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Nikon patents a lens for mirrorless APS-C camera

Nikkor 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 lens patent

Nikon filed a patent (2012-220827) in Japan for a Nikkor 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens. Egami reports that this lens was designed for a mirrroless APS-C based camera. It will be interesting to see in the next few months if  more similar patents will show up online. I seriously doubt that Nikon will introduce a new mirrorless camera system any time soon. I think there is a better chance for something like the Pentax K-01 that will be compatible with all F-mount DX lenses - I cannot see Nikon supporting another mount in addition to the CX and DX/FX.

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  • the monkey king

    Thom thinks it will eventually happen.

    • Thom Hogan

      The question I have for these DX-sized mirrorless patents we’re seeing out of Nikon (this isn’t the first) is where they’re really targeted. It seems that there are three primary possibilities:

      1. A DX mirrorless camera system. Why? Both Canon and Sony have APS (DX) sized mirrorless systems. Those are Nikon’s two most feared competitors. Better be ready to compete in case those take off.
      2. DX DSLRs migrate towards mirrorless. Why? It’s inevitable. You have to drive costs out of the low-end consumer DSLRs, and losing the complexities of the mirror system is one way of doing it. So you move the AF sensor to the image sensor (ala Nikon 1), you lose the optical finder (ala Sony SLT bodies), and maybe you move the mount position (to make for smaller product, ala m4/3, NEX, EOS M). If you do it right, you have a transition position, much like Canon does with EOS M (it can use regular EOS lenses with an adapter that basically is about the same size as the moved mount position).
      3. Nikon introduces video cameras. Why? DX is very, very close to Super35mm, the Hollywood standard for so many years, especially when you consider 16:9 aspect ratios. You really want your video equipment to be in the same mount family/size as your still cameras (ala Sony and the E-mount). From Sony’s position, it allowed still cameras first (NEX) with lots of video options following (VG, F, etc.). From Nikon’s position it would allow video cameras first (the C1), with transition to #1 or #2 later as necessary.

      Bottom line: we’re going to see lots of energy on Nikon’s part to make sure that they have all bases covered. Best case: Nikon 1 manages to gain traction, DX holds serve, FX continues to do well, and Nikon figures out a video camera option that fits in that line. Worst case: Nikon 1 has to transition to Nikon 1DX, DX slowly dies, FX continues to do okay, and they forget to do a video camera.

      • Nikon Shooter

        Possibility #4

        Filing a patent for the sake of filing a patent. Often times the research goes into several competing projects and the company picks its horse after all the possibilities have been evaluated from the technological and marketing standpoints. Even though the other projects become abandoned the patents are filed nonetheless. A tech-company’s portfolio is one of its biggest assets and more often than not new patents is the only thing it has to show for the money it’d sunk into the research.

        I’m not saying the other three possibilities are wrong, but Nikon 1 system is the biggest proof that we shouldn’t expect a new DX mirorrless system. It would now cannibalize not only the DSLR sales but also Nikon 1’s. Nikon 1 is actually an awesome camera if you don’t pixel-peep (I used to be one of the biggest skeptics) and once the sensor technology catches up to the system’s potential and few more lenses get released it will simply crush the competition.

        • Danonino

          Exactly, I absolutely hated the 1-system until Jan last year (2012 :)) when I realised that it had all that i wanted, small size, blazing fast AF, absolutely silent shutter and extreme FPS! Perfect for street photography! BUT, I dont like the sensor thats inside.. I would love to see the Sony RX100-sensor in the Nikon 1 system. But I guess that will never happen.

        • Dave Lively

          Right now B&H is selling the T3i with a 18-55 and 75-300 lenses for $600. The EOS-M sells for $780 with the 18-55. What Thom said about mirrorless cameras costing less to produce makes sense so Canon is making a lot more money per camera with the mirrorless EOS-M.

          If they make more money selling mirrorless why would they possibly be worried about cannibalizing their SLR line?

          There is not a tech company anywhere that is not always trying to find a way to get people to buy new products with high margins instead of older products where competition has driven the margins low. If anything they should be worried about SLRs cannibalizing their mirrorless sales. Given what the V1 is selling for right now Nikon would probably like to have something to “cannibalize” some of those sales too.

        • Thom Hogan

          Japan’s patent system is a little different than the US’s. It’s relatively easy and low cost to file a patent there, so there’s a lot of “back of the envelope” patents filed just as position holders. So in that sense, you’re correct.

          However, in the optical world, I doubt that we’d get a specific patent like this unless it was something actually specifically researched and developing towards prototype. At worst case, Nikon is hedging their bets, making sure they can move if the market demands APS/DX for mirrorless. Again, given that all of their main competitors are using larger sensors, the pressure is on Nikon to make the Nikon 1 sell. It only seems to sell at discount at the moment ;~). At best case, Nikon has a plan for this lens that somehow fits in with all their other plans ;~).

      • MyrddinWilt

        Possibility #5 This design is actually going to appear as a CX lens with the parts scaled to make it a 10-30mm.

        Patents cover ideas and are broader than a single instance. So a patent that describes a lens scaled for a DX sensor will describe it in a way that could be applied to a CX, FX or MX sized body.

        Since the point of the patent is to prevent unlicensed copies, Nikon does not want their designs being used to make lenses for the Canon system.

        I agree that DX is probably on its way out but my reasoning is rather different to Thom’s. There are advantages to having a big sensor and to having a small one but not a lot of advantage to a compromise between the two. CX is going to beat DX in any application where long reach, size or weight are the main concerns. FX is going to beat DX in any application where a wide lens with a fast aperture is desired.

        Nikon does not need a DX mirrorless, What they need is f/1 primes for the CX system. Supporting separate lens ranges for CX and DX and FX mirrorless would be a nightmare.

        For DX mirrorless to make sense it has to offer a big enough advantage over both CX and FX. If Nikon can make an FX sensor at a low enough cost then it would make best sense to skip DX altogether. Right now there is a big price difference in the sensors. But you don’t launch a new camera system on the basis of a price advantage that may become irrelevant in five years time.

        On the other hand, this is Nikon and they seem to understand the marketing.

        • Thom Hogan

          I could live with only CX and FX. But the problem is this: can Nikon? ;~) After all, if I’m counting correctly, DX was over two-thirds of their interchangeable lens camera sales in 2012. CX isn’t exactly rushing out the door, and it will always be at a disadvantage to APS mirrorless from Canon, Fujifilm, Samsung, and Sony. FX is doing well, but “well” at the high price points.

          It’s a conundrum. I’m not 100% sure what I would do if I could call all the shots, but I think I can say that I wouldn’t have done what Nikon is currently doing.

          • KnightPhoto

            That’s pretty much what I’ve done – gone FX and CX exclusively. The FX cameras IQ is superb and pair them with an UWA, 24-70, and 70-200 and I am living the dream. And my V1 is my pocket camera and fits seamlessly right into my Capture NX2 workflow. I will get a D400 though, but exclusively for good-light bird and wildlife photography and pretty much no other use. So I only buy CX and FX lenses. To answer some other posters, I personally don’t see the attraction for an FX mirrorless. I will probably get any CX fast prime though and I love the on-sensor PDAF where Nikon clearly leads the world (want this in live-view on my mirrored cameras too).

        • KnightPhoto

          Good to see a DX mirrorless patent, and thanks Thom I didn’t realize this wasn’t the first Nikon patent in this area. As someone else posted, DSLR future is likely ONLY for the high end DX D400 equivalent model and the FX models but nowhere below that in the lineup is the mirror needed. All the lower spec camera models become mirrorless, so a mirrorless DX lens lineup makes sense to complement the current DX lens lineup. Take this to the Nth degree and in 5 years you don’t need non-mirrorless DX lenses any more and that solves the problem Thom has identified about the missing DX lenses – build them in the mirrorless DX line up instead! Call it the Nikon 2 series ;-)

      • rhlpetrus

        I agree Thom, it will come, and needs to carry a new mount, to make smaller sizes possible. The F mont would be perfect for an eventual FF mirrorless, if we recall the size of the film Fs. They were not very thick, one only needs to add the sensor suppprt system. But I don’t see your worst case as worst, but likely, as DX will eventually fade into ML, except possibly for the 1,000+ USD price range models. BTW, a D400/D9000 is coming or not, what’s the best guess now?

        • Thom Hogan

          Haven’t changed anything: I still expect Nikon to fill out the current DX lineup with new models. As I wrote in my last statement on that in my site, I expect D7000 replacement first, D300s second. A D7000 replacement is either going to be named D7100, D7200, or D8000. Nothing else makes sense.

          There is the lingering question of what happens when you have a DX mirrorless and DX DSLR. Canon is in that situation with the EOS Rebels and EOS M, for example. Canon certainly seems to be going slow at this, though, not wanting to disrupt the EOS DSLRs too much.

          As I’ve written on sansmirror.com, if you measure the adaption slope of mirrorless, it peaked earlier than DSLRs did, and since the second quarter in 2012, shipments have been relatively flat. I have no idea what those signals are saying to camera companies. The notion that mirrorless will overtake DSLRs is definitely in question at the moment.

  • Danonino

    What is the flange distance on the lens? Is it the same as on the the nikon 1 system? Because, an aps-c sized sensor easily fits inside the 1-system mount.. Something worth thinking about ;)

    • Pat

      That’s a very good point. Everytime I look at the J1/V1 with the mount exposed I couldn’t quite understand why the opening is so huge compared to the sensor ;)

      The J1/V1 is more and more looking like a coolpix replacement, and also a test vehicle for the nikon 1 technology. Nikon’s gonna go all the way for the APS-C version of it.

      • Tonio Loewald

        They might also plan to allow for folding lenses. With a wide opening lenses could collapse somewhat into the camera body. My big concern with Nikon is that it just seems not to get convergence — it should have released an Android-based CX camera, that would have set the cat among the pigeons. Meanwhile the D600’s WiFi support is bizarrely crippled.

  • C_QQ_C

    Nikon Mirrorless “S” Kamera ?

  • Niktard

    This site is horrible. Admin, spend the money to update this site or sell the domain to someone who will. For crying out loud.

  • Niktarrrrr

    Admin, this site is horrible. Horrible design and slow to load. Spend the money to do it right or sell it to someone who will.

  • twoomy

    Geeze, I wish they would skip DX mirrorless (aren’t there enough systems now?) and go all the way with an FX mirrorless system. The above lens makes me yawn because it’s nothing new.

    • Tonio Loewald

      My guess is that all the money in cameras is being made in the $600-1000 price range — below that the competition is too fierce, above that you’re selling to a pretty tiny market. Note that the J1 debuted at $700 or so and the V1 debuted at $900. I don’t think you’ll see a lot of really interesting action with FX sensors until they can get decent margins in that price range… Two years maybe.

      But it looks like the first serious player will be Sony, who will release an interchangeable lens version of the RX1 with a hopelessly inadequate range of lenses.

      • MyrddinWilt

        But two years is about the time it will take to get a DX mirrorless out anyway. So why not jump straight to the FX mount?

        CX lenses are cheap. Can’t see much point in using a CX lens on a DX sensor in crop mode.

        On the other hand, it does look like Nikon’s big concern is to make sure that it covers all the product positions of its competitors. If a DX sensor mirrorless would sell, why not make one rather than argue about physics?

        When I stick my 85mm f/1.4 on any camera I own, the size and weight of the lens pretty much dominates. It is possible to create a CX lens with the same depth of field and angle of view but it will be just as bulky. And it is actually a bit easier to manage the lens on my D300 than the V1.

        So going to DX might make sense as a line extender. But I am still rather skeptical of the advantages of all those SKUs in the catalog.

  • jake

    sure it will eventually happen but when is the only question.

  • LeGO

    The Nikon 1 system already outlines the AF strategy of Nikon’s new breed of mirrorless APS-C and eventually FF cameras. By necessity, it may use an EVF instead of an OVF.

    One of the advantages of using the new mirrorless APS-C sensor camera is the absence of mirror slap will make shooting at slow shutter speed easier. Live view shooting and image review will dispense with the mirror actuation.

    A new dedicated mirrorless lens will likely have an electronically controlled aperture and will be of more compact size and will be lighter weight.

    An adapter that will allow full use of the Nikkor F-mount AF-S lenses on this mirrorless APS-C camera will solve the initial problem in terms of lack of lenses upon introduction – and will likely be the strongest competition to the new lenses designed for mirrorless cameras.

    • timon_comment

      I have a Reply below,
      posted in timon_comment

  • Sebastian

    Does anybody know what the double line of the second surface means? Some way of indicating it’s aspheric? I’m not familiar with the way these patent drawings are done.

    • Astrophotographer

      Yes, it does indicate aspheric

  • Parampreet Dhatt

    I don’t think a APS-C sized mirrorless camera from Nikon is implausible.

    With J2 and V2, Nikon has already bifurcated the lines between these models by using separate sensors.

    I think with the 1 series, Nikon was just dipping its toes in the MILC market, just testing out the waters, and its turned out to be a bigger success than they imagined. In fact, its one of its most successful and profitable product lines at the moment and going forward, Nikon is likely to take the MILC market much more seriously.

    With V2, Nikon has already shown the intent to make a more photographer friendly 1 series camera. I cannot see Nikon making a DSLR-sized MILC like Pentax K-01, and the failure of this particular model should underscore the pointlessness of a MILC, which eschews perhaps the biggest advantage of a MILC over a DSLR – size.

    I hope Nikon continues the 1 series line with 2-3 models, one a photographer-friendly model which competes with the middle to high end of NEX, m43 etc. models, and 2 lower end models, which compete with high-end compacts and entry to mid level MILCs.

    For the photographer-friendly model, I’m hoping for a APS-C sized sensor (Sony or Nikon made, not a crappy sensor from Aptina as in the current 1-series models), perhaps the 16 MP sensor used in D5100, D7000. A rugged, good-looking body like P7700 with lots of manual controls and articulating LCD and not an abomination like the current V2.

    Nikon also really needs to reduce the price of the FT1 adaptor for mounting F-mount lenses on the 1-series. The current pricing is really exorbitant.
    Nowadays, a lot of DSLR owners prefer to have a 2nd compact body for convenience. If Nikon provides a cheap adaptor and good compatibility with F-mount lenses, they give a lot of incentive to existing Nikon DSLR owners to prefer a 1-series MILC over competing models.

  • timon_comment

    —— Question 1,

    Nikon APS-c mirrorless camera? Would Nikon bring the electronic 1st shutter curtain mode in? Sony and Canon APS-c mirrorless camera have that function, selectable to turn on or off.

    In DSLR camera, With low-speed flips mirror to weaken the mirror slap vibration, or the mirror upward locked and is no mirror slap. But, there is still existing the focal plane shutter’s vibration, while first curtain hit into bottom of outline border. That is same cases as the mirrorless camera if using mechanical first curtain method. The negative impact is mainly with exposure time less than 1/1000s, especially in 1/250s – 1/30s. The smaller pixel pitch will easier get softened of the imaging.

    Usually, the 1/8000s shutter unit is likely a worse vibration than the 1/4000s shutter unit, in mid-end and low-end cameras.

    Canon have been using the shutter system hybrid-run method with the electronic 1st curtain and mechanical 2nd curtain, in Live-View mode, since 2007. Sony walked behind, after 2011. In Live-View mode, the electronic 1st shutter curtain method avoided the shutter’s vibration impact. In 2011, Canon have filed patent solution to accurately fire photoflash system from electronic 1st shutter curtain mode.

    (Canon another patent is a hybrid pentaprism eye-level viewfinder, it is capable switchable between optical view and electronic view, so the Live-View mode you also gets an eye-level view way, (EVF). The EVF image directly comes from image sensor, no sub sensor. Looks like Canon aimed to develop a DSLR camera with multiple uses).

    So far, Nikon have not yet provide electronic 1st curtain mode.

    Nikon V1/v2 have “electronic shutter” and the focal plane shutter, NIkon J1/J2 are with “electronic shutter” only, which is not electronic 1st shutter curtain method. The “electronic shutter” is used most of the low-end compact cameras. Nikon D4 in Live-View mode has an awkward “Silent Mode”, the image quality is fixed at JPEG only, 1,920×1,280 pixels max, that is “electronic shutter” method. Canon 1dx in the electronic 1st shutter curtain mode is with both RAW or JPEG shooting, in full resolution.

    —— Question 2,

    With very short flange focal distance (and comes with very short back focus distance) is no imaging qualities better, even is worse, especially a smaller pixel pitch, such as the 3.8μm sensor with 24MP APS-c.

    you can browse through website Photozone.de to carefully observe the lens E18-55 OSS and the E16 f2.8 mounted on the NEX-7 that imaging is with worse results in Border and Corners, do comparison in between the NEX-7 and the NEX-5. In Border and Corners at the NEX-7 is obviously a lower resolution than the NEX-5.

    Sony E50mm f1.8 OSS is a good lens, but it mounted on the NEX-7 fell into third-class imaging quality. So, Photozone.de told us:

    “As already mentioned the 24 megapixel sensor of the Sony NEX 7 seems to have a rather difficult characteristic especially regarding its resolution capabilities at the image corners. This behavior has been confirmed by user observations in the meanwhile (feel free to google). This is a bit unfortunate because we feel that the sensor shouldn’t have such a deep impact on the lens quality. The lens quality will be somewhat better on Sony’s 16 megapixel sensor”.

    Certainly, within next 3 years, even if the DSLR camera, the APS-c sensor is still with 4.8μm pixel pitch better, the 35mm sensor is still with 6.0μm pixel pitch better, but in the 18mm flange focal distance’s mirrorless camera the necessity is much more obvious.

    If people who blind worshipped DxOmark’s Overall Scores, it must be you caught with chaff. (Contrarily, DxOmark’s measurement graphs of the ‘screen’ mode have some reference data but limited condition, because there are also lacking many necessary items).

    In APS-c mirrorless camera, Sony NEX-6 is a suitably camera selectable, a 4.8μm sensor with 16MP. (Fuji X-Trans sensor lost much colour details, and with much worse pricing, not for a suitable choice, you can search thread 3353913 through in Dpreview, —- “Imaging qualities between X-Trans sensor and Bayer sensor”).

    However, if you very pay attention to imaging quality, the 18mm flange focal distance system are still not the best choice. Also, I would not want to get an 18mm flange focal distance’s 35mm sensor camera.

    The 18mm flange focal distance’s mirrorless camera is smaller-sized, but is not other benefits. You have already holding the desk-PC and notebook, and then wanted a small-sized tablet, so camera is also same. Certainly, Sony and Canon provided the electronic 1st shutter curtain mode. Unluckily, Nikon DSLR cameras have no that.

    —— Question 3,

    Sony E-mount lens models are too less and some models in the price and optical performance are also not desirable, they are far not matching. If you used an adapter and other lenses, the AF and AE exposure will be lost, merely the Alpha mount lenses and Sony adapter excepted. If you are using adapter and mirrorless camera, why do not directly take a DSLR or a DSLT camera?

    In Sony E-mount cameras the selectable lens models, optical performance and price, the three key points seriously weaken competitive power on Sony E-mount camera.

    In Nikon lenses of DSLR camera, you can get a good optical performance and a modest price, and the DX lens also have good optical performance and price like DX 35mm f1.8G.

    So what situation would be Nikon APS-c mirrorless camera and lenses? Sying is nothing to do with adapter.

    • timon_comment

      updated (to Question 1):

      When the focal plane shutter unit lacked the electronic 1st shutter curtain method, in Live-View mode shooting a still image that the mechanical 1st curtain of shutter must firstly run a closedown action, then starts an exposure process, thus gotten more vibration and time lag. The electronic 1st shutter curtain method avoided the shutter vibration impact and won a short shutter time lag.

      • KnightPhoto

        Interesting background on the electronic shutter – thanks.

    • rhlpetrus

      The flange issue is justa technology issue, Leica has solved it with the M9, with a larger sensor. I think Nikon may keep the F-mount, but only for FF mirrorless, it is likely perfect for that. For APSC it would be too restrictive on size, Nikon will need to compete with 43 and Nex, and with the new Canon system.

      • timon_comment

        The sensor micro-lens in the Leica M digital cameras must need a special design.

        The Leica M digital cameras merely process one kind of flange distance of lens system.

        The Leica M flange distance is 27.8mm, not 18mm.

        The newest Leica M10 is 6μm sensor. No 4.8μm sensor.

        Historically, the Nikon S-mount is a type of interchangeable lens mount used by a series of Nikon 35mm rangefinder cameras, the flange focal distance is 34.85 mm.

        However, Japanese APS-c mirrorless cameras are not only too short flange distance and pixel pitch is too small (3.8μm), and the camera makers have also provided adapter for the 44.00 – 46.50mm flange distance’s lens system, thus an 18mm flange distance’s mirrorless camera actual is working not merely with one type 18mm, so what is sensor micro-lens to be designable?

  • skg

    if camera company only make a mount that fit only apsc sensor, will it make the lens smaller than present apsc lenses that also use FF mount?

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