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News & Insight

A Talk With Nikon Sr. Technical Manager| Nikon’s Got A Lot New To Offer

By Kishore Sawh on October 24th 2015

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It may seem strange to begin a string of thoughts and news about Nikon by first speaking of Leica, but here we are. You see, there’s been much brouhaha this past week over Leica’s new SL system, a mirrorless that looks utterly different than any Leica that has gone before it, and isn’t a rangefinder. In fact, it will require (and get) a range of lenses entirely of its own and be able to adapt to Leica lenses that have come before it. Bloomberg Business even titled their piece on it echoing what some seem to think, that with the SL, Leica is gunning for Canon and Nikon.

Well, no, actually, I don’t buy that for a second. Not only do I not believe for a moment that Leica wants to compete, but as much as I love them, neither do I think they can – in that market anyway. Now I’m not saying they’re all pretty face and no trousers, but, just because Nikon and Canon haven’t been leading the headlines with innovation don’t think the reigning patriarchs have become dethroned, or will be anytime soon. Nikon has actually had a number of lens releases in the past while, if not that many new cameras, but the ones they have released have been rather brilliant. The D810, D750, and D5500 come to mind, all three hitting much critical acclaim and to a mass market.

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B&H Photo sent us to New York City to cover the show at PhotoPlus Expo and here, I met with Nikon, specifically Nikon Senior Technical Manager, Steve Heiner. Steve is one of those people who are becoming a bit more of a rarity in this business because you immediately pick up when engaged with him that he’s that blend of old-school camera experience mixed with the frontline. There’s no facade, and he knows just how to handle a media guy like me, as well as he can handle a camera system.

I asked him what he thought were the best things Nikon was really offering at this point, as well as what’s coming next, and in that order, here’s what we spoke about.

Cameras

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Nikon is truly proud of their D5500, and without a doubt, they should be. It’s not a Leica SL that aims to please the financially well endowed, but the rest of the world, and arguably it’s just as, if not more, difficult to create something for the masses that is at once affordable and able – and the D5500 certainly is. It continues to draw critical acclaim for its sensor performance and its monocoque build. What’s that? Well like the absolutely brilliant D750 (see our review here), it is a blended form using long-fibre reinforced thermoplastics; as Steve put it, it’s like an Indy car where the frame itself is the frame, chassis, and parts, allowing for good structural rigidity together with lightness. Hopefully, we will have a review of it coming soon.

[REWIND: The D750 Review | It’s Achilles, Less His Heel]

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Nicely, if you’re looking for a starter package, Nikon is releasing some for the holidays that pair the D5500 with the 35mm f/1.8 DX, and an 85mm f/1.8, making for a beautiful portrait kit for DX shooters. A general rule of thumb I offer to new purchasers is to stay away from bundles because you can generally more specific pieces of kit more tailored for your wants than what a kit provides, but there’s just nothing that can be argued about with this kit, so look out for that soon.

Lenses

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But where Nikon has only released a few bodies, they’ve been rather prolific at releasing lenses, and that, to me, is the meat anyway. There is the 16-80mm f/2.8-4E AF-S DX, which is actually the world’s lightest 5x zoom of its kind. It equates to about a 24-120mm FX, making it a brilliant walk around and travel lens.

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Then, of course, there’s the new and improved redux version of the universally adored 24-70mm f/2.8, but this time it’s got four stops of vibration reduction. This lens we’ve spoken about before, but it’s truly something special (and if any of you want to contribute to funding my happiness, this lens is right up there with cheap flattery for me).

Next, there are the longer reach glass just as impressive, or more so. There’s the 500mm F/4 AF-S FL, and the 600mm f/4E AF-S VR that’s now 3 pounds lighter than their previous models, as well as incorporating non-stick lens coatings, and Fluorite lens element, and four stops of vibration control. Given the 4 stops VR, and the 3 pounds of weight saved, you may not think so but it makes this lens actually operable without support, and easily operable, with.

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Possibly the best value among the big-boy-toys however, seems to lay with the new 200-500mm f/5.6E AF-S VR, which is only 1 stop slower than the 500mm f/4, has 4.5 stops of vibration reduction over the 500mm f/4’s 4 stops, and where the 500mm f/4 will crater your bank account like a $10k meteor, this 200-500 is smaller, lighter, and costs only $1,399. Nikon will be sending me one to review soon, and if it’s as good as I hope, it may be my next purchase. Of course, at the moment it’s backordered with Nikon, but B&H will let you pre-order it now.

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So what’s coming from Nikon? Well, my meeting was done with a PR executive right there with us, so little could be disclosed, but Steve just said this, “We don’t disclose these things really, but you know us as a company, and you know our history, and we’re not going anywhere.” To that, I would think, well, good. I don’t want Nikon to go anywhere, especially if they are going to be producing like this. Sure Sony is really gunning for everyone’s business, but it’s still companies like Nikon we rely on to get the jobs done, whenever and whatever it is.

A big thank you to our sponsors, B&H Photo for making this trip to Photo Plus Expo 2015 possible!

About

A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. J Cortes

    Kishore,

    Nicely done, but I would of liked to see you ask some more probing questions. Questions such as any plans for a full frame mirrorless ? You guys worried about Sony having a lead in the mirrorless realm? (no the Nikon 1 series is not an answer) Any plans for a new update to the 105 and 135 F2 duo? I’m sure you would’ve of received the standard answer “we can’t discuss future products”, but you never know. Thanks for the article.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      J, I understand, and believe me, I asked, and to some degree got answers. However, with a Nikon PR man silent but present, it wasn’t the easiest to draw out information, and Nikon is notoriously tight on releasing anything before they damn well feel like it. That said, there is more to come, and I will certainly have a chat with Steve regarding any questions you or anyone else would like to bring up – within reason – but also understand they all may not be answered. Cheers

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  2. Lauchlan Toal

    Nice report, always good to hear some positive news from the frontline. I’m looking at picking up the 200-500 as well – Nikon really hit a home run with that lens. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

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    • Kishore Sawh

      Lauchlan, it’s really quite an incredible piece of kit on paper. Small and light enough to not always necessitate a mono or tripod, and that range is just so nice. I mean you could get 7 of these lenses for the price of the 500 f/4, and you’re really only losing a single stop. This would be my go-to for aviation – could even bring it in a cockpit…maybe…maybe not

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    • Kyle Stauffer

      Totally agree!! If there was a lens that Nikon desperately needed, IMO it was this one. I was patiently waiting for a 400mm 5.6 or similar from Nikon that was under $1500.

      If getting into quality wildlife photography and not wanting to spend 10’s of thousands, it was a no-brainer that Nikon wasn’t the system to go with. I think they’re getting to that.

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    • adam sanford

      That Nikon 200-500 (specifically reaching to 500) for under $1400 is a genius move for two reasons:

      1) Confidence: As much as three third party 150-600 lenses now are available, folks remain leery about 3rd party AF routine reliability and consistency.

      2) Conversions from the Canon camp: Canon folks wanting 500mm reach require $9k for a 500 prime or teleconverting something that’s already quite slow. For the reach-obsessed on a budget, this is a hole in Canon’s lineup.

      So I think this lens will sell like hotcakes, even if it turns out to be only a 7/10 optically.

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