Do You Buy DSLR Lenses Still?

The latest trend in my In box hasn't been about cameras. It's concern about lenses (again). This time the concern is about full frame lenses (but see comment at end for crop sensor).

In particular, it's looking/rumored that Canon will primarily focus on full frame RF lenses this year, and Nikon is promising six full frame Z lenses in 2019, which would be about their average new lens output for a year. New EF and F mount lenses seem like they're be rare in the coming year. Heck, they've been rare on the Nikon side for a couple of years (4 in 2017, 2 in 2018). Canon did a bit better with 6 in 2017, 4 in 2018. 

But that trend line looks worrisome, doesn't it? 4, 2, ? and 6, 4, ?. That first ? could be 0 or 1, the second could 2. That's not a lot of new DSLR lenses.

Of course, Canon and Nikon both have huge lineups of DSLR lenses already. They're not dropping existing lenses from the lineup (other than ones that got directly replaced). So there are plenty of excellent lenses for a DSLR user—old or new—to choose from.

Yet, there's worry among the faithful that this is the end for new DSLR lenses, so I'm getting the question "is it worth buying a (DSLR lens) still?"

The answer is quite simple, actually. 

Those of you asking the question tend to fall into one of two categories: (1) you're likely sticking with DSLR; or (2) you know you'll transition to mirrorless (either sooner or later). Given the average age of most DSLR users, there are far more people in group #1 than you might think.

Those that answered #1 should know their lens answer: continue to buy the DSLR lenses you want or need. Indeed, the fact that you keep buying those EF and F lenses will keep Canon and Nikon making and supporting them. Bonus: you can stop reading now!

Those of you that answered #2 have a slightly different answer. I wouldn't, for instance, tend to put my money in any of the existing f/2.8 DSLR zooms at the moment, as both Canon and Nikon have indicated that they'll make RF and Z versions soon. While the current 14-24mm/16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm DSLR zooms all work fine on the adapters on the mirrorless bodies, I think you really want to see what Canon and Nikon produce directly for the mirrorless cameras before you invest in those particular lenses if you don't already have them. (Again, I'm talking to group #2 here; don't panic group #1 users if you kept reading!)

Speciality lenses I wouldn't worry too much about buying the DSLR version. It'll take Canon and Nikon time to transition products like the tilt-shift lenses and even most of the big exotics. Moreover, in a number of cases, I'm not sure that it would be worth waiting for, anyway. For example, the two PF lenses (300mm and 500mm) from Nikon work just fine on the FTZ adapter on the Z cameras. I'd doubt that a Z version of either would change much other than dropping the need for the adapter. Not a big deal to me.

Primes are an interesting area. All my Canon and Nikon primes work just fine on the R and Z bodies via adapter. They shoot exactly how I remember them shooting. However, both Canon and Nikon have produced new mirrorless primes that outperform the equivalent DSLR prime (reviews of the Nikon 35mm and 50mm f/1.8 coming shortly). If that trend continues, I'd be tempted to wait on primes, too, if you're in that #2 category. 

A lot of you didn't notice my Nikon Z Lens Set blog entry. I noted a number of DSLR lenses there that I'm using on my Z cameras and I'm not at all thinking that there will be a Z version soon that would make me change my mind. In particular:

  • 8-15mm f/3.5E
  • 19mm f/4 PC-E
  • 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6E AF-P
  • 300mm f/4E PF
  • 500mm f/5.6E PF

I'm sure I could identify more, but that list is just primarily for my own types of shooting. Use your own judgment for your shooting, with these two things to guide you:

  • f/2.8 zooms are coming, consider waiting to see how they perform and how they're priced
  • Basic primes are looking better in the mirrorless mount, particularly outside the center

Finally, there's a third group: people who've already made the transition. You know who you are: you've already bought an Canon R or Nikon Z6 or Z7. You've already put your existing DSLR lenses on the adapters and seen what they can and can't do. You're actually the reason why Canon and Nikon are going to put out so many RF and Z lenses this year. They're hoping you buy them all ;~). 

Unfortunately, some lenses just don't seem like they're coming soon, so you have to make some DSLR choices. For example, macro lenses (no I don't consider the Canon R 35mm f/1.8 a useful macro lens). We may be waiting a long time before we get >100mm macro lenses in mirrorless, so you're going to be dipping into DSLR lenses to cover that. 

Likewise, strangely we're not seeing consumer-type lenses from Canon or Nikon in their RF and Z announcements or rumors. No 28-200mm (or longer) superzoom, no 70/80-300+mm telephoto zoom, not even a 70-200mm f/4 or 100-400mm f/5.6. You'll be dipping into the DSLR line if you want something like that.

Addendum: I mentioned crop sensor up at the top. If full frame Canon and Nikon DSLR users are confused, imagine the crop sensor users. Canon has a crop sensor mirrorless system, but it's incompatible with RF and requires its own lenses (or adapting EF lenses). Three primes and five consumer zooms make up the entire EOS M lens set. If you're not happy with that, you have to buy a DSLR lens and adapt. 

Nikon users don't even have that choice. For the time being, crop sensor is only DSLR for Nikon. There we have four DX primes, three DX "prosumer" lenses, and 23 consumer zooms (many of which are remakes or no longer made) to choose from. Basically a Nikon crop sensor user buys DX and FX lenses in the F mount, period. 

As I've indicated many times, I believe that Canon and Nikon (and now Sony) are getting crop sensor wrong when it comes to lenses. Sure, build the consumer zooms: entry-level folk prioritize convenience. But don't throttle the lineup. Build up a basic set of crop sensor lenses. In full frame equivalents, I'd argue that you need a minimum of 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes, and 16-35mm, 24-70/105/120mm, and 70-200mm zooms with a reasonable aperture. Add a longer macro, too. If you don't have those things, then the person that came in at entry-level discovers they can't get to the next level with what they have. The price jump to FX is too much for some, so you lose those folk to m4/3 and Fujifilm, both of whom have the lenses you didn't make. 

One question I get when I mention this is this: why don't the third-party lens makers step in, then? To some degree, they have (witness the Sigma f/1.8 crop sensor zooms). But the thing is that the third party lens makers don't have the same motivation that the camera maker does. The camera maker should have the motivation of "retain the customer and collect all their dollars." The third party lens maker has the motivation of "where do I get the most return on my R&D dollar?" Thus, what happens is that the third party lens makers generally see more potential in something other than making a crop sensor lens (which because of the market, is going to have to be consumer priced, remember). Right now, the primary motivation for the third party lens makers is to be faster to a particular mirrorless lens than the camera maker, because that's where they can collect the most cash. The marketing hype is all in mirrorless to start with, so they can ride the marketing wave, too. 

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