Why do major manufacturers like Canon, Nikon, Sigma not make manual lenses?

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May 9, 2013
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There are so many amazing things that could be done with modern lens technology and manufacturing methods to allow optically crazy lenses for affordable amounts of money, if you didn't have to cram in gyroscopes and motors into every lens.

I read the other thread that was just made recently about Sigma's new 18-35mm constant aperture f/1.8, and my immediate thought was "almost ALL lenses could have these sorts of advanced abilities for the same prices, if we weren't paying for all the electronic crap."

I'm not saying to stop making autofocus lenses. I'm saying to make both: autofocus lenses that have normal stats, and manual lenses that funnel all of those modern technology and engineering resources into crazily wide apertures or huge zooms that aren't low quality, or multiple diffractive optics featherweight tiny little 400mm lenses, or whatever, without ending up beyond the price that most of the market is willing to pay.

They do a LITTLE bit of this. For instance, tilt shifts from these companies are not autofocus, or for example, Canon's MP-E 65mm 1-5x macro has no autofocus. But these are cases where autofocus wouldn't really work very well, and they were forced not to do it. But all the same, this allows them to put the cost toward some amazing capabilities instead: tilft shift + large image circles. Or 5x sharp macro optics.

Why not do that sometimes WITHOUT being forced to do it by physics? Not everybody NEEDS autofocus or image stabilization or auto aperture all the time in every lens. Why do we want to pay for them every time in every lens, at the expense of other cool stuff we could be getting instead?

Why am I paying for autofocus or auto aperture, for example, in a typical fisheye lens, where my depth of field is like 20 meters most of the time, and where I never even change my working aperture for months on end? I'd much rather have it be $200 cheaper, or a few millimeters wider.
Because they're in business to make money. They make the products that the majority of consumers want, and at the end of the day, it is not worth their while to put the amount of money into R&D that is required to come out with a new lens when in all likelihood they will only sell a few tens of thousands of units to the hipster crowd.
Putting image stabilization in Canon's 70-200mm 2.8 lens apparently adds about $700 to the price.

It's not unreasonable to estimate that by removing autofocus and autoaperture, you could shave off another $500-$600.

Only "hipsters" would be interested in a sharp, well-corrected modern Canon 70-200 f/2.8 L-quality optics brand new lens for $750 or so ($500 used after awhile?)

Or an 18-70mm f/2 constant aperture sharp modern manual lens for $300?
Nikon still makes 11 manual focus lenses. Down from around two dozen different manual focus models a few years back.


There are around 35 million, or more, used manual focus Nikkor lenses currently "in the wild".
Are any of the ones on that list newly designed lenses, though, or old relics they still make?

The concept doesn't work unless modern technology is brought to bear on the manual lens. Aspherics, newly available exotic glass, fresnel lenses, modern plastics, etc. etc.

Making an old design from the 1970's doesn't accomplish the desired goal. It just results in lenses with normal optical qualities for cheaper than normal prices. Which is fine, but not what I'm asking for. I want superhuman lenses for TYPICAL modern prices (possible by using modern tech. for glass and structure, but not for electronics). Those are different things.
By the way, what I'm suggesting is, in other industries, perfectly normal and done all the time.

Cars, for instance. There are several companies that manufacture high end modern luxury sports cars, which take advantage of all of the modern technology in materials science and mechanics to achive superhuman performance, but without any unnecessary creature comforts or trim. You can buy $1,000,000 sports cars that don't even have power windows, because the motors are unnecessarily heavy. You can also buy a $300,000 or $100,000 sports car designed with the same philosophy.

Or you could buy a mainframe computer server that doesn't come with a keyboard or a monitor or hardly any disk space, or its own cooling system, or maybe not even a proper housing for the box, or connections for any of these things, or a motherboard that can even decently support them anyway, etc.. But does have stupidly stupidly powerful processors and RAM.

Or a sleeping bag that doesn't look particularly pretty or roll up to fit in your pocket, or conveniently "breathe" to stop you from sweating too much if you use it too early in the season, etc. But IS optimized at a reasonable price to keep you alive in -70 degree weather or whatever.

Let's do the same sort of thing in photography is all I'm saying. Lens options designed for maximum possible performance at certain things with somewhat reasonable price points. Ones that dump all unnecessary convenience baggage in order to cram in more of a certain kind of performance instead.

Hell, this even exists already in photography for NON-lens accessories, but not lenses. You can buy an all around affordable tripod, sure, but you can also get an 8 segment tripod that contracts to like 5 inches and weighs 2 pounds (extreme portability in exchange for low stability or convenience of usage), or you can buy an iron brick of a studio tripod that could balance an elephant on top of it, but requires a car to move it anywhere more than a block away (stability in exchange for giving up portability). For some reason, though, all lenses take a much more "jack of all trades / middle of the road" approach when it comes to electronics features.
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Nikon invented floating element lens design, which revolutionized wide-angle lens performance. Later, they refined it, and came up with their close-range correction system, or CRC and the 20/2.8,24/2.8 and 35/1.4 all have CRC, and are relatively modern designs. I'm not sure when the 28/2.8 was last re-worked design wise,and I do not think it has CrC. The PC-E lenses are all new designs, and the 85 is the second generation. The 55 and 105 Micro-Nikkors are pretty good optically.

The biggest issue with manual focus lenses on autofocus bodies is accurate focusing. In many shooting scenarios, manually focusing is pretty inaccurate for many shooters, due to the viewfinder screens most cameras have nowadays. The fine-grained, smooth, sometimes artificially brightened viewfinder screens AF bodies come with do not show the ACTUAL shallow depth of field, due to the way the viewfinder screens are ground; an f/1.2 lens for example, has depth of field that visually appears to be about f/4 on an AF viewfinder screen, give or take a bit, so focusing is VERY dicey on something like an f/1.2 lens. Of course the same caveat applies when using an autofocus 1.2 lens on an AF body equipped with an AF viewfinder screen. Canon's Chuck Westfall said that the new Canon viewfinder system in one of their modern-era DSLR models had an effective DOF representation of f/4.2, which was causing a ton of focusing issues for people using their 50/1.2 and 85/1.2-L models and trying to manually focus them...the human error in focusing is now a huge PITA...

The best way to manually focus with an AF body is live view focusing, or live view with focus peaking, but that's mostly limited to fairly static,tripod-based shooting. The shift from manual focusing to autofocusing has hit the camera bodies pretty significantly...the tiny, crappy viewfinders on most APS-C entry- and consumer-level camera bodies make manual focusing using the tiny, low-magnification viewfinder image an iffy proposition. Now that Nikon has moved all cameras except the D4 to 24 megapixel sensors, and the D800 and D800e to 36 megapixel, accurate FOCUSING has become even more critical than it used to be. A 36-MP capture that's badly focused can end up having 8 megapixels worth of detail. All one needs to do to see how pathetic an entry-level d-slr focuses a manual focus lens is to use an MF lens on say, a D3200 or D5200 or D7100...and then use the same lens on a FILM camera that has the proper viewing system for manual focus ascertainment...there's no comparison.

So, while it might SEEM like manual focusing is a big plus, the digital cameras out on the market right now are really designed to be used with AF lenses. I was looking at Thom Hogan's D3s versus D3x sample photos a while back...as he pointed out, a slightly mis-focused 24MP D3x capture looks worse than a spot-on D3s 12.2 megapixel capture! We see the same thing reported on from a lot of high-megapixel shooters now...FOCUSING has become a major stumbling block now that the capture sizes are so,so large. I think the way the camera makers see it, they wanna sell MILLIONS of entry-level bodies and lenses and sell tons of volume. Manual focus has lost a lot of lustre in the marketplace. And I think the presence of Cosina manufacturing the "Zeiss" MF and cine lenses has pretty well sewn up the niche market that manual focus is these days.

If you DO want some new manual focusing lenses, Cosina is making its Voigtlander SL-II series for Canon and Nikon SLRs. https://www.cameraquest.com/Voigt_SL2.htm

They have what I have read is a good 20mm/3.5; a NEW 28mm f/2.8 aspherical for $529 F or $499 EOS; the 40mm f/2 Ultron; a 58mm f/1.4 Nokton, and have announced a new 75mm f/1.8 design (which seems to be delayed over 30 months since announcement in 2011...hmmm...); and the 90mm APO-Lanthar. If one wishes to pay triple or quadruple, one can buy the "Zeiss" branded manual focusing lenses, made also by....Cosina...
Hm, touche.

But although my T2i has a ****ty little pentamirror tucked in a dusty corner under the built in flash, my 6D has a pretty legit looking prism that seems just as large as my old manual Olympus 1's is.

As long as you have a good, bright prism, is it feasible to simply swap out the focusing screen for one of a different grind and magnification and/or microprism split focus or similar to bring the camera's manual focusing abilities up to par with typical manual cameras?

If so, that's only like a $20 accessory. If not, why not? What is it about the design of DSLR prisms that even with a different focusing screen would be fundamentally different than old manual cameras?
Hm, touche.

But although my T2i has a ****ty little pentamirror tucked in a dusty corner under the built in flash, my 6D has a pretty legit looking prism that seems just as large as my old manual Olympus 1's is.

As long as you have a good, bright prism, is it feasible to simply swap out the focusing screen for one of a different grind and magnification and/or microprism split focus or similar to bring the camera's manual focusing abilities up to par with typical manual cameras?

If so, that's only like a $20 accessory. If not, why not? What is it about the design of DSLR prisms that even with a different focusing screen would be fundamentally different than old manual cameras?

Also, wouldn't it be a perfectly workable solution to not have any electronics in the lens, but to still use the AF sensors on the bottom of the camera body to just tell you when the software thinks you have perfect focus? And to indicate in some other way when you start getting closer (for example, blinking the green focus confirm dot faster and faster as you get within range of in focus, then holding steady at perfect focus)? Your hand simply being the replacement for the AF motors in the regular scheme of things. This would not require any new focusing screens or prisms or any other hardware. Just firmware adjustments. yet it could still deliver all the same acuity of an AF system with none of the cost of the actual motors and electronics.
why is this forum double posting everything I try to edit tonight?
Yes, the size and magnification of the FF bodies is decent....but the "grind" or the degree of scatter, that is used in the viewfinder screens in AF systems just KILLS the human eye's ability to discern In-focus or out-of-focus. Like Westfall said, their tests at Canon were showing one body model with an "apparent" visual depth of field value of f/4.2...so...the people doing the manual focusing with fast primes were unable to actually get the benefit of the shallow DOF on things like their 50/1.2-L and 85/1.2-L lenses.

The other day, I picked up my old Nikon F3HP, and looked through it with a 50/2 on there. Oh-My-LORD!!!!!!! I was able to just SNAP! it into focus by hand-and-eye. D-slr finders are the same size, but lack the degree of contrast that the manual focusing viewscreens needed, and had.

Finder screens on average these days cost what? $100 to $200, depending? They USED to be cheap. But once again....this high-volume sales stuff is killing us. In an "old" design like a Nikon F,F2,or F3, the screen fits down from the top, with a removeable prism, and the screen sits on top of a frame, so it fits perfectly and the screen can NEVER drop out and into the mirrorbox. On most lower-end 35mm film cam's and on ALL d-slr's, removeable screens go in, are pushed up, and held in place by a fairly delicate clip system. The vast majority of d-slrs have NON-interchangeable finder screens, because,well...there's not that much NEED for them. Here is some "want" or desire, but it's a niche crowd. Interchangeablke viewfinder screens have ALWAYS been associated with top-end and 'serious' cameras.

Then there's the problem of how the cameras meter off of the screen image...OMG...different grinds used to necessitate EV comp be dialed in. SOME screens were useless, and almost killed metering. Most were only 1/2 to 2/3 EV correction, as I recall. On the newer cams like the 7D and I think the D300 series, they have a transmissive screen that is artificially BRIGHTENED by illumination supplied by the camera's battery system. KatzEYE, the company, makes some screens that fit some d-slrs. These newer, illuminated screens can superimpose grids, and so on. I miss the good old days of the K-screen and the grid E-screen.
Ahhhh, here's a blurb on the new "illuminated" system Canon added when they came out with the 7D:

"The EOS 7D's viewfinder doesn't feature interchangeable focusing screens. Instead, it has a transmissive polymer network LCD display integrated into the prism assembly -- a design we've previously seen in Nikon's DSLRs. Illuminated by a light-emitting diode in low-light conditions, this display is embedded with patterns that allow it to display either the camera's AF points, metering areas or a grid to assist with precise image alignment. It's an interesting design that allows the user to select which information they want to see without needing to fiddle with changing viewfinder screens. One potential drawback is that in extremely cold (sub-freezing) temperatures, the AF point display in AI Servo Tracking mode may lag behind the actual performance of the AF system. Note that due to the transmissive display, when there's no battery in the EOS 7D, its viewfinder becomes dark and clouded."

from Canon 7D Review: Full Review - Viewfinder
And Option #2?

More rapidly flashing AF confirm dot as you approach precise focus? Let the AF system continue to do the focus interpretation, but your hands replace the motors in perfectly nailing it. No need for better prisms or screens. Could be retrofitted onto old models without any new hardware.

I should ask about this on the magic lantern forums I guess...
Uh.... your solution to maximally cost-effective performance-oriented lenses is LEICA?!
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