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Neither Canon nor Nikon nor Sony nor Pentax (did I forget someone?) seem to be particularly concerned to offer such lenses. Even third party makers don't seem to be really interested in anything beyond inexpensive 70-300 zoom lenses. Meanwhile, other applications such as wide angle and the standard zoom range seems to be covered well with lenses specifically made for APS-C

Is there any particular reason for this? For instance, when asking new owners of the 7DII what lenses they use on their bodies, it's almost always a full frame lens (Canon L or 3rd party).

I could come up with a few possible reasons myself but none of them seem to be genuinely convincing.

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This is a combination of two factors:

  • For any lens, the front element needs to be at least (focal length)/(aperture) in size - e.g. for a 400mm f/2.8, the front element needs to be 142mm in diameter. That number is independent of sensor size.
  • For telephoto lenses, it's the big front element which makes up the majority of the weight and the cost (making a big element is much harder than making a small one).

The only advantage to making an APS-C telephoto lens would be that some of the elements in the body could be a bit smaller (as they need to project a smaller image circle), but that's not going to significantly affect either the weight, the size or the cost of the lens as it's the front element which constrains all that. Now, Canon, Nikon and everyone else almost certainly could design an APS-C telephoto lens - but given the advantages would be marginal over the full-frame lens, they just make the one lens so they don't need to duplicate the R&D effort.

  • For really large apertures, yes. But what about lenses with more realistic specs such as f4, at 200mm or 300mm (50mm and 75mm minimum diameter respectively?). – John Smith Nov 13 '14 at 20:37
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    There's nothing unrealistic about a 400mm f/2.8 lens. For smaller lenses, the same arguments apply, if not quite as much - why do twice the R&D for a lens which isn't much smaller, lighter or cheaper and will never sell that many anyway? – Philip Kendall Nov 13 '14 at 21:00
  • There are actually a few lenses that demonstrate why it's a good idea to have lenses tailored for formats. For instance, the Nikon CX 70-300 has a much higher per-area resolution compared to the rest of the 70-300 lenses of larger formats. Also, do you have any proof for 'not much smaller, lighter' (not wanting to be provocative, I'm genuinely interested)? It's just a random example, but comparing the physical dimensions of something like the Olympus 40-150 f2.8 to the 70-300 f4-5.6 L which are reasonably 'equivalent', I don't really find your claim to be the case. – John Smith Nov 13 '14 at 21:46
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    At least according to DPReview, the Olympus 40-150 is 160mm long and weighs 880g and the Canon 70-300L is 143mm long and weighs 1050g. 90% of the length, 120% of the weight - that's pretty close in my book. – Philip Kendall Nov 13 '14 at 22:01
  • Well, that's the point. Equivalent glass in terms of performance also is roughly equivalent in price, weight, size etc. But if I did put a hypothetical 40-150 2.8 that covers FF onto a m43 body, that would break the whole equivalence. You either end up with something that is way too compromised optically (e.g. using an F-mount 70-300 on a Nikon CX body) or you end up with something that's bigger than necessary (e.g. if there was a FF zoom that has the same per-area resolution as the CX 70-300 it would be HUGE). – John Smith Nov 15 '14 at 8:56
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The main answer here is that Canon and Nikon don't offer anything high-end for APS-C. Their focus is on encouraging full-frame for those uses. This is almost certainly a marketing decision, not a technical one.

Pentax, though, doesn't offer a full-frame SLR — instead, splitting between entry-to-high-midrange APS-C DSLR and a medium format offering above that, with a whole different lens mount and series of lenses. For APS-C, they offers a series of high-end zooms, the DA★ lenses. This includes a 16-50mm f/2.8, a 50-135mm f/2.8, and a 60-250mm f/4. There isn't a whole range of price point / size / weight options like you get with Canon's L series, but Pentax is smaller and has a smaller lineup overall — but these do exist (and are very nice).

Fujifilm's X series also goes for the higher-end APS-C space, and while they started with primes to match their rangefinder-inspired design, they have added zooms recently, including a high end 50-140mm f/2.8. As that line continues to be successful, I'm sure we will see more.

  • The 60-250 f4 is a full frame lens. pentaxforums.com/articles/photo-articles/… . Also, yes I intentionally left out the mirrorless players because some of these do actually seem to care about this niche (Fuji, m43 and Samsung in particular). As for Canon and Nikon, your reasoning that it's a marketing decision makes sense but does it explain the lack of 3rd party offerings? – John Smith Nov 15 '14 at 8:58
  • @JohnSmith The 60-250 may have full-frame coverage but is still sold as an APS-C "DA" lens. – mattdm Nov 15 '14 at 14:08
  • Oh, yes you're right. I didn't read the article carefully enough. Doesn't seem to deliver. – John Smith Nov 15 '14 at 15:14
  • As for third party, I can only speculate further. I would think that this would be a reasonable niche, but it's possibly the case that the cost savings aren't sufficient when balanced against Canon and Nikon's marketing — we get a number of questions here which come from a worry that APS-C lenses are a "wasted investment" when one might, one day in the theoretical future, switch to full frame. – mattdm Nov 15 '14 at 15:20
  • And this same thing drives those articles like the one about the image circle of the Pentax 60-250mm — there's a segment of the online population always searching for clues that Pentax will finally abandon their APS-C / Medium-format strategy and make a full frame body and lens lineup to match. – mattdm Nov 15 '14 at 15:23
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Lenses designed for the Nikon 1 or M43rds systems are probably only ever going to be used with one size of sensor. When designing lenses for these systems there's no point casting a larger image circle than you need.

Several DSLR (and SLT) systems offer both APS-C and full frame sensors with exactly the same mount. As already pointed out there's hardly any cost in terms of size/weight (and complexity) in making an APS-C telephoto cover full frame. So for a small amount of extra effort you can massively increase the market for your lens. With wide angle lenses it is harder to make them cover full frame so you see a lot more APS-C only lenses here.

Nikon are never going to put an APS-C or larger sensor in a 1-series body, nor will they ever make a 1-series lens than can also be used on an APS-C DSLRs (as there wouldn't be space for the mirror), so even if it were relatively easy to increase the image circle of their 70-300mm lens there would be absolutely no benefit.

The only other system currently with both APS-C and full frame sensors is the Sony E-mount (formerly NEX). Originally APS-C only telezooms were produced as there were no full frame E-mount bodies, but now they have released the full frame A7 series I would expect all new E-mount teles to cover full frame.

  • Side tangent: There is a Nikon FT-1 adapter for putting an F mount lens on a 1 mount body. There's also a 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 VR for the 1 series (at $1000... which is more expensive than getting the equivalent FX format lens and adapter). – user13451 Nov 14 '14 at 18:17
  • 'As already pointed out there's hardly any cost in terms of size/weight (and complexity) in making an APS-C telephoto cover full frame'. Really? How come Nikon doesn't offer a FF 70-300 that is equal in per-area resolution to the CX 70-300 if it was so easy? Your reasoning seems to be popular but I still don't see any proof for that. I only see the opposite, i.e. if you make lenses cover a larger image circle, the per-area performance of the lens decreases significantly. – John Smith Nov 15 '14 at 9:08
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Canon created a high quality APS-C lens: the 17-55 EF-S f2.8. This lens is basically the L lens that Marketing ignored: it is built of similar quality as any L lens, and optically is equal to most. And, it has the price to go with it: nearly $1000 USD at introduction. The price is a bit lower now, but I suspect that this lens may have been an experiment into the same question you have:

Will APS-C camera buyers purchase a premium APS-C lens?

While many were bought, I suspect that sales were a disappointment, based on Canon's models since. I suspect most buyers preferred to have a red-ring around the lens, regardless of quality. IMHO (and others too), there was just something wrong about paying L prices for a non-L lens, particularly from Canon. Plus, buying a premium APS-C lens means that you pay similar price to a "full frame" lens, with out gaining the benefit of keeping the lens if you ever do decide to move to a full frame body.

Canon has not issued another 'nearly-L' lens since, and certainly nothing in comparative pricing to similar L lenses. I suspect that the market spoke: for the cost of what a premium EF-S APS-C lens costs, most buyers would prefer to pay a bit more for the 'full frame' lens, the EF model, gaining the ability to move to a full frame body someday.

  • I think your answer is quite convincing. I get that paying L prices for non-L lenses is 'wrong'. If the 17-55 2.8 had a red ring, things may have been different by now. However, the statement that APS-C users won't buy premium APS-C lenses doesn't seem to be a universal truth either. A good example is the Sigma 18-35 1.8 which seems to be very popular right now. – John Smith Nov 15 '14 at 9:31
  • @JohnSmith In the case of the Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8, though, there is absolutely zero competition from FF 18-35mm f/1.8 zooms because no such FF lenses exist. – Michael C Dec 13 '17 at 11:11

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