Magazine Article


Those D___ Lenses
The Digital Deal

tug and Statue of Liberty
Telephoto compression. It’s more pronounced at greater distances. Statue of Liberty looks next-door to the orange ferryboat, but they’re about a mile apart. Maxxum 7D at 300mm. (480mm equiv.)
© Don Sutherland

cruise ship
DSLRs lead the image-quality parade, but that doesn’t make permanent-lens models bad. Kodak EasyShare DX7590, 5MP with 10x Schneider, caught the fine details of Carnival Legend.
© Don Sutherland

Canon 10-22mm digital lense
Three new Canon digital lenses: 10-22mm
Canon 17-85mm digital lense
Canon 60mm Macro digital lense
60mm Macro

The $799 to $999 these cameras sell for is hardly chump change, and it's still a bit higher than most high-end compacts go for—their prices have come down, too. But these are the prices the compacts used to go for, and they found a market. And hey, these are SLRs.

It's not just that they permit swapping lenses. In most cases they produce better pictures too, with larger imagers and larger pixels that generate less noise. So it needn't be the technophile who buys such a camera. Anyone who thinks the top performance is worth a few bucks is likely to be attracted. And so far, that looks like a good number of people.

But they may be as unacquainted with lens effects on perspective and depth, than the compact-camera customer is. And for the extra money, you''re giving them big noses?

All the sub-$1k DSLRs can be purchased with "kit" lenses, and guess what? They're all zooms. They're modest-performance zooms, mostly 3x like the lenses of the old ZLRs, with a limited amount of "distortion." But also, these cameras take some amazing supplementary lenses. Big noses? Try ‘em at 14mm. Cyrano was a piker by comparison.

D Rules
The prevailing assumption used to be that few purchasers of consumer-market 35mm SLRs would actually buy additional lenses. Today's customer is even more likely to fall into the same mindset, because the camera itself is said to produce sharper pictures than its fixed-lens rivals. That distinction was not so clear, between 35mm SLRs and ZLRs.

But it was certainly to be hoped that Joe Foto would buy extra lenses, and such hope prevails today.

And we're all doing our best to make sure everyone buys new D-lenses, those designed especially for use with digital cameras. One of the reasons could be that the established manufacturers—the Canons and Nikons and Pentaxes that hooked and hung onto their customer with their lens mount—would like to sell everybody a new set all over again, as they scrap their 35s and buy into digital. Sure, you can use your old film lenses, the argument might go, but should you? D-lenses, besides greater correction for the distinctive requirements of a digital imager, are theoretically smaller, lighter, more portable. Buying new D-lenses is truly a game of everybody wins.

The theories of SLR marketing are not as old as Copernicus, but they do trace as far back as the 1960s. In human terms, that's a long time. Yet even they become subject to change, in the new technoworld congealing around us.

If you bought a Canon or Nikon or Pentax camera and lens before, your follow-up lens would be Canon or Nikon or Pentax too. As would your next, and your next, each new purchase further solidifying your techno-addiction to one camera brand.

But what's happening now? Everybody's saying you should buy new D-lenses. So if you're starting all over, do you have to stay with the same lens mount?

Brand loyalty on this level may or may not have been studied. I know the marketing guys will tell us what they themselves are quite sure of—customers bought their line once, they'll buy it again. Their confidence is laudable, but do the customers see it the same? Why would they? Especially when all the competitors are shouting, "look at me!"

Nikon and Canon had the big lens lines in the 35mm market, though Pentax and the Olympus OM lines were no slouches. Some of those lines reached 30 and 40 lenses. But hey—guess what? There are no 30- or 40-lens lines of D lenses. Not yet, and nobody's saying how long it will take. Maybe this will be the makers' opportunity to pare-out those slow-moving specials, like shift lenses—does anyone need their perspective control in the Photoshop age? Who knows?

What is clear is that the D-lens choices are modest, and though they're growing, the selection is nowhere as compelling as film-camera lenses are. A look at Nikon's website, for example, reveals only six D-lenses. Canon has produced seven in all, but two have been upgraded so that their total (including three announced in August) comes to five.

Both Canon's and Nikon's D-lens lines include two models that zoom-out to 18mm, and one to 17mm. So are these really "different" lenses?