The Full Frame Lens Race

Well, at least I'm not going to write buzz, buzz about mirrorless full frame cameras. ;~)

Wait, what's that mean? For those just checking in, for almost 10 years now I've been razzing the crop sensor camera makers for not producing a full line of lenses, particularly Nikon DX (buzz, buzz). But this also applies to Canon EF-S and Sony E, as well. Basically, every time a lens maker has not been doing its photography-oriented customers justice with lens lineups, I've added a parenthetical buzz, buzz to my comments, as I did earlier this paragraph.

Sony this morning held a press conference at Photokina where they outlined new strategic moves they were making. In that presentation they promised 12 additional lenses "soon." That would bring Sony up to 60 lenses across both the E/FE versions of the mount. At the moment, they're at 26 lenses for full frame. Let's give them credit for 2/3rds of those new lenses being added to the lineup by the end of 2021 for full frame. 34 lenses. If we include Zeiss in the mix because of their close alliance with Sony, plus Tamron, who Sony partly owns, we hit 48 lenses.

Nikon has already outlined their 2021 goal: 12 already defined full frame lenses, plus perhaps as many as 11 more if those anonymous lens slots in the road map are full frame. Let's give assume a bit more than half of those are full frame: 18 lenses. Plus 60+ current DSLR lenses that work perfectly via the FTZ adapter. 

Canon hasn't been forthcoming with their ideas for RF, giving us only three defined lenses, and dropping hints in Tokyo about three more in 2019. So if that's a three-a-year pace: 12 lenses. Plus 60+ current DSLR lenses that work perfectly via the three EF adapters.

Here's how the new L-mount alliance plays out as far as we currently know: 6 current and 5 future full frame lenses from Leica, plus 3 "current" and 7 future lenses from Panasonic. Let's give them some credit for each doing something in 2021. Sigma has announced 14 prime lenses that will be in the lineup in 2019, and that brings the alliance up to: 44 lenses, with Sigma zooms being the unknown factor here.

Every one of these companies has mostly concentrated their efforts on the 12-200mm focal range so far (Sony has three telephoto lenses that go beyond that, though). What that's shaping up to mean is that everyone is going to have a solid basic prime set, a solid basic wide/mid/tele zoom set, and in many cases with choices of aperture. 

A number of years back I wrote about what it took for me to consider a lens system to be have the basics covered. Well, it looks like all four full frame mounts will have that done no later than the end of 2020. 

This makes the ease with which someone can consider moving from DSLR to mirrorless far less of a friction, particularly when you consider that Canon and Nikon users can also just continue using virtually all of their existing lenses when they switch (as long as they stay in brand). 

The question is this: will all this new lens development speed up the transition from DSLR to mirrorless? 

If it does, I'd have to say that Canon needs to goose up their RF lens development schedule (at the least the one we know about). 

Moreover, the pace of lens introductions basically seems to imply that no one will have any important advantage in quantity of basic lens choices by the end of 2021. The one exception to that might be if Sony produces a number of >100mm lenses, particularly in the 200-600mm range. But again, it seems clear that the Canon EF and Nikon FX telephoto lenses work just fine on their mirrorless cameras—within the limitations of their tracking autofocus systems—so the only mount that might have missing components above 200mm would be the L-mount.

I'm going to call it: the camera makers—other than Fujifilm XF and Olympus m4/3—are essentially telling serious still photography customers that full frame is where the full choice is. Canon, Leica, Nikon, and Sony don't really want you to buy a crop sensor camera and will likely continue to target consumer convenience zooms as the lens choices there (buzz, buzz ;~). 

text and images © 2018 Thom Hogan
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