioned yesterday (50mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm, etc.), most polling in the 40-50% range. (Curiously, in the 2006 survey, none of "Not Interested" numbers for the non-exotics hit 90%, though the results parallel the 2010 survey almost exactly, just at lower "Not Interested" levels.)

I proposed seventeen possible future FX lenses. The ones with the highest interest were:

  • 24-70mm f/2.8G AF-S VR
  • 85mm f/1.4G AF-S VR
  • 24-105mm f/4G AF-S VR

A proposed 100-500mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR clearly outpolled an updated 80-400mm f/4-5.6G AF-S VR, though the 100-500mm was clearly less interesting to you than the above three lenses. [Note: the 85mm has appeared, without the VR, and the 24-105mm turned out to be a 24-120mm and quite popular.]

In the 2006 survey, the proposed future FX list came out with different results, and I think the D3 is the reason why the 2010 results are different. People wanted faster lenses more (e.g., 85mm f/1.4G AF-S VR, 50mm f/1.2G AF-S, 28mm f/1.4G AF-S). The D3, D3s, and D700 abilities in low light seem to have mitigated that response somewhat.

Some readers commented that perhaps the availability of third party lenses (Sigma, Tamron, Tokina) altered the survey results somewhat. Perhaps. I specifically kept these two surveys to Nikon-only lenses, but I have done a smaller survey of third-party lens adoption, too. The results seem consistent, and the number one reason for buying a third party lens was simply "price." My best guess right now is that for this particular audience, the lenses they want from Nikon aren't much different from what they want from third parties.

One thing that's become clear to me over the five years that I've been sampling Nikon users and polling them periodically about lenses (I've done more than just the two big surveys I'm reporting on here) is that there is a fairly small core of lenses that almost all users want most, and a long list of more specialized lenses that fairly equal, but small, numbers of other users want. It's a strange bell curve: highly pronounced and narrow peak, with very, very long tails

Nikon is now selling over six million lenses a year. We may have an 80/20 situation here, where 80% of those sales are a dozen key DX and FX lenses, and 20% are the other three dozen with not a lot of differentiation in unit volume between them. In such a situation, doing a lens like an 80-400mm with AF-S may simply not make anywhere near as much financial sense as adding VR to the 24-70mm or updating another key lens.

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