When Nikon debuted their new full-frame mirrorless camera system the Nikon Z, they also introduced a new product line of lenses to the Nikkor lens family. This is called the S-Line. I watched through the entire live stream of the announcement presentation so it was very clear to me what the S-Line of lenses mean. However, there seems to be a lot of misinformation spread by ill-informed and unethical Youtubers desperate to publish videos for revenue-driving hits without doing any responsible research.
Therefore, I present here a detailed, yet simple to understand explanation of what the new S-Line Nikkor lenses are.
1. ‘S’ is special… and Japanese
This is something that only those familiar with modern Japanese culture will understand immediately. Magazines, variety shows and popular culture in Japan frequently associates the term ‘S-class’ as ‘special’, ‘best-of-the-best’, etc. It is rated higher than the term ‘A-class’. Indeed, in Nikon’s marketing material, they state, “The “S” represents the first letter of various words such as “Superior”, “Special” and “Sophisticated.”
2. S-Line lenses are constructed with dust and moisture resistance
Every S-Line lens is designed with dust and moisture resistance. Finally, Nikon users no longer need to make guesses about whether a particular lens is weather-resistant. If it carries the S moniker, it has that resilience built into it.
3. S-Line lenses are developed to target new and higher levels of optical performance
The S-Line represent lenses that have cleared newly established standards of design principles and quality control that are even stricter than Nikon’s conventional standards.
For example, when evaluating optical performance with MTF curves, measurements are conducted in a wider area of the frame from the center to the periphery and
at a higher frequency than conventional ranges. Higher standards have also been established for measuring and controlling distortion, axial/lateral chromatic aberration, ghost/flare effects.
These lenses are designed for future generations of high-MP cameras that reach pixel counts higher than what we have today on FF cameras.
4. All S-Line lenses are treated with Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat
This is an interesting point to know. Having used lenses with and without the Nano Crystal Coat, I have to say I like it. It suppresses flare and ghosts, reduces the effect of blooming for extremely bright scenes, and injects a subtle touch of contrast and saturation to images. This is a good development.
5. S-Line lenses are designed with minimum breathing
This particular point is not well communicated by the vast majority of Youtubers. Minimising focus breathing is difficult and increases the cost of a lens. The advantage of doing so is most apparent in video production. Which brings us to the next point.
6. S-Line lenses are created with video work in mind
Minimum focus breathing. Quiet AF operation. Stepping motor. Electronic aperture. Strict control of chromatic aberrations. Minimum flare and ghosting. All these contribute to creating lenses that are highly capable for video production. Nikon has been lagging behind almost everyone in terms of video-ready lenses for the longest time. It looks like they want to correct this rapidly with a very intensive schedule of S-Line lens releases.
7. S-Line lenses are not going to be smaller
To Nikon’s credit, the trio of S-Line lenses introduced at launch all stayed beneath 500g. However, a comparison of the 35mm and 50mm lenses against its F-mount predecessors reveals an increase in size and weight. Indeed, to achieve the performance objectives the S-Line represents, an increase in physical dimensions is inevitable. Street photography fans will not be as inconspicuous as they hoped for with these lenses.
8. S-Line lenses are not going to be cheap
A comparison of the S-Line 35mm and 50mm to it’s F-mount predecessors reveals an obvious increase in asking price. Of course, the S-Line is bringing a whole new list of performance objectives and features. So this is a typical situation of “you get what you pay for”.
You might be thinking, “that sounds great, but expensive too”. Fortunately, Nikon has also spoken about a line of non S-Line lenses for their Z cameras. In Nikon’s own words from their marketing material, “Lenses other than the S-Line will be announced at a later date. These lenses strike an optimum balance between advanced functionality, compactness and value for money, while retaining the basic concept of the S-Line series.“.
Finally, as interesting as all this information about camera equipment is, remember to remain focused on shooting. Good camera tools are nice. But investing time and effort into good shooting is vastly better. 😀