Just when it seemed clear that the direction for digital SLR photography was nothing but full frame image sensors, along comes Nikon. Announced today, the DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G, a lens that's purpose-built for the company's line of digital SLR cameras, signals that Nikon may not be dispensing with its smaller-than-35mm image sensor approach anytime soon. This spells good news for those seeking less costly professional digital SLRs in the future, since smaller sensors are inherently cheaper to manufacture, but bad news for those who perceive that a sensor the same size as a 35mm film frame as being the ultimate digital goal.
DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G
The DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G, which has been expressly designed for the Nikon D100, D1H and D1X, provides an angle of view comparable to about an 18-36mm lens on a 35mm film camera. Aimed at professional photographers, the lens is an AF-S type and includes both ED and aspherical elements. Like several other recent Nikon lenses, it's a G-type, which means it lacks an aperture ring on the lens itself.
During a brief session with an early sample of the DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G last week, its advantages were immediately obvious. The lens is extremely compact, light and brings a long-missed true wide angle zoom range to Nikon digital SLRs. Focus is whisper-quiet (thanks to a newly developed Silent Wave autofocus motor) and the zoom ring turns smoothly. At the 12mm setting, there was certainly no more barrel or pincushion distortion - the curvature of straight edges in the scene - than is visible through the viewfinder with the 17-35mm f/2.8 at the 17mm setting. The early sample lens' narrow focus ring currently lacks the same superb feel of the 17-35mm, however, while the f/4 maximum aperture may cramp the style of some (though not me; I rarely shoot wide angles at maximum aperture).
The extreme focal length range of this lens is possible in part because the DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G is designed to cover an image area only as large as Nikon's current crop of digital SLR models. The lens projects an image circle that, as the lens is zoomed closer to the 12mm setting, grows increasingly smaller, to the point where the image circle no longer covers the image area when the lens is mated to a 35mm film camera. This translates into the image circle becoming visible through the viewfinder, at least at the lens' widest focal length settings.
Nikon USA's SLR Camera Systems VP Richard LoPinto stresses that even though the DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G will mount on a Nikon film body, its design, from the minimum diameter of its image circle to its optical formulation, is tuned specifically for Nikon D-series digital. When mated to a Nikon digital SLR, LoPinto promises topnotch centre-to-edge performance, thanks in part to the lens' digital-only design (though Nikon has not detailed what it has done to optimize the optics in this lens for digital, beyond the use of aberration-reducing ED glass).
The DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G, says a "development announcement" on the Nikon Japan web site, is only the first of several possible DX lenses planned:
Nikon digital SLR users can look forward to exciting additions to the lens lineup, as the new lens design can also be applied to high-power zoom, fast (large aperture) and other such high-performance lenses.
While Kodak and Canon, as well as second-tier digital SLR players like Contax, have opted for a 35mm-size sensor in at least one of their digital SLR models, Nikon's announcement seems to suggest that we'll see more smaller sensor cameras from them in the future, as well as more digital-optimized DX lenses as well. This certainly bodes well for current Nikon digital owners, as well as those who've opted for Fuji's S1/S2 Pro cameras and they're similar-size sensors (though it's not known if the DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G, and any other DX lenses that follow, will be fully compatible with Fuji's Nikon digital hybrids).
The DX Nikkor 12-24mm f/4G is scheduled for release in the spring of 2003. Pricing has not been set.
In a separate announcement, Nikon has said that the AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED, announced in late February of this year, will ship in April 2003. The suggested retail price is to be revealed about 30 days before shipping.
AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8G IF-ED