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Monday, 17 May 2010

Comments

Regarding the `MkII' price hikes, LensRentals.com recently wrote a nice piece on that.

No affiliations, but they often have nice observations based on handling lots of lenses :-)

Bernard,
What most likely really happens is that a company does a production run of a product and then sells it for however long it takes to sell out. Then they have to decide whether they are going to discontinue the product or do another run to meet demand. If the decision is the latter, then another run or batch of that product is manufactured--usually under changed economic conditions, for changed costs. Small technical changes can be made at that time, but often the "II" just means it's a new manufacturing run.

With particularly slow-selling products, it can take decades for a production run to sell out. In that case, the cost basis of a new run might be radically more than what the old one was. I think the most extreme example I've seen of this was when Yashica ran out of an earlier run of the Zeiss C/Y 35mm shift lens in the early '90s. The price of the old one had crept up to around $800. But when Yashica ordered a new run from Zeiss, costs had gone up radically in the intervening years, and the new lenses had to be priced at $2400 or so. It was basically the same lens, it's just that one month you could still buy one manufactured in the 1970s and pay $800 for it, and a few months later you had to buy one manufactured in the 1990s for which you had to pay $2400.

It's just the way it works. I couldn't really be specific about this in the post because I'm not *certain* it's what's happened with the 200-400mm. It probably is, but I don't have any inside information and I can't say for sure.

Mike

Re “Is it just me, or is the new feature offered by certain ‘revised’ products chiefly a higher price?” see also The II Conundrum.

"Is it just me, or is the new feature offered by certain "revised" products chiefly a higher price?"

No...it's not just you. Have a look at the article written by Roger Cicala @ Lensrentals.com

http://www.lensrentals.com/news/2010.04.30/the-ii-conundrum

Cheers! Jay

For the Nikon 200-400 f/4VR I couldn't identify if the optical formula changed in any way, other than the new coatings. I suppose the VR works now much better, if the new 70-200II and the 16-35VR are any indication; previously the VR was a hit-and-miss afair, but the last few stabilised lenses finally can boast the same performance as the Canon ones. And maybe (just maybe) this new VR would work for all conditions, not only up to 1/200s or something like that (and after going lower than 1/200s you'd risk having a DEstabilised image; at least for 400mm the framing benefited a lot, 'cause nothing ruins more photos than a shaky viewfinder at telephoto).
And back to the optics... The „old” 200-400 was perfect for (relatively) close stuff, like heavy-budget portraits or sports, but somehow it didn't work for far-field applications; no matter the light, it produces marginal IQ for things like planes @ an airshow, and I heard the same reports for wildlife.
In conclusion, I really hope that they improved the IQ when the 200-400 is focused further than about 100m; seems like the old one had something flawed on opposition to close range correction.

Ahem.
I bought my 43 for 469 US$.
Two years ago.

Now you can find it for 749.98 US$. And it has not been "revised", nor does it have a new, at least, badge.

I bought my 50 for 195 US$.
Two years ago.

Now you can find it for $359.95 US$. And it has not been "revised", nor does it have a new, at least, badge.


And by the way, there must be something going on with the Pentax, lenses, as overall there are no more bargains on ebay.

But for the "sears", "fokinon" lenses.

Even the Vivitar Series 1 lenses have skyrocketed in price [specially, the wonderful 105 2.5 Macro].

Even the rectilinear 15 3.5 with built-in filters are EXTRAORDINARILY expensive [well, only around 800 were ever made]: 1200 Euros for a lens 20 years old.

I know what you mean about browsing images with one eye on the lens, and it seems you are not alone. I tend to tag my flickr images with a brief lens ID and according to the stats, this is the main route by which flickr searchers happen across my pictures (for good or ill).

But: what code or name to use? My own are brief: "DA35" or "FA50", for the Pentax Limited lenses known by those shortcuts, or maybe "DA16-45". But should I be putting "Pentax smc DA 16-45 mm / 4,0 ED AL" instead?

Sigma are worse: "18-50mm f/2.8 EX DC Macro / HSM".

S*d that for a game of soldiers.

I guess we need a more memorable reference, such as the "Gorilla 35" or the "Daphne 12-24". Set up by an official body, perhaps - maybe the same people that invent a unique name for every single shade of house paint?

The "price creep" has also a lot to do with currency fluctuations.

If your costs are in yen, and income in dollars, fluctuations in yen/dollar ratio affect the price.

As customers are very sensitive to price increase of existing products, introducing the new one at a higher price is "plucking the goose as to get the most feathers with the least hissing".

Jasiek

The old 200-400 lacked VRII (which is noticeably more effective than the previous generation of VR) and nano-crystal coated elements. It already had superb AF.

One thing to remember is that MSRP tends to drop slowly over even an expensive lens's life, mostly due to inflation. Typically the new lens comes in at about the same pricepoint as the old, once adjusted for inflation.

By the way, $800 in 1976 CDN dollars is $2200 in 1994 CDN dollars, so the example you note (the Zeiss 35mm shift) increasing from $800 to $2400 doesn't actually represent a cost increase in production, but rather just the effects of a slow selling item with stock held over 2 decades.

Actually the new 200-400 is almost a 1000€ cheaper as per the new pricelist that we got today...

"I wonder if anybody will actually shoot the now-not-as-good older model and the obviously much better new version side-by-side and try to ascertain whether the enhanced functionality and improved performance are detectable to humans."

Well, the good news is that Thom Hogan will surely crack this nut. The bad news is that it took him seven years to complete his review of the first version of this lens, so no breath-holding on this one.

We old farts are suffering from creeping inflation. I remember buying a Leitz Summicron 35mm f/2 lens for $240 (from Finn's Cameras in St. Paul, long gone but one of the good stores in the area at the time). EVERYTHING seems expensive today.

The current Leica Summilux-M 35mm ASPH suffers badly of spherical aberration, this is, it shows horrible focus shift!

The reason for a floating element and a redesign isn't the hood or the close distance performance, but the correction of curvature of field and spherical aberration.

I just visited zeissimages.com and I must say, the lens search feature is very nice indeed.

I hope the site does well. I love flickr but, I think this is a great niche idea that may take off with the "Zeiss lens aficionados". :)

I can't swear to it, but I think Olympus is using the rebates on certain of its lenses to (temporarily) mask a price increase, as the prices after the rebates are about what I recall having paid for mine last summer and fall...

Actually it is a nice way to raise prices. In case no one noticed, the dollar has been tanking against the yen for years. Our fault, not theirs. Has anyone traveled out the country with our now puny dollar? This way you get a refreshed lens with the latest goodies instead of paying more money for the same old lens.

The Zeiss lens phenomenon is a mystery to me. Manual focus lenses to be put on AF cameras with screens poorly optimized for manual focus. There really can't be that many film shooters and digital cameras with modified focusing screens. Can there?

I'm an industrial economist in my day job and there's a lot of truth in what Mike says, with one caveat: the lenses that always sell well (aka kit lenses and evergreens) remain in production until they are canceled, usually with little or no changes (incremental improvements are done to improve production efficiency, not lens quality). Demand is simply high enough that this becomes an option: usually a lens making company (exception based on personal knowledge: Leica and Zeiss) has at least two production lines set up, one in constant production (kit lenses and the most popular lenses) and the other set up for batch production, switching back and forth between different products. You'll usually find your less-skilled workers on the constant production line and the higher-skilled workers on the batch line, and proper management will move good workers to the batch line to gain skill sets for the regular line (and will put skilled workers on the production line to find bottlenecks and improve production efficiencies).

Other than that, lenses are made in batches in the volume that the company hopes it can sell within a set time period.

There is, however, another factor in pricing: exchange rates. Camera manufacturers, of course, sell world-wide, and have either the choice of simply accepting the effect that exchange rates have on their bottom line, or of factoring derivative or other financial costs to "remove" exchange rate effects from the bottom line. These effects, depending on the volume of non-domestic sales, can be very significant, and fortunes have been made (and invariably lost almost immediately thereafter) by companies successfully using derivatives and the like to remove these effects from the bottom line.

Pricing a new batch of lenses means understanding the risks inherent in where the lenses are sold: hence if the manufacturer of a lens sees very large exchange rate risks, they may choose to price the lens at a premium in that market to transfer the exchange rate risks to the customer, based on a worst-case scenario of where that company fears the prices may go (and of course based on the company's analysis of the relative price elasticity of demand for such a lens...). Given the relative stickiness of list prices in a very, very competitive business, changing list prices to take account of exchange rates is a losing proposition.

Short version: dollar tanks, prices in the US go up. Dollar weak, company makes lots and lots of money. Company very, very happy. Dollar strong, company makes normal amount of money, company relieved that they don't lose money.

Consumer? Meh. Dollar weak, can't afford lenses. Dollar strong, takes vacation to land of manufacturer and buys there for less than what the lens costs in the US. Or really clever consumer does arbitrage and travels to third country to buy lens and comes home with money left over (I've done this) after paying for trip, gets international warranty, happy camper. :-)

Could it be the tooling and assembly machinery designed and built to manufacture the item gets broken down and worn out and also has to be upgraded/replaced. I really have no idea, I'm just throwing the idea out to kick around. Another factor is the brutal competition faced by all camera makers today. I'll bet some models are loss leaders and they don't make a dime on the entire production run. But, if a model is very popular and they just can't make enough of them might they not milk the markup for all it's worth, considering they cannot predict when the next killer product will take off and fill the company balance sheet with black.

The Most Popular images on the right side of the screen capture make me smile.

It's easy to bemoan price increases; what's more aggravating to me is how slowly Nikon pushes out updates to their lenses. VR II is actually a much better system than the original VR (I've used both, though never in a $6000 lens). Yet there are still lenses in Nikon's lineup that have neither tech (like the 17-55mm f/2.8G).

If they're going to force us to buy VR with the lenses, and sell us on that being better than body-IS (which I think it is, though only slightly) they should be putting that tech in every single lens.

Like Iñaki, I have noticed how the prices of Pentax lenses have risen. My 16-50 was about £520 in August 2008 and now is £719 from the same shop. The 12-24, bought a few months later has gone from about £570 to £830.

Those lovely primes are beyond my means, but I'm going to try out a manual focus Tamron Adaptall 2 24mm f/2.5 on my K20D. It's a fine wide angle on film. 36mm equivalent and f/2.5 ain't too bad for a walk around lens.

I've not noticed the lens prices on Ebay, but the Pentax KA fit adaptall 2 mounts are going for silly money now, two or three times the price of most other mounts.

Price changes for existing products are probably difficult to do, so a revision is a good opportunity even though the changed features do not seem to justify them (blame the marketing department).

Look at USDJPY of the past two years and you will agree that no company will find it funny having 10-20% of their margin being eaten by the FX rate.

http://www.google.com/finance?chdnp=1&chdd=1&chds=1&chdv=1&chvs=Linear&chdeh=0&chfdeh=0&chdet=1274148918932&chddm=706567&q=CURRENCY:USDJPY&ntsp=0

Of course, with that logic, the new Leica lens will be adjusted to 10% cheaper than its predecessor… right?

@Ruben

"The current Leica Summilux-M 35mm ASPH suffers badly of spherical aberration, this is, it shows horrible focus shift!"

Is this based on actual experience? I myself have never had this issue. Mis-focus yes. Front focus, no. But there certainly has been a real fuss over some slight focus shift (which can be taken care of with adjustments to camera / lens).

The new lens design appears based on that employed for the 21mm f1.4 and 24 mm f1.4. Both of which I own.

My guess: Leica is gradually updating its entire M line for greater compatibility with the M9 Sensor (which is variant of the M8 sensor and whatever else they plan to release next) and it makes sense to alter the lens line according to given standard. No more. No less.

"The current Leica Summilux-M 35mm ASPH suffers badly of spherical aberration, this is, it shows horrible focus shift!"

Where in the world do you get that from? "Badly"? "Horrible"? No way.

Mike

Where in the world do you get that from?

He read it on the Internet.

In the case of Pentax, there was the infamous Pentax Price Jump after the takeover by Hoya. Pretty much the entire line doubled in price except for a few of the consumer zooms and the 50-135.

I owned both the Nikon 200-400 VR and 200 f2.

The VR on them was poor to say the least, especially when compared to Canon's IS. I then purchased the 70-200 VRII. The VR was much improved, just about as good as Canon's original IS.

The new Nikon 300 f2.8 handles so much better with the ability to "accidentally" touch the focus ring without taking it out of AF. That is an important improvement that the 200 f2 can use.

Mike,

I have a Summilux-M 35mm ASPH. And yes, the focus shift is horrible when the lens is used on a digital M camera (I have the M8). It backfocuses at medium aperture values even at distances of 3-5 meters. The focus shift problem of this lens is a well known issue.

The "waves" in the MTF curves for 40 lp/mm point to curvature of field and spherical aberration. How this translates to effective focus shift (not covered by DoF) depends on distance, focal length, aperture, etc.

Erwin Puts analyses this focus shift controversy in his last comparative test between the old and the new lens. It is very eloquent:

http://www.imx.nl/photo/leica/lenses/page171/SX35FLE1.html

Best,

Rubén

Rubén,
Thanks--Erwin's article is interesting as usual. I haven't shot the lens on a thin-emulsion film, and I've never shot it on a digital Leica. Nor do I often shoot at 1 meter or wide open for that matter. But I wonder why slight focus shift (something I tend to ignore, since exact focus on three-dimensional subjects is so seldom critical when handholding) would matter more on a digital sensor than on film? Is it because it's easier to "pixel peep" and detect the actual plane of best focus and compare it to the rangefinder-determined focus point, or the plane at different apertures? This seems like lab-test noodling to me. But then maybe if one pays that much for a lens one has the right.

Naturally all fast lenses have *some* spherical, but I've never seen it as a problem on the 1994 single ASPH. lens. I'll have to do a few trials and see if I can "provoke" it, and see how badly it shows up.

I've never had a complaint with the 35mm Summilux-M ASPH., save for one I can't mention or they'll make fun of me on Leica forums. And the lens is considerably better at f/2 than the "pre-ASPH" Summicron, which makes it more useful to me.

Tri-X forgives a multitude of sins. [s]

Mike

I wonder why slight focus shift (something I tend to ignore, since exact focus on three-dimensional subjects is so seldom critical when handholding) would matter more on a digital sensor than on film?

Focus shift occurs when the plane of best sharpness in the image plane moves. This happens in lenses that are limited by certain types of spherical aberration because those aberrations are controlled to differing degrees as aperture changes.

The thinnest films have an emulsion about 120 microns thick. If the image is focused anywhere in that 120 microns the print will be 'in focus'. The imaging surface of a digital sensor is a plane with no physical depth. There is nothing to buffer the focus shift.

The 35 Summilux Aspherical and ASPH lenses have moderate focus shift. Focus shift in those lenses is vastly less than the 50/1 Noctilux and 75/1.4 Summilux, and in some current lenses made by other companies, such as the Canon EF 50/1.2 L, which has garnered some serious internet vitriol.

Focus shift is very poorly understood and reported on the internet; the use of terms like "back focus" which is meaningless clouds the issue further.

Voltz

Mike,

focus-related problems due to calibration, tolerances or aberrations are more evident in digital. One reason is the easy "magnification" of digital files on the computer. Another reason may be the "flat" photosensitive surface of sensors (well, they are a bit curved in the corners), in contrast with the thick photosenstitive layers of films. I would not say the focus shift problem of the 1994 Summilux is slight. It may depend on variation among units though. Some people find a slight focus shift, some people have a large one. Mine is quite annoying.

Here there is a set of examples (real pictures) showing the problem:

http://www.stevehuffphotos.com/Steve_Huff_Photos/Blog/Entries/2009/5/28_THE_LEICA_35_SUMMILUX_1.4_ASPH_REVIEW.html

.

Rubén,
So would you say that the only reason Leica has created this new version of the lens is to correct extreme flaws in the old version, which was substandard?

My experience is that all lenses have flaws, and most lenses have worse flaws in one way or another than the focus shift your tests have uncovered under certain conditions. I'm not saying it's unimportant to know about--quite the contrary, I always think it's best to know your lens's weaknesses so that you can avoid problems or know what to do to minimize those problems when you're in situations where you might encounter them. However, I think that if most makers' lenses were subjected to the fastidious scrutiny brought to bear on Leica's lenses, they wouldn't stand up as well as Leica's do.

Mike

"So would you say that the only reason Leica has created this new version of the lens is to correct extreme flaws in the old version, which was substandard?"

No, I wouldn't say it that way.

Leica has created this new lens because:

1) Leica has new manufacturing processes and floating elements are a basic feature for all new high-speed lenses, from the 50mm Summilux (2004) to the new S lenses. The first Leica lens with floating elements was, I think, the 35mm Summilux-R (1984), but Leica has been able to increase the complexity of its mechanical designs in the small lenses for M series. More aberration control is possible with state-of-the-art designs.

2) Digital photography poses new problems: focusing errors are more evident on screen at 100% magnification; light reflected from sensors may degrade contrast (new coatings and coatings at the back of the lenses are necessary); several aberrations and other problems may be corrected in postprocessing, using software tools, so the lens designer may reevaluate the priorities regarding aberration control (vigneting or distortion may be corrected in postprocessing, spherical aberration and curvature of field are more problematic now); etc.

3) There is technical progress, and some improvements are the result: manufacturing tolerances are more strict now, new optical glasses are available, new coatings have been developed, etc.

1) means new standards in lens design; 2) means new requirements; 3) means new technical possibilities.

The previous 35mm Summilux shows evident problems in focus accuracy on digital systems. It may be improved in other areas as well.

It is my opinion.

R.

I've never had a complaint with the 35mm Summilux-M ASPH., save for one I can't mention or they'll make fun of me on Leica forums.

Aw, c'mon.

Ouch! $5000 for the 35mm Summilux 1.4 and
$7000 for the Leica M9. Does one really want to traipse around Europe playing Henri Cartier-Bresson and photographing the natives with $12,000 hanging around your neck? I suppose,
if you can afford this outfit, you can
afford to hire an armed bodyguard to be
constantly at your side.

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