Aha! Quality versus Size


Every now and again I get an email or message from someone that helps me understand or make clearer what the real target of camera makers should be. That happened again this weekend. In a nutshell:

  • Buy the largest sensor with the smallest lenses.

I couldn’t have said it better myself, and to some degree it’s why Sony is seeing the A7 line as one of their more successful experiments. Largest sensor (full frame). Smallest lenses (mirrorless means shorter rear throw and potentially smaller lenses, f/4 means they aren’t as big as the f/2.8 monsters that Canon/Nikon promulgate).

That’s also why the new Nikkor 300mm f/4E on a D300s replacement body would be sweet, too. Largish sensor with smaller-than-expected long telephoto lens. On the other hand, it’s the reason why the Nikon 1 series has problems (smallest sensor, largish lenses).  It’s also why Nikon DX isn’t executing as it should (it’s got a largish sensor, but the lenses Nikon is producing for DX are getting bigger, not smaller). 

Even with FX Nikon seems to be less than optimized. The new f/1.8 lens set, while excellent, tends to be larger than it really needed to be. Compare the 35mm f/1.8G to the older 35mm f/2 and you’ll see that Nikon’s probably going the wrong direction here. Sure, image quality is important to improve in a lens, but it appears to me that Nikon is emphasizing that over size. Moreover, even though Nikon is emphasizing image quality, other lens makers are producing lenses with even better image quality (arguably larger lenses, though). If you want to sell the most product, you have to find the best compromise. Largest sensor, smallest lenses is the right compromise. 

So, with a new chant in hand—largest sensor, smallest lenses!—I update my lens requests to Nikon for the following:

  • DX prime lens set that’s as near pancake in size as possible. Minimum required: 16mm, 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, 58mm. We have one: 35mm f/1.8G DX.
  • DX zoom lens set that’s rationalized to DX. Minimum required: 10-16mm f/4, 16-50mm f/4, 50-135mm f/4; later a 16-50mm f/2.8, 50-135mm f/2.8 that are not overly large.
  • Fix the FX f/4 zoom set: smaller 12-24mm f/4 and 24-70mm f/4 lenses to supplement the 70-200mm f/4. 
  • Any new f/1.8 FX primes need to not grow in size please: 24mm f/1.8, 105mm f/1.8.
  • Finish the missing AF-S telephoto primes, but try to keep them from gaining any girth: 135mm f/2, 180mm f/2.8, 400mm f/5.6.

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