When building a new mirrorless lens system like the Nikon Z system, camera manufacturers quickly learned that in order to get novice and seasoned pro photographers to switch to the new system, they needed to back up that system with premium optics quickly. Not only do they have to start producing topflight lenses, but they need to show a “lens roadmap” that gives photographers a combination of excited anticipation of the arrival of new lenses as well as confidence in their ability to expand their photographic capabilities inside the new system.
Camera and lens manufacturers traditionally kept their upcoming lenses as secret as they could (much easier in the days before the Internet and rumor websites and leaks!) but, these days, there is nothing to be gained by keeping your cards close to your chest, and all of the major manufacturers have lens roadmaps available publicly for their customers.
The Innovative Nikon Z System
After operating inside the tried-and-true, but limiting, venerable F-mount for its SLR and DSLR cameras, Nikon decided to push the envelope of technology with its mirrorless Z-mount system.
Nikon engineers designed the mount to have a very large diameter of 55mm and a short flange distance of just 16mm, measured from the sensor to the front of the lens mount. This large opening, 17% larger than the F-mount, with a relatively short distance from the mount to the sensor, allow for more efficient optical designs that promote larger aperture designs for greater light gathering, sharper optical formulas with less distortion, and the new mount also includes revised and faster data transfer between the cameras and lenses.
The pinnacle of the Nikon Z lens lineup is the “S-Line,” which, coincidentally, comprises a majority of the available Z lenses at the moment, but Nikon is beginning to expand the system to include smaller and more lightweight optics to match the growing camera end of the system, too.
Of course, the classic F-mount was not the foundation of a bad system at all, and many spectacular lenses have the Nikon F-bayonet. Luckily for those wielding Nikon Z mirrorless cameras, the FTZ Mount Adapter allows photographers to use 360 new and “classic” F-mount lenses on their Zs, and permits exposure control and autofocus with some Nikon autofocus lenses.
Let’s dive into a rundown of the current and future Nikon Z lens offerings.
The f/2.8 Pro Trinity/Triumvirate/Trifecta/Trio
Regardless of what triple-threat name you give it, the cornerstone of many professional photographers’ bags is a trio of lenses with constant f/2.8 maximum apertures that take you from ultra-wide-angle focal lengths to a good telephoto range. Of course, in the Nikon Z system, all three of these lenses feature the S-Line designation.
The Z trio of zoom lenses includes the beautiful NIKKOR Z 14-24mm f/2.8 S, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S, and NIKKOR Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S.
The New “Noct”
If you aren’t familiar with the legend of the Noct-NIKKOR 58mm f/1.2, then you might want to pull up an Internet browser and do some searching for tales and photos from this amazing lens that was produced for 20 years, starting in 1977. The lens was made for low-light handheld photography and was specially designed to remove coma at the edges of the frame—rendering stars in the night sky as points of light instead of blobs in the corners of an image.
Nikon has revived the iconic “Noct” name with the NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct, which is as much of a technology demonstrator for the Z-mount as it is a serious photographic tool. And, yes, you read that correctly—f/0.95. This manual focus lens has NIKKOR’s largest ever maximum aperture on a camera lens.
The Fabulous 50s
My love for the 50mm lens is no secret. Although Nikon has moved away from the traditional price of the “nifty fifty” lens, Z-mount photographers have the option of two S-badged 50mm optics—the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S and the ultra-wide maximum aperture NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S.
While pros love their 24-70mm f/2.8 zooms, I say that there is nothing like a 50mm prime for capturing images in the heart of the “normal” focal range.
Fast Primes for Everyone
Along with the beautiful 50mm options, Nikon has rolled out other wide-aperture prime lenses that cover popular focal lengths for landscape, street photography, and portrait shooters alike.
They are the NIKKOR Z 20mm f/1.8 S, NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S, NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S, and NIKKOR Z 85mm f/1.8 S lenses. All designed for low-light and shallow depth of field work, these four lenses have a f/1.8 maximum aperture and carry the S-Line designation.
When it comes to portability while preserving excellent optical quality, the f/4 lens has traditionally been the antidote to heavy and bulky f/2.8 zoom lenses. Nikon has photographers who like to travel with lighter kits covered with the NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S and the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S. With an S-series f/4 maximum aperture lens, you might lose one stop of light over the f/2.8 equivalent, but you’ll gain a lighter camera bag and less shoulder soreness!
Flexible Travel Zooms
If weight is at a premium and you do not need the wider constant maximum apertures for your photography, the Z mount has a couple of versatile zooms with an eye on travel photographers. The NIKKOR Z 24-200mm f/4-6.3 VR falls under the all-in-one zoom category of lenses going from wide angle to a long-reaching telephoto in one lens. And, if you really want to make your Z camera a compact travel partner, the tiny NIKKOR Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 fills the bill.
In case you missed it with all the full-frame hoopla, Nikon has already released a DX-format Z camera, showing the company’s commitment to the smaller sensor size, as well as unifying FX and DX sensor sizes under one mount. Announced alongside the first Z-mount DX camera were a pair of “kit” lenses: the NIKKOR Z DX 16-50mm f/3.5-6.3 VR and the NIKKOR Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR.
For those looking for extended reach with certain telephoto Z lenses, Nikon has a pair of Z-mount teleconverters: the Z Teleconverter TC-1.4x and the Z Teleconverter TC-2x.
The Future of Z
When you look at the family of Z lenses above, it is clear that Nikon has covered just about every standard photographic need for Z camera shooters in a short amount of time. Now the company can start expanding its line toward more specialty offerings and other convenient focal length options.
On the official Nikon Z lens roadmap, shooters can look forward to some new exciting lenses. Upcoming prime offerings include compact 28mm and 40mm lenses, an S-Line 85mm portrait lens that will be presumably faster than the f/1.8 version, and S-Line 400mm and 600mm super telephotos. Macro shooters will soon have the option of a Micro-NIKKOR 50mm and an S-Line Micro-NIKKOR 105mm. On the full-frame zoom front, keep an eye out for a 24-105mm S, a 100-400mm S, and a 200-600mm lens. And, for DX shooters, an 18-140mm travel zoom is on the horizon as well.
The future of the Z-mount is bright, and the company has announced the development of the upcoming flagship Z 9 mirrorless camera with a new stacked sensor, updated processing, and 8K video support. This development, plus the lenses on the roadmap, look to ensure a future for the Z-mount that may someday rival the longevity of the famous Nikon F-mount.
What lenses are on your Z-mount wish list? Does Nikon already have you covered? Or is there a gap in the current and future lineup that you’d like to see filled? Let us know in the Comments section, below!
I have shot with Nikon and Nikkor lenses since the mid 1970s. (I still have my original camera as a keepsake, but long ago sold the lenses.) Right now I am using two Z cameras (Z7 and Z7ii). My experience is: the dynamic range of both cameras is the best I have ever worked with, I can shoot at higher ISOs than ever before, and the autofocus works just fine for my applications in nature photography. (IG @JRTpics)
I own several Nikkor Z lenses; the 85mm being my favorite for incredible sharpness that brings out detail in flower petals and animal fur particularly well. I also like the macro images I get with the 85mm Z lens (with Hoya filters) over my 105mm macro F mount with adaptor.
My wish list: a native Z macro lens and something in the 400mm range for wildlife photography. I hope Nikon will be releasing these soon, but am willing to wait if it means the quality of the images produced will be on a par with the 85mm I like so much. (It also gives me time to save a little toward them.)
Right now, I am not a likely customer for a Z9, the projected specs I have seen would not be an asset to the type of photography I enjoy doing.
How are you doing macro work with the 85mm Z lens? Are you using Hoya close-up filters or extension tubes?
My guess is that, based on their extensive F-mount macro offerings, Nikon will not shy away from releasing a battery of 1:1 macro Z-mount lenses in the (hopefully) near future.
Thanks for reading, John!
As a frequent shooter of untracked astrolandscapes and time lapses (I shoot on a Z6 and a full-spectrum converted D800 with a mix of F-mount and Z-mount lenses), I'd really like to see Nikon do more at the wide-ultrawide end to really push the advantage of the wide and shallow Z-mount. This is probably only a matter of waiting until they have the super-telephoto, macro, and compact lenses that we see on the roadmap released. What I've seen of the S-Line lenses so far is that they're phenomenally good in the far corners of the frame at wide apertures when compared to F-mount and third party lenses -- great for astrophotography. I'm hoping they release a 14mm prime to match or beat the one Sony has just released, as well as faster 20mm and 24mm primes optimized for astrophotography. At the moment I'm left looking at the Rokinon SP 14mm f/2.4, but a native 14mm f/1.8 plus a 20mm f/1.4 or a 24mm f/1.2 would be really amazing... especially once we have a Z7 III and I can convert my original Z6 to full spectrum.
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. Hopefully Nikon will read your comments here and get cracking on a super-sharp ultra-wide angle lens for the Z-mount.
I may be incorrect, but I believe the widest f/1.2 lens for full-frame is a 35mm lens for Leica M-mount. Some Micro Four Thirds lenses clock in at f/0.95 if you want to venture into the super-ultra-wide world (with a 21mm equivalent focal lengths), but I am guessing you aren't likely to migrate from full-frame to Micro Four Thirds!
Let's hope Nikon scratches your itch soon!
Thank you very much for this very nice review.
I have used Nikon cameras and lenses for 45 years now. Currently, I have 4 camera bodies (3 F bodies and one Z body) and multiple Nikon AND Sigma lenses. I am however frustrated with the current Z series (cameras and lenses) deployment.
1) Nikon makes a lot of promises but can hardly deliver on the promises (at least in Europe). The current delivery looks like a drop-by-drop delivery. This also exists for the F series (e.g. the teleconverter 1.4x type III is unavailable for months now)
2) The quality of the lenses is medium or medium-high according to DXOMARK. At least, with the F mount, I was able to buy a less expensive but better (according to DXOMARK) Sigma lens. With the Z mount, it is not possible.
Taking Point 1 and 2 above plus the fact that the autofocus of the Z series camera (I use a Z7) is not working well, I am wondering when Nikon will wake up.
As far as I am concerned, I am waiting for the Z9 camera body (assuming that it meets expectations while I have started to slowly move to Sony.
Thank you for your comment and feedback. I would imagine that the Nikon folks will be reading through the comments here, so let's hope they hear what you have to say.
I do know that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc across the global supply chain and a massive containership perpendicular parking in the Suez Canal didn't help anyone either!
History might disagree, but I personally think that Canon and Nikon underestimated the popularity of mirrorless systems and are in catch-up mode right now. It will be interesting to see how wide-spread their futures lenses are and what price points they come in at. I am guessing the engineers are working lots of overtime trying to keep their customers happy and prevent them from migrating to other systems.
Thanks for stopping by!
I agree with you, Todd. I have the Nikon full frame 200-500 VR which I use on the D7100, but I find it too heavy even on my Nikon Z5with the adapter. I see other manufacturers are out with their similar lenses. I'm waiting. There is nothing that compares to Nikon glass and I won't compromise. I'll wait.
Thanks for agreeing and thanks for sharing your experience with the long lens. That is interesting.
I am sure Nikon is grateful that you are staying the course and I hope you don't have to wait long for the glass you need!
Thanks for reading!