Canon Lens Price War Coming? – CameraTalk With Matthew Saville

Camera Talk With Saville May 16th 2014 12:14 PM 18 Comments

canon-lens-war-begins“So It Begins.” …spoke King Theoden, in The Lord Of The Rings: The Two Towers.

Long have photographers complained about how expensive name-brand lenses are. And rightfully so, to some extent, in my opinion.  For many years, major camera companies have used the sales tactic of selling camera bodies as cheaply as possible, and then “making a killing” on additional lens sales down the road.

But who can say what is a fair price, when something is the best?  Until very recently, it was simple:  If you wanted the best lens on the market, you paid a huge premium.

Is that business tactic coming to a close, thanks to that “healthy competition” everybody keeps talking about?  Maybe, a little bit.  With companies like Sigma, Rokinon, and other third parties turning out great lenses with superb sharpness, (say what you will about their quality control and overall track record) …the pressure has definitely been building for both Canon and Nikon to begin offering more quality lenses that don’t, well, cost a fortune.

Nikon has already begun doing so, in my opinion, with their new f/1.8 AFS-G prime lineup.  Although on the one hand, the new f/1.8 G lenses could stand to be priced more aggressively.  The new Nikon 35mm f/1.8 G is ~$600, which is “too close for comfort” to the $900 Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART considering the Sigma is a fully professional lens made to rival Canon and Nikon f/1.4 versions that cost ~$1,500. (While the Nikon 35 1.8 G is seemingly just meant to replace the old, ~$300 Nikon 35mm f/2 D)

On the other hand though, Nikon seems to be pretty liberal with $100 rebates for any f/1.8 G prime that has been on the market for a while.  (Namely the Nikon 28mm f/1.8 G (review here!) and Nikon 85mm f/1.8 G. Note that the Nikon 50mm f/1.8 G is only $200 to begin with, so its rebate is usually just $20, but the 50mm f/1.4 G often gets a $100 rebate, putting it under $500!)

Nikon could still be more competitive on price across the board, though, from affordable primes to affordable zooms.

wedding-photography-lens-recommendations

Canon, on the other hand, has historically shown very little interest in pricing its lenses competitively. Their most common rebates still barely scratch the surface of what many consider to be over-inflated price tags.  Take for example the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS mk2, which ordinarily costs a whopping $2500, compared to a Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX OS at just $1400.   The Canon often has a $300 rebate while the Sigma often has a $200 rebate, and this doesn’t even knock the Canon below $2K while the Sigma becomes a mouth-watering $1200.

Surely, the Canon is a superior lens in a few ways.  Canon L lens quality, in general, is legendary for its “workhorse” ruggedness and dependable operation.  But is that worth a $900-$1100 price difference? Maybe, maybe not.  I’m just here to open the discussion!

Canon’s 16-35mm f/4 L IS & 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 EF-S IS

Yesterday however, Canon announced two new ultra-wide zoom lenses.  While their slower apertures makes them “underwhelming” announcements to the speed junkies, their prices speak volumes to me as an observer.

canon-16-35mm-f4-l-is

The 16-35mm f/4 L IS is $1200, which isn’t as cheap as the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L, but then again that lens has been around for over a decade.  (Does anybody remember what its MSRP was in 2003?)  Plus it doesn’t have IS.  More significantly, the Nikon 16-35mm f/4 VR by comparison is $1260.  Either way, fellow photographers I talk to all say that they’re surprised it didn’t cost $1500 or more.  Especially considering that we recently saw the (even less exciting, and easier to design?) Canon 24-70mm f/4 L IS debut at $1500.  Say what? Unless there is a serious difference between these two lenses’ sharpness, the $1199 number is a good indicator for Canon owners. (By the way, Canon’s MTF charts for the new 16-35 f/4 are quite promising!)

canon-10-18mm-f45-56-ef-s-stm

Then there’s the Canon 10-18mm F/4.5-5.6 EF-S IS STM which costs….wait for it…. $299. Again, unless this lens has downright mediocre sharpness, (and again, Canon’s MTF charts indicate otherwise) …this is a jaw-dropping price even for a variable aperture, non-L lens.  Forget that it’s made by Canon; Sigma’s two 10-20mm options are $450-$650, and even Tamron’s 11-18mm (which lost pretty much every comparison against other APS-C ultra-wides) was $550 back in the day.  Once again, what gives?

Any way you spin it, Canon’s 10-18mm is especially indicative of a possible change in the company’s overall pricing philosophy.  Of course, it is far too soon to tell what one $299 number really means for the entire company, and here at SLR Lounge, we never count chickens before they hatch.  But it’s pretty hard to imagine how any third-party manufacturer, Sigma, Tamron, or even Rokinon (if they were in the zoom game) could compete with that price.

Canon Lens Predictions

To be honest, I don’t really expect Canon to just slash their prices across the board.  All the other companies that seem to be on a roll lately (Sigma, Sony, Rokinon, etc) are still far from actually harming either of “the big two,” as I pondered in this recent article here.

For example, compared to the legendary Canon L lineup, (maybe that’s what “L” stands for?) Sigma only has a small handful of “A” lenses available, and their EX lens lineup, while reputable and containing many gems, went almost un-noticed for years compared to Canon’s “L” reputation.  It would take Sigma years to develop an entire lineup of Art lenses including f/1.4 primes, f/2.8 zooms, and f/4 zooms.  (Still, each new Art lens does seem to be a home-run hit that shames its nearest Canon competitor.)

So what might Canon do next?  They could compete with the likes of the new Sigma 50 Art by releasing a new Canon 50mm f/1.4 non-L, that costs ~$450-550 and offers good sharpness, plus Canon’s signature gorgeous bokeh that even Sigma’s ART line struggles to match.  (No, I don’t think Canon will rush to update their 50mm f/1.2 L.  If one comes out soon, it was probably a long time in the making…)

canon-affordable-prime-lenses(Yikes, look at Canon’s official product photo for the 50mm f/1.4!
It’s so old, it looks like it was shot on film. Time to update, Canon!)

Canon could also follow Nikon’s example and release updates to their more affordable primes.  Canon’s 35mm f/2, 50mm f/1.8, and 85mm f/1.8 are still very common lenses, and with an aggressive pricing philosophy akin to that of the new 10-18mm, I think it would be possible to see all of those existing lenses updated with amazing increases in sharpness and build quality with no greater than a $100 increase above each existing lenses’ retail price. If they can adapt their STM autofocus motor to an f/1.8 prime, the lenses might be even more affordable!

Considering all of the lenses currently in Canon’s lineup, I believe this is one of the most likely next courses of action for the company in the near future.  Maybe there’s one or two more APS-C lenses in the works, but they’ll probably be similarly “slow” with the same goal of weight / cost savings, not exotic / specialty lenses.  Moving on: Canon’s f/4 and f/2.8 zoom lens lineup is fantastic, aside from the missing (but already rumored) 14-24mm f/2.8 L.  So, maybe we’ll also see a new Canon L prime or two? Canon might be working on an updated 24 1.4 L or 35 1.4 L, and/or a (totally new) 85mm f/1.4 non-L (or L) in anticipation of whatever ART prime Sigma decides to make next.

In short, it seems that it is time for Canon to come off a high horse and do two things:  Crank up the quality of their non-L glass (way up!) without cranking up prices too much, …and compete at least a little better on price with their premium L lenses. We should watch the next few lens announcements very carefully, to see how competitively they’re priced.

Sigma Lens Predictions

Sigma, on the other hand, has many roads they could venture down.  Personally I think they will continue to ride the line between competing directly with Canon / Nikon on price and sharpness, …and “filling gaps” with specialty lenses that simply don’t exist in other lineups.  For example, the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 EX DC ART is another home-run of a lens that I honestly doubt Canon and Nikon will ever bother competing with.

sigma-18-35mm-f1.8-ex-dc-a

Next, I think we’ll probably see Sigma make some sort of extra-fast aperture full-frame zoom next, such as that 18-35mm f/1.8 full-frame that everybody wanted, or the 16-24mm f/2 that I personally would rather have for astro-landscape photography. Given the aperture of such a lens, Sigma could (almost) charge whatever they want and still it just as fast as they could manufacture it.

A 24-70 f/2, however, is almost completely out of the question in my opinion simply due to how incredibly heavy it would be.  Canon and Tamron can already barely fit their f/2.8 versions within 82mm filter threads, for example.

Eventually, more likely is a Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 A, or a 70-200mm f/2.8 OS A, or maybe a 16-35mm f/2.8 A. Maybe in that order?  Each will cost at least $500 less than its Canon / Nikon competition, and will offer similar, equal, or better sharpness.  (And hopefully, Sigma can work out any issues with autofocus reliability too.)

I also hope they’re not done with Art primes either.  I’d love to see a Sigma 24mm f/1.4 A for $700-1000.  I’m sure a 85mm f/1.8 (“A” or “C”) would be awesome if it cost less than $500.  Or any Sigma f/1.8 prime, for that matter, especially a 105mm f/1.8 A, or a 135mm f/1.8 A.

Nikon Lens Predictions

Nikon, on the other hand, has very few lenses in their lineup right now that need updating.  Their f/2.8 and f/4 zoom lens lineup is complete from 14/16mm to, well, 400mm!  Their f/1.8 AFS-G prime lineup is brand-spanking new, and their f/1.4 AFS-G prime lineup is decent.

nikon-canon-sigma-35mm-f14

Like Canon, Nikon could also stand to have a more, um, flawless 35mm f/1.4 if they want to continue to command a price that is almost double that of the Sigma ART option.  The Nikon 24mm f/1.4, Nikon 58mm f/1.4, and Nikon 85mm f/1.4 are all killer lenses, but if I had to pick one, I’d say the 85mm f/1.4 AFS-G N is more likely to be updated first.  (As much as I’d rather see a newer and more affordable 24mm f/1.4 AFS-G first!)

canon-135mm-f2-l-nikn-135mm-f2-dc

Nikon’s only lenses left that haven’t been updated in forever, aside from specialty lenses like tilt-shifts and fish-eyes, are the Nikon 135mm f/2 and 105mm f/2.  Oh, and the 200mm f/4 Macro is bordering on “ancient,” too.  Don’t get me wrong, the 135mm and 200mm are both incredibly sharp; they just so happen to be some of the oldest (AF) Nikon lenses still in production.  If anybody can think of other Nikon lenses in the same age group, it stands to reason that they’ll be updated soon too.  (Please feel free to leave a comment below!)

All in all, the same overall change is inevitable in my opinion.  Nikon needs to compete a little better on price, and we’ll watch very carefully to see what the next 6-12 months hold.  I doubt prices on existing lenses will magically drop, but any new lenses that are announced will be a good telltale sign.

Long Term Market Predictions

Like I said, we’ll have to wait for a few more lenses to be announced from both Canon and Nikon.  We can’t make a judgment call based on the mild surprise of pricing for just two new lenses.  However, at the very least it should raise an eyebrow or two among Canon (and Nikon) shooters.

Take care, and happy clicking,
=Matthew Saville=

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About

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge. Connect with him on Google Plus

18 Comments

  1. Paul Tucker

    I think the only thing that will bring the market pricing down will be competition – real competition. Sigma has certainly offered some real threat with producing some killer A series lenses, but like you said, they really need to be able to offer a full line up – or at least enough to fill the portrait/wedding photographer’s event bag; unless you can compete with at 24-70 and the 70-200 from Canon, you really won’t bite into the pro market. The same goes for Tamron and others. I look forward to seeing what Rokinon and Samyang offer in the next 2-5 years. They have a long way to go still, but their optics are starting to shape up nicely.

    All that said though, if the lens market does become far more competitive, it’s only going to drive the prices of bodies upward. While I hate the prices of lenses and premium bodies, it’s hard to deny the massive amount of R&D that goes into the technology advances each new body offers.

    Anyway… I’m rambling now. Cheers!

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    • Matthew Saville

      I think it’s a little bit more complex Paul, at least for the flagship pro sports markets. So far, despite offering things like 12 FPS and great AF, I just don’t see many olympic etc. photographers using anything other than 1DX’s and D4′s etc.

      In other words, Sony could demolish the beginner industry but not even touch the flagship pro industry.

      I dunno, we’ll see…

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  2. Ryan Cooper

    Great synopses, One lens that is also way out of date that Nikon could do with updating is their 180mm F2.8 which I feel is a great focal length for headshots and is so much more portable that the 70-200. The current 180mm F2.8 was released in 1993.

    The 80-200mm F2.8 is a bit old too now which I think would make a great competitor for the Sigma 70-200 if Nikon updated it to be more modern.

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  3. James

    A new Nikon 17-55 f2.8 with VR would be nice

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    • Matthew Saville

      Do you mean, full-frame? If so, I simply don’t think it is possible for a lens to go from 17mm to 55mm and hit f/2.8 sharply the whole way, not without costing / weighing as much as a “Master Prime”… http://www.zeiss.com/camera-lenses/en_de/cine_lenses/master_lenses/master_prime_lenses.html

      If you mean DX, then yes I’d love to see a new one too, however I don’t really know if that’s likely, considering that Nikon hasn’t released a pro-level DX lens SINCE the 17-55 DX. :-(

      =Matt=

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  4. Arthur

    I’m a full time photographer and for 26 years I only bought Canon branded lenses, mostly L-series.

    Last month I bought my first third party lens. The Tamron 100-600mm. One, because Canon has nothing in that range and weight, and two, if they had it would cost several thousand dollars more.

    And boy am I impressed with the optics and overall quality of the lens. I’m so happy that now I’m starting to seriously consider Sigma’s Art lenses too.

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  5. Bokehman

    A couple of years back when speaking with a Nikon rep, I had asked him to pass along my ‘wish’ for an updated ‘AF-S 80-400′ – a year later is was release! Last year, I spoke with the Nikon rep again and asked for an updated ‘AF-S 180′ – he wished for a ‘AF-S 135′ . . . just maybe the karma gods will smile on us this September ?

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  6. Daid

    Nikon might want to have a look at their 300 f/4 prime, too. One of the last ‘D’ lenses they have.

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  7. Jennifer

    The only problem I have with 3rd party lenses ( I have the sigma 70-200) is where do I send it to be cleaned and serviced? Its free through CPS, but sending in my 70-200 cost me almost $200 to be cleaned. If you spend that every year that quickly makes up for the price difference….

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    • mark

      SIgma USA does that.. if it’s under warranty they do it all for free… sigmaphoto.com

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  8. Derek

    You’re not even comparing the same things, though. Sure – the EF-S lenses might be getting lower in price and higher in quality, but those can’t be compared to the EF lenses, which are the only ones that will work on their full-framed cameras. The only indication I see is that Canon is seeing its EF-S line of cameras becoming more professional, and thus, are offering more professional lenses for them.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Derek, that might be the case for Canon APS-C lenses, but not others. I frequently use my Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 on my full-frame cameras at 16mm, at least for wild dance floor stuff at wedding receptions where corner sharpness and a little vignetting doesn’t matter lol. Actually it’s about as good (as bad) as the Canon 16-35, lol…

      But I get your point. We’ll see if Canon makes a full-frame version of this $299 lens! That would in fact be a HUGE sign that Canon is truly turning things around…

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  9. Joe

    I’m SO impressed with the Tamron 70-200. Taking the tank-like build of the Canon, the Tamron even beats the Canon on couple of issues, IMO. Nice article.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I wouldn’t go so far as to say “tank-like” regarding the Tamron. Joe, how long have you been using yours? I don’t think it’s even been around long enough to prove its worth in heavy duty use situations. But I’m curious to hear, so please do reply if you’re one of the types who really abuses your gear and the Tamron 70-200 is holding up to it!

      =Matt=

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  10. StevenP

    Would love to see the Nikon 300 f4 upgrade to include VR. I also see a lack of a G-type Fisheye (FX) in their series.

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