Nikon Continuing to Disappoint by Jake Horn

The day you were waiting for finally comes. You’re a photographer shooting with a Nikon film body and you’ve been dreaming of a wide aperture lens that’s longer than your 85mm workhorse. Along comes the announcement of a brand new 105mm/1.4! Once the excitement settles, you see that it carries the ‘E’ lens designation. Shouldn’t be a big deal since you have a Nikon F6, which is still being sold by Nikon new. Come to find out that electromagnetic diaphragm lenses only work with modern digital cameras (post 2007). Now I know what you’re thinking, this situation applies to a small percentage of photographers. Well you’d be right assuming most photogs don’t shoot film exclusively, but there is an increasingly strong movement of those that shoot film with digital. The last thing you want with a hybrid kit is a lens that doesn’t work with both camera bodies.

Cameras Left in the Dust:

  • Any Film SLR
  • D1/2
  • D100/200
  • D40/50/60/70/80/90
  • D3000

In actuality, an ‘E’ lens will operate on the above mentioned cameras, but only at max aperture. The electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism is housed in the lens and controlled via the camera body. So if the body does not have the communication ability necessary, the aperture cannot be stopped down.

Current ‘E’ Lens Lineup:

  • AF-S DX NIKKOR 16-80mm F/2.8-4E ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm F/2.8E ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 200-500mm F/5.6E ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 105mm F/1.4E ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 300mm F/4E PF ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 400mm F/2.8E FL ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 600mm F/4E FL ED VR
  • AF-S NIKKOR 800mm F/5.6E FL ED VR
  • PC NIKKOR 19mm F/4E ED

That’s an big list of top level lenses making the jump to electromagnetic diaphragms! Out of 93 lenses currently being produced by Nikon, 10% are ‘E’ lenses.

While the realization that I will never be using the stunning 300mm/4 VR with some Portra 400 is disappointing, I am encouraged that the obsolete lenses will be more affordable, in greater supply used. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how Nikon still supports the F shooter by continuing to make manual and D-series lenses. But it’s a tough pill to swallow knowing there’s a lens ceiling quickly approaching Nikon film shooters. I’m not sure if there are hardware limitations in using the F6 with ‘E’ lenses or it’s a software issue. The F5 and F6 work perfectly with ‘G’ lenses and VR tech, so maybe there is hope for a firmware update. I’ve reached out to Nikon for comment on this, but haven’t had luck getting a response.

For decades, Nikon has been known for its stunning lens heritage. The DF’s ability to use pre-AI lenses was evidence of the company embracing backwards compatibility. But its legacy has also been reliant on forwards compatibility. This started to die with the release of the ‘G’ lenses, void of manual aperture rings. Now comes the new diaphragm that shuts out all film camera use.

With this, Nikon doesn’t appear to have a clear business strategy. They want to be forward thinking with the DF and appeal to shooters with legacy equipment. But at the same time, their newest technology has been developed with the video shooter in mind. This is where Nikon is in the perpetual game of playing catch up on concepts that have already been realized. Anyone needing proof of this need only look at the desperate attempt to jump on the GoPro wagon with the lackluster Keymission. It seems that Nikon is chasing what it thinks photographers want, rather than understanding unrealized potential and innovating still photography.